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Prophet or cheeky chappie?

TEACHERS are dropping the biblical Joseph from religious education lessons in favour of the gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Schools are using his hit play and are ignoring the Joseph story in Genesis, according to Professor Terence Copley of Exeter University. He says that in the biblical version God directs the events and determines the ending. But children are shown videos of the musical instead of studying the Bible in class.

Professor Copley writes in the journal Education Today that children who know only the secular Joseph "are in no position to accept or reject the truth claims of the religious narrative. In the same way, David and Goliath might be reduced to a moral story about bullying. The parable of the Good Samaritan might be reduced to an exhortation to help others. Far from constituting RE, such an approach could be said to be anti-RE."

The musical recasts Joseph as a well-meaning opportunist, instead of the namesake of Mary's husband, and an Egyptian official motivated by faith and deotion to God. Joseph is also mentioned in the Koran as one of the prophets.

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was originally a short piece for primary schools. This "golden oldie" of RE is regarded as a lively yarn that captures children's imaginations. It is often tied in with history work on ancient Egypt.

The longer version of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's play became one of the most performed musicals in the world. Following fellow heart-throbs David Cassidy and Jason Donovan in the part, Donnie Osmond is to star in the movie.

According to Professor Copley, the main theme that "any dream will do" represents the individualism of western society. In the Old Testament and the Koran dreams were the means by which God or Allah spoke directly to people. "For the religious versions, any dream will simply not do," he says.

"Children 'theologising' in RE:The Joseph Story" by Terence Copley, in Volume 51 of Education Today, the journal of the College of Teachers. Tel: 01522 688612

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