The cross : You held the chair of “biblical foundations” at the Collège de France for almost fifteen years. How do you see the relationship of the French with the Bible?
Thomas Romer : When I arrived at the Collège de France, it was the first time that the word Bible appeared in the title of a chair (The founding of the Collège de France dates back to 1530, editor’s note). This surprised me a lot. There used to be people researching the Bible, but we were talking about Aramaic or Hebrew antiquities, or even the history of religions. As if there were any embarrassment in pronouncing the word Bible in a university and secular education title at the College de France. Showed some tension. In France, there is always the idea that the Bible is a matter for churches and synagogues, and not necessarily for university education.
At the same time, since this chair was created, it has been very well accepted, there are no tensions. I have often been asked to train for high school teachers. Many people come to the courses and have a large following on the Internet.
Do you feel that things are moving a little?
TR : For fifteen years, I was not faced with hostility. I’ve always found interest and it’s growing. I feel curiosity. At the same time, I observe that high school teachers lack the means to teach the Bible. The idea of teaching the religious fact has worn off. This is perhaps something that should be taken up again with a more structured program.
In the survey, those who want to know the Bible better evokes the role that schools and universities could play. I find that interesting. In France, secularism would in no way impede the teaching of the Bible, without proselytizing, of course. We were able to make the biblical texts known, as we teach the great Greek mythologies, the great texts of the Near East and the East. We should have a more relaxed attitude towards the Bible. But, of course, history weighs…
You were born and educated in Germany. Do you see a difference between the French and the Germans in their relationship to the Bible?
TR : Yes, a lot. France is different from countries with a Protestant culture. In the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, in Germany and even in Switzerland, universities have always had faculties of theology. Teaching the Bible is part of university knowledge.
In Germany, the language was standardized around Luther’s translation of the Bible, and the Bible is part of the culture. It happens that a deputy quotes a biblical text in a speech, not to say “Here, I am a believer”, but how to quote a proverb or a text from Greek mythology to express your point of view. And that’s no problem. If in France a deputy did the same thing, he would be suspected of proselytizing and, in any case, he would certainly be misunderstood!
80% of French people interviewed in the survey think that biblical culture is not “not present” in French society. What do you think ?
TR : The Bible is not present in the sense that it is rarely spoken of, but it is ubiquitous if you go to the Louvre or any museum, in art, in literature, or even in the heritage of human rights. the man… Basically it all depends on what you mean by “present” or “not present”. It is before these people are not aware of this presence. It is true that the Bible has marked our history and our civilization. It must be said without apologetic intent.
The survey shows that 81% of French respondents do not read ” Never “ the Bible and 4% read ” at least once per month “. You who are in the Bible from morning to night, how do you react to this result?
TR : Me, it’s my job (laughs) ! Nor can we expect people suffering from illnesses to immerse themselves in medical treatises every day. (laughs) ! There is a biblical reading linked to religious convictions, where the Bible is understood as the word of God, which must be read every day and considered as a source of inspiration. It is not up to the State or education to position itself in relation to this type of reading. My concern is not that people read the Bible regularly – if they do, even better – but that they know a little about the biblical texts and that they don’t get lost in hearing about them. That reading the Bible concerns few people is not serious in itself. The French don’t read Greek myths every day either, but they shouldn’t be totally ignorant when it comes to them… It would be nice if the Bible were the same.
When you seek to sharpen your audience, which biblical episodes do you like to talk about?
TR : I tend to start with well-known texts, because people still have vague pieces of them in their heads… I like to take the exit from paradise (in Genesis, editor’s note), which has often been sold by the Church as a reflection on original sin and a condemnation of sexuality, while being a story about the autonomy of the human being. I also often use the story of Cain and Abel, which is a whole reflection on violence.
The Bible is often very poorly served by its commentators, and especially by the churches, who have not always helped to make the Bible interesting. I like to show that we find in this text the great questions that humanity asks itself: where did we come from? Why violence? Why is there death?