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Bible course for public schools unveiled

Interfaith group targets discord

NEW YORK -- An interfaith group released a new textbook yesterday aimed at teaching public high school students about the Bible while avoiding legal and religious disputes.

The nonprofit Bible Literacy Project of Fairfax, Va., spent five years and $2 million developing ''The Bible and Its Influence."

The textbook, introduced during a Washington news conference, won initial endorsements from specialists in literature, religion, and church-state law.

American Jewish Congress attorney Marc Stern, an adviser on the effort, said despite concern over growing tensions among US religious groups, ''this book is proof that the despair is premature, that it is possible to acknowledge and respect deep religious differences and yet still find common ground."

Another adviser, evangelical literature scholar Leland Ryken of Wheaton College, called the textbook ''a triumph of scholarship and a major publishing event."

The colorful $50 book and forthcoming teacher's guide, covering the Old Testament and the New Testament, are planned for semester-long or full-year courses starting next year.

The editors are Cullen Schippe, a retired vice president at textbook publisher Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and Chuck Stetson, a venture capitalist who chairs Bible Literacy. The 41 contributors include prominent evangelical, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and secular specialists.

Religious lobbies and federal courts have long struggled over Bible course content.

To avoid problems, Bible Literacy's editors accommodated Jewish sensitivities about the New Testament, attributed reports about miracles to the source rather than simply calling them historical facts, and generally downplayed scholarly theories -- about authorship and dates, for example -- that offend conservatives.

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