Online magazine Vice calls Harold Bloom “the preeminent literary critic in the world.” It’s hard to argue with that. This writer, critic, professor, and staunch champion of classic literature is one-of-a-kind. My friend Lloyd loves him, and talked to me, in particular, about one of Bloom’s most popular works: The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.
My only other exposure to Bloom, until recently, was his work Jesus and Yahweh : The Names Divine. Although the subject of that work was investigating what we really know about Jesus, the author spent some time expressing his love for the Old Testament, the Jewish Tanakh. (This was also my first exposure to the idea that Bathsheba could be the author of the Torah, the first five books of the bible. A bit more on this controversial idea here.)
Knowing he placed the Old Testament up there with Shakespeare (or is that other way around?), I was not surprised to see Bloom’s latest work staring at me from the library stacks. (Although I was excited.) The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible is the author’s celebration of “the sublime summit of literature in English.” Bloom also includes Shakespeare in this “sublime summit” for both the works of the Bard’s major phase and the KJB emerged during the same time period, 1604-1611.
Bloom reads passages from the KJB alongside those of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, as well as the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles, to illustrate how the KJB translators improved or diminished the text.
During the journey, we discover how Songs of Solomon inspired poetry and Shakespeare, how God’s voice changed from mocking to “threatening rhapsody” in Job; and we meet the strangest, but perhaps the most literary, Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.
Tyndale is the master translator in this picture, and his Bible and other works influenced the KJB translation:
The inexplicable wonder is that a rather undistinguished group of writers… brought forth a magnificence almost to rival Shakespeare’s. Without Tyndale as fountainhead, it could not have been done, but Tyndale’s powerfully rugged prose is very unlike the orchestration of the sentences of the KJB.”
Yes, orchestration. There is beauty here. Millions of people read the King James Bible for its religious dogma and spiritual inspiration, but Bloom says we should look at it a different way as well: as a masterpiece of English literature.
Take a look at this list of First World Countries from the collaborative Nation’s Online Project. Based on this list, I‘d guess that only in Turkey and Israel does religion play as big of a role in politics as in the U.S. (OK, I’ll give you Italy, too. Probably can’t have The Vatican in your backyard without it having a big influence.)
The truth is, America is a very religious nation. The fact that we can practice the religion of our choice without government intervention, does not, of course, mean that people can not bring their religious views into their politics. There are books out the wazoo concerning the interplay of these strange bedfellows in America.
We’re going to look at some examples…
Is this one too far to the right?
The Stoning of Sally Kern: the liberal attack on Christian conservatism and why we must take a stand by Sally Kern
It may be awhile before Oklahoma has another politician who gets as much press for controversial comments as State Representative Sally Kern. In this book, Kern addresses her critics. You can read the raison d’étre for her book in her own words from this article in the conservative Tulsa Beacon.
Is this one too far to the left?
Why the Christian Right is Wrong: A Minister’s Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future by Robin Meyers
So often, when politics and religion meet in a book, one side/party is explaining why the other side/party is wrong. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld might remind us.) In this YouTube video interview, Oklahoma author Rev. Robin Meyers gives us his reason for writing this book.
Ah! Perhaps this one is just right!
American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell
I’ll be honest with you. I would be much more apt to read Robin Meyers’ book than Sally Kern’s tome. That’s because my religious and political sympathies lie more in Rev. Meyers’ court. But, perhaps, I would be better served reading American Grace, which is being touted as a “groundbreaking examination of religion in America.” The book is based on two of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on religion and public life. One reviewer says it “will do to religion what the Kinsey Report did to sex: document, dissect, and assess the role religion plays in our national experience.”
In addition to assessing the role religion plays in American culture and politics, the authors address three “seismic shocks” they say have lead to polarization in our society: the plummet of religious observance in the 1960s; the resultant rise of evangelism and the Religious Right in the 1980s; and the disaffection from religion by the young in the 1990s and 2000s.
The book is full of charts, graphs, maps, and surprising findings—like how the the growth of interfaith marriages and friendships, and the exploration of different faiths (even the proclivity of Americans to change their faiths) is making it difficult to sustain interreligious hostility in our country. Perhaps, the authors surmise, this is America’s grace.
Young Bill Young here, back from a short vacation. Thanks to Kitty for keeping the blog rolling with great posts on her lack of power, Joss Whedon’s latest, and a call-out to Carolyn Leonard, certainly one of the best friends of writers and genealogists in our great state.
Occasionally, I come across a book that I have no intention of reading, but one that I think would make the perfect Okie Read. Such is the case with Chad Gibbs‘ work God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC.
OK, before you go all Big 12 on me, think about it: Oklahoma is a religious state, and Okies love their football more than the best sliced bread ever baked. I’m sure we can compete with the best of the SEC when it comes to the number of folks who alternate their weekend worship between the football field and local church pew.
And Gibbs is really on to something here. In writing the book, he wanted to talk to fanatical football fans who were also Christians to find out how they balance these two areas of interest. Count how many Oklahomans you know who spend their weekends with football and God. Right. You don’t have enough hands, do you?
It’s possible the SEC folk are little more fantatical than the Big 12 folk. I base this on how fans of the two conferences show their disdain for the opposing teams. For example, OU Sooner fans offer up an upside down Hook ‘em Horns sign to show their dislike of the Texas Longhorns, while SEC fans regularly yell “Go to Hell Ole Miss, Go to Hell!” when their teams take on the University of Mississippi.
The level of football fanaticism aside, I suspect there is much relatable fodder here for many Okies.
So, why am I not reading this book? I’ll tell you a brief and painless story. I used to follow the University of Oklahoma Sooners. OU is my alma mater, and my father has followed the team since the glory days of Bud Wilkinson. But there was a big problem: if the Sooners lost their Saturday match-up, my weekend was ruined. A funk descended upon me, and Sunday didn’t seem as bright as it should. At some point in my twenties, I decided not to have the perceived success of my weekend dependent on the outcome of a gridiron game.
But many of my friends continue to follow their Cowboys or Sooners, basking in the glory of the gridiron. And then, the next day, they put on their Sunday best, pick up their Bible, and bask in the glory of God.
There be more…
Chad Gibbs has a small group study guide for God and Football.
Here’s Chad’s blog where you can also connect to him via Twitter or Facebook.
More on Chad and from Chad courtesy of beliefnet.