After more than 2,000 years, the mystery and magic surrounding the Bible has not abated.
Historian-archaeologist John Romer examines the Bible in a seven-part series for the Discovery Channel (cable-TV) that attempts to determine what is fact and what is faith. Testament: The Bible and History begins Wednesday at 7 p.m."A lot of our knowledge is based on academic structure," said Romer, an Englishman who lives in Italy and Egypt. "The trouble is that so many of our assumptions are wrong.
"We've given up our old myths, so now we have an archaeologist telling us about the Bible. A few years ago it would have been a preacher fronting a documentary on the Bible. And 200 years ago you would have been killed if you said the wrong thing."
Although he looks for a historical foundation, frequently examining biblical sites for evidence, Romer is also quite sympathetic to acceptance on faith alone.
"Now, instead of Adam and Eve, we have social Darwinism," he said. "On the whole, I'd rather have Adam and Eve. It deals with a story and is constructed around issues."
The first one-hour episode, "Once Upon a Time," airs Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and is about the origins of the Bible. The second, "Chronicles and Kings," airing Jan. 8, examines the accuracy of the Old Testament as history. The third, "Mightier Than the Sword," is about the Hebrew Bible and the influence of Greece upon the writing of the Old Testament. The fourth show, "Gospel Truth?" airing Jan. 22, looks into the historical existence of Jesus.
"There is no written evidence from his own lifetime that Jesus ever existed," Romer said. "I think the most powerful indication of Jesus is the church itself. Within a short period of time after his death the church was established. That's indication of an incredible energy."
The fifth episode, "Thine is the Kingdom," airing Jan. 29, is about how the Roman Empire was converted to Christianity. The sixth, "Power & Glory," airing Feb. 5, looks into how Christianity and the Bible survived the Dark Ages. And the final show, "Paradise Lost," airing Feb. 12, examines what has happened to the Bible in the last few hundred years.
"The program is not only about the Bible but what is historically true," said Romer. "It's virtually impossible to prove something didn't happen. You can't prove that Adam and Eve didn't exist. History is a series of experiences. Everyone sees something different.
"The way this great book has been treated by kings and princes is a gruesome tale. But what it does give us is absolutely astonishing. The Book of Genesis contains some of the oldest stories in the world. But in the last hundred or so years the Bible has become a civic and scientific guide to the universe and man's society. The way a lot of vicars use the Bible they could just as well use the Brothers Grimm."
Romer has written books on ancient Egypt and the Bible and has written other documentary series on Egypt. He directed the excavation of the Tomb of Pharaoh Ramses XI in 1977-79, and in 1979 co-founded the The ban Foundation of Berkeley, Calif., an organization dedicated to conservation of the Royal Tombs of Thebes. He has also worked on numerous archaeological expeditions for the University of Chicago.
Romer lives in Italy but also has a home in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
"I've spent most of my adult life in two very religious countries," he said. "It's made a great impression on me, especially the Muslims. But the Christian peasants have also educated me. I think it's very important that if you're studying an ancient world that you live in a place like that. I don't know how young students studying ancient Greece can understand it living in a modern country."
Romer said he first got into making television films as a means of fund-raising. He said he was astonished how little people care about the past. Television became a way of showing contributors where the money was going and to explain complicated things.
"Television is the greatest selling medium ever devised," he said. "I don't think you can educate people in the classic sense, but you can get them interested in investigating more. I want people to have a care for old things. I want them to treat the past in a more respectful way."