The Bible as Elective Course in Public Schools

The full report on the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools’ Bible course curriculum is now available from the Texas Freedom Network. The report was written by Mark Chancey, a professor of Biblical studies at Southern Methodist University. As Chancey notes, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has quite a select group of supporters and they’ve managed to compile an entire curriculum on how to teach about the Bible without a single Biblical scholar on either their 8 member Board of Directors or their 50+ member Advisory Committee. They do, however, have Mr. and Mrs. Chuck Norris on that committee, so no doubt they’ll have great material on spinning back kicks and bad movies. The list of folks who endorse this curriculum is staggering and they include everyone from the American Center for Law and Justice to Kent Hovind’s Creation Science Evangelism, which hardly boosts their credibility.

One of the interesting things that Chancey notes is that the entire curriculum is written from a peculiarly Protestant viewpoint. One would think that a non-sectarian and informational rather than devotional class about the Bible would include, for instance, an examination of the history of the development of the Bible, the different versions of the Bible in use by Christian churches around the world, the Jewish perspective on the Biblical texts that were written in Hebrew and how they developed, and so forth. But this curriculum contains virtually none of that information:

Though the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tanak have the same contents, they are arranged differently. The Tanak has 24 books, as opposed to 39 in the Old Testament, and they are arranged into three divisions, the Torah (Law), the Nebi’im (Prophets), and the Ketubim (Writings), not four, as in Christian Bibles. Some of the books are in a different order; for example, the Jewish Bible ends not with Malachi but with 1-2 Chronicles. Students who are not already familiar with these significant differences will be unlikely to learn about them from this curriculum. Nor are they likely to learn much about why some books are regarded as scripture and others not (what scholars call the “canonization process”) and how different versions of the Bible developed.

He also notes that the curriculum treats the King James Version as authoritative, referring to its “historic use as the legal and educational foundation of America.” The Protestant nature of the curriculum is also obvious in the fact that the curriculum declares that there are 39 books in the Old Testament, which is only true of the Protestant Bibles, not the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Bibles (they contain additional books that Protestants refer to as the Apocrypha). The discussion on the Ten Commandments, as well, is explicitly Protestant with no notice given of the differences in enumeration between the Protestant and Roman Catholic versions of the Ten Commandments.

Chancey also notes that the curriculum goes beyond explaining what Christians believe about the bible, instead directly endorsing those beliefs as true. For instance, he writes:

The diagram “The Tabernacle,” reprinted from a Rose Publishing resource, includes “Fascinating Facts about the Tabernacle” (pp 102). Under “What is the Tabernacle?” it reads:

“The Tabernacle and its courtyard were constructed according to a pattern set by God, not by Moses. We study the Tabernacle to understand the steps that the Lord laid out for a sinful people to approach a holy God.”

“The tabernacle of the Old Testament was a ‘shadow of things in heaven.’ Hebrews 8: 1-5 tells us that the real Tabernacle is in heaven. This is where Jesus himself is our high priest (Heb. 8:2).”

[The first statement presents a theological view of the Tabernacle as a factual and historical statement. The second statement assumes that the reader is Christian and presents a theological claim of the New Testament book of Hebrews as a factual and historical statement; it also reflects a belief in Christian “replacement theology,” that through Jesus the Jewish tabernacle was replaced by a heavenly tabernacle.]

He also notes that the curriculum routinely refers to the Bible as the “Word of God” and defines “scripture” as “Old Testament and New Testament which makes up God’s written word.” Additionally, Chancey notes, the curriculum also offers arguments for Biblical inerrancy:

Not only does the curriculum treat the Bible as an inspired book and as literal history, it implies that the Bible is completely accurate in its historical claims, claims that this accuracy is confirmed by archaeology and the hard sciences, and argues that the words of the biblical books have been transmitted from the original authors to the present day without error or change. It is thus advocating a specific view of inspiration called “inerrancy,” in which the Bible is believed to be without error. Though inerrancy is a very important theological doctrine within some conservative Christian circles, it is not held by other Christian groups or in nonsectarian scholarly circles.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the curriculum is that it repeatedly presents the work of pseudo-scientists and cranks as proof of the Bible’s validity. A perfect example:

“Respected scholar, Dr. J. O. Kinnaman, declared: ‘Of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by the archeologists, not one has ever been discovered that contradicts or denies one word, phrase, clause, or sentence of the Bible, but always confirms and verifies the facts of the Biblical record” (p. 170).

[This quotation clearly illustrates the book’s apparent goal to convince students that archaeology consistently confirms the Bible’s accuracy. It also illustrates how the curriculum represents the authorities it cites. Here Kinnaman is said to be a “respected scholar.” Actually, Kinnaman’s name is largely unknown in contemporary academic circles, and most scholars would reject his theories if they heard of them. Kinnaman argued in his book Diggers for Facts: The Bible in Light of Archaeology that Jesus and Paul visited Great Britain, that Joseph of Arimathea was Jesus’ uncle and dominated the tin industry of Wales, and suggested that he himself had personally seen Jesus’ school records in India. According to an article by Stephen Mehler, director of research at the Kinnaman Foundation, Kinnaman reported finding a secret entrance into the Great Pyramid of Giza, in which he discovered records from the lost continent of Atlantis. He also claimed that the pyramid was 35,000 years old and was used in antiquity to transmit radio messages to the Grand Canyon.]

And this sort of thing happens throughout the curriculum, apparently. The curriculum actually does pass off the “NASA found the missing day from the Bible” myth as proof of the Bible’s accuracy. This is truly one of the most idiotic claims I’ve ever heard but that doesn’t stop it from being repeated breathlessly from one ignoramus to another. The fact that it found its way into this curriculum is really all you need to know about how rigorous their academic standards were in putting it together. This is stupidity on the “men have one fewer rib than women so that proves that God created Eve from Adam’s rib” level. Nor do they help their credibility by citing such authorities as Carl Baugh, a creationist fraud with a fake degree whose work is so bad that even his fellow young earth creationists find him embarrassing. The curriculum even includes videos by Baugh claiming that the earth is 6000 years old and that Noah’s Flood was both global in extent and real. This is the same “creation science” nonsense that the Supreme Court definitively ruled unconstitutional for public school classrooms in 1987.

Chancey goes on to list dozens of errors in the book, and he has an entire section on the curriculum’s “Christian Nation” arguments, all taken directly from David Barton and all profoundly ahistorical. It even includes several of the fake quotes that Barton himself has had to admit could not be found in the writings of the men they are attributed to. He also notes that the curriculum includes numerous texts that are not referenced at all but are plagiarized from other sources. The sections on Pontius Pilate and Herod, for example, are lifted word for word from Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia without any attribution given. In short, this curriculum is garbage and should be removed from use in any public school in this country immediately.