‘The Bible’s Buried Secrets’ is trying to beat Dan Brown at his own game, says Alexander Lucie-Smith:
The entire Old Testament is the history of a struggle between strict monotheists and syncretists, those who wished to follow the Gods of Canaan as well as the God of Israel. Where Stavrokopoulou pushed the boat out, I found, was in her assertion (without any evidence that I could see) that polytheism was the norm for the Israelites until the Babylonian captivity.
But it was in the closing moments of the programme that scholarship seemed to be given up in favour of what was, in fact, mere opinion. First, the doctor suggested that the cult of the angels and the saints in contemporary Christianity was a hangover from polytheism. This is completely false.
The Blessed Virgin is not some sort of lineal descendant of Asherah. The Blessed Virgin is a human being, not a goddess; she represents all that humanity is called to be; if she loses her humanity, she would have no appeal to her fellow human beings. But Mary is one of us – that is the whole point of her.
Second, the doctor suggested that monotheism presents God as exclusively male, and men thus like God, which leads to the marginalisation and repression of women.
With a charge like this, where can one start? The polytheistic Greeks and Romans denied females all political rights, despite the fact that Athens was under the protection of the goddess Athene, and Rome under the protection of Juno. The Julio-Claudian rulers claimed descent from Venus, but were not noted for their feminism.
The idea that polytheism is more friendly to women is simply unsupported by the facts. It is easy to claim and sounds good, but as a serious thesis, it deserves to be dismissed. How on earth did it find itself in what purported to be a serious programme about the Bible?
Dr Stavrakopoulou wants us to see that the Bible and history are not necessarily the same thing, and that is a worthy task; she does have some thought-provoking things to say about modern Israeli claims to the land of ancient Israel; but her programme was undermined by the sheer silliness of trying to beat Dan Brown at his own game.