By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Slate editor David Plotz, author of the just released Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible, makes a secular case for reading the Bible: that it's essential to understanding the modern world. Plotz joins a growing chorus of nonreligious voices decrying the scourge of biblical illiteracy. Here's the gist:
You can't get through a chapter of the Bible, even in the most obscure book, without encountering a phrase, a name, a character, or an idea that has come down to us 3,000 years later. The Bible is the first source of everything from the smallest plot twists (the dummy David's wife places in the bed to fool assassins) to the most fundamental ideas about morality (the Levitical prohibition of homosexuality that still shapes our politics, for example) to our grandest notions of law and justice. It was a joyful shock to me when I opened the Book of Amos and read the words that crowned Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Just as an exercise, I thought for a few minutes about the cultural markers in Daniel, a late, short, and not hugely important book. What footprints has it left on our world? First, Daniel is thrown in the "lions' den" and King Belshazzar sees "the writing on the wall." These are two metaphors we can't live without. The "fiery furnace" that Daniel's friends are tossed into is the inspiration for the Fiery Furnaces, a band I listen to. The king rolls a stone in front of the lions' den, sealing in a holy man who won't stay sealed—foreshadowing the stone rolled in front of the tomb of Jesus. Daniel inspired the novel The Book of Daniel and the TV show The Book of Daniel. It's even a touchstone for one of my favorite good-bad movies, A Knight's Tale. That movie's villain belittles hero Heath Ledger by declaring, "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting"—which is what the writing on the wall told Belshazzar.
. . . .Not to sound like a theocratic crank, but I'm actually shocked that students aren't compelled to read huge chunks of the Bible in high school and college, the way they must read Shakespeare or the Constitution or Mark Twain.