Dr Meredith Lake’s award-winning book, The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History (2018) tells the remarkable history and influence of the Christian Bible since European settlement. Dr Lake is an Australian historian of religion and broadcaster.
What has surprised readers of Lake’s book is the extent to which the Bible has been integral in shaping lives and culture in Australia from the earliest times of colonisation. We know, for example, that the explorer James Cook carried a Bible with him on the Endeavour. Weighing nearly four kilograms, bound in leather and embossed with gold writing, it is on display in the State Library of NSW. Cook was not the only devotee of the Scriptures; it is understood that in his time the Bible was the “most widely available book in English” (p. 29).
The Bible in Australia traces the way in which interpretation of the Biblical text influenced the ethical, moral and social justice decisions of the early settlers. Lake then walks through the next centuries of our history, providing anecdotes of how the Scriptures influenced politics, the arts and culture, our understanding of war and our diverse spirituality, which was becoming less influenced by Britain.
Lake’s research of the Bible in modern times indicates a declining scriptural literacy. With less Australians claiming to be Christian, falling numbers attending church services and Bible study no longer included in the curriculum of many schools – one wonders how relevant the Bible will be to Australians in the years to come.
In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, Lake gifts the book to her children and God children, “in the hope that they may one day grapple with the Bible for themselves” (p. 500). This is also the invitation we receive as we approach Word of God Sunday on 4 February. This Sunday was established by Pope Francis to encourage all Catholics to take a fresh look at the profound beauty and wisdom of the Bible, and as a most wonderful way for all of us to come to know the story of God and his people.
By prayerfully reflecting on the Scriptures privately, in Bible study groups, or during the Eucharist (the Mass), we allow ourselves the great opportunity to grapple with what God’s Word is saying to us.
Lake, Meredith. The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History. Australia: New South Wales Publishing, 2020.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Word of God Sunday, website article.
Words: Sharon Brewer