Thursday, April 05, 2007


I'd been hearing about David Van Biema's cover article in the current Time, and when he popped up on C-SPAN this a.m., I knew I was going to have to go find that article and digest it.

You know what? I'm in favor of teaching the Bible as literature in public schools. The textbooks that have been developed seem more than merely adequate for recognizing the Bible as great literature while avoiding any itch to turn the lessons into devotional pretexts.

By the time I got to college I knew much of the Bible by heart. I sat in college classes with fellow West Texans who had been raised as Southern Baptists -- me? I was a holy-roller -- who couldn't recognize a Biblical allusion to (ahem) save their souls. Whatever they'd been doing all those years in Sunday School, they hadn't been paying attention.

In graduate school I encountered my first academic recognition that the Bible was impressive literature. I enrolled at the University of Utah in a course taught by a man whose eyes glittered and whose voice rose like rolling thunder when he quoted Isaiah. He was officially a proud "jack Mormon," meaning he'd been raised in the religion but had fallen away from it. Actually, I think he was a devout atheist, but he was the greatest Bible teacher I ever had.

I ended up attaching myself to him, and he became my dissertation director. He wanted me to take a few years and learn Hebrew, and since he was himself a Milton scholar, he suggested I could learn Greek "in any odd hour." Had I followed his advice, I'd still be in graduate school.

(Not that it wouldn't be nice to know Hebrew and Greek.)

The English Bible is part of the scaffolding of our language and students should know it like they (supposedly) know Shakespeare. It would make them better people if they possessed those cadences in their DNA. It would certainly make them better cussers, more able to call down the wrath of heaven on their enemies.

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