A few years ago, a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Americans on average were broadly illiterate about the core beliefs, writings, and teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Only about half of Americans, for example, know the Koran is the sacred text of Islam, Martin Luther was somehow associated with the Protestant Reformation, or that the four gospels of the New Testament are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (see the executive summary here). The findings echoed those of Stephen Prothero’s New York Times bestselling study, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – And Doesn’t (HarperCollins 2007), which documented the public’s general lack of knowledge about religions that many claim as near and dear to their hearts. Prothero argued that religious illiteracy was not simply an internal problem for particular religious groups and denominations but a fundamentally civic one that Americans need to remedy: presidents and politicians regularly invoke religious texts in civic discourse, after all, and knowledge of world religions would contribute to more informed foreign policy.
Whether or not you agree with Prothero, it is striking that the high rates of religious illiteracy — at least in respect to knowledge of the Hebrew and Christian bibles — can so easily coexist with the widespread availability and accessibility of ancient texts. Never before has it been easier to read, hear, and understand 1 and 2 Corinthians. Anyone with an internet connection has a thousand new digital resources at their fingertips. You can visit the Bible Gateway to read the Corinthian correspondence in dozens of languages (ancient and modern) and translations along with devotional readings and commentaries, or go to the Blue Letter Bible to find commentary, study tools, Greek text, images, sermons, music, and cross-references. Have a question about a certain part of 1 Corinthians? Ask it at biblical hermeneutics stack exchange, a crowdsourced resource designed for theologians, bible students, and anyone interested in exegetical analysis of texts. There are audio sermons galore freely available at sites such as SermonAudio and Preach It Teach It. And YouTube, of course, has a growing body of video sermons: a search on “Corinth” and “sermons” turns up nearly a thosand hits. Then there are sermons, homilies, and studies that are constant on the internet.
I’m not sure if such resources contribute to any deep literacy about the Corinthian situation, or simply create a glut of information, but they have widely disseminated to an unprecedented extent the content and interpretations of Pauline literature and the Corinthian churches of Corinth. Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to look at different ways that scholars are using both digital media and alternate forms of publication to explore the religious world of Corinth in the first century CE and educate a public that has the decreasing ability to read and study a long text.
This marks the fifth post in a Lenten series on resources for the study of religion and Christianity in Corinth. Earlier posts include