Friday, October 07, 2005

Rediscovering the Bible

I don’t know if there’s any way to verify it, but it has often been said that the Bible is the most widely read book, number one on the best seller list, etc. Muslims, on the other hand are equally convinced that the Quran on the contrary, reigns supreme. Whichever way you lean, the fact is, the Bible remains one of the most influential books (if not most widely read) in Western Civilization.

The Bible has left an indelible and undeniable imprint on literature and the arts. Particularly in the English-speaking world, ideas and language have been enriched, so words and phrases like ‘scapegoat,’ ‘two-edged sword,’ ‘prodigal son,’ to name a few, are commonly used although few acknowledge or are aware of their connections. More so with the Bible unceremoniously banished from public life and academia in these postmodern and irreligious times (Schaeffer’s description of “post-Christian” West comes to mind).

The loss of Bible literacy is a shame not least because I believe it to be the inspired word of God, but because it cancels out an idiom by which we understand the shape and pulse of Western civilization. Back in 1980 Dr Leland Ryken published the seminal “The Literature of the Bible” but that book had a somewhat narrow appeal to those familiar with the Bible as a religious text and were looking to understand its literary types and assorted genres.

Now, a group of scholars and businessmen (including Christian conservative Os Guinness) hopes to bring the Bible back from exile and make it more accessible to the uninitiated. Called the Bible Literacy Project, the group set out in 2001 to write “a Bible textbook that dispels cultural ignorance while respecting both the law and the sensibilities of Jews and Christians, who consider some or all of the Scriptures sacred.” 4 years later, the group recently announced the fruit of its labour of love, titled, The Bible and Its Influence. Gene Veith has this to say of its achievements:
The Bible and Its Influence, released on Sept. 22, hits the mark. The curriculum, designed for high school, works its way through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, introducing each section of Scripture, discussing the text and its themes, and showing where elements of each section manifest themselves in the culture. The textbook does not shy away from religion—which would be like discussing Moby Dick while ignoring whales—but abides by its promise and the legal statutes that religious ideas "neither be encouraged nor discouraged."
Besides the above textbook, here’s something that might appeal to those more inclined towards simpler reads of the Reader’s Digest sort. British former headteacher the Rev Michael Hinton is doing us all a favour with a new version of the Bible called “The Hundred Minute Bible.”

It appears it took Rev Hinton two years to scale down the Bible’s 66 books into a 60-page edition containing no more than 20,000 words. 11,000 copies of the 100-Minute Bible are being distributed to churches and schools as I write. (Hey, come to think of it, Reader's Digest does have its own version of the Bible condensed from the RSV with no less than Bruce Metzger as Editor!) The Christian Science Monitor headlined the news as Christianity in a Nutshell. The BBC quoted consultant Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Rev John Pritchard as saying,
"This is an attempt to say, 'Look, there's a great story here - let's get into it and let's not get put off by the things that are going to be the sub-plot. Let's give you the big plot'."
I find all this development fascinating and timely. Honest. There are other books apparently, and David L. Jeffrey gives a breathless overview of books on the literature of the Bible in the 80s. I stumbled on this by accident, but this guide for the ‘perplexed’ which appeared in the University of Toronto Quarterly 1990 makes interesting reading (considering how remote my chance of actually owning some of these titles). However I was especially struck by this last sentence on his rambling article:
Perhaps one of the features which draws postmodern criticism back to the Bible is likely to remain unacknowledged: namely, that the Bible is the last remaining text which continues to resist being subordinated by its criticism.
Now, isn't that something.

No comments: