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Textbook aims to teach Bible with no religion
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


November 10, 2005

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.

"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 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 described.

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.

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.



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