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The Bible in the Public Square

The Bible in the Public Square: Its Enduring Influence in American Life

Mark A. Chancey
Carol Meyers
Eric M. Meyers
  • Book Info
    The Bible in the Public Square
    Book Description:

    Explore perceptions and interpretations of scripture in American politics, identity, popular culture, and public education

    Essays from the perspectives of American history, the history of ideas, film studies, visual studies, cultural studies, education, and church-state studies provide essential research for those interested in the intersection of the Bible and American culture.


    Ten essays and an introduction present research from professors of biblical studies, Judaism, English, and historyArticles relevant to scholars, students, and the general publicAnalysis of the tensions in American society regarding the Bible and its role in public life.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-983-0
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Mark A. Chancey, Carol Meyers and Eric M. Meyers

    “The morality that helped build our country is based on the values that are found in the Bible.… And in my little small way, I want to encourage people to get back into those values.” So explained Tom Hayden, mayor of Flower Mound, Texas, when he announced that 2014 would be the city’s “Year of the Bible.”¹ Hayden directed citizens to a website maintained by a local nondenominational church, Calvary Chapel, which divided the Protestant Bible into 365 sections to help readers work through all sixty-six books in a year.

    Hayden’s action predictably drew a mixture of effusive support and...

  3. Part 1: The Bible and Politics

    • The Bible in the Presidential Elections of 2012, 2008, 2004, and the Collapse of American Secularism
      (pp. 15-36)
      Jacques Berlinerblau

      Biblical scholars who study the way the Scriptures are used in American politics are confronted with a unique and humbling dilemma. For the truth of the matter is that our vast erudition, specialized training, and broad linguistic competencies often fail to illuminate the subject matter that we explore. In a strange way, knowing as much as we do about the Bible is often a distinct intellectual handicap in the study of public affairs. To put it in colloquial terms,our knowledge’s no good here!

      This is because of the yawning abyss between what we study and what we know. There...

    • Biblical Imagery, the End Times, and Political Action: The Roots of Christian Support for Zionism and Israel
      (pp. 37-62)
      Yaakov Ariel

      In 1840 the leader of the evangelical movement in Britain, Lord Ashley Cooper, advocated that Britain take diplomatic initiatives toward the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.¹ Fifty-one years later an American evangelist, William Blackstone, organized a petition to the president of the United States urging him to convene an international conference that would decide to grant Palestine to the Jews. Shaftesbury and Blackstone, whose attempts to create a Jewish state in Palestine antedated the rise of political Zionism, were among the more well-known of these proto-Zionists. Motivated by a biblical messianic faith and the belief that a Jewish...

  4. Part 2: The Bible, America’s Founding Era, and American Identity

    • Does America Have a Biblical Heritage?
      (pp. 65-80)
      John Fea

      What do we mean when we say that America has a “biblical heritage?” Is the question a historically valid one? What is the relationship between the Bible and the vision of the United States set forth by the founding fathers? What role has the Bible played in shaping American institutions, movements, and the lives of the men and women who have led them? While a sister question, “Was America founded as a Christian Nation?,” has been thoroughly debated through a host of books, articles, blog posts, and media outlets, rarely do we hear any discussion—at least in the so-called...

    • “God’s New Israel”: American Identification with Israel Ancient and Modern
      (pp. 81-92)
      Shalom Goldman

      At the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, delegates voted to put God (or, in any case, the wordGod) back in the party platform, “amending a section about the government’s role in helping people reach their ‘God-given potential.’ ”¹ Republicans had noticed that God was missing from that statement, and Democrats responded with alacrity, concerned that they might be perceived as “ungodly.”

      On the same day, the party reinstated in the platform the line “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel,” a line that had been in the 2008 Democratic platform. According to theNew...

    • The Image of the Protestant Bible in America
      (pp. 93-120)
      David Morgan

      Whatever the Bible may be as a text or collection of texts, it also exhibits a career as an image. This consists of the history of representations circulating in advertisement and commerce, entertainment, religious instruction, devotional literature, and proselytism. I would like to trace the history of the image of the Bible in a variety of visual forms from seventeenth-century America to the present day, focusing attention on how the image of the book was put to use in popular piety from the private home to the public square.

      Martin Marty once aptly described the Bible as an object easily...

  5. Part 3: The Bible and Popular Culture

    • Holy Words in Hollywood: DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) and American Identity
      (pp. 123-136)
      Adele Reinhartz

      As a child, I loved Walt Disney movies, especiallyBambi,Cinderella, andSnow White and the Seven Dwarves. But the two films that I watched frequently, one might say, religiously, over a period of many years on our small black and white television wereThe Wizard of OzandThe Ten Commandments.The Wizard of Oz(1939) delighted and frightened in equal measure and for a young girl also provided a powerful role model in the plucky Dorothy, who not only had marvelous adventures but could sing up a storm. Nevertheless, as a young Jewish girl,The Ten Commandments(1956)...

    • History, Memory, and Forgetting in Psalm 137
      (pp. 137-158)
      David W. Stowe

      Like few other psalms, Ps 137—“By the Rivers of Babylon”—shows up in unexpected places. Halfway through the first season ofMad Men, the Sterling Cooper ad agency has just secured an account with the Israeli Tourism Bureau. Judging from the obtuse, mildly anti-Semitic office banter, it would appear that this is the first time anyone in the WASP-laden agency has ever thought about Israel, or Jews. It’s not clear they know the difference. But Leon Uris’sExodusisau courant, soon to be made into a movie starring Paul Newman; we see the show’s dashing protagonist Don Draper...

    • Comic Book Bibles: Translation and the Politics of Interpretation
      (pp. 159-178)
      Rubén Dupertuis

      In December 2013 several concerned consumers took to social media outlets to try to get Family Christian Stores, a major chain of Christian bookstores, to stop selling Brendan Powell Smith’s books of Bible illustrations done in LEGO blocks. The complaint was that while the books available through the stores,The Brick BibleandThe Brick Bible for Kidsseries, contained no objectionable materials themselves, readily available images on Smith’s related website most certainly did.¹ A quick glance at the shelves of Christian book stores reveals a broad range of Bibles targeting “niche” markets. There are Bibles for hunters, for teens,...

  6. Part 4: The Bible and Public Schools

    • Battling over the Bible in Public Schools: Is Common Ground Possible?
      (pp. 181-192)
      Charles C. Haynes

      Before addressing battles over the Bible in schools, let me begin with a bold assertion about the current status of religion generally in public education. Contrary to rhetoric from the right about “godless public schools,” there is actually more student religious expression and more studyaboutreligion in public schools today than at any time in the last one hundred years. And contrary to dire warnings from the left about evangelical Christian attempts to take over public schools, much, if not most, of the religion in public schools today comes in through the First Amendment door.

      The (mostly) constitutional return...

    • Public School Bible Courses in Historical Perspective: North Carolina as a Case Study
      (pp. 193-214)
      Mark A. Chancey

      In its controversial 1963 decision,Abington Township School District v. Schempp, the United States Supreme Court famously declared public school–sponsored devotional Bible reading unconstitutional as a government-led religious practice, a prohibition that included in its purview theologically oriented Bible courses. Yet the court explicitly affirmed the acceptability of another approach to the Bible:

      It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 215-218)
  8. Subject Index
    (pp. 219-223)