Popular media tells us the Bible is irrelevant. As someone who has struggled for years to find a non-sacerdotal job in that area of specialization, it’s not difficult to believe popular media is right. Despite all the rationales on all the religion department websites out there, there is little that you can do with your degree. It was refreshing, therefore, to read The Bible in History: How the Texts Have Shaped the Times, by David W. Kling. While not exactly what I expected it to be, Kling’s book did explore several specific pericopes (pericopae sounds too pretentious) with an eye toward showing how a single verse from the Bible could change western history. The examples go from the early monastic movement up to debates about women’s ordination that are, unbelievably, still on-going. The social movements he traces demonstrate that the Bible has been, and continues to be, more than just a book.
At several points through this volume I stopped to consider the implications. From an outsider’s point of view many of these debates must seem almost infantile. They would have no teeth at all if not for the belief that the salvation of humanity rode on their correct interpretation. Often—too often—the results were the torture and oppression of others, for the sake of the Gospel. If we’ve got this right, then we need to prove it through might. A mighty fortress is our God. So the Psalms seem to say.
Few people stop to consider just how deeply engrained in our culture the Bible is. The idea, on the surface, is almost like a fairy tale: once upon a time, God said… And yet, some of the most intelligent people the world has known have staked their very reputations on this claim. As a postscript to Kling, we can still see the Bible’s influence on politics—and therefore society—over a decade later. We still debate whether homosexuals can legally love one another. The biblical basis of this debate is thin, but it is a bulwark even today. We argue about stem cells, and although from the biblical worldview such things are mythical; yet that same Bible gives people the material with which to argue, eh, Jeremiah? And where is that female president we should’ve elected long ago? Any ideas, Paul? No matter how we may discount it, the Bible is, and will continue to be, a most influential book. Too bad we as a society don’t care to learn about it from specialists. Not when it’s so irrelevant.