A state lawmaker has filed legislation that would let public school districts offer elective courses on biblical topics.

State Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, has filed Senate Bill 1338, which would let districts offer elective courses to students in ninth grade and above on Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.

Ivester said currently students are required to study history, literature and culture, yet the book that has had one of the most profound impacts on history, literature and culture is not taught.

“The Bible is such an important book in the history of western civilization it’s almost a crime not to study it,” Ivester said. “Almost everyone can agree the impact the book has had, and the lasting effects on culture and society.”

Bill language states the purpose of the courses would be to teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture. That includes literature, art, music, mores, oratory and public policy.

Students choosing to take the course would not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text, and could use as the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament from that chosen by the district or teacher.

Ivester said the bill would lead to a more thorough education. The class would not be a religion course, and the classes should be taught from a strictly historical and literary perspective, he said.

“Shakespeare’s works have over 1,600 biblical quotes in them,” Ivester said. “Why is it that we can study Shakespeare but not the Bible?”

Ivester said the curriculum would have to be approved by the State Department of Education and vetted through the Attorney General’s Office for compliance with the U.S. Constitution and appropriate U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

If passed, it would take effect on Nov. 1, 2010, and the Education Department would have to provide a list of approved materials by January 2011. The classes could be available on the class schedules by the fall of 2011.

Ivester said the bill provides a great opportunity at no cost to the state for students to have a more thorough education. Regardless of religion, the significance of the Bible is universally acknowledged, he said.

Several other states, including Texas, have similar laws.

Last August, 21 Texas public school teachers participated in a program hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Religious Studies and Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins to learn strategies for teaching academic studies of the Bible.

Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation in June 2007 that added Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament to the enrichment curriculum for Texas high schools.

To help teachers and districts fulfill these requirements, the university created the teacher-training institute. Scholars in Hebrew Bible and in New Testament led sessions designed to prepare teachers for the special content and challenges of these topics.

“These field trips are a way of broadening the teachers’ horizons, and to help them see how the Bible is used in different religious traditions and the different shapes it has taken over time,” said L. Michael White, the Ronald Nelson Smith chair in Classics and Christian Origins.

Participants made field trips to Saint Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church and Congregation Agudas Achim, a synagogue, to learn how two different congregations study the Bible. They also visited the university’s Harry Ransom Center, where they explored a collection of biblical manuscripts, including the Gutenberg Bible.

Teachers from 13 urban, suburban and rural school districts from across the state attended. They came from areas including the Rio Grande Valley, West Texas and the San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 102


the bible’s historical figures

Old Testament figures:

Moses: Hebrew lawgiver; the reluctant leader in the exodus from Egyptian bondage

Abraham: Patriarch of the Hebrew people

David: King of Israel and founder of Jerusalem (Zion)

Jacob: Father of sons who form Israel’s 12 tribes

Noah: Survivor of the great flood

Esther: Jewish girl who became queen of Persia (Iran)

New Testament figures:

John the Baptist: Precursor to Jesus

Jesus: Central figure of the gospels, claimed to be the son of God

Herod: Roman ruler of Palestine

Pilate: Roman politician; prominent figure in Jesus’ trial

Mary: Mother of Jesus

Gabriel: Archangel who appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to Jesus

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