The author and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg recently commented that schools should be teaching the Bible to children. But the Guardian’s Andrew Brown asked, “Is it too graphic?”
Bragg’s comments came in a talk he gave at the Henley Literary Festival on William Tyndale, the man who was martyred in 1536 for translating the Bible into English so that people could read it for themselves without having to learn Latin.
“[Melvyn] Bragg is clearly someone who loves language, and loves the beauty of the finest literary productions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and Shakespeare.”
When I first read of Bragg’s comments, they came as no surprise to me. I remember a few years ago watching a programme presented by Bragg, in which he recounted the story of William Tyndale and hailed the beauty of his translation, much of which went directly into the 1611 King James Bible. Bragg is clearly someone who loves language, and loves the beauty of the finest literary productions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and Shakespeare.
Following these remarks, the Guardian published an article headed,
Melvyn Bragg says kids should read the King James Bible. But is it too graphic?
The writer and broadcaster thinks the 1611 Authorised Version should be taught in schools. Teachers might struggle with its visceral violence, though
In the article, Andrew Brown pointed out that “the Bible in the raw is not in the least bit like a Disney version.” He then demonstrated his statement by pointing out a few choice nuggets of violence: Samson’s trail of vandalism and killing when he loses a bet, as told in the book of Judges; and David’s enraged threat to leave alive not one male of Nabal’s entire household — or, as the King James Version puts it, “if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall” — as told in the First Book of Samuel.
“Even if the Bible were taught in schools, it would be unlikely to be the Authorized Version of 1611.”
Brown then points out the hole in Melvyn Bragg’s argument, namely, that even if the Bible were taught in schools, it would be unlikely to be the Authorized Version of 1611. It is the beauty of this particular translation which Bragg wishes to see children experience. But, as Brown rightly points out, most churches in the UK have long since moved on from the King James Version to more modern translations (never mind schools).
Bragg does have a point, though — the modern translations do miss out on the beauty of the Authorized Version’s earthy, farmhand-like language. Modern translations frequently attempt to recapture the beauty of its language — some with more success than others — but the fact is, there really is nothing in the modern translations that matches it.
“Explained in an appropriate way, [… the Bible] can be taught in a way that educates without disturbing.”
I’m not convinced that we should ‘shield’ children from the Bible, even from its more violent passages. Explained in an appropriate way, which doesn’t glorify the often brutal goings-on we find there, it can be taught in a way that educates without disturbing.
Hence my wife and I have been reading the full text of the Bible to our son since he was about 2¾ years old. So far we’ve read to him the Gospels of Luke, John and Matthew; the Acts of the Apostles; and the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Jonah, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. (Admittedly this is not in the Authorized Version which Bragg espouses, but in a version designed to be read by children.)
This probably does mean that, aged 5, he knows more about the Bible than the majority of UK adults — witness the hysteria which recently ensued in London over a man reading the Bible aloud on a train.
We don’t dwell luridly on the violent aspects of some of these books, but neither do we shy away from them.
And it doesn’t seem to have done him too much harm. So far (and God willing!) he seems to be growing up a polite, caring and articulate boy.
Granted, it is one thing reading the Bible to one’s own children, and quite a different challenge to read it to a whole classroom. But hardly an impossible or undesirable task — again, if handled properly, acknowledging the violence without glorifying it.
“I am pleased that Andrew Brown’s article has engaged seriously with the question of whether the Bible with its violent aspects is suitable material for children.”
And so I am pleased that Andrew Brown’s article has engaged seriously with the question of whether the Bible with its violent aspects is suitable material for children.
On coming across the headline I was half expecting to read some Polly Toynbee-style, secular-atheist tirade of assertions about how faith must be kept out of schools.
Instead, what Brown wrote was a calm assessment of the merits of Bragg’s point, and a fair, reasonable discussion on the kind of content one will come across in the Bible — be that in the Authorized Version or in a modern translation. (I am puzzled by his discussion of how the meanings of words have changed since 1613 — surely he means 1611 when the Authorized Version was published?)
Compare this calm and moderate piece with the Independent Online’s oft-recycled piece of shock-horror clickbait declaiming the Bible as “more violent than the Quran.” Yawn.
“When the Bible narrates events of brutality and violence, what is it doing but reflecting the sorry state of the human heart and of the human race?”
The fact is, the Bible is a violent book. We should expect this. Large parts of it are, after all, the history of people, nations and kings.
And you don’t have to look particularly hard even in the 21st century at people, nations and kings to see horrific examples of violence, brutality and injustice.
Thus, when the Bible narrates events of brutality and violence, what is it doing but reflecting the sorry state of the human heart and of the human race?
Yes, and that goes for ancient Israel — the Old Testament is in many ways a sorry catalogue of Israel’s failure to live up to the standards set them by God.
“It often comes as a surprise to people when they learn that there is such violence in the Bible.”
In spite of all this — and in spite of what human nature is — for some reason it often comes as a surprise to people when they learn that there is such violence in the Bible.
Only last week I was speaking with a work colleague and — upon some turn in the conversation which I can’t remember — I happened to quote the words of Jesus, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Knowing this particular colleague, I expected him to know where this came from. But although he recognized it as a quotation, to my surprise he asked me, “Who said that?”
“Christ,” I replied.
“No! Really? You’re kidding, aren’t you?” he said.
“I am not. He says it in the Synoptic Gospels.”
“It’s a very scary thing to say!”
“It is,” I said, “only if you don’t understand what he means by it, in its context.”
“Jesus in this statement [Matthew 10:34] is not for a moment endorsing some kind of Christian ‘jihad’.”
You see, the Bible is full of violent statements — and that surprises people. This one is in the New Testament. Jesus in this statement is not for a moment endorsing some kind of Christian ‘jihad’. But he is saying that, by its nature, the gospel will divide people, even right down the middle of the family unit.
With all the negative (and unfair) things constantly said about the Bible in the UK media, it is refreshing to read an article which acknowledges the violence that there is in the Bible, without either turning it into a grubby shock story or proposing some sort of draconian Leftist ‘ban’ on its public use.
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