Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

TX 07/02/2010

Ann Widdecombe MP recounts a rough (she only has 48 minutes) history of the ten commandments, from their disputed origins, through their underpinning of British law, right up to their disputed morality today.

Widdecombe is neither afraid to ask people the tough questions, nor present responses that she doesn’t like, interviewing people who disagree with her and pretty much letting them win. Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry both come across as quite annoyed, but so does Widdecombe herself, and the consequent bluster from all parties doesn’t seem too constructive.

I found particular interest in the reappearance of Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou from programme two, mainly because I found myself disagreeing at some point with everyone. Here I’m going to sound very arrogant by quoting the programme and interrupting them both with what I think.

Widdecombe: (narrating)”Christianity had now developed its own distinct laws based on the ten commandments and Jesus’ interpretation of them, and these are the laws that served us for two millennia.”

Not sure that, as a Christian, I would subscribe to the description of Christianity having laws, believing as I do that words reflect truth imperfectly, and should not therefore wholly replace it.

"But in the last hundred years, scholars have actually questioned the very foundations of the Bible."

Francesca Stavrakopoulou is about to give this timeframe as the last 300-400 years.

Stavrakopoulou: "Well traditionally scholars used to think that Moses wrote that book, but that was scholarship from several hundred years ago. By the time you get to around the seventeenth century, and then moving forward into the nineteenth century, scholars began to realise that Moses was very unlikely to have written those books, primarily because there are so many conflicting ideas in those books. There are so many duplications and inconsistencies, so it’s unlikely that one person was responsible for writing all of them."

I'd be interested to know Francesca's definition of an inconsistency. I would also argue that real life, and real people, are full of duplications and inconsistencies. When one makes two opposing statements, both are often likely to be true within each other’s context. Eg. “I wear white socks” and “I wear black socks”. Those two statements might appear to be contradictory, but taken together they express different aspects of a bigger truth. Actually I wear a lot of socks. Just look at all the duplications and inconsistencies in this blog!

It happened to me just today. I told Herschel that I liked the new Doctor Who credits. (because they do the job) A moment later I told him that I didn’t like them. (because they’re slower than the old ones) Though the two statements are opposites, both are true, because neither one is the whole of my opinion.

Widdecombe: (narrating)"Disturbingly, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, along with many modern Biblical scholars, doesn’t think Moses could have written the first five books of the Bible."

The last of those five books is a collection of some of his speeches, followed by an account of his death! :)

"She and her colleagues believe that these books – from Genesis to Deuteronomy – draw on a number of different historical traditions, and were written down hundreds of years after Moses lived. If this theory is true, what does it mean for Moses?"

Stavrakopoulou: "Historically, we’re not very sure about Moses at all. Some scholars even doubt that he actually existed."

Widdecombe: "So, the Israelites were never enslaved in Egypt, there was no slave revolt, they didn’t leave Egypt to wander rather uncertainly in the desert, they didn’t finally arrive at a place they were going to settle, none of that actually happened, it’s all a figment of somebody’s imagination?"

That is so not what she just said.

Stavrakopoulou: "There’s no archaelogical evidence for a huge group of people leaving Egypt and coming into Canaan. If we take the Bible at face value, the Bible tells us that about 600-thousand free men left Egypt to come into the promised land, so with their wives and their children, that would make about two million people. We would expect to find some kind of archaeological trace of that, whether in Egyptian records, or whether archaeologically in terms of settlement patterns."

I wouldn’t. Four thousand years have passed. That’s more than a hundred times my life, fer goodness sake!

Widdecombe: "…and somebody else wrote Deuteronomy and said I’ll call him Moses? Well I have to say that smacks to me of let’s disregard the whole of the Old Testament because it talks about God."

Again, that’s not what she said.

Stavrakopoulou: “It’s not to deny the historicity of any of these traditions necessarily, what’s really important is that…”

Widdecombe: (interrupting)”So the answer is you don’t know?”

Leading the interviewee.

Stavrakopoulou: "We don’t know for sure, of course, there may well have been an exodus, what we do know is it’s highly unlikely to have been anything of the kind of scale that’s described in the Hebrew Bible."

Click here for review of programme 1 - Creation.
Click here for review of programme 2 - Abraham.
Click here for review of programme 4 - The Daughters of Eve.
Click here for review of programme 5 - Jesus.
Click here for review of programme 6 - St. Paul.
Click here for review of programme 7 - Revelation - The Last Judgement.

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