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This article was published in The Textbook Letter for March-April 2000.
It accompanied a review of Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum,
a book in which Warren A. Nord and Charles C. Haynes advanced a scheme
for converting America's public schools into religious-indoctrination centers.

Fostering Fundamentalism

William J. Bennetta

In Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum, Warren A. Nord and Charles C. Haynes decry the treatment of Jesus in two history textbooks. One of the texts, Nord and Haynes allege, devotes less space to Jesus than to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the other gives less space to Jesus than to Joseph Stalin.

I haven't been able to check those allegations, for Nord and Haynes haven't identified the two texts. However, I have examined the treatment of Jesus and of early Christianity in four world-history textbooks that were being sold to schools at the time when Taking Religion Seriously was written. The four texts are the 1994 version of Glencoe's World History: The Human Experience, the 1995 version of Glencoe's Human Heritage: A World History, the 1997 version of Prentice Hall World History: Connections to Today and the 1997 version of McDougal Littell's Heath World History: Perspectives on the Past [see note 1, below]. My major findings are these:

This last point is the most important, by far, and it deserves some elaboration.

In all four of the textbooks that I have inspected, the Jesus of history is conflated with the Jesus of legend. The Jesus of history (the "historical Jesus," as New Testament scholars often call him) is a man who evidently lived in Palestine some 2,000 years ago. The Jesus of legend is a figure who appears in the four canonized gospels of the New Testament, in various other gospels as well, and in subsidiary stories and folktales that are too profuse to count. The distinction between the historical Jesus and the legendary Jesus pervades New Testament scholarship, but the writers of The Human Experience, of Human Heritage, of Prentice Hall World History and of Heath World History have hidden it. They have depicted the legendary Jesus as a real person, they have presented New Testament tales as matters of fact, and they have ignored more than a century's worth of scholarly research. Here is more information about their deceptive maneuvers:

I suspect that Nord and Haynes would have liked these texts and would have been pleased to see how the writers have spurned history in favor of religious indoctrination.

Notes

  1. Heath World History was originally published by D.C. Heath and Company. [return to text]

  2. See Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24. [return to text]


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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