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September 29, 2005

Column #1,257


"The Bible and Its Influence" Part I

(First of Two Parts)

A remarkable textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence," just published, will re-introduce the teaching of the Bible in public schools across America.

How is that possible, given Supreme Court rulings which effectively banned the Bible from public schools? What the Court struck down in 1963 was a daily devotional reading of Scripture because it involved state-sponsored religious exercises. However, in that very decision, Justice Thomas Clark wrote:

"Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."

Until this volume was published however, there has not been a way for the Bible to be taught in public school.

The book opens with a Preface to students, "The Bible has been and still is one of the most influential books ever published. Its influence is seen in literature, art, music, culture, public policy and public debate. The first English translations of the Bible helped to fashion the English language itself - so much so that, had the Bible not been translated into English when it was, Shakespeare’s plays might never have been written."

On the eve of his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King asserted, "...I’ve been to the mountaintop...And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

The textbook notes that to grasp the full impact of this historic moment, one has to know King’s biblical references. "One needs to know what the `mountaintop’ is all about. What does `I may not get there with you’ mean? What is this reference to the `Promised Land?’"

A 17- page section of the lavishly illustrated book tells the story of Moses, leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, through 40 years of wandering to a mountain in Jordan overlooking the Promised Land. "Of the generation that left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb, who were completely faithful to God, would cross over the Jordan," the book notes. "Moses himself would not cross over into the Promised Land; he had disobeyed God by striking the rock to obtain water (Read Numbers 20:7-12.)"

In Deuteronomy Moses preaches his final sermons, one of which is cited by the textbook:

"See I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments...that you may thrive and increase, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess. But if your heart turns away, and you give no heed, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this day that you shall certainly perish; you shall not long endure on the soil that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day; I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life."

The book advises students they are studying the Bible "academically, not devotionally," learning about its role in life, language and culture. "You will be given an awareness of the religious content of the Bible, but you will not be pressed into accepting religion."

"The Bible and Its Influence," does not draw moral lessons. It is not an extended sermon, but an honest and genuine analysis of the Bible’s contents and its impact on such worlds as literature and culture.

For example, it notes that a book to help students prepare for the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Exam lists "a profusion of allusions" that students should know, 60 percent of which are biblical such as: Abraham and Isaac, Absalom, Armageddon, blind leading the blind, burning bush, by bread alone.

A picture of a sculpture, "The Hand of God," by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) appears next to a section on the Genesis account of creation. It is a huge hand thrust from rock, molding Adam and Eve out of clay. The book’s description is lyrical: "The sculpture alludes to the process of creation as an infinite circle. A man, the sculptor, creates an image of God, the Creator, sculpting from clay a man in his own image."

Here at long last is a book that can help America become biblically literate.

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