WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Seeking to defuse a central controversy of the
culture wars, a Bible advocacy group will unveil a new textbook Thursday
that could open the door to widespread Bible courses in public high
The textbook, titled "The Bible and Its Influence," was written to
thread a constitutional and legal needle by teaching, not preaching,
about the Bible, its editors told Knight Ridder in an exclusive preview.
The book comes as the country renews its centuries-old debate over the
proper role of religion in public life and public schools. Courts are
reviewing whether it's constitutional to include the phrase "One nation
under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Others argue over whether the
Ten Commandments should be displayed in public buildings.
Courts and school districts have wrestled for decades over how or
whether to teach the Bible.
"This predates the evolution versus creationism debate," said Charles
Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center,
who's reviewed the book.
"We've had so many conflicts, so many lawsuits, on this issue. ... This
is finally something that most of us can recommend as an answer."
Scholars have been looking for a way to teach about the Bible in public
schools for years, said Sheila Weber, a vice president of the Bible
Literacy Project, a Virginia group that's publishing the 40-chapter
Obviously a source of faithful inspiration to many, the Bible is also a
cultural touchstone that's crucial to young students, Weber said. For
example, she said, the works of Shakespeare include 1,300 biblical
references. She also noted that 60 percent of the allusions in one
advanced-placement literature course had biblical references such as
"walking on water."
The new book includes sections explaining the Bible's influence on
literature, art, music and history.
Many previous efforts to introduce the Bible to public schools have
focused on a Christian interpretation, Weber said. Or they've been
taught by teachers who often strayed too far into religion or too far
The book, being published in time for school districts to consider for
next year's curricula, was designed to follow a set of guidelines on how
to teach about the Bible in public schools while not endorsing one
religion's view and not offending people of faith.
The guidelines were approved by such groups as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Council on
Islamic Education and the People for the American Way Foundation, as
well as the First Amendment Center.
"We think it reflects the standards we agreed to," Haynes said. The
other groups haven't yet seen the textbook and couldn't comment on it
Judith Schaeffer, the deputy legal director for People for the American
Way, a liberal group that has opposed preaching in public schools, said
the book must not endorse any religious perspective. For example, she
said, it can't say that the story of Adam and Eve represents mankind's
fall from grace. That's a Christian view, she said.
"We are hopeful that it presents a lawful approach to teaching about the
Bible," she said.
The book doesn't take sides in its account of Genesis. "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," it says.
"Genesis offers an account of the origins of the world and the human
race that both directly and indirectly has influenced world civilization
and continues to influence it."
Some excerpts from new textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence":
- On creation:
- "While some Christians read Genesis as a literal account of how God
created the world, most Christians and Jews read Genesis for a different
sort of revelation: for the what and why of creation rather than the
- On Moses parting the Red Sea:
- "With impassable waters before them and the furious Egyptians at their
backs, the Israelites appeared doomed. But once more, according to
Exodus, God intervened."
- On the virgin birth of Jesus:
- "The original word in Isaiah translated here as virgin can mean young
girl or virgin. As it is cited in Matthew, however, it forms the basis
for the Christian belief in the virgin birth. The tradition states Mary
was a virgin when she conceived and bore Jesus."
- On influencing American history:
- "Words from the Bible are inscribed on public buildings. Political
campaigns are laced with references to the Bible. ... Little of
America's historic public speeches or its great reform movements or the
pilgrim wanderings that led to America's founding is completely
intelligible without at least a working knowledge of the Bible."
- On influencing language:
- "The central ridge of thyroid cartilage at the base of the throat, a
structure generally more prominent in males, is popularly known as
Adam's apple, based on a legend which says that a bit of forbidden fruit
lodged in Adam's throat was a warning of the grief to come."
- On influencing Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea":
- "A number of gospel images can be found. ... The image of the fish
recalls an ancient Christian symbol. The Old Man's bleeding hands recall
the nails in Jesus' hands. The way the Old Man holds the line across his
back is reminiscent of Jesus carrying the cross. ... The Old Man lies on
his bed with his hat cutting into his head ... suggests the crown of
- On understanding the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech on the eve of
- "To grasp the full impact of this historic moment, one has to know the
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?'"
© 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.