Our Artless and Banal Textual Scholarship

“It is impossible to read Shakespeare – the best of Shakespeare, not the four or five weakest plays – and not (1) recognize his genius, and (2) enjoy the plays. Not by trying to read one in a night, but rather reading it in a week, following the footnotes the first time or two, catching up with the language, then reading for pleasure. Similarly, it is impossible not to enjoy Mr. Bach if you start slowly and are willing to devote a little effort at first.”

Phil G. Goulding, Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works (New York: Fawcett Books, 1992), 108.

You will not find the modern textual scholar making such claims and admonitions as to read something beautiful, something momentous, and to read it multiple times. You will not find them advocating for “catching up with the language the first time or two” in your study of Scripture or to “start slowly” and “devote a little effort at first” in your Bible reading. For Bach and Shakespeare, yes; for the Bible, no.

Instead we are treated to junk suppositions like “That’s hard to read” and “Those are archaic words.” If we are to learn Shakespeare and to understand his genius, and we should, we are going to have to read it in the words he wrote. If we are going to enjoy Bach and understand his genius we are going to have to start slowly and devote a little effort.

But instead of observing the genius of the these and like writers and composers we don’t study them at all. Not in public school and not in most private schools. And once out of school very few actually take it upon themselves to read and study these great works which formed the Western mind.

And now we are fighting to keep I Am Jazz and Sam the Transformer out of public schools because these messages are diametrically opposed to the survival of any society and culture. What happened? Which came first, whining about how difficult it is to read the King James Version or stupidly asserting that reading Shakespeare and the like have no use and are therefore obsolete?

Use?! This is the very thing that Karl Barth, as wrong as he was on so many things, warned the Church about. The Bible is no mere tool given to people to shape and reshape like Michael Jackson’s nose in order to give ecclesiastical credence to evil. The Bible is not a mere object of inquiry. Oh the Bible does have a use and that use is in the same way obedient subjects have a use for an almighty sovereign.

Disposable music, disposable literature, disposable technology, disposable theology, and disposable Bibles are the order of the day. Instantly the rage one day and by next year we need something new. If you don’t have the newest iPhone then you are behind the times, and if you don’t have the latest Nestle/Aland Greek NT you get charged with the same lapse.

We don’t have a use for real works of genius which yield longevity like the King James Bible or Shakespeare or Bach because we as Americans, starting in the academy, have become artless, banal, and misshapen down to our very souls. And we are proud of it, to boot.

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