Thursday, February 19, 2009

Teaching Bible in English Lit

The last couple of weeks I've been caught up with stuff that has kept me away form here. Last week I was without broadband access as I was catsitting at a place with rather clunky dial-up. This week I've been meaning to put up something but things have been getting in the way, not least reading a fascinating new book belonging to my flatmate by Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes: Greeks and their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in ancient history and mythology (I think everyone should be actually).

But then today I was sent a story from the BBC by my friend Linda from the Crux (LGBT etc Christian) email list that I've been on for so many years now almost since it started back in the mid/late 90s.

Students 'do not know the Bible'

The Poet Laureate says it is becoming increasingly difficult to teach English Literature because students do not know the Bible or classical mythology.

Andrew Motion told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the lack of knowledge made it "difficult to even get beyond go" when teaching some of his recent students.

John Mullan, professor of English at University College London, said it was up to academics to solve the problem.

Mullan goes on to say:

"I've always been concerned about the levels of not-knowing since I started teaching, but quite recently I had a very bad experience of trying to teach some of my, in other respects, extremely good students about Paradise Lost.

"They knew so little about the context in which the poem was written and about the references that the poem itself makes that it was very difficult even to get beyond go in talking about it."

What's been done at Mullan's university is the introduction of a module in the English Literature course through which students are brought up to speed with the classical texts. I think that's a great idea although I'd like to see something like that in schools too, get kids reading the biblical stories together with classical Greek and Roman mythology. I have a friend teaching sessionally at Bond Uni a course on bible and literature. I'd love to see courses on Bible and Film, Bible and Art, Bible and Sci Fi the possibilities are many. But I also rather like the idea of teaching Bible together with classical mythology, maybe at university level, expand out into Egyptian, Levantine, Mesopotamian and Persian mythology to boot.

Biblical studies should be liberated from the confines of Religious and Theological Studies (although I think there is defintely a place for both disciplines in modern universities, and maybe even moreso in postmodern universities. But the impact of the biblical literature goes much further than a theological dimension, it's social, cultural, artistic even linguistic. I also like the idea of reading biblical litgerature beside the mythology of its matrix in the ancient Mediterranean world. Of course understanding anything of Engish or other European culture without knowing something of classical mythology does as the Poet Laureate says make it "difficult to even get beyond go". I have a great love of Russian poetry and many of the great poets such as Osip Mandelstam pepper their work with references to Homer and Greek mythology, as well as the biblical literature. As the Poet Laureate says: "these stories achieve archetypal status because they tell us recurring truths about human nature that is a pleasure and an important thing in and of itself."

So lets have Bible taught in English Lit, in European Lit, in philosophy, in Gender Studies, in Peace and Conflict Studies, in History, in Queer Studies, in Cultural Studies, throughout the Humanities and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. I too would like to see biblical literature studied in a far broader arena. It is very annoying that very few people appreciate the bible for its literary and cultural/philosophical merits. how can one not be stunned by the beauty of a love poem like this.

    Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves behind thy veil: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that lie along the side of mount Gilead.

    Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes that are newly shorn, which are come up from the washing; whereof every one hath twins, and none is bereaved among them.

    Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy mouth is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate behind thy veil.

    Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all the shields of the mighty men.

    Thy two breasts are like two fawns that are twins of a roe, which feed among the lilies.

    Until the day be cool, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.

    Thou art all fair, my love; and there is no spot in thee.

    Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Senir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.

    Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.

    How fair is thy love, my sister, my bride! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all manner of spices!

    Thy lips, O my bride, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.

    A garden shut up is my sister, my bride; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

    Thy shoots are an orchard of pomegranates, with precious fruits; henna with spikenard plants,

    Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.

    Thou art a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and flowing streams from Lebanon.

    Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his precious fruits