The third in the Channel 4 series The Bible: A History screened tonight on SBS1. I missed the first fifteen minutes, tuning in just before this week's presenter, Ann Widdecombe, arrived at St Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Tonight's topic, the Ten Commandments. Widdecombe, a Tory MP and convert to Catholicism, reminds me a lot of one of those formidable childhood aunts that were common in the 1960s, committed to common decency to the core, and quite unable to imagine any society that wasn't wedded to mainline Christianity being able to avoid anarchy and rampant wickedness in low places.
Highlights? A brief chat with Henry Wansbrough, a testy face-off with Francesca Stavrakopoulou, an acid reference to 'trendy skeptics' immediately prior to a heated encounter with first Christopher Hitchens (a fellow fan of Marcion, much to my surprise), then Stephen Fry.
Low points? The naive treatment of the 'Books of Moses', which Widdecombe clearly prefers to think of as written by Moses himself, despite a ton of evidence to the contrary, and the whole world-denying mindset. Was there any advance here, I wondered, over the poisonous tract I read as a teenager called The Ten Commandments promoting the near-fascist fundamentalism of its author, Roderick Meredith?
Quote of the evening: "Perhaps we could do with a touch of Puritanism today."
Next week promises to be a bit of a contrast as Bettany Hughes sets out, flaming sword in hand, to discover "that far from being a 'sexist' book, [the Bible] is packed full of brave, heroic and ruthless women who still have a lot to say to the women of today."