Howard Voss-Altman: Lorna raises an interesting point: Is it helpful to watch History’s version of the Bible? On the one hand, perhaps it will lead to greater engagement with the text itself. On the other hand, isn’t it taking the Bible’s brilliance and reducing it to digestible melodrama to sell soap? The Jewish community debated endlessly back in the late 1970s about whether TV’s Holocaust was a good idea. Can you reduce the world’s most significant moments to a mini-series?
Lorna Dueck: How about this mini-series being a stepping stone to greater Bible literacy, rather than a stumbling block? Full disclosure here, I have met and interviewed its creators, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, and I concluded there were things that happened behind the scenes in the making of this series that I can attribute only to God.
Guy Nicholson: As in, were you a real Eagles fan if all you owned was Their Greatest Hits? Maybe not, but that taste might have led to something more, like you say.
Lorna Dueck: Yes, let’s not forget, it’s just TV. But as oral tradition, then old leather scrolls were the first purveyors of this story, it shouldn’t surprise us that we’re now seeing it in the world’s most powerful medium. My question would be why does this story still have a grip on our imagination? At least 13 million people tuned in – why?
Howard Voss-Altman: Hello, everyone. I would have to say, yes, improving one’s biblical literacy is a worthwhile pursuit. Why? Because the biblical texts (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) have had such a profound philosophical, cultural, moral and literary impact on Western society. While studying Sanskrit or pop music might be wonderful diversions or hobbies, the Bible offers the opportunity to study texts that have shaped the thinking of humanity for millennia. The issue isn’t whether one believes or not; the issue is whether these texts help make sense of the society we live in.
Peter Stockland: The great literary critic Harold Bloom says in The Shadow of a Great Rock: “The Bible matters most because the Yahwist imagined a totally uncanny god, human-all-too-human and exuberant beyond all bindings.” Who would not want to find out more?
Raheel Raza: Thank you, Rabbi Howard. “Make sense of the society we live in” – that’s the key for all the diverse faith communities living in Canada to understand the Bible. I have always thought that religious literacy should start at a young age and would have loved for my kids to have known more about mainstream Christianity when they first came here. Having said this, Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Assocation for Canadian Studies, has written about a study in which leaders of some faith communities appear concerned that increased knowledge at a young age about the diversity of cultural values and religious beliefs can introduce relativism between groups and potentially undercut time directed at learning one’s own faith. I would like your thoughts on this.
Guy Nicholson: What if wider religious knowledge leads that young person to another answer? Academically, one likes to think that’s a positive outcome, but I don’t know that everyone would agree.
Peter Stockland: Well, Jesus did. He invited people to follow him in friendship. Those who turned away were free to do so. But I challenge anyone to encounter, say, the narrative of the Samaritan woman at the well, in any medium, and not come away thinking: “I want to know more about this fellow. He is a live one.”