“A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage State legislatures to offer the Bible as literature curriculum in America’s high schools.” – from the 2016 GOP platform document
Leave aside for now the strange phrasing of this statement, perhaps an attempt to call to mind the Second Amendment and its layered meaning in conservative circles. What concerns me is not the stilted language, but rather a crucial question that lies at the heart of this passage from the 2016 GOP platform, namely: which Bible?
After all, ‘Bible’ is a pretty broad term. It can in my mind refer to a number of things. One of them certainly is my Bible, the Jewish Bible, called in Hebrew the TaNaKh (this an acronym for the Hebrew Bible’s three parts – T = Torah, N = Nevi’im, or Prophets in English, and K = Ketuvim, or Writings). Of course when most folks hear ‘Bible’ they probably think of the Christian scriptures, which include the Hebrew Bible and add in other material, most notably the Gospels that relate the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. You could also make the argument that the Koran is the Bible for Muslims, and some would say that the Book of Mormon serves that role for the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS – love that acronym – very confusing for an old Deadhead!).
My guess would be those who made sure the Bible reference was included in the GOP platform were thinking about some form of the Christian Bible (there actually are different versions used by different denominations). As a Jew this idea makes me a bit uncomfortable – why their Bible and not mine? Why should their version of events be chosen, thereby giving it (intentionally or not) an imprimatur of authenticity not bestowed upon other Bibles?
Now if we are going to say teaching Bible as literature means we’ll teach selected texts from multiple bibles, some from the Christian version, some from the Jewish version, some from the Koran, some from the Book of Mormon, and maybe a few more as well, then I am all for it. Part of that course would have to remind the students that all of these bibles – all of them – have equal authenticity for the groups they represent. That is to say, the Christian Bible is authentic for Christians, just as the Jewish Bible is for Jews, or the Koran is for Muslims. Teaching the Bible as literature, in my mind, would also require exploring the human authorship of these works. Because, after all, literature is something that is created by human beings, not by God.
A course like that might be helpful in increasing understanding among various faith groups. It might give students a deeper appreciation for other cultures and faiths. It might, in a small way, help to create a more open, accepting, and tolerant world. But the passage in the platform, as written, is just a little bit too vague for me. If the intent is to use the word ‘bible’ narrowly, as code for a particular Bible, then it is wrong and a clear violation of the separation of church and state. If the intent is to use the word broadly, as a term of inclusion of various faiths and perspectives, then it sounds pretty good in my ears. So some clarification please. Will the real Bible please stand up!?