AMONG THE PILE OF MAIL AND MAGAZINES AWAITING US ON OUR RETURN FROM DOWN UNDER, ONE HEADLINE IN PARTICULAR CAUGHT MY ATTENTION. Readers of Elsevier, a leading Dutch secular weekly magazine not known for its piety. were admonished to “Read the Bible! About the great importance of the Holy Scriptures”.
I quickly turned to the contents page, wondering what had prompted this outburst of apparent religiosity. Under a photo of Salvador Dali’s Last Supper, I read the following: ‘Cover article – The Book of Books. After the success of The Da Vinci Code, an understanding of the Bible is almost essential for the reading of thrillers. Knowledge of the most influential writings of all time is also useful in grasping world history, Dutch culture and classical art. Read the Bible!’
My curiosity aroused, I thumbed through to page 100, to discover again Dali’s painting, undertitled: ‘The history of western art is saturated with Christian influences.’The accompanying article listed five reasons why everybody, including those not convinced of the value and truth of the Christian message, should make themselves familiar with the Bible:
1. The Bible was the most important book in history – the writer referred to a recent television series depicting the brutality and immorality of ancient pagan Rome. Even the most hardened atheist would have to admit that the coming of Christianity was a blessing, he wrote. It was still the most exceptional development in world history, claimed the article, proof that faith could truly move mountains: a believing minority developed against all opposition into a powerful, religious movement now with two billion followers worldwide, inspired by the Bible.
2. The Bible had strongly influenced the culture of the fatherland – for centuries, the majority of the Dutch population read daily from the Bible, introducing countless sayings, concepts and proverbs into the language, including Babylonian confusion, Armageddon, Gideon’s band, a judas kiss, good Samaritan, forbidden fruit‚Ä¶
3. Much art could not be understood without knowledge of the Bible – once past those few museum halls with paintings which could be hung upside down without anyone noticing, the writer continued, you quickly find a world depicting biblical figures, whether by Michelangelo and Rembrandt or van Gogh and Dali. Constant allusion to Biblical imagery was also found throughout more commercial and popular art forms, from The Matrix, and Seven, a film about crimes involving the cardinal sins, to Narnia and The Passion.
4. The Bible contained beautiful literature – texts with irresistible literary power, including the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and the Proverbs, were interspersed with thriller-like stories and common-sense everyday advice. The tragic yet gripping drama around Job was surely one of the high points of world literature, the article argued.
5. Bible study promoted multicultural dialogue – after September 11, sales of both the Koran and the Bible jumped as Europeans and Americans alike sought understanding of the religious differences. Many western journalists found themselves simply ignorant of the spiritual issues.
These arguments echoed something I wrote almost a year ago during our first ‘Share the Heritage’ tour after visiting the Bible Museum in Amsterdam. We had expected displays demonstrating the culture-transforming influence of this ‘book of books’ in almost every sphere of Dutch culture. Yet I wrote then that, “disappointingly, the museum seemed to be more an expansion on the quaint hobbies of long-dead clergymen rather than a clear statement on the singularly unique relationship the Bible has had with both Dutch and the broader European culture”. (See Weekly Word, 27.6.05, ‘The book that shaped Europe’ in archive site below).
This one article from a secular magazine offered more perspective on the impact of the Bible than the whole museum! It also presaged the forthcoming book by Loren Cunningham and Janice Rogers, with a title something like, “The Book that Shook the World”, expanding on similar themes. Watch for it.
Almost as an ironic footnote underscoring the Elsevier article, the Finnish heavy metal group Lordi, garbed in monster costumes, won this weekend’s Eurovision Song Festival, drawing heavily on apocalyptic biblical imagery. But I doubt anyone will ever consider the nonsense lyrics of their Hardrock hallelujah, as high literature! Those with long enough memories will recall that it was not the first ‘Hallelujah’ song to win the ESF, either – further evidence of the Bible’s all-pervasive influence.
Till next week,