The Bible in Western Culture: The Student’s Guide

At some time in our lives, we have been told not to discuss politics or religion in public, with friends, or in polite conversation. Interesting conversations often ignore this advice, and relevant and compelling humanities classes always do. The analysis of works of western history or literature often requires discussions of religious and political themes from the Bible. This is why The Bible in Western Culture: The Student’s Guide (Rutledge, 2005) by Dee Dyas and Ester Hughes would be a valuable addition to any classroom library.

History teachers use the term “axes” to define the references and connections that students must be able to make to understand and enjoy history. Most students in our culture know the stories surrounding George Washington. They know that “axe” refers to Washington ‘s honesty. The Bible in Western Culture: The Student’s Guide could provide students with the “axes” that they need to know to better appreciate the literature and history that they read, the music that they listen to, and the artwork that they view.

The authors clearly explain the purpose of the book in the Introduction. They describe the book as a way to explore the influence of the Bible on Western culture. Their purpose is to introduce “key stories which have inspired and influenced artists, writers and musicians in the past and which continue to this today.” The authors have done this.

The book is effectively organized for use by students. The book is divided into logical overriding themes. For each theme the reader is provided with key concepts, linked themes, and related works. For instance, Chapter 4, “The Prophets” has a key concept, “Elijah’s courage and trust in God.” A linked theme is Elijah’s appearance in the New Testament. Moby Dick is listed with the related works. Also, helpful is the extensive glossary that is provided. “A-Z of People, Places and Terms” would be helpful to students looking for specific references.

Most teachers would agree with the authors that we can no longer assume that students have a working knowledge of Biblical stories. Students may not be aware that what they are reading has a Biblical reference. The use of The Bible in Western Culture: The Student’s Guide could help students understand the references and make the connections, but also make them more likely to look for Biblical references. Both of these skills are valuable to students as they begin to analyze complex works.

The Biblical references that are explained in the book would be valuable not only in the classroom, but in the understanding of popular culture. Many of our students have seen the film The Passion of Christ and read the DaVinci Code. Both are based on Biblical themes. Readers will find these works more meaningful with an ability to make the connections between the movie or the book and the Bible. Recently, the media coverage of a federal court decision resulted in renewed discussions among students about Darwin and creationism. A general understanding of both is required to participate intelligently in this debate. Darwin is probably explained in Science class. The two meanings of “creation” in the Bible are concisely explained on pages 13 to 17.

This useful and accessible resource would be more effective with two additions. Additional historical references would make the book more valuable to teachers of American history. A student would encounter numerous Biblical references in the study of American Colonial history or the writings of the Founders. Both Abolitionists and defenders of slavery used the Bible to support their points. An index would help students find specific references more quickly.

John Morgan, Tower Hill School (Wilmington, DE )

Original Citation: Scientia Scholae, Volume IV, Issue 2, Spring 2006

NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted.  The original “look and feel”  of the journal has been preserved as much as possible, but the original logos have also been removed.  No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.

TEAMS: Teaching Association for Medieval Studies