Francesca Stavrakopoulou

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Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Born (1975-10-03) 3 October 1975 (age 42)
Nationality British
Title Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion
Academic background
Alma mater Oxford University
Thesis 'King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities' (2002)
Academic work
Discipline Biblical studies
Institutions University of Exeter
Main interests History of ancient Israel and Judah

Francesca Stavrakopoulou (born 3 October 1975) is a British theologian and broadcaster. She is currently Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter and Head of its Department of Theology and Religion.[1][2] The main focus of her research is on the Hebrew Bible,[1] and on Israelite and Judahite history and religion.[3]

She also popularises biblical historical subjects as a TV presenter on BBC2 and Channel 4.[1] She comments on the Historicity of the Bible and Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) narratives, the role of women in the Abrahamic religions and the development of the Biblical texts.[1][4][4] Stavrakopoulou is a self-described atheist.[1][2][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Francesca Stavrakopoulou was born on 3 October 1975[6] in suburban Bromley, in greater London,[citation needed] to an English mother and a Greek father.[1][7] Stavrakopoulou was brought up in no particular religion and is an atheist.[1][2][5]


Stavrakopoulou was awarded a D. Phil. in theology by the University of Oxford.[1][2] Her dissertation, which examined the creation of an imagined past within the Hebrew Bible, was subsequently published as King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities.[8][9]

Stavrakopoulou filled subsequent teaching and research positions at Oxford at Worcester College, as a Junior Research Fellow and as a Career Development Fellow in the Faculty of Theology, departing Oxford in 2005.[10]

Stavrakopoulou began a position in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion in the University of Exeter's Department of Theology and Religion in 2005,[11] rising to the level of senior lecturer by March 2011.[1] She currently serves as Head of Theology and Religion.[12]

In 2011, Stavrakopoulou was secretary of the British-based Society for Old Testament Study in 2011,[1] and member of the European Association of Biblical Studies and of the US-based Society of Biblical Literature.[1]

Public appearances and presentations[edit]

Stavrakopoulou has appeared on several occasions in BBC One's programme featuring "moral, ethical and religious debates," The Big Questions hosted by Nicky Campbell; appearances include on the topics "Is the Bible still relevant?", [4] "Is there a difference between a religion and a cult?",[13] and "Are religions unfair to women?".[14]

Stavrakopoulou has served as writer and presenter for a number of media productions relating to her scholarly interests. She contributed to Channel 4's series The Bible: A History (2010), regarding the historicity of Moses.[1] Her first primetime presentation was a three-part television series for the BBC2 The Bible's Buried Secrets (2011;[1][2] not to be confused with NOVA's 2008 programme of the same name).[1]

These popular presentations, while being widely presented (e.g., the BBC2 production has been appearing in the U.S. as an offering of PBS stations[15][better source needed]), have met with mixed and some skeptical reviews, both in the U.K. popular press,[1][2] and more broadly.[16]

Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, consulting editor of The Catholic Herald and theologian, said that the BBC's …Buried Secrets series "is the sort of television programme that theologians ought to cherish…".[16] He complained that in the second episode of the production, which addresses the origins of monotheism, that "…in [its] closing moments… scholarship seemed to be given up in favour of… mere opinion"; he took issue with Stavrakopoulou's suggestion that contemporary Christianity's views of Mary, saints, and angels were a holdover from the polytheistic religions, and that monotheism's presentation of God as exclusively male led to the marginalisation and repression of women.[16] He argues that the polytheistic Greeks and Romans religions featured female deities, but the cultures themselves denied females all political rights.[16]

Scholarly positions and responses[edit]

The main focus of Stavrakopoulou's research is on the Hebrew bible,[1] and on Israelite and Judahite history and religion.[11][third-party source needed] She describes herself as "an atheist with huge respect for religion" and regards her work as "a branch of history like any other."[5] Stavrakopoulou has argued in popular venues, based on her research, the current academic consensus that important figures in the Hebrew bible were not historical figures as represented in that text.[1][4] She has further stated that she believes "very little, probably" of the Hebrew bible is historical fact, based on the arguments that ancient writers had an understanding of "fact" and "fiction" very different from a modern understanding, and that the Hebrew bible "wasn't written to be a factual account of the past"; she concludes, saying she does not believe accounts of Moses and King David in the Hebrew bible to be factual, and that "as an historian of the bible, I think there is very little that is factual."[4]

John Barton, Oriel & Laing Professor of Interpretation [of biblical texts] at the University of Oxford, in his Ethics in Ancient Israel, comments thus on the conclusions and general disputes in one area that Stavrakopoulou is writing as theologian and historian:

[Stavrakopoulou] argues that the idea of the king and his entourage as worshipping in an official way—that is, in practice, in accordance with the kind of religious customs the prophets approved of—while the populace at large indulged in illicit cults, is wishful thinking. A particularly striking example is child sacrifice, which (she has argued) was regarded as normal by everyone in pre-exilic and exilic times, except prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekial.[17] And indeed the Old Testament itself, while strongly condemning such a practice, makes it abundantly clear that it was very common. The idea that it was popular rather than official reflects Old Testament condemnation, but probably not the reality on the ground at the time. Similarly, polytheism was fairly obviously common in pre-exilic Israel, but there is no particular reason to think it was more common among 'the people' than in the king's palace and, indeed, in the temple. / These matters are widely disputed, but so-called popular religion may well have been much nearer to official religion…[18][19] [break in paragraph indicated, emphasis regarding disputed nature of views, added]

Christopher B. Hays notes that Stavrakopoulou doubts any reform to royal burial practices under Hezekiah,[20] contrary to the view of Nadav Na'aman "that the place of the… kings' burials moved for religious reasons… as a part of Hezekiah's reform program…".[21]

Major published works[edit]


  • ——— (2005). Discerning the Nature of Academic Theology (Dip. L.A.T.H.E.). Oxford, England: University of Oxford. OCLC 66385438. 
  • ——— (2002). Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities: a study with particular reference to King Manasseh and child sacrifice (PhD). Oxford, England: University of Oxford. OCLC 59313595. 


Stavrakopoulou's dissertation-based monograph, and her subsequent authored book-length publications are:

  • Stavrakopoulou, Francesca (2004). King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities. Berlin, GER: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3110179946. 
  • ——— (2010). Land of our Fathers: The Roles of Ancestor Veneration in Biblical Land Claims. New York, NY: T&T Clark. ISBN 9780567028815. 
  • ——— (2012). Reading the Hebrew Bible. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-47141-1. 


  • ———; Barton, J., eds. (2010). Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah. New York, NY: T&T Clark. ISBN 9780567032157. 
  • ———; Horrell, D. G.; Hunt, C.; Southgate, C., eds. (2010). Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical, Historical and Theological Perspectives. New York, NY: T&T Clark. ISBN 9780567033031. 

Journal articles and book chapters[edit]

Stavrakopoulou's major journal articles and her authored book chapters include:

  • ——— (2006). "Exploring the Garden of Uzza: Death, Burial and Ideologies of Kingship". Biblica. 87 (1): 1–21. JSTOR 42614642. Quote: Given the important theological and narrative functions of the death and burial notices in emphasizing the continuity of the Davidic dynasty… variations [in the stated burial places] have proved problematic for many commentators. 
  • ——— (2010). "'Popular' Religion and 'Official' Religion: Practice, Perception, Portrayal". In Barton, J. Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah. New York, NY: T&T Clark. pp. 37–58. ISBN 9780567032157. Retrieved 3 April 2016. 
  • ——— (2011). "Tree-Hogging in Eden: Divine Restriction and Royal Rejection in Genesis 2-3". In Higton, M.; Rowland, C.; Law, J. Theology and Human Flourishing: Essays in Honor of Timothy J. Gorringe. Eugene, OR, USA: Wipf and Stock. pp. 41–53. ISBN 1621898849. Retrieved 3 April 2016. 
  • ——— (2016). "Religion at Home: The Materiality of Practice [Ch. 19]". In Niditch, S. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel. Wiley Blackwell Companions to Religion. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 347–365. ISBN 0470656778. Retrieved 3 April 2016. Quote: For scholars of ancient Israel and Judah… the designation 'household religion' has particularly come to index a category of difference: on one level, it tends to be a label employed to describe and interrogate forms of religious practice that are distinct from religious activities associated with temples and other high-status religious sites. … On another (though related) level… the term… is also employed to designate a category of difference concerned with distinguishing the "real" religions of Israel and Judah from the somewhat caricatured biblical portrayal of 'ordinary' or 'normative' religious practice in these ancient societies. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Singh, Anita (2011-03-08). "Profile of the BBC's new face of religion". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Roberts, Hannah; Revoir, Paul (2011-03-09). "BBC's face of religion is a self-proclaimed atheist who claims God had a wife and Eve suffered from sexism". Daily Mail. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e Campbell, Nicky (Presenter); and RIght Reverend Michael Ali; Professor Richard Dawkins; Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner; Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou (participants) (2011-05-09). "Is the Bible still relevant?". The Big Questions. Series 4. Episode 15. Event occurs at 0:22-1:05, 4:21-6:12. BBC One. Retrieved 4 April 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c Daily Mail Reporter (2011-03-19). "Was God's wife edited out of the Bible? Atheist claims the Almighty had partner known as Asherah" (online news report). Daily Mail. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
  6. ^ "Stavrakopoulou, Francesca". Library of Congress Name Authority File. (Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Worcester Coll.; D.Phil. thesis in theology, Univ. of Oxford) thesis cat. inf. form (b. Oct. 3, 1975; author's preferred form of name entry: Stavrakopoulou, Francesca) 
  7. ^ "Bibliothèque St Étienne de Jérusalem – École Biblique et Archéologique Française". 
  8. ^ Francesca Stavrakopoulou (2004). King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-017994-1. 
  9. ^ Wyatt, N. (2008). "King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities [by Francesca Stavrakopoulou]". J. Theol. Studies. 59 (1): 222–223. doi:10.1093/jts/flm050. 
  10. ^ Stavrakopoulou, Francesca (2016-04-04). "Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou / Head of Theology and Religion, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion" (self-published academic biography). University of Exeter, Staff Profiles. Retrieved 4 April 2016. [third-party source needed]
  11. ^ a b Stavrakopoulou, Francesca (2016-04-04). "Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou / Head of Theology and Religion, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion" (self-published academic biography). University of Exeter, Staff Profiles. Retrieved 4 April 2016. [third-party source needed]
  12. ^ "Theology students really see the light". The Independent. 16 Jul 2015. Why study theology? With beliefs and religion at the centre of many global conflicts, is there a place for a greater understanding of them? Dr Peter Watts, the undergraduate admissions tutor at Nottingham University’s department of theology and religious studies, believes so. 
  13. ^ Nicky Campbell asks, is there a difference between a religion and a cult?... Contributors also include Francesca Stavrakopoulou, professor of ancient religion at Exeter University; Dr George Chryssides from Birmingham University; Simon Cooper from the Unification Church; Glenn Carter, president of the UK Raelian Movement.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ This is a special edition from King Edward VI Handsworth School in Birmingham and Nicky Campbell asks just one Big Question: Are religions unfair to women? Taking part are: Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter; Cole Moreton, author of Is God Still an Englishman?; Christina Rees, who sits on The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England; the theologian Vicky Beeching; the feminist Kate Smurthwaite; Liz Weston from Christ Church, Southampton; Sarah de Nordwall from Catholic Voices; Eunice Olumide, a convert to Islam; Rania Hafez from Muslim Women in Education; Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, Director of Lubavitch in the Midlands; and Bharti Tailor, President of the Hindu Forum for Europe.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ WYCC Staff (2016-04-03). "WYCC PBS Chicago - Schedule". WYCC PBS Chicago. Retrieved 4 April 2016. [better source needed]
  16. ^ a b c d Lucie-Smith, Alexander (2011-03-23). "Theologians ought to love this BBC series on the Bible. Too bad it gives in to Dan Brown-style silliness". The Catholic Herald. Retrieved 17 March 2011. [Quoting subtitle, etc.] In its closing moments the episode last night gave up fact for opinion. / …in the closing moments of the programme that scholarship seemed to be given up in favour of what was, in fact, mere opinion. First, the doctor suggested that the cult of the angels and the saints in contemporary Christianity was a hangover from polytheism. This is completely false. The Blessed Virgin is not some sort of lineal descendant of Asherah. The Blessed Virgin is a human being, not a goddess; she represents all that humanity is called to be; if she loses her humanity, she would have no appeal to her fellow human beings. But Mary is one of us—that is the whole point of her. Second, the doctor suggested that monotheism presents God as exclusively male, and men thus like God, which leads to the marginalisation and repression of women.With a charge like this, where can one start? The polytheistic Greeks and Romans denied females all political rights, despite the fact that Athens was under the protection of the goddess Athene, and Rome under the protection of Juno. The Julio-Claudian rulers claimed descent from Venus, but were not noted for their feminism. The idea that polytheism is more friendly to women is simply unsupported by the facts. It is easy to claim and sounds good, but as a serious thesis, it deserves to be dismissed. How on earth did it find itself in what purported to be a serious programme about the Bible? 
  17. ^ On these points, Barton cites Stavrakopoulou's King Manasseh (2004) and her "'Popular' Religion and 'Official' Religion: Practice, Perception, Portrayal" (in Religious Diversity, 2010), unfortunately, without page numbers.
  18. ^ Barton, John (2014). Ethics in Ancient Israel. Oxford, ENG: Oxford University Press. pp. 88f. ISBN 0199660433. Retrieved 3 April 2016. 
  19. ^ While this excerpt is not entirely an independent view—Barton is a fellow, more senior Oxonian who has collaborated with Stavrakopoulous (see Books subsection above)—it nevertheless indicates, according to this sympathetic colleague, that there is no preponderance of academic opinion on this matter, about which Stavrakopoulous writes (i.e., it is, in Barton's representation, "widely disputed").
  20. ^ Hays cites Stavrakopoulou's "Exploring the Garden of Uzza" (2006) article, and her King Manasseh (2004)
  21. ^ Hays, Christopher B. (2011). Death in the Iron Age II and in First Isaiah. Forschungen zum Alten Testament, Vol. 79. Tübingen, GER: Mohr Siebeck. p. 158. ISBN 3161507851. ISSN 0940-4155. Retrieved 3 April 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]