The Bible: A History

Episode Guides

The story of the most influential book ever written, interpreted by seven prominent figures from different walks of life

About the Show

The story of the most influential book ever written, interpreted by seven prominent figures from different walks of life

Series 1 Summary

The Bible: A History tells the story of the most influential book ever written: a collection of over 60 books which tell the story of the creation of the world, the birth of mankind, the promise of a homeland for the Jewish people and the remarkable life of Jesus Christ, before culminating in a terrifying vision of the end of the world.

Since its origins thousands of years ago in the Middle East, the Bible has crossed continents, created and healed divisions and ignited controversy.

This series explores the origins, ideas and influence of seven sections of the Scriptures, tracing how they came into existence and how they have shaped the world we live in today.

Each film is written and presented by a prominent figure with a particular interest or experience relevant to the part of the Bible being examined. They offer a personal interpretation of some of the best-known aspects of this ancient book, which still guides the lives of millions of believers across the globe.

  • Howard Jacobson

    Episode 1

    Leading British novelist Howard Jacobson tries to find a path between religious and atheistic fundamentalists.

    Jacobson describes himself as a 'non-practising Jew who fears all fanaticism bred by faith'. Yet he is moved to fury by what he calls the 'New Atheists', whose most vocal cheerleader is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

    Not only, in Howard's view, do they oppose fundamentalist certainty with a no less intolerant certainty of their own, but they misunderstand the nature of religion, in particular the function of the Creation Myth. On the other hand, he is disturbed by creationists who believe in the literal truth of the Creation story and try to use science to support their faith.

    Today there is a raging battle between the two camps, those who believe that Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is a true account of how life began, and those who dismiss it as childish nonsense.

    Jacobson sets out to find a path between the fundamentalisms of religion and atheism and to reach a way of reading the Creation story that explains why it continues to stir the imagination even of unbelievers like himself.

    Jacobson talks to fervent believers, including his own Orthodox Jewish relations, and has a lively exchange with the atheist Professor A C Grayling. He meets an archaeologist who describes for him what the latest discoveries in Israel tell us about the historical origins of the Creation story, and consults scientists, philosophers and Bible scholars for their interpretations of the Creation Story.

    Howard's journey takes him from the Dead Sea to the Natural History Museum in London, a temple to Charles Darwin, whose theory of natural selection did so much to undermine traditional religious belief.

    At the end of his exploration Howard delivers his conclusions as to why the sublimely simple opening words of the Bible 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth...' still have the power to move, and still 'do our hearts good to hear'.

  • Rageh Omaar

    Episode 2

    Rageh Omaar examines Abraham, one of the most revered patriarchs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Is his legacy a source of division or does he hold the key to peace and reconciliation?

  • Ann Widdecombe

    Episode 3

    Ann Widdecombe goes in search of the law of Moses, tracing the historical origins of the Ten Commandments and their profound influence on British society for over two millennia.

  • Bettany Hughes

    Episode 4

    It's fashionable to dismiss the Bible as a manifesto for misogyny. But Bettany Hughes introduces a dazzling cast of feisty women: warriors, adulterous wives, mothers and 'good' women. [SL]

  • Gerry Adams

    Episode 5

    Gerry Adams, politician and supporter of the IRA throughout years of sectarian conflict and the subsequent peace process, investigates the life and death of Jesus Christ.

  • Tom Holland

    Episode 6

    Tom Holland examines the significance of St Paul, who, despite now being seen as an essentially conservative figure, was - in the context of his times - actually a revolutionary thinker.

  • Dr Robert Beckford

    Episode 7

    Dr Robert Beckford sets out to discover what message really lies at the heart of the Book of Revelation, one of the most complex and controversial books in the entire Bible.

The Bible: A History synopsis

The story of the most influential book ever written, interpreted by seven prominent figures from different walks of life

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