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Last night the BBC’s biblical scholar made a crucial and sloppy mistake about Christian belief

Isn’t the BBC supposed to educate? Why, then, is it spreading ignorance in this way?

By on Thursday, 31 March 2011

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, by Wenzel Peter

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, by Wenzel Peter

I had resolved not to watch Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s third programme on The Bible’s Hidden Secrets, entitled The Real Garden of Eden, but in the end the temptation to stay away from the BBC iPlayer was simply too much to resist.

I would love to provide a point by point refutation of the doctor’s thesis that the Garden of Eden was in fact on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a real place, and that Adam was a historical kingly personage, and the Fall an allegory of the sack of Jerusalem, but alas, there is neither time nor space for that. Life is too short. And really, if she had been in Dan Brown territory last week, the good doctor was in Erich von Däniken territory this week. Where was the hard evidence for these extraordinary claims? And why was there no mention of the evidence that rules it out? After all, unless a lot has changed in Biblical scholarship since I was at the Gregorian University, sitting at the feet of Professor Gianluigi Prato, everyone knows that the Eden story is Babylonian in origin and that it was written down in the time of King Solomon and the so-called “Solomonic enlightenment”) (circa 900 BC), which was several hundred years before the first sack of Jerusalem in 597 BC.

But this sort of nonsense all springs from the basic error of ignoring what the text says in favour of what I think it ought to say – something I was severely told off for by my English teacher as an A-level student.

But what I really want to say to the doctor is that she is guilty of attributing indiscriminately to Christians doctrines that many Christians do not hold. Twice we were told that the Eden story was the basis for the belief that humanity is “fundamentally bad”. That sounds great, but no Catholic would ever claim that humanity is fundamentally bad, for no Catholic believes that. (Some Protestants may do so, but I can leave them to fight their own corner.) Belief in original sin means that we all have a tendency to do wrong and commit sin; it does not mean that we are completely corrupted. The Catechism (articles 410-412) is very clear on this: “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God,” it says.

Why is this important? Well, if one leaves the doctor’s statement that we think humanity fundamentally bad, we seemingly assent to the foundational attack on faith made by Nietzsche, namely that belief in God necessarily entails the denigration of humanity, and that the more you love God the less you care about the human race. It is this Nietzschean idea that is the foundation of the unjustified claim that the Catholic Church is “the enemy of humanity”.

But this is simply false: the more you believe in God the more you will value humanity as his creation, and as the people called to dialogue with him.

The assertion that the Eden story is the source of this belief in human depravity also contradicts the text of Genesis, for, if you remember, God shows mercy to our first parents. He clothes their nakedness, and though they are put out of the Garden, this is not necessarily a disaster, as the closing words of Milton’s Paradise Lost show:

Som natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.

The doctor’s error is something that would guarantee her a fail at A-level, at least if I were marking her paper – it is an elementary, careless mistake, and it shows that the BBC does not employ fact checkers; it is another sign of the sloppiness of our age, and in particular the way that religion is routinely misrepresented by people who ought to know better. After all, isn’t one of the BBC’s purposes to educate? Why, then, is it spreading ignorance in this way?

One last point: the doctor also asserted that the Eden story has had a negative impact on women and led to their suppression. I am prepared to accept this preliminary thesis. I agree, Eve is not the best standard bearer for women. But can someone, somewhere, please find me a single shred of evidence that links the Eden story to an actual occasion where women have been treated badly? Can it be proved? Is there any hard evidence for this view at all? Because if it cannot be verified then it is yet another worthless supposition.

  • guest -m

    Stil it does not relate to the topic….

    Still can be said that it is simply proof of greatness god’s love…..not the proof that humans are worth of it :D……

  • Peter

    The reason why humanity cannot merit anything in its own right is because it has received everything freely from God, NOT because it is “fundamentally rotten”. (See Compendium 426).

  • Y Smith

    a very bigoted article… biased considering this is posted on the catholic herald’s site.

  • guest -m

    OK..but the initial question was -whether humans were chosen because of their traits- It seems that the answer is no -just as I advocated – even if it is not because the original sin but the fact of our dependence of god…….

    And the idea of humanity being fundamentally rotten may be justified via “original sin doctrine”

    Also….there is other thing….The “no-merit-before- god” idea itself seems to require OS doctrine…. Cause if justification is given “by grace” – it means that is undeserved -ang god has no obligation to help humans..

    But justification seems to to be salvation from punishment of some kind (hell or pugatory)…If this is the case then it seems that god is not obliged to save humans from suffering….but every moral agent is responsible for saving sentient beings from undeserved suffer if it is within his power…..That means that suffer of humans is not undeserved…Which entails that humans are -’before aquiring salvation” guilty….This guilt should be essential to human nature as it refers to all people……And it has to justify suffering in purgatory at least – if not in hell……So it must be “big essential flaw of human beings”….It is what i call being “fundamentally rotten”…

  • reasonable?

    Ahem, she did point out the reordering of the books giving undue emphasis and justification for the treatment of women. What does the Torah do with the story in terms of its ordering in its scripture? Didn’t she mention Ezekiel? Surely your question, where is her evidence?, does need to be refuted point by point. Does the fact it will taks you more than a few paragraphs put you off. It is central to Christian belief so you ought to honour her intellectual argument with a decent response with substantive academic argument. Your counter argument ought to be based on this refutation supported with examples and if you don’t provide it and just criticise her argument then you have simply set up a hollow strawman of an argument. You counter is less than ingenious since she does provide supporting evidence from archaeology and scripture (this despite the revisionist disguising of the original tale and you do not. As for women being treated badly throughout history, this is linked to the Western adoption of these Bronze Age Middle Eastern cults and the role of women in those societies. Without Judaism and Christianity in Europe Women wouldn’t have adopted the sin of enlightening Adam but slighting a jealous and moody God.

  • In Our Times

    It’s certainly very clear that you are not a victim EditorCT & lucky you, indeed.

  • Mike_gambit

    Unfortunately, the tone of this article and the comments left by its supporters are conspiring to reinforce the belief of some that Christianity and all religions are just cults that got lucky. As someone with an open mind, I had hoped that there would be some objective debunking of Dr Stavrakopoulou’s claims, backed up by evidence in archaeology and scripture. Instead I read about political agendas at the BBC and a thinly veiled attack on Dr Stavrakopoulou’s academic method. Surely you can do better than that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625630897 Ken Jackson

    DR Stavrakopoulou is an academic and has spent her career studying Hebrew and biblical mythology, the dissenting voices have read the bible, probably the King James version and base much of your condemnation of her opinion on this. She is a scholar, she travels to the locales within the biblical canon, meeting other students of history, archeologists, linguists, geologists etc. To simply write her off because she doesn’t fit the narrow knowledge platform you have surrounded yourselves with is ridiculous, through her program she is trying to educate the uninformed, possibly expand the understanding of the misinformed.

  • Parasum

    “[E]veryone knows that the Eden story is Babylonian in origin”

    ## In its geography, maybe; but in what other respects ? It might be a satire on Babylonian religion – then again, it might not. 

    “Twice we were told that the Eden story was the basis for the belief that humanity is “fundamentally bad”. That sounds great, but no Catholic would ever claim that humanity is fundamentally bad, for no Catholic believes that. (Some Protestants may do so, but I can leave them to fight their own corner.) Belief in original sin means that we all have a tendency to do wrong and commit sin; it does not mean that we are completely corrupted. The Catechism (articles 410-412) is very clear on this: “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God,” it says.”

    ## That’s the CCC – but the CCC =///= the OT or the Book of Genesis or the Bible.

    “the foundational attack on faith made by Nietzsche, namely that belief
    in God necessarily entails the denigration of humanity, and that the
    more you love God the less you care about the human race.”

    This is not exactly without supporting evidence: the Bible alone – to say nothing of any other texts – has been used to support pogroms, extermination of heretics, slavery, imperialism, theft from those of the “wrong” religious views, harshness to children. The Book of Joshua describes activities that would not be alien to the Waffen-SS.  Whether the type of theism is mono, poly, or some other, seems to make no difference.

    “But this is simply false: the more you believe in God the more you will value humanity as his creation, and as the people called to dialogue with him.”

    ## This is – how can one put this ? – not unambiguously evident from the course of Church history. I suppose one could make a case that St.Pius V (like other Inquisitors whom the Church has beatified or canonised ?) was a closet atheist, but this POV is unlikely to be appreciated at Rome. Belief in God can be very strong, without being remotely charitable – it is Catholic dogma that one can retain the gift of faith, even if one loses charity.

    “The assertion that the Eden story is the source of this belief in human depravity also contradicts the text of Genesis, for, if you remember, God shows mercy to our first parents.”

    Where’s the contradiction ? God can – apparently – love us, while having not the slightest love for our sins. If that is the case, than God can love those who are depraved, which, if one is Calvinist, is the entire human race. If God cannot love the depraved, no one could be saved. For the record, Calvin was well of the paradox in God’s love of sinners. It is explicit in St.Paul. “*While we were yet sinners*, Christ died for us…” That surely goes far beyond anything in Genesis 3.

    “But can someone, somewhere, please find me a single shred of evidence that links the Eden story to an actual occasion where women have been treated badly? Can it be proved? Is there any hard evidence for this view at all? Because if it cannot be verified then it is yet another worthless supposition.”

    Tertullian, Jerome & other Fathers say a lot of unflattering things about women, in connection with the sin of Eve. How much evidence is wanted ?

  • Parasum

    “If we humans are so “fundamentally rotten in our nature”, why does
    God single us out from the rest of creation and call us to become His
    adopted children [?]” 

    Because God is gracious, even though we are not. God’s grace does not find us in His friendship – it makes us His friends. Human beings are dust and ashes”, a vapour, unclean, alienated from God, dead in sin – fortunately for us, God is rather less self-regarding than we are. There is not the slightest glimmer of good in man, or in any creature, that is not a gift from God. So it’s totally impossible, always, for us to deserve God’s Love.

  • Parasum

     @Savonarola:
     
    Slavery to sin is one of St.Paul’s themes, in several of his letters – ISTM your argument is with him. Jesus spoke of self-denial – as, again, does St.Paul.

    The Church at prayer has to take the script it’s given.

  • Esmeralda

    As much as you want to not believe it, organized religion was established as a means to control people.

  • Albertdvelasco

    Very True. Dr. Francesca’s documentaries are one sided and all point out that the Bible is a big fallacy. We cannot blame her though as she is an Aetheist. But then, that makes her unfit to make sound judgment and unbiased conclusion on biblical discussions.

  • Djmerceron

    I come late to this – a year late. However, my thoughts. Aren’t you getting increasingly irritated by atheists who tell Christians (and those of other faiths) what they believe (I have not seen a believer on British TV tell an atheist what they think, have you? – God forbid that would not be allowed). Invariably they major on the more extreme and, oh, demolish the belief with sound evidence. This must stop! I do not like conspiracy theories, but watching the programming on BBC over the last 20 years has shown me that things are afoot. Increasingly I believe this is deliberate – as the executives, celeb presenters and chat show hosts meet up and plan for the coming year over canapes and fine wine (at tax payers expense), I really do believe that they tut and giggle condescendingly when they talk of religious programming. I believe that it is long overdue for Christianity to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy, and biased programmes such as this. It is fascinating but the flaws are visible and that makes it ugly. i pay my fee – I need my say – how about you?

  • wmartin46

    > Belief in original sin means that we all have a tendency to
    > do wrong and commit sin; it does not mean that we are
    > completely corrupted.

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    Original Sin:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm

    Original sin may be taken to mean: (1) the sin that Adam committed; (2) a
    consequence of this first sin,
    the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent
    from Adam.