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Leland Ryken


Bible Stories for Derrida's Children

Literary approaches to a sacred book.

After undergoing a relative eclipse as a cultural force in the decades following World War II, the Bible is making a comeback in American culture, though more as an academic movement than a grassroots phenomenon. Bill Moyers's pbs discussion group on Genesis became a media event. Time magazine was so bold as to speak of an "unmistakable Genesis revival in American culture."

We must not overstate the extent of the revival. There was a time when the Bible was the central text of English and American culture, permeating its civil institutions, law, morality, and artistic expression. By contrast, the current scholarly ferment about the Bible is a coterie phenomenon. It is not on the verge of making the Bible the pervasive presence in American society that it once was.

C. S. Lewis, musing on the likely fate of the Bible after a majority of people have ceased to accept it as an inspired religious book, predicted that it would continue as a force in two spheres—in the specialist's study and among the believing minority who read it to be instructed. My focus in this article is on what is happening in the scholarly forum, with spillover effect at the local secular bookstore (though not at the community Christian bookstore). The chief importance of what is happening will be its eventual impact (or lack of it) on how the Bible is viewed by the segment of society that in the past has obeyed and believed the Bible as a sacred book.

The renewed prominence of the Bible in the academy has been mainly a literary phenomenon. Literary approaches to the Bible have become a fashion and even a fad among both literary critics and biblical scholars. The Bible is now part of the canon of works taught by professors in departments of English and comparative literature. Several years ago the president of the Modern Language Association claimed that all the needs of a core curriculum in literature could be accomplished through the teaching of just one text—the Bible.

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