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Friday, March 09, 2007
(2:30 PM) | Stephen:
Bible in Public Schools

Next year, public school students in Georgia will be able to take classes on the Christian Bible. One class is "Literature and History of the Old Testament Era," and the other is "Literature and History of the New Testament Era." By using the term "Old Testament" to refer to the Hebrew scriptures, they make it clear that the perspective of the class is a Christian perspective.

Even the use of "era" is problematic. The Hebrew Scriptures were put together over a few thousand years, and by that I'm just referring to the actual writing down of it all. Most of it dates from after the 6th century BCE up to about the 4th century BCE, though even that section draws upon more ancient traditions. Some of it has existed in written form for a very long time.

It has been noted that the Hebrews appropriated quite a bit of material from other cultures; the similarities between the Noah stories and Babylon's Gilgamesh are fairly well known. It is my completely unsupported view that the Hebrew scriptures, along with other ancient texts, bear witness to stories so ancient that they were told around some of the very first campfires ever, back when we were all still hanging around the jungles and savannahs of Africa. So to speak of an "Old Testament Era" is to show profound ignorance of the subject matter. Of course, that can possibly be rectified in the classroom by competent teachers.

That leads to my other problem, which is that there are very few competent teachers for this type of thing. Arrogant as it may be, if all they have is a Literature degree or something like that, they really have no business teaching the Bible. I would consider myself competent due to my education (arrogance again) and would expect most M.Div's to be able. However, I don't think that M.Div grantees have any business teaching in the public schools, unless they also have a "secular" education degree. At any rate, I certainly wouldn't be able to teach a Bible course in a public school without running afoul of the Constitution.

The reason is that the Bible is not literature. I don't like it when people try to justify the Bible because it's such a great work, able to stand up to Shakespeare. I'm not qualified to evaluate that, but it seems that they're saying the Bible needs to be good literature or it's not worth believing. If God hadn't inspired Moses, the adopted grandson of the Pharoah and therefore highly educated and literate, to write the Torah, but had instead chosen Jacob the Terminally Boring and Slightly Dimwitted Stable Shoveler, then we'd all apparently just not bother with it.

The Bible is religious. It's theological. It makes claims about God and about us. To try and teach the Bible in a secular way will empty of whatever meaning it may have. If the Georgia State Legislature's goal was to provide a way to increase the appreciation of the Christian Bible, they've already failed.

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