A new testament to the Bible as literature Travis Homenuk: Opinions Editor September 21, 2013 12:00 am Opinions Have you read the Bible for non-religious reasons? The Bible is more than just a holy book; it’s a canonical collection of texts with literary significance that many authors throughout history have alluded to in their works. But unless one is religious or is the product of a Christian upbringing, the ability to understand these allusions in literary works is lost. I don’t know the story of Cain and Abel, but I do know the story of Sonny and Cher and of Ike and Tina. It’s too bad authors don’t use pop culture to influence their works. Honestly, without some Christian knowledge, I’d probably assume that the book of Revelations was something Oprah published after she lost weight and rediscovered her inner goddess. As a graduated student who majored in English, I wish I had more biblical knowledge. There were numerous instances throughout my undergraduate degree in which I could not fully understand the biblical reference that my professor or fellow student was drawing out of a given text. My second-year Canadian literature professor even encouraged us all to read the Bible because its stories are alluded to or directly referenced in the works of so many talented authors. Whether it’s Canadian literature, middle English romances, American poetry or Shakespeare, biblical references appear everywhere. So, why does the English Department at the University of Saskatchewan not offer a class on the Bible as literature? Unlike a religious studies class, where one may focus more so on the religious aspects of the Bible — duh — an English class would focus on these numerous canonical stories for their literary value, and perhaps relate these stories to modern texts where authors have used biblical allusions. Having this kind of class would be academically poignant to English majors, regardless of their specific areas of interest or their personal religions. Whether we want to accept it or not, world religions have influenced the arts throughout history and western religions are no exception. Rather than deny that the Bible exists, let’s study it and see how these stories have been used and referenced by literary titans like Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain or John Milton. I mean, is it even possible to study Paradise Lost without a working knowledge of the Bible? I think not. In some classes, I know that English professors have requested or encouraged students to read a particular section of the Bible, but is that enough? The University of Victoria offers a course called “The Bible as Literature” and I think it’s high time the U of S did the same thing. Now the U of V not only has nicer weather than us but they also have better knowledge of an extremely important and relevant text! Hogwash! There may be problems implementing such a course. The department of world religions might feel their toes are being stepped on if the English department were to offer a class on the Bible as literature. But in that case they better put on some steel-toed boots and toughen up. English majors need biblical knowledge, and they should be taught this by a professor whose focus is on the literary aspects of the Bible rather that its religious qualities. I beseech the U of S department of English to look into offering a class on the Bible as literature. I’d even go so far as to say that the power of Christ compels the department to do it. – Photo: Jordan Dumba/Photo Editor Ezekial Why not just take a Religious Studies class? Bible and Western Culture is a class that teaches what you just mentioned and is offered at STM Mayah Bible and Western Culture (at the U of S) Explores the influence of the Bible on the culture of the west, ancient and modern, with a particular focus on the role of biblical themes, symbols and characters in art, literature, music and popular culture. I haven’t taken this course, but from reading this description, it doesn’t necessarily sound like it’s aimed at teaching the bible so much as showing how influential the bible has been in our society (which is something I clearly already know because I’m feeling that absence in my understanding). This is the course description for UVic’s Bible as Literature course: Surveys basic stories and books in the Old and New Testaments (including Genesis, Exodus, 1 and 2 Kings, Job, Song of Songs, Psalms, Isaiah, select minor prophets, the Gospels, Acts, select Pauline epistles, Hebrews and Revelations). Focus on the intrinsic literary features of the biblical books themselves. Aims to familiarize students with important biblical stories, genres, and references in literature and religious discourse. That sounds infinitely more helpful to this confused non-bible reader…. JournalismStudents>Sheaf LOOK UP RLST 253 /254 , You didn’t want to scroll down a few more inches? Or did you just deny that these exact classes exist to support the author in this pointless article? Floortje Scheepers In response to the article and the above post: Although I understand that the author wants to study the bible as literature, I don’t understand why a Bible and Western Culture course at the U of S is not useful for one to gain more knowledge of the meaning behind biblical references. What is being referenced in the literature is what is rooted in the culture of the writer. For me to better understand The Odyssey, I had to read articles of Greek mythology and culture. Not just to learn symbols and all the mythical creatures in the story, but to understand how mythology shaped the characters’ point of view, and the message the author was trying to make. Just reading the bible as a novel and “focusing of intrinsic literary features” makes no sense either, because it’s not a novel. Sure it has some parables and poems but most of it is written like it’s a record of a witnessed event. Hardly any details, use of symbolism, motifs, allusion etc. Not at all like reading John Milton. Mayah I think the bigger problem here is the underlying assumption at this university that everyone has some basic biblical knowledge. Some students certainly do, but many students are non-religious and went to public schools, while many other students who attend this university are not Christian and practice other religions. The problem, as I see it, is that the University of Saskatchewan is a public institution but there still is this weird expectation in the humanities that everyone comes to university with some biblical knowledge. Sure, we confused heathens can take initiative, recognize our own lack of knowledge and head on over to the religious studies, use our valuable electives (that we probably have set aside in order to earn minors) and take a course or two on the bible. We certainly can do that, but should we really have to do that? Shouldn’t these programs that have an expectation for biblical knowledge somehow incorporate teaching the bible into their program? Perhaps if the English department cannot offer a course on the bible and literature, they could at least make these religious studies courses on the bible transfer over and fulfill English degree requirements (and any other humanities program that requires biblical knowledge could do the same). Gnostics>OtherDenominations Part of the problem is that when studying the Bible in a non-religious context, some Christians get up in arms about it. After all, to call the Bible literature makes an assumption that it may just be myths, and is not divine words. Ashamed of the Sheaf Even within STM classes the Bible is seen as a literary reference. They don’t approach it assuming that students do or ever necessarily will believe its the true ‘word of God.’ Catholicism is not a literalist sect. That said, there are many ‘bible study’ classes at U of S. Considering 99% of Christians have not read through the bible like a novel, and most have not read more than a line or two at a time, and considering that you are an English major: Why do you need a class to study it as literature? It is not literature. It is ancient religious mythology. If all you are looking for is the explanation of biblical allusions in english lit. there are many books at any ‘christian bookstore’ that go through the most common stories from the bible. Or why not try a biblical dictionary? “Unlike a religious studies class, where one may focus more so on the religious aspects of the Bible — duh — an English class would focus on these numerous canonical stories for their literary value, and perhaps relate these stories to modern texts where authors have used biblical allusions.” ……. Let me get this straight… you don’t want a class to explain the religious significance of the bible (which is basically all of it, instead of going to the ancient greek and roman sources for actual historical accounts), you want a class that will go though modern works that REFERENCE the bible. And yet you are frustrated when classes contain this exact information because you never learned what Noahs Ark meant. *sigh* LOOK UP RLST 253 /254 MoralAthiestsGoToHell But the Bible is literature. It is a great work of fiction that needs to be studied as such. And having someone who is able to lead you in a dialogue to understand and draw out references and allusions within the text, and situate it in its historical concept helps. Plus, maybe this is me being discriminatory, I’d not trust any book from a ‘Christian bookstore’ to even try to be impartial. ImmoralThiestsCanGoToHeaven In addition the RLST 253/4 classes, while coming close, don’t quite fill the niche that is being asked for. For instance it does not look like they’ll also study great literary works that derive from the Bible, such as Paradise Lost, nor common Biblical tropes that have proliferated throughout literature (and pre-Christian tropes that the Bible absorbs into itself such as virgin birth and all that). More over both of them focus on looking at the Testaments with relation to study of Judaism and Christianity, which is not what a literature course would want or need to look at. Not that it would hurt, but it would be time that could be better spent elsewhere. CHURCHofROWLING While we’re on it, there is an egregious lack of classes teaching Harry Potter as works of religious nonfiction! I am free to believe what I want, and really, the canon of HP is just a modern version of the bible.