The Bible As Literature

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It is, from a marketing standpoint, a publishing miracle.

The Bible remains one of the best selling books in the world -- more people have read it than any other text.

It's been printed in every language, in every country, and remains as much a fixture of hotel nightstands as a telephone and alarm clock.
And yet in classrooms all around the country where Homer, Tolstoy, and Twain are studied as a matter of course, chances are, what many consider the single most influential piece of literature in the world, is largely ignored, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan.

Bart Ehrman sees it all the time. He's a University of North Carolina professor and Biblical scholar, who says by the time many students get to his course they're behind already.

"I actually begin my class every term by giving a pop quiz on the Bible, just basic information. And I tell my students that if they can get nine out of 11 of my questions, I'll buy them dinner at the Armadillo Grill. And over my last 15 years, I've only bought four dinners," Ehrman says.

"I think for any educated person, it's absolutely essential to know something about the Bible. Whether a person is a believer or not, the Bible stands at the foundation of our form of civilization," he adds.

The Bible's influence is impossible to ignore. There are more than a thousand biblical references in the works of Shakespeare alone. John Milton, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway all drew on the Bible, too.

Then there's Rembrandt, Chagall and Da Vinci, who all put the Bible on canvas. Even the Declaration of Independence alludes to the Bible.

But it's not just history -- the Bible is in pop culture as well.
The movie "The Matrix" is so full of Biblical references people have written entire books about it.

In the music world Kanye West raps about wanting to "see thee more clearly" in his hit, "Jesus Walks."

It's even in sitcoms like "Desperate Housewives." No matter what you think of the show, Adam and Eve and the Biblical story of temptation comes into the nation's living rooms on the first school night of the week.

So perhaps it's not surprising that a new CBS News Poll out this morning suggests that while 46 percent of Americans say that teaching the Bible in public schools would violate the separation of church and state, 64 percent say it should be allowed if it's taught solely as literature.

Some schools are already trying it.

It's an elective course at one high school in St. Francisville, La., mostly for juniors and seniors and it's almost always packed.

Connie Bunch, who usually teaches English, knows full well there's a fine line between teaching and preaching.