NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, May 28th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Often, I’ll introduce my husband Joe and myself as a couple: Mary and Joseph. This used to be an easy way for people to remember our names, but these days some folks don’t “get it.”
Andree Seu Peterson has some thoughts on the decline in Biblical literacy. She wrote this for WORLD Magazine in 2001. We asked her to re-record it, because no doubt it’s even more true today.
ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: Tom Sawyer, bristling with the largest collection of yellow, red, and blue tickets for the successful recitation of Scripture memorization—tickets he’s just gotten the tickets at the schoolhouse door in exchange for bits of liquorice, a fishhook, and other treasures amassed during a certain whitewashing episode—is now called to the podium at the head of the class, which this moment has become the epicenter of the universe. Time itself is transfixed. Every breath is bated and every eye is on the improbable scholar and on the Superintendent in his annual descent from on high to bestow the prize: a handsome new Bible.
The question is put to Master Tom: “Now, no doubt you know the names of all the 12 disciples. Won’t you tell us the names of the first two who were appointed?”
And here Mark Twain, out of decency toward his own creation, tastefully draws the chapter to a close as Tom, unable to slip this caper for all he’s worth, blurts out “David and Goliath.”
It’s supposed to be a funny scene, but few are left who get the joke. We are fast approaching—let us say the handwriting is on the wall—the end of the age of Bible literacy. The adducer of biblical imagery henceforth risks casting pearls to swine.
In halcyon days, a 1913 New York Times article waxed poetic about a new income tax that it compared to a “rock of credit from which abundant streams of revenue will flow whenever Congress chooses to smite it.” I’ll bet the man on the street a hundred years ago saw Moses and Sinai in that metaphor, but where is the contemporary editor who wouldn’t edit it out of the copy?
I did come across a Newsweek essay a few years ago comparing the dark side of celebrity to “Reaping the Whirlwind.” Ah, but does the author really know the prophet Hosea?
And in the same magazine a critique of Hillary Clinton’s taste in furniture with the dismissive quip “Get thee behind me, Danish modern!” What pundit in 2018 would take the chance that a sliver of the readership would recognize in this Jesus’ rebuke to Peter?
As I was musing on these things, a college friend of my daughter, an art student at the local University of the Arts, phoned with an SOS: “Where in the Bible is there something about a flight to Egypt, y’know, as in Giotto’s painting by the same name? Gotta know by Monday.” We started with a quick briefing on the division into two “testaments,” and never flew much higher than the nitty-gritty of how to write a citation: I said, “Write ‘Matthew,” and then the number 2, for the chapter, then a colon and 13 dash 18, for verses.”
“Okay, Mrs. Seu,” she said, and thanked me for my help. And I thought I saw Tom Sawyer wince.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.