The Greatest Story(ies) Ever Told   Leave a comment

Is there a book that means a lot to you?  A book that you have read over and over again?  An ancient, dog-eared copy of which you have had by your bedside for as long as you can remember?  For me, that book (or set of books as it is part of a trilogy) is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; although there are a few other ‘classics’ that I have read and re-read as well.

However, I have always found that many of the Christians I know have never read as much of the Bible as I – an interested atheist – have.  Maybe this is due to the decline in Sunday schools and church attendance in general.  Whatever the reason, it seems a shame because, in the dim and distant past, people fought to be able to read the Bible for themselves in their own language (rather than having parts of it read to them in Latin by a priest).  Unfortunately, most of us will actually know more about the stories of the Bible through different media forms: films (e.g. The Passion of the Christ or Monty Python’s Life of Brian), TV adaptations (e.g. the BBC’s latest Christian drama was The Nativity), musicals (e.g. Jesus Christ Superstar), and ‘theatrical’ productions (the infamous school nativity play).  A slightly less common, but very traditional, way of hearing about Biblical stories is by listening to your local vicar giving their Sunday sermon.  Lastly, some of you may have even worked out some of the events of the Bible by staying awake in your RE lessons at school!  Unlikely I know, especially as today’s Religious Education syllabuses focus much more on philosophical and ethical quandaries than on what exactly is written in the Bible: for example, students will often learn the story of how Adam and Eve disobeyed God and so were thrown out of the Garden of Eden and the story of Noah’s Ark but then don’t hear anything about what happened in between those two events in the Book of Genesis.  Another example would be that some people are unaware that there are four separate accounts of Jesus’ life (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) which differ in their re-tellings.

I want to come out in support of something Richard Dawkins said last year about Britain: “We are a Christian culture, we come from a Christian culture and not to know the King James Bible, is to be in some small way, barbarian…  It is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.” Dawkins is highlighting the idea that the translation of the Bible as produced under the authority of King James I was not just a celebration of faith but marked a triumph for English literature too.  As British citizens who wants to embrace the culture and heritage of our country, I think it is important to take in the effect religion (or more specifically, Christianity) has had on the development of our modern society.

As I am sure you are aware, the King James version is not the only English translation of the Bible and, especially in scholarly circles, is not viewed as the best version (for accuracy in translation) either.  So why discuss it?  Well because this year is its 400th birthday and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has been reminding us of its significance in his New Year message.  The Most Rev. Dr Williams told us: “the King James Bible took hold of the imaginations of millions of people in the English-speaking world, [and] it gave them… a big picture, a story in which their lives made sense.” Then, relating back to more topical issues, he claimed, “If we’re going to talk about a ‘big society’, that’ll need a big picture” – something which he obviously hopes the Bible (or more specifically, the Christian religion) can provide as a backbone for Mr Cameron’s plans.

I suggest in honour of the 400th birthday of the King James Bible, you track down a copy – dig it out of the attic or find it online here – and then make it your New Year’s resolution to read it.  (Or if that seems too daunting, maybe just make a resolution to read one specific book.)  Also, as you read, just think back to what you thought you knew about the stories of the Bible and see if it compares to what you thought you remembered…


Posted 09/01/2011 by thinkmindy in Bible, Education, History, Religion

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