Professor James Crossley

Introduction to the Biblical Literacy Project

Delivered in London in June 2014

Conference Notes (1)

In the introduction to the London (June 2014) conference Professor James Crossley (JC) gave a straightforward yet helpful introduction to some of the key areas referring to the term “biblical literacy”.


In the opening video (sound quality is not consistent but the gist is there/nor are there any visuals in this direct/single camera feed) JC offers various definitions of what it meant by biblical literacy.

“It is that people should know the contents of the Bible All that kind of detail of the content.”

But he explains that this is also a very protestant reading of what is meant by biblical literacy – “that we should know our biblical stories.”

There is a current feeling that the protestant understanding is surrounded by negativity: even though it’s nothing new that the general feeling is a bad one – that no one knows their bible stories anymore”.

JC said that the general reading of this that it is hell in a handcart scenario

But it happens every century.

But JC also argues that it is important to consider an alternative understanding of biblical literacy: “Despite the grand narrative of decline – there are many references to the bible in contemporary culture.”

He adds

“It is well worth keeping this distinction in mind:

What do people think the bible means as opposed to the actual content of the bible

JC then moves on to look at the LIBERAL bible and the CULTURAL bible.

THE LIBERAL BIBLE is about freedom of conscience, democracy, law, rights, consensus, tolerance and things such as this.

It doesn’t matter what the content actually says. This is what the bible is assumed to mean.

He explains that this is a very common view of the bible for a couple of hundred years now.

He quotes PM David Cameron as using the bible to suit his own points and purposes.

As far as the liberal bible is concerned there is a need to keep it vague.

There is rarely any detailed discussion of any specific verses.

Effectively, JC asks what liberal users of the bible, such as Cameron, make of the following?

“What would Cameron have made of

Abishag the Shunammite keeping the aged David warm in his bed?

What would he think of Joshua’s violent conquest of Canaan?

What would he think stories about chopping up parts of a prostitute?

What would he think about finishing one Psalm about the rivers of Babylon with a line about smashing babies heads against rocks?

What would he think about Jesus labelling Gentiles as dogs or condemning rich people to Hades?

What about tales about destroying idols.

He concludes:

“You wouldn’t say any of this if you were a politician!”

You have to have the bible as a liberal tolerant nice friendly document that supports everything you believe in.

This is very widespread.

Look also at gay marriage.

In popular culture the bible is often used to oppose gay marriage.

This was not the case with politicians.


The Cultural Bible

The bible is regarded as part of our western vulture and civilisation.

Often seen as an English classic.

King James Bible for example.

Quotes Richard Dawkins

“The King James Bible is which is really what people mean when they talk about the bible in popular culture.”

Quotes Michael Gove distributing copies of the KJB to all state schools.

King James Bible has had a profound impact on our culture.

Would this increase biblical literacy 

Teachers were reported to be cynical about it.

Even perhaps Cameron and Gove would agree that no one was going to read it.

Does biblical literacy in this context mean something about English heritage or tradition?

Looks at Zondervan publications

Publications – new bible

Teen bible for girls

Engaged couples one

Wedding couples

Stock Car racing bible

David Crystal

On the King James Bible

Gives a wide range of phrases from the King James Bible and how they have had a permanent influence on the English language.



Unexpected language play?