The Bible and cultural literacy

I need not point out that the Bible was once among the compulsory classics that everybody learned to read and understand, in Sunday School first, and with refresher lessons during every sermon in church. This powerful bond of poetry, drama, maxims, historic figures and events, we have lost. Some of the phrases and names remain in use — Time magazine had heard of Solomon — but the force and frequency of reference grows weaker and the context grows thinner all the time; indeed, for millions of people in what used to be Christendom it has disappeared altogether. Just last month, the Metropolitan section of the New York Times quoted a conversation overheard on a bus between a young man and his girl companion. He was telling her about Jesus and his disciples, about the Last Supper, and the betrayal of Judas and his suicide by hanging. She was spellbound and kept interjecting: “Really?” “You don’t mean it!” “No kidding!” She had caught up at last with a classic thriller.

Jacques Barzun, Begin Here, pp. 139-40


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