Common phrases like the apple of my eye, don't look back, let there be light, and the powers that be share a common origin—the Bible.
Case Western Reserve University's Florence Harkness Professor of Religion Timothy Beal writes about what he calls the Bible's "greatest cultural hits" in his new book, Biblical Literacy: the Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know (HarperOne, 2009).
Biblical Literacy provides readers with approximately 100 of the top Bible stories in a guide to understanding the Bible and its influence on social and popular culture.
The author reminds his readers that the Bible is not a book in the sense that one author wrote the entire content from cover to cover, but it is a collection of stories from oral histories translated to written text that run the gamut from murders, incest, war, selling of sisters into slavery, miracles and a look into human nature over time.
Beal leads off each of these "hits" with a brief explanation and poses several questions for the reader to think about, and then follows with the story in the New Revised Standard Version. He also references cultural connections from lyrics in popular music to political speeches and art.
Beal's inspiration for the book came from 15 years of teaching biblical studies in secular colleges where students come from diverse backgrounds with and without religion. While teaching, he makes the link between the bible and current events and popular culture.
For many students, Beal says the rediscovery of the Bible after years away from Sunday Schools or religious classes can be "exciting and surprising" especially since Sunday school did not provide the social and cultural context of the stories they receive in his classes.
"People find that once they get into Bible stories, more is there than they realized, and it's fun to read," adds Beal.
The Bible is not a unified book or single story with one viewpoint. It is what he calls "poly-vocal," with many different voices provoking many different interpretations.
He points to the creation stories as one example. Throughout the Old Testament, Beal says there are several different creation stories, and they don't agree with one another.
Nonetheless, those creation stories have given rise to debates over evolution and environmental philosophies. These stances range from humankind's dominion over the earth and the right to use the earth's resources to the maximum (Genesis 1) to a second story where humans and all living creatures were molded from the clay of the earth and humans are stewards and keepers of their environment (Genesis 2).
Bible stories are so interwoven into our culture, says Beal, "It's important to know the stories." Beal wants to empower his readers to read for themselves and enjoy the process.
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