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Harvard was one of the first colleges to drop compulsory chapel attendance and religious study. This fact is greatly to be commended, but like many desirable things, it also may lead to extremes. One of these is the very obvious lack of knowledge and indifference to the English Bible. It would be no exaggeration to say that the average undergraduate can discuss the poetry of Swinburne and Rossetti more intelligently than he can the Testaments. This apparent ignorance is not due to irreligion. On the contrary, Harvard is a bulwark of that true religion which has for its aim,--to use the words of one of its favorite sons,--"to love God and serve one's fellow men." Appleton Chapel is not large enough, when there is to be a sermon by a great clergyman. The varied activities of Brooks House alone give sufficient proof of a real and vital religion.
If then this lack of knowledge is due to simple neglect, it should be corrected. Every intelligent person should be acquainted with the Bible; every cultivated man should be interested in it. The difficulty seems to lie in the question, whether the study of the Bible can be separated from religion. To answer in the affirmative seems like stating a paradox. This fact, however, seems clear: that religion may be left in the background, with the idea of literature in the front. As literature the Bible has an almost universal appeal. Bible classes are not crowded, because every man feels that here the Book is studied not for itself, but as a proof or basis of some creed. Considered by itself, it would awaken interest. The students delight in Professor Copeland's readings from the Old Testament. It seems reasonable to suppose that they would respond in other ways. But first it would be well to consider what courses are now given that deal with the subject.
Under the Department of Semitic Languages and History courses 4, 5, 6, A5, and A6 take up various phases of Hebrew history, religion, and literature. None of these are primarily for undergraduates, and none of them may be called popular courses, as may Government 1 or Economics 1. Semitic A5, "An Introduction to the Old Testament," seems promising, but it is omitted this year. History of Religions 10, "The Elements of Christianity," is one of the few courses, touching the Bible, primarily intended for undergraduates.
It seems worth while therefore to consider whether the undergraduate is given the necessary opportunity and incentive to study the Bible in a broad way, disinterested from considerations of creeds and dogmas. If there is a course that fulfills this condition, it is not known to the mass of undergraduates. If such an introductory course were inaugurated, it is reasonable to suppose that it would be as popular, and certainly as valuable, as one on Greek philosophy. We have courses on Tennyson, Bacon, and "The Story of King Arthur," which many are always eager to take. Why not such a one on the Bible? Is not the Bible as literature worth our attention?
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