In the beginning was the word.

And the word was really useful for teaching creative writing

Once upon a time, God created the heavens and the earth. God said, "Let there be light", and there was light. And they all lived happily ever after.

The Bible can be used to teach children how narrative storytelling works, according to academics at the University of Exeter. By analysing the Old and New Testaments, students can learn creative writing from the greatest story ever told.

"You could think of it like a television drama series," they write in a new guide for teachers. "Each episode tells a small story of its own, but is also part of a broader narrative."

This view of Biblical storytelling was echoed by Mick Connell, co-director of the National Association for the Teaching of English. "Both Testaments fit anecdotal and allegorical stories within a larger narrative," he said. "It's a really interesting narrative model. And, of course, they are cracking good stories."

David and Goliath in particular was "a belting good story", he added. "Especially as England goes into the World Cup."

The tales also vary in scope and scale, said Esther Reed, professor of theology and religion at Exeter and one of the academics behind The Art of Bible Reading. "Some stories are about the beginning of the universe and some are very personal."

For example, the story of Adam and Eve is a very human depiction of temptation. "It's about the truths. The theological truth and the existential, personal truths that are there," she said.

Bible stories can also be used to explore issues of gender politics. "They're not without problem," Professor Reed acknowledged. "The Adam and Eve story has been told in the church in ways that subjugate women. These stories have influenced how Western culture has developed."

Mr Connell shares this perspective. "Look at the representation of gender," he said. "There are issues like authority, tolerance of the foreigner. These stories are really rich in terms of discussing moral and ethical situations."

The Bible also offers a wealth of interesting characterisation. "Peter is always blustering about, making an ass of himself," Mr Connell said of the New Testament apostle. "He reminds me of myself. All of these characters I find eminently empathetic."

The Art of Bible Reading focuses on eight Old and New Testament narratives, including the creation, the flood, David and Goliath, the nativity and the crucifixion. Students are asked to look at the stories individually but also at the way they fit into the overarching narrative of creation, fall and salvation.

Intended for 11- to 14-year-olds, the book also suggests a range of creative exercises, involving writing, acting and drawing, which allow children to reinterpret the stories. For example, they are invited to imagine Noah's diary entries and to stage a play retelling the story of David and Goliath.

"Retelling can be fantastic," said Mr Connell. "If you were to tell the story of the immaculate conception from Joseph's viewpoint, you would have a very different kind of narrative. Why did he accept Mary? Why did he marry her?"

However, although Mr Connell believes the Bible has a place alongside the works of Shakespeare in the literary canon, introducing it into the English curriculum could be problematic. "It all has to be taken within the context of a multi-faith, multicultural classroom," he said. "Many classrooms have children from quite fundamentalist faith positions now and you don't want to upset them.

"In the end, nobody wants to see these stories as narratives alone. With the possible exception of the English teacher."

Violent deeds

This Biblical passage is included in The Art of Bible Reading, a new guide for teachers:

"God looked at the world and saw that it was evil, for the people were all living evil lives. God said to Noah, `I have decided to put an end to the whole human race. I will destroy them completely, because the world is full of their violent deeds.' "

What else?

Discover how the Bible came to be translated into English with this PowerPoint.

Explain the Bible's structure in this series of lessons.

Who was Jesus? Did he exist? Look at his life through Bible stories and historical texts.

This comprehensive guide to the Bible is perfect for revision.

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