From Adam Kirsch’s review of The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal
The Rise and Fall of the Bible is Beal’s attempt to shatter this popular understanding of the Bible as a combination of divine instruction manual and self-help book. While there is no denying that the Bible remains central—Beal quotes polls indicating that “65 percent of all Americans believe that the Bible ‘answers all or most of the basic questions of life,’ ”—he notes simultaneously that Americans are surprisingly ignorant of what is actually in it. “More than 80 percent of born-again or evangelical Christians believe that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a Bible verse,” he writes. Less than half of all adults can name the four Gospels; only one-third can name five of the Ten Commandments. In his own experience as a college teacher, Beal says, students “come to class on the first day with more ideas about the Bible derived from … The Da Vinci Code than from actual Biblical texts.”
What explains this disparity between Americans’ absolute faith in the Bible and their evident ignorance of it? To Beal, the problem lies with the notion that the Bible is “a divine guidebook, a map for getting through the terra incognita of life.” For as soon as you open it and start reading, it becomes troublingly apparent that the Bible is no such thing. It does not offer answers to problems, especially not to twenty-first-century problems. Only in a few places does it even offer straightforward moral counsel. Depending on where you read in it, the Bible might give the impression that it is mainly composed of genealogies and agricultural regulations
For my part, I went through twelve years of Catholic school and have never read the Bible.