The Bible's Buried Secrets

Providence Pictures has been working hard for years to produce The Bible's Buried Secrets, which premieres November 18th at 8:00 pm on NOVA.  We scouted and filmed at archaeological sites throughout the Middle East—including Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.  We interviewed leading biblical scholars from around the world.  Our animators have built a one-of-a-kind Bible filled with masterpieces of art and brought ancient Israel to life through the most accurate 3D models.  Our reenactments rival Hollywood for their art direction and cinematography, and surpass any film on historical accuracy—even going so far as to teach modern scribes to write paleo-Hebrew, the original alphabet of the Bible.  We're confident that our film will be the definitive documentary on biblical archaeology for years to come.

In July 2008, NOVA showcased a 4-minute trailer to The Bible's Buried Secrets for a gathering of media from around the country.  As soon as they started blogging about it, the public response was swift and impassioned.  Attacks and a petition drive to defund PBS were launched by one organization that describes their mission "to change the culture to reflect Biblical truth" and that "God has communicated absolute truth to man through the Bible." They condemned the film without even seeing the trailer, let alone the film.  We'd love to know what you think.  Check out the trailer and feel free to join the discussion!   And be sure to watch the broadcast November 18 on PBS.


The Bible's Buried Secrets is available on DVD from Amazon.  Own it today!


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Q & A with Dr. Tristan Barako

Dr. Barako, in His Own Words...

My name is Tristan Barako and I'm the Senior Researcher for the NOVA/PBS documentary The Bible's Buried Secrets.  I became involved in the film because of my background in biblical archaeology.  I received my Ph.D. in the subject from Harvard University and I've excavated for many years in the Middle East.

The conversation starts with questions about the documentary, biblical archaeology, and religion. 


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The following is an op-ed piece that Gary Glassman wrote for the Newsweek/Washington Post website:

Does "proving" the Bible matter?

Even before its nationwide broadcast tonight, Nov. 18, on PBS, "The Bible's Buried Secrets," an archaeological and literary investigation into the origins of the Bible, is at the center of the storm in the eternal conflict between faith and science.

When the film was announced to the press in Los Angeles this past summer, it was attacked, not by journalists, but by a religious group that believes "God has communicated absolute truth to man through the Bible." Even though they hadn't seen the film, they were so incensed by the show's suggestion that the Bible was written by human hands that they started a petition to defund PBS. When science and faith intersect, this is an all-too-common reaction.


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The Bible's Buried Secrets will be airing tonight at 8:00pm on NOVA/PBS (check your local listings) and a bunch of reviews of the show have popped up online.

New York Post-
"The aim of 'The Bible's Buried Secrets' - produced, written and directed by Gary Glassman - was not to debunk the Bible. Instead, the film is an exploration of the ancient, real-life roots of monotheism, a concept that changed the world. The telling of this story, with its implications for the future of all mankind, is one of the most dramatic tales you'll see on television this season."

Biblical Archaeology Review-
"NOVA's two-hour special, 'The Bible's Buried Secrets,' takes viewers on a fascinating quest in search of the origins of the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament."

"'The Bible's Buried Secrets' really is a spectacular broadcast - a beautiful and sumptuously re-created portrait of the deep past."

Baltimore Sun-
"'The Bible's Buried Secrets' is a detective story driven by a narrative of discovery as powerful as anything you'll find across the prime-time landscape"

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-
"The PBS series 'NOVA' has produced an engrossing two-hour show about how the Hebrew Bible was written. Aspects of it will intrigue anyone interested in the Bible, but it ultimately overreaches and tries to settle disputed scholarship."

Newark Star-Ledger-
"'The Bible's Buried Secrets' does a magnificent job of answering questions many have never thought to ask. The two-hour special is lush, filled with beautiful photography of Middle Eastern sites, interviews with scholars, re-enactments, art and close-ups of archaeological treasures."


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WKAR eNews-
"New documentary reveals startling new discoveries that shake the foundation of Biblical archeology."

Orlando Sentinel-
"Will 'Bible's Buried Secrets' generate more controversy with its look at how science, Scripture intersect?"


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New slant on Bible's origins

Thursday, November 13, 2008
By Richard C. Dujardin
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- After years of producing documentaries on topics as varied as volcanoes, the secrets of the Parthenon and the crash of Swissair Flight 111, Providence-based filmmaker Gary Glassman has produced a stunning documentary about the origins of the Hebrew Bible.

The Bible's Buried Secrets is a two-hour NOVA documentary that is scheduled to air on PBS Tuesday. Glassman, who is the show's writer, producer and director, describes it as an archaeological detective story that explores how the ancient Israelites were transformed from being a people who worshipped many gods into a people who believed in a single God.

"The traditional story is that Moses authored the first five books of the Bible, but the consensus of most scholars is that it was the work of many hands," says Glassman.

The film largely accepts the hypothesis of scholars who say those five books represent texts that were written over a period of several hundred years, which were compiled and edited into a form familiar to people today in 536 B.C. after the Jews went into exile in Babylon.

"If there had been a historical Moses, it would have been 700 years after his death."

What's that? Does Glassman say, "if" there was a Moses?

He explains that because the film had to be based on solid scholarship and research, the filmmakers had to look for evidence outside the scriptures. While there is a possibility that there were Jews who fled Egypt 3,200 years ago, the scholars who were interviewed by Glassman's team found no evidence of a massive exodus of 600,000 men and their families as described in the Bible.

At the same time, Glassman says the film points to other exciting discoveries that help to support parts of the Bible story, such as a huge stone monument known as the Merneptah Stele, which is believed to have been erected by an Egyptian pharaoh around 1208 B.C. On it, the pharaoh lists the peoples he conquered, including the Israelites.

Stuck into maps of the Middle East at Glassman's Providence Pictures headquarters on the third floor of the old Providence Journal Building at Eddy and Westminster streets are tacks showing numerous archaeological sites in Israel, Syria and Jordan that the filmmaker and his team visited during the two years they worked on the production.

During one visit to an archaeological dig in a valley in Tel Rehov, Israel, the team was on hand when archaeologists unearthed a clay figurine of Asherah, who was regarded by many of the ancient Israelites as a fertility goddess and consort to the god, El, who they believed would become "Yahweh's wife."

The finding of such figurines is not unusual. While many people assume, from the stories told to them in Sunday school, that the Israelites had been monotheists from the time of Abraham, the figurines as well as exhortations of Hebrew prophets against idol worship, show that the ancient Israelites were perhaps no different from other ancient peoples and believed in multiple gods, Glassman says.

But it is noteworthy, he says, how that changed during the period of the Babylonian exile. "Something happened during their exile that forged their belief in one God."

For the first time, they identified themselves as Jews and read and studied a Bible that taught them to see themselves and their relationship to God in a new way.

To bring the story to life, Glassman and his team visited ancient ruins over two years and employed digital animation techniques that allowed them, for example, to show what the long-lost Temple of Solomon could have looked like before it was destroyed. They commissioned a hand-crafted illustrated Bible -- a bound collection of art, featuring images of ancient frescoes and illuminated medieval manuscripts -- which became part of the film.

"I think what distinguishes this film from others is the depths that we went into to create historical accuracy," Glassman said.

Providence Pictures also hired actual scribes. Tristan Barako, the show's associate producer and senior researcher, who has a doctorate in Middle Eastern religious studies from Harvard University, even taught the scribes how to write in ancient Paleo-Hebrew lettering to make the scenes more accurate.

This is a film, says Glassman, that crystallizes 100 years of academic and archeological scholarship, and shows how the Jews gave the world the concept of one God, fundamental to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

A native of New York, Glassman received a master's degree in fine art from the University of California at Los Angeles before meeting his future wife, Joan Branham, a visiting scholar at the Getty Center there.

In 1996, his wife was hired as a professor of art and art history at Providence College, where she is now a department chairman.

In the dozen years since, he started Providence Pictures. Glassman's company has produced 30 documentaries, including award-winning films such as the one on the building of the Parthenon in Athens.

That production recently won the top award at the International Archaeological Film Festival and was the highest rated show of the year on the Franco-German Arte television network. It was also the second-highest rated show on NOVA in the last two years. Glassman says he's hoping for even bigger ratings this time.

Asked if the film would inspire people or upset them, Glassman said: "I would say that in many ways the film is like the Bible.

"You can find what you want in it or make it what you want. People who want to do good and those who want to do bad can find messages in the Bible. I would hope that people who see this film will find a message of inspiration in the best traditions of what it can mean to people."

As for the film's impact on his own faith, he says working on the production inspired him.

"I have to say that my relationship to religion has very much to do with sitting around the family table. The table that me and my wife and daughter, in-laws and friends gather around on Friday night is that same table that I grew up with."

Regardless of whether there really was a Moses or an Abraham, "my sense is that what the stories are about is our being part of a long tradition that goes back thousands of years. Making this film has increased my respect for the religious traditions."


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NOVA has posted some behind the scenes videos giving you a  "behind the scenes" look at some of the work that went into the creation of The Bible's Buried Secrets.

The two at the bottom, "Animating the Bible" and "From Concept to Completion" feature the efforts of Handcranked Productions who created over 35 beautiful animations for The Bible's Buried Secrets.

You can also read this nice article about Handcranked on Filmmakers Collaborative and check out their website here.


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NOVA has posted 2 new clips from The Bible's Buried Secrets on YouTube.

Did God Have a Wife?

Recreating the Temple


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Internet Institutions:

Wikipedia Entry

Internet Movie Database


Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog-
Aren Maeir (one of the scholars featured in the show) posts about the upcoming airing of The Bible's Buried Secrets.

More from Dr. Jim West here and here.

Ketuvim: the Writings of James R. Getz Jr.

Biblia Hebraica-
I think the program looks interesting. Better than the typical "Mysteries of the Bible" things that come out every so often...


U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops- (scroll down to the bottom)

"The origins of the Hebrew Scriptures...are shrouded in obscurity. Most scholars now reject the long-held belief that Moses was the author of the Torah, or first five books of the Bible. Instead, they see them as products of a long oral tradition, the stories being passed down in different versions before eventually being woven into the text we know. 'The Bible's Buried Secrets,' an intriguing, sometimes provocative look at how contemporary archaeology sheds light on this process..."


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Religion is in the air.  Perhaps more so now because it's the Presidential Election season, a time when some people force their personal beliefs on others, and religion and politics combine  to divide us.
But most people don't have that kind of relationship with their religion.  I believe most people's faith is based on the idea that there is something larger than ourselves, something that unites us toward a common good.  That belief encourages us to care for children, the poor, the elderly, and the sick, to treat everyone fairly and equally, to treasure and preserve the earth, and to try to make the world a better place.  Those are the values I always believed came from religion, and the values shared among all religions.
Pretty basic stuff.
I was taught those basic values are in the Bible, and so I was curious to find out how the Bible came to be.  Science provided the road map for the investigation, film making the vehicle, and The Bible's Buried Secrets is the result.  
I was aware I was entering sensitive, sacred territory.  And I was amazed and inspired by what I discovered, and believe the film reflects respect and reverence for the Bible and the people who created it.
That is why I was particularly surprised at how the film, without even having been seen, is under attack.  The furor can not be because of the content.  It is sparked, I think, by the fact that a science series dares to step into spiritual territory, a realm that some religious groups claim as their own.  Just the idea of our film is touching a nerve at the heart of our society, politics, and ultimately our personal spiritual well-beings--the question of who owns God?  
For too long religion and spirituality have been manipulated by those who believe they have a monopoly on morality.  Perhaps it is time for religion to be reclaimed by reasonable people.


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