Several weeks ago, I made the claim that a culturally literate person knows the Bible. Because the Bible was a part of common culture for so many centuries, those who fail to familiarize themselves with its contents cut themselves off from deeper historical and cultural understanding. 

I was reminded today just how valuable that knowledge can be as I was reflecting on Veterans Day and World War I.

As one might recall, World War I found a number of British forces fighting in Palestine, the land we now know as Israel. According to Major Vivian Gilbert, the troops bought Bibles when they first arrived in Palestine to use as a type of guidebook to find their way around.

Several months into the campaign, the forces under General Allenby prepared to attack an area known as Mickmash. Thinking the name seemed familiar, one of the majors under Allenby pulled out his Bible and began searching for the name Mickmash. He soon discovered that it was the site of a very famous surprise attack undertaken by Jonathan, the son of Saul, Israel’s first king. The historical account picks up the story:  

“And the major read on how Jonathan went through the pass, or passage, of Mickmash, between Bozez and Seneh, and climbed the hill dragging his armour-bearer with him until they came to a place high up, about ‘a half an acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow’; and the Philistines who were sleeping awoke, thought they were surrounded by the armies of Saul, and fled in disorder, and ‘the multitude melted away.’ Saul then attacked with his whole army. It was a great victory for him; his first against the Philistines, and ‘so the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle passed over unto Beth Aven.’

The brigade major thought to himself: ‘This pass, these two rocky headlands and flat piece of ground are probably still here; very little has changed in Palestine throughout the centuries,’ and he woke the brigadier. Together they read the story over again. Then the general sent out scouts, who came back and reported finding the pass, thinly held by Turks, with rocky crags on either side, obviously Bozez and Seneh; whilst in the distance, high up in Mickmash the moonlight was shining on a flat piece of ground just about big enough for a team to plough.

The general decided then and there to change the plan of attack, and instead of the whole brigade, one infantry company alone advanced at dead of night along the pass of Mickmash. A few Turks met were silently dealt with. We passed between Bozez and Seneh, climbed the hillside, and just before dawn, found ourselves on the flat piece of ground. The Turks who were sleeping awoke, thought they were surrounded by the armies of Allenby and fled in disorder.

We killed or captured every Turk that night in Mickmash; so that, after thousands of years, the tactics of Saul and Jonathan were repeated with success by a British force.”

If General Allenby and his forces had not familiarized themselves with the Bible, they would have completely missed the hidden knowledge which made their victory possible. One has to wonder: will current trends to avoid teaching the Bible to students cause them to miss out on important cultural connections while preventing them from using the past to unlock their understanding of the present?

Image Credit: H. D. Girdwood Public Domain