Jewish history as the Bible sees it vs. the latest archaeological evidence: a literate, handsomely illustrated survey that wavers between the scholarly and the popular. Magnusson's credentials as an author, educator, and translator are firstrate. He has also had a lot of experience with TV, having helped to found the BBC Chronicle series on history and archaeology. The wonder is, then, that he doesn't manage this particular documentary (itself based on a BBC series) with a surer hand. In the opening sections, especially, he overwhelms the reader with minutiae about recent digs and the controversies they've spawned in academe. He gets carried away by professional enthusiasm, and forgets that the laymen may not really care that Heshbon, though a major city in the Iron II period, was a village at most in Iron I. After a while, though, Magnusson begins laying more emphasis on the light shed by notable excavations on the heroic tales of the Bible. In general, he views the historicity of Hebrew scriptures skeptically, and he challenges the approach of scholars like the eminent Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin who work with a Bible in one hand and a spade in the other. He likewise has a vigilant eye for the prejudices of biblical writers, and makes an effort to ""rehabilitate"" such maligned figures as Ahab, Jezebel, and the Philistines. Till the end Magnusson occasionally lapses into fussy details, but not for long. In any case, he's always clear, direct, and dispassionate--and sometimes quite entertaining.