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Bible Science Volume 58 Number 5, September/October 2005
by Sandra Scham

Having had great success with shows that purport to use scientific analysis to uncover the truth about Bible-related subjects--including the Shroud of Turin and King Solomon's tablet of stone, proven to be a fake--the National Geographic Channel launches a new 13-part series called Science of the Bible on September 12. The first episode, "Birth," will study Jesus' birth by looking to Jewish, Roman, and Greek childbirth practices in antiquity, analysis of the iconography, and conflicting gospel accounts. Others will focus on Jesus' resurrection and the Holy Grail.

The series bills itself as relying on the latest historical and archaeological research, but "Crucifixion," the teaser episode airing in heavy rotation in mid-August, belongs more to the genre of forensic crime television than to that of the typical archaeological documentary. It is a self-styled historical examination of the crucifixion story that includes interesting information on Roman execution practices and the spectacular discovery of a first-century A.D. ossuary with a nailed ankle bone. But it mostly charts the slightly macabre work of a small group of scholars, ranging from the experiments of a French doctor many decades ago in which he nailed corpses to a succession of crosses, to re-creations of the crucifixion process involving modern medical techniques and computer modeling.

If "Crucifixion" is any indication, archaeology will play a role in Science of the Bible, but not as much as the series suggests, and probably not enough to engage the viewer who has a genuine archaeological interest in the period.

Sandra Scham is editor of Near Eastern Archaeology.

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© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America