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"The Bible and its Influence


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From a legal list I mod and participate on. Posted For What It May Be Worth






Editors say it's impossible to understand Western culture without Scripture



As lead attorney for the American Jewish Congress, Marc Stern has

been at the forefront of keeping religious activities out of public

classrooms. But now he is singing the praises of a new textbook to

introduce public school students to the Bible and its influence on culture.




Cover from the book "The Bible and its Influence," by Cullen Schippe

and Chuck Stetson


"I think they've done a very good job, and surprisingly so. It is

very difficult to write a neutral textbook about something as

freighted with meaning as the Bible," he said.


If "The Bible and Its Influence" is used as recommended by its

publisher, there will be no grounds to sue, said Mr. Stern, who

critiqued early drafts.


"Unless you believe that the Constitution requires that school

districts teach the Bible only from the viewpoint of the most extreme

biblical criticism, I don't see any plausible challenge to this

textbook," he said.


"The Bible and Its Influence" is intended to introduce high school

students to the Bible and show its impact on literature, art and

social movements. It delves into biblical references in Shakespeare

and "promised land" imagery in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I

Have a Dream" speech. It can be used for an elective course or to

supplement English or social studies.


Its editors argue that it is impossible to understand Western culture

without knowing the Bible. They cite a guide to the Advanced

Placement literature exam in which 60 percent of allusions were

biblical, including "cast the first stone" and "Lot's wife."


"This is not about religion. It's about understanding a book that has

influenced Western civilization more than any other book," said Chuck

Stetson, chairman of the Bible Literacy Project, which produced the book.


Although many people think the Supreme Court banned the Bible from

public schools in 1963, it banned only classroom devotional reading,

he said. The decision stated, "Nothing we have said here indicates

that ... study of the Bible or of religion, when presented

objectively ... may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."


Early drafts were critiqued by scholars across the breadth of

Christian and Jewish traditions and by experts on church-state law.

Its list of Hebrew Scriptures shows the Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox

and Protestant canons. Miracles are neither affirmed nor denied, only



Where there are wide differences over interpretation, such as Isaiah

53 on the "suffering servant," the text gives all sides:


"In general, Christians see in the servant songs a specific

foreshadowing of Jesus and his sufferings," the book says.


"Jews often read the suffering servant as a portrait of Israel as a

whole. Others, because the servant is depicted suffering for the sins

of others rather than their own, view the servant as a portrayal of

the 'remnant' who remain faithful to God despite exile. Some Jews do

see the suffering servant as a description of the Messiah ... but

others do not."


Revelation, the most difficult and disputed book of the New

Testament, gets three chapters. One of many "cultural connections"

boxes examines themes from Revelation in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."


Every chapter offers students a choice of projects. In Revelation,

they can research its imagery in popular culture, including novels,

movies or television, or collect artistic interpretations of images

in the book.


Mr. Stetson, who founded the Bible Literacy Project, is counting on

good sales of the book, which costs $67.95 for a single copy but less

for schools. Inquiries are coming in, he said, although textbook

approval procedures will delay purchases until 2006.


"We'll be judged by the marketplace," he said.


A venture capitalist by trade, he put his own money into the $2

million required to produce the book. It was self-published under the

editorship of Cullen Schippe, a former vice president of Macmillan/McGraw-Hill.


Mr. Stetson, 59, an Episcopalian from New York City, started the

project after his father urged him to use his skills to promote

knowledge of the Bible. Surveys showed that 67 percent of Americans

wanted students to gain a basic knowledge of the Bible and its impact

on society, but fewer than 10 percent of public schools offered such

teaching. In the business world, such disparity between demand and

supply is almost unheard of, he said.


He had funding from the John Templeton Foundation, which promotes

conversation between faith and science. But the book avoids the

creation debate.


"This book is really focused on English and social studies. Science

is different, and we stayed out of it," Mr. Stetson said.


The text says: "Some read Genesis as a literal account of the

mechanics of creation. Still others read it as a poem about God's

relationship with humans. Many read the book as both."


The book gives little attention to scholarly debates over the

authorship of the Bible, and it doesn't delve into historical accuracy.


That's fine for young students who need to learn the basic stories,

said Dr. John Collins, professor of Old Testament criticism and

interpretation at Yale Divinity School, who critiqued earlier drafts.


He likes the book.


"The main reservation I would have is that it probably spends more

time on American literature and U.S. history than actually on the

Bible," he said.


It got rave reviews from teachers and students who participated in a

pilot program for teacher training and classroom use last year in the

Pacific Northwest.


The editors "really went out of their way to make connections to

modern times through music and literature. The kids really liked

seeing those connections," said Stuart Rowe, an English teacher at

Prairie High School in Brush Prairie, Wash. He was drafted for the

pilot because he had taught a similar course. He found the new book a

vast improvement over the text he had used, and has asked his school to buy it.


"They present the material in an unbiased way. It takes all of the

pressure out. You don't have to worry about what you are teaching. If

a school is considering teaching a course [on the Bible], this is

definitely the book to use," he said.


There does not appear to be a push to use it locally. Some local

teachers said they saw a need to teach students about the Bible, but

feared lawsuits.


"I don't think people are averse to having references to the Bible

and including that in the curriculum, but they are wary about how

exactly that would fit and the pressure that would come down on them

if they were to teach it and a student complained," said George

Savarese, who teaches history at Mt. Lebanon High School.


Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in

Arlington, Va., is often the first person school administrators call

for advice on church-state dilemmas. In 2000, he brokered an

agreement between groups as diverse as the National Association of

Evangelicals, the American Jewish Congress, People for the American

Way and the National Education Association on appropriate use of the

Bible in public schools. "The Bible and Its Influence" was tailored

to those guidelines.


"No textbook is perfect, and I'm sure there will be something that

people will pick up that the rest of us missed. But whatever the

motive of the Bible Literacy Project, their process has been

absolutely to get this right," Dr. Haynes said.


"There are people out there who don't want to see a Bible course that

includes a variety of perspectives on how to interpret the Bible, but

that is very important in a public school Bible course. With this,

they can see how evangelical Christians use the Bible, how Jews use

the Bible in different ways and how Catholics interpret the Bible."


To help schools' use of the book, the Bible Literacy Project has

arranged online teacher training through Concordia University.


Dr. Leland Ryken, an English professor at evangelical Wheaton

College, was one of the instructors for the pilot teacher instruction

course last year.


"I haven't taught such an enthusiastic class for a long time. It was

very rewarding," Dr. Ryken said of 30 public school teachers who

tested the book. Most used it in English or social studies classes.


Biblical illiteracy isn't confined to unbelievers, he said. When one

of his Wheaton colleagues surveyed evangelical church youth groups,

he found "a very low rate of biblical literacy."


He found the book more respectful of the biblical text than many

seminary textbooks.


"It is intended for a pluralistic public school situation. What I

want, what the Jewish reader wants, what the secularist wants, is to

find his viewpoint accurately represented. And I can say that my

viewpoint was accurately represented," Dr. Ryken said.


For more information see <http://www.bibleliteracy.org>www.bibleliteracy.org.

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Sounds like a fantastic idea. I think it's essential for a student trying to understand Western history and culture to see how the Bible has influenced various people, and how it has been interpreted.


Issues of accuracy and Biblical criticism really are far too complex to delve into below the college level, IMO. Which is not to say that high school and middle school students couldn't look into on their own time and understand it perfectly well--there are many who could--but it's not for the average student. Just looking at the various interpretations various groups have is enough.

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