Monday, May 16, 2011

The Bible as Literature

Living where I do, one comes across many homeschoolers who are not Christian. A significant portion of those, while comfortable teaching ancient Greek and Roman mythologies, Native American belief systems, and perhaps even Eastern religions, struggle with Judeo-Christian beliefs.

While I am not here to debate the veracity of anyone's belief system, I will argue that students must read and understand the Bible if they are to have a full education.

How can anyone understand disputes in the Middle East without knowing Hebrew history as told in the Bible? How can anyone understand the symbolism of Western art and architecture without knowing the biblical parables and characters? A deeper knowledge of Western literature, history, medicine, and science are lost if the Bible is ignored. Current events are even more confusing if ancient history and beliefs remain unknown.

Studying the Bible (or any other religious text) is best done as a family. Parts of the Bible are contradictory, inflammatory, or even risque. Children's bibles and biblical story books gloss over this, naturally. But, if we are treating the Bible as "literature," then we must address it as is, warts and all.

An excellent study Bible, one often used in college "The Bible as Literature" courses, is The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with Apocrypha. Written in modern English, The Oxford Study Bible contains much more than biblical text and the usual explanation of abbreviations. This version includes "Reading the Bible," "Literary Forms of the Bible," "Communities in Context," "The Literature of the Biblical Communities," "The Communities' Experiences of God," "Select Index to People, Places, and Themes in the Bible," and 14 indexed maps.

The Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament are annotated, adding clarity to confusing passages and historical context lost on modern readers. Each book begins with a brief explanation of the book's historical and spiritual intent. Headings at the top of each page give a one-sentence summary of the content, allowing the reader to have an overview of what's happening.

Studying the Bible in conjunction with other subjects adds a deeper understanding to both endeavors. The poetry of the Bible inspires poetry of today. The battles fought in the Old Testament fortell the battles still fought on the same ground, thousands of years later. The contradictions within the Bible feed the contradictions within the various sects of Judeo-Christian belief. The humility of the great leaders in the Bible are examples for leaders of today. The hubris of others also stands as lessons for those same leaders.

Use the Bible as a jumping off point for discussion and debate. Why are there two creation stories in Genesis? Why does the lifespan of mankind decline as we go through the ages? How does the personality of God change from the Old Testament to the New Testament? Why was the Apocrypha debated, partly included, completely excluded, and still not a consistent part of the Bible? Why were none of the four Gospels included in the New Testament written by anyone who actually knew Jesus? What similarities do you see between stories and parables in the Bible and other religious writings, and what does that tell us about what is important to humanity? How are women depicted in the Old Testament compared with the New Testament, and why the change? Why has the Bible, in one form or another, inspired people to great good and great evil for over two thousand years? (Remember, the Bible is a Christian document, and includes the Old Testament to illustrate Christianity's link to and succession of Judaism through Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, born of a Jewish mother.)

As a society, we have already lost so much in our understanding of our past through the loss of regular study of Greek, Latin, and ancient texts. If we toss aside the Bible as well, our history, literature, and art will become all the more shallow and meaningless.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

1 comment:

  1. I was raised in an almost fanatical religious fashion and only ever read the bible from that perspective. Now I am a-religous. After reading your article I* think I can read it as literature.
    You seem to be able to be able to see all sides of the 'CUBE' If only all our " WORLD LEADERS" would stop looking at only just a couple. Imagine what a world we could have.