A refreshing study
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Date: 23 February, 2006

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'Even non-Christians should find this fascinating as it catalogues a myriad of cultural references that are rooted in the bible.'

Charlotte Haines Lyon is pleasantly surprised by a Bible study guide for students.

I was not overly excited when asked to review this book. How could a "student's guide" of anything, let alone the bible be remotely interesting? I have to confess my despondency wasn’t helped due to feeling somewhat jaded when it comes to bible study.

Never judge a book by its cover, and definitely not it's title. Since reading this one, I have found myself dusting off my bible and wanting to revisit various passages.

Western culture is infused with the Bible, whether our language, architecture or art forms. This excellent study guide aims to introduce people to the texts that pervade our world.

Let’s take 2 Samuel 11:27 – 12:14; key verses are printed, narrating the story of Nathan telling David about a rich man with many sheep and a poor man with one ewe. When David is angry on hearing how the rich man took the poor man’s ewe, Nathan reprimands him and says that he is the rich man.

We are then informed under the heading “Linked themes” that David’s penitence is found in the Psalms and that related works include Rembrandt’s Nathan before David as well as Mozart’s Davidde Penitenti. And did you know that Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd also stems from this story?

Refreshing

What is particularly refreshing about the book is that whilst it is incredibly accessible it comes from an academic rather than spiritual point of view. Therefore, it does not tell you how think or feel but simply gives you a quick resume of cultural links over the years to a wide range of narratives. It is not a traditional bible commentary and hurrah for that.

Even non-Christians should find this fascinating as it catalogues a myriad of cultural references that are rooted in the bible. Certainly, it has provided a valuable canon of narratives that I would want to ensure my daughter learns about regardless of her faith.

The beauty of the book is its simplicity and brevity. Sadly this seems to result in a lack of film and theatre references that I would have thought were embedded in our Western culture. Neither do Dyas and Hughes refer to feminist theology in their reviews of thinking around certain passages.

However these are minor criticisms for such a useful, instructive book. It's just a shame that many people may be put off by the title and not have the benefit of being given it to read.

The Bible in Western Culture: The Student's Guide
Dee Dyas and Esther Hughes
Routledge, 250pp
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