Thursday the Georgia Board of Education unanimously provided its preliminary approval for two more literature classes for use in public schools beginning next year. Pending a 30-day comment period, the board is expected to give the final, official approval.
The catch? These classes, entitled “Literature and History of the Old Testament Era” and “Literature and History of the New Testament Era,” involve reading of the Bible (*gasp!*) as literature.
Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, the Republican who sponsored the plan, said the Bible plays a major role in history and is important in understanding many classic literary works.
“It’s not just ‘The Good Book,'” Williams said. “It’s a good book.”
I know that there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this (after all, even the sight of a Bible in a public school or building can lead some to claim government establishment of religion), but I really have no problem with it. The Bible can serve as a history and a literature text as much as a religious one, and I honestly don’t see an issue with offering courses on the Old and New Testament eras, any more than I do on the Mycenaean Era (which is the subject of the Iliad and the Odyssey), or the foundation of Rome (the subject of the Aeneid) — and if you don’t think that there’s as much religion (and direct involvement of the dieties) in those as there is in the Bible, well, perhaps it’s time to make another quick trip down to the ol’ public library.
Likewise, the events of the Old and New Testament eras are an integral part of the history of Western civilization (and that of the Near East) — and, by extension, of our own culture. Outlawing the study of chunks of history — and of beliefs, movements, and cultures — is akin to pulling blocks out of the jenga™ stack, and hoping that the whole stands on its own. Doing so in an irrationally selective manner, out of fear of violation of the mythical “separation of church and state,” is even less responsible.
If the study of the Bible as literature and history is to be prevented in our public schools, then we may as well yank from the schools any other books and sections of curricula which might possibly invoke a religion, or a religious movement, in any way — beginning with such works as the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and their ilk, as well as the study of any cultures (after all, they have all been founded on or around religion of some form), and any history (involving said cultures, they’ll all involve religion), and moving on from there.
Or, we could be sensible, and recognize that the Bible has as much place in the contextual study of cultural and literary history as does just about any other primary source which is currently used.