Secular Thursdays: The Bible As Literature

Wednesday is Wordless Wednesday, Sunday is What's For Dinner?, and Friday is the Weekly Report, but I thought I'd take a cue from my friend Smrt Mama over at Smrt Lernins, and start doing Secular Thursdays, too. Just to begin with a bang, today I'm going to tackle studying the Bible as literature (versus a literal history, or a document of a person's personal faith).

Despite being decidedly secular in our approach to school, I also feel strongly that a well-educated person must have at least passing familiarity with the Bible and the stories it contains. Like the myths of Greek and Rome, the stories catalogued in the religious books of Judeo-Christian faiths figure frequently in literary allusions throughout the ages. While I do not wish to teach my children that any of these stories are literal truth, I do want them to understand what basic stories are referenced when there is mention of the tower of Babel, being swallowed by a whale, or the meek inheriting the earth.

Truthfully, though, this approach to the Bible as literature is not a common one. Most secular homeschoolers would prefer to ignore the Bible altogether, and the Bible curriculums that do exist for homeschoolers are usually aimed at Christians. Not just Christians, either, but a particular type of fundamentalist, evangelical Christian that subscribes to a specific set of limited beliefs, and partakes in a particular Christian culture. This means that quite apart from those that identify with a non Judeo-Christian faith, many who do will find little to nothing for their faith in these curriculums, much less value in teaching the Bible as literature.

Despite the lack of complete curriculum, though, I've managed to identify a few resources that I hope to use over the years with my children, over grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages all.

With regards to grammar stage, I feel that I chose poorly for my eldest. In my effort to avoid indoctrination in the philosophy which views the Bible as literal truth, I went too far the other way, and failed to expose her to the Judeo-Christian tradition as I would have any culture's founding mythology. I do plan to rectify that mistake with my remaining children. When we study the time period of the ancients (from the beginning of record history through approximately 400 C.E.), we'll read appropriate retellings of Bible stories alongside our retellings of Homer, Virgil, Greek mythology, and the epic of Gilgamesh. I own two Bible story books, remnants of my own childhood, and will use a combination of these two - an older version of The Golden Childen's Bible, and an old hardbook maroon copy of Egermeier's Bible Story Book. Both are relatively free of specific doctrine, though I will have to add my own explanation that these are stories, not literal histories.

The resources I will use in the logic and rhetoric stages will overlap somewhat. While I plan to primarily use The Old Testament for Teens during our logic stage study of the ancients, we will keep it as a reference for the rhetoric stage. Similarly, while I expect we will look at Asimov's Guide to the Bible more during the rhetoric stage, we will utilize it as a reference from time to time during the logic stage. During both these stages, we will use a translation of the Bible, not a retelling of it, though what translation we use may change. I have not yet made any systematic study of the various translations and versions available. Finally, in the rhetoric stage, I expect to reference The Bible and Its Influence, though we will likely not study it in an in-depth manner.

Whatever choices are made in terms of faith, the need for all well-educated people to be familiar with various mythologies of the world's religions remains. Understanding the basic precepts of all the world's major religions should be a hallmark of a well-educated citizen, which includes familiarity with major stories. Another Thursday we'll talk about other religions and their holy books, as well.
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"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing." - Thomas Jefferson