Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Bible as literature

Commenting about the Bible, the Prophet Joseph Smith remarked famously that "he who reads it oftenest will enjoy it best." I count myself very fortunate to have had the privilege of reading the sacred volume dozens of times, in all three of my languages; and like an ever-shrinking minority of others who share my view, I lament the fact that the general level of Biblical literacy is today in such precipitous decline. Four years ago, President Bush's first Inaugural Address included an allusion to the parable of the Good Samaritan, which anyone even reasonably well-versed in the Bible would easily have understood; but as I recall, some of the highly-educated network anchors who deigned to explain to all of us afterward what the President had said were left absolutely clueless by this part of the speech. Similarly, in 1940, British soldiers trapped by the Germans at Dunkirk were rescued by a makeshift flotilla inspired, at least in part, by a simple three-word message: "But if not . . . ." More than 60 years later, it is doubtful that many would recognize this phrase as being pivotal to the Old Testament story of Daniel's three friends, as they faced the threat of being consigned to the fiery furnace as a consequence of their principled refusal to bow to the king's image.

Even those who do not accept the notion of the Bible as divinely inspired must surely recognize, at least in their most candid and introspective moments, the enormous influence it has had on the development of Western civilization, along with its culture and institutions. To cite only a few examples, federal bankruptcy law has its roots in Leviticus; much of the world's greatest art centers around Biblical themes -- try, for example, to imagine Michelangelo without thinking of the Sistine Chapel fresco; and it is impossible to understand Milton, Dante, Bunyan, John Donne, or any number of the world's other great authors, without having at least some familiarity with Scripture. For this reason, I concur with the author of this article, who supports the teaching of the Bible as literature -- a perfectly reasonable idea which is, of course, disfavored by the mavens of Political Correctness.


Blogger Rebekah said...

I am currently studying comparative law at SU, and I have a professor who does not believe in natural law. As I read your post, and reflect on the history of ancient Roman law, I don't understand how one can deny the existence of natural law in any and all forms. After all, many of our current criminal laws are based on the 10 Commandments. I am constantly reminded that my professors, no matter how "educated" they are, they still seem to be willfully ignorant in matters that are outside their little world. (Just as an aside, the professor cited the Commandment of "Thou Shalt Not Kill," when any somewhat educated historian, or even a person who actually reads the Bible, knows that, correctly translated, the 6th Commandment is "Thou Shall not MURDER.")

10:36 PM  
Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

Thanks for that insightful comment, and for being an enclave of Christian conservatism in what I understand to be a very left-leaning law school. Regarding your comment about much of our criminal law being based on the Ten Commandments, it is also worth considering that a lot of our modern property and tort law is at least prefigured in the Pentateuch. I can't cite chapter and verse, since I don't have my scriptures in front of me as I compose this, but I remember one passage requiring the owner of a house to build a parapet around his roof, in order to avoid the possibility that someone might fall off and be injured. There are also proscriptions against moving another person's landmarks, as well as numerous provisions for restitution, in specific amounts, when someone is gored by a bull or an ox, etc. I know a lot of people who find the Old Testament intimidating, boring, or both; but a person with a legal education can appreciate some passages that might seem tedious to a lay person.

11:31 AM  

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