Atheist to present BBC’s new Bible series

In The Bible’s Buried Secrets, Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou will guide viewers through some of the latest archaeological discoveries in the Middle East and consider how these may shape the world's understanding of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Some of the topics to be explored by the programme include the origins of the story of the Garden of Eden and the historical context of King David and his kingdom.

According to The Telegraph, Dr Stavrakopoulou makes a number of assertions in the programme, notably about Eve.

“Eve, particularly in the Christian tradition, has been very unfairly maligned as the troublesome wife who brought about the Fall,” said Stavrakopoulou, a senior lecturer in the Hebrew Bible at the University of Exeter.

“Don’t forget that the biblical writers are male and it’s a very male-dominated world. Women were second-class citizens, seen as property.”

In an interview with the Radio Times, Dr Stavrakopoulou said she did not think the Bible could be used as a reliable historical source and said that as an academic “you leave your faith at the door”.

She said: “I’m aware that there are some who find it hard to understand why an atheist could possibly be interested in the Bible, and I think that does a massive disservice to a fantastic collection of ancient texts.

“The Bible is a work of religious and social literature that has a huge impact on Western culture, and for that reason it’s important that programmes like these are made.”

Andrew Graystone, director of the Church and Media Network, does not think Christians should worry about an atheist presenting a programme on the Bible.

“Within the broader mix of programmes on the BBC, the personal convictions of the presenters don’t matter so much. What matters is whether or not they are an expert in the subject of the programme and are a good presenter,” he said.

“Impartiality is always important but we can’t expect presenters to be completely impartial. Jeremy Clarkson isn’t impartial about cars, Gary Lineker isn’t impartial about football. What matters is that the presenters are intelligent and sensible and that the viewers are equally intelligent and sensible.”

Mr Graystone said he did not see Dr Stavrakopoulou’s appointment as a sign that the BBC was being unfair in its handling of the Christian faith.

“Some headlines have described Dr Stavrakopoulou as the BBC’s ‘new face of religion’ and I think that’s over rigging it a bit because the BBC has many faces of religion. It doesn’t have a single face of religion,” he said.

“It’s hard to make the case that the BBC is being unfair to Christians when they just had a four-part prime time series on Jesus at Christmas and Radio 4 dedicated a whole day to reading the King James Bible.”

He advised Christians to withhold judgement on the programme until it had aired.

“We haven’t seen it yet so let’s see what it’s actually like. It might be great, it might be terrible but if it’s terrible it won’t be terrible because it wasn’t presented by a Christian.”

The first of the three-part series airs on March 15 at 9pm on BBC Two.