Main Article
Response Articles
The Life of the Text
Dr. Bill Brown
Re/Use of Texts
Dr. Nyasha Junior
Author's Response
Resources
Curriculum
Lisle Gwynn Garrity
Editor's Notes
Note from the Editor
Mark Douglas

Curriculum

Lesson Plan #1

 

What Do Texts Mean? 

Exploring The Three “Worlds” of the Text

Concept: In his lead essay, Breed maps a general landscape of biblical scholarship using Paul Ricoeur’s model of the three worlds of the text. In order to gain understanding of biblical interpretive methods, participants will study and exegete a scripture text using these different worlds. This lesson builds the foundation for later study of reception history and exploration into the complexities of biblical interpretation.

Setting: Intended for an adult education class, this lesson is set to run for about 60 minutes, though it can be adjusted for shorter or longer timeframes. This class is part of a four-part series on biblical interpretation. Participants are encouraged to attend all four sessions.

Objectives: 

In this first lesson, participants will:

  1. Articulate and explore personal convictions about biblical interpretation.
  2. Study and exegete a scripture passage using one of Ricoeur’s “worlds.”
  3. Identify limitations and benefits of different methodologies.

Preparation:

  • Participants are encouraged to read Breed’s lead article, though it is not required.
  • Arrange three tables for 5-8 people to gather around each table.
  • Create enough open space in the room for participants to move freely for an “Opinion Barometer” exercise. You may want to tape (or somehow mark) a straight line onto the floor of the room, making the line long enough for all participants to stand along. On one end of the line, place a sign that says, “I strongly agree,” and on the other end, a sign that says, “I strongly disagree.” In the middle of the line, place a sign that says, “I’m not sure.”
  • Choose a scripture passage for the exploring section. The three groups will all study this one text. You may want to choose a passage that corresponds to the lectionary or liturgical season—or not. It is best to choose a passage that is at least 8-10 verses long and is rich with narrative details and/or literary style. Examples of scripture texts that might work well for this exercise include (but are certainly not limited to): Mark 5: 1-20; Exodus 2: 1-10; Luke 1: 1-25; John 5: 1-18; Matthew 28: 1-10; Genesis 16: 1-16; Psalm 88; Ezekiel 37: 1-14.

Materials:

  • Collect resources (hopefully from your church library!) for biblical interpretation. Gather commentaries, concordances, biblical encyclopedias, Greek/Hebrew dictionaries, and any other educational resources helpful for studying scripture texts.
  • Place bibles (multiple translations, if possible), scrap paper and pencils on the three tables.
  • Print exploration questions to guide the groups during the exploration time. (Format for these questions below)

Course Sequence

Opening (10 min): As people enter, encourage them to sit at tables with others they may not know very well. Encourage participants to sit so that all three tables have equal numbers.

Begin with prayer:
God of mystery,
draw us nearer to you.
God of relationship,
draw us nearer to each other.
God in Trinity,
draw us into deeper understanding
through your gift of faith
and the outpouring of your love.
Amen.
1

“Opinion Barometer—Where do you stand?”
After introducing the topic of study, invite participants to gather around the “opinion barometer” line taped on the floor in the room. Explain that after you read certain statements, they will stand in a spot on the line to mark their opinion. After each statement (below), allow time for participants to share with the group why they are standing where they are standing. In between each statement, instruct participants to step away from the line to “reset” before the next statement is read.

Reassure participants that there are no right or wrong answers. If they don’t have an opinion or can’t decide, they can stand in the middle of the line.

[If you have members in the group for whom moving around is difficult, invite them to remain seated for this exercise. Instead of standing on the barometer line, offer them paper to write their opinion scores on a scale from 1-10 (10=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree, 5=not sure), in response to the statements. While others move on the barometer scale, those sitting can hold up their opinion scores for everyone to see.]

Statements:

  • “Studying the historical context of biblical texts is the best way to understand their true meaning.”
  • “No matter how cultures and societies change over time, the true meaning of the bible is timeless. It doesn’t change.”
  • “As readers of the bible, we should try not to impose our own subjective beliefs and cultural biases onto the text.”
  • “The bible creates a world of its own. We don’t necessarily need outside resources to interpret the text. God gives us all we need to know in the text itself.”
  • “Respected biblical scholars are the ones best equipped to study the bible. Their writings and research help show us the true meaning of the bible.”

Exploring (20-25 min):
After allowing enough time for discussion during the opening exercise, invite participants back to their tables. Announce that they will now have the chance to explore and test some of these interpretive claims.

Invite someone to read aloud the scripture passage you have chosen for study.

Assign each table one of the three “worlds” of the text. Following the written exploration questions on their respective tables, invite the groups to work together to come up with an interpretation of the text using their assigned methodology. Tell the groups to choose a scribe and a presenter. Once they have constructed an interpretation of the text (asking, what does the text mean?), they will present their findings to the other groups. To incite some competition (and fun), challenge the groups to argue why their assigned methodology is the best way to determine what the text means.

Exploration Questions (to be printed and distributed to each of the groups)

Group #1: The World Behind the Text: Using the resources at your table, explore as much as you can about the historical context of the passage. When was the text written? What do you know about the author(s)? Who was the original or intended audience? Why was the text written? What was its ancient purpose and function? Look up the Hebrew/Greek translations for certain words and phrases that stick out—how does knowing these translations inform your interpretation? Are there other ancient texts similar to this one? What was the socio-political and geographical landscape? What has happened just prior to this event in history? If the text includes characters, what were the societal roles, expectations, and limitations of these characters? Given all of this historical information, what does this text mean?

Group #2: The World in the Text: Conduct a “close reading” of the text, treating it as literature. What themes emerge? What stylistic and rhetorical patterns do you notice? What genre(s) does this passage belong to (e.g. narrative, poetry, epistle, parable, law, etc.)? If the text includes characters, how are the characters described and portrayed? What information is included, and what is omitted? What do we know about these characters in other scripture texts? What texts are directly before and after this passage? Where is this passage located within the larger book? If this text is repeated in another part of the bible (such as in other gospels), how does this version differ? What are the theological implications of this passage, i.e., what does it say about prayer, resurrection, salvation, faithfulness, or doubt? Can this passage be understood as allegory? Based on what you know about the world within the text, what does this passage mean?

Group #3: The World in Front of the Text: Instead of trying to determine the author’s intentions, explore how different readers might construct their own meanings. Sharing with one another around the table, how do you as individuals interpret the text differently? What about your different experiences shapes how you read this text? Try to imagine how this text might be read by different communities around the world. How might this text be read through the lenses of gender, disability, race/ethnicity, empire, class, etc.? How do our modern-day beliefs and cultural practices influence how we read this ancient text? What are the theological and ethical implications of this passage for our modern context? What does this text mean to us today?

Presenting (10 min):
Invite each of the groups to present their findings and research. You may need to limit each group to 3-4 minutes for presenting. Encourage them to argue why their particular approach is the best way to determine the meaning of the text.

Responding (10-15 min):
Lead the entire group in a closing discussion, asking:
What did you learn about the text from studying your assigned “world”? What did you learn from the other groups? What are the limitations and benefits of each approach? Thinking back to our opening exercise, have any of your opinions about biblical interpretation changed? Are some approaches and methodologies better than others? If so, why? Why does studying these “worlds” of the text matter for our lives as Christians?

Closing (2 min):
Close with your own prayer, or read the opening words of John 1 from the Common English Bible for a closing prayer/meditation:

1 In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
2 The Word was with God in the beginning.
3 Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
4 through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
(John 1: 1-5, CEB)

 

Notes:

1. Prayer by Joy Tetley in Prayers Encircling the World: An International Anthology (John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 1998), 211.

 

 

Lesson Plan #2

 

“What Do Texts Do?” 

Exploring Reception History

Concept: In his lead essay, Breed argues for a biblical approach that incorporates all of Ricoeur’s three “worlds.” He proposes that biblical scholars become “nomadologists” who follow and study texts in various contexts, from the ancient world to the present day. Instead of asking, “What do texts mean?” Breed asks, “How has this text functioned? What can it do? Of what is it capable? What capacities does it have, and how might these capacities reveal themselves in a variety of contexts?” In this lesson, participants will build on what they learned in the first lesson in order to explore Breed’s proposition.

Setting: Intended for an adult education class, this lesson is set to run for about 60 minutes, though it can be adjusted for shorter or longer timeframes. This class is part of a four-part series on biblical interpretation. Participants are encouraged to attend all four sessions.

Objectives:
In this lesson, participants will:

  1. Discuss the method of reception history and compare Breed’s proposal to other methodologies such as Ricoeur’s “three worlds.”
  2. Analyze and interpret visual representations of the prophet Amos from different time periods and contexts.
  3. Articulate benefits and limitations of using reception history to interpret and study scripture.

Preparation:

  • Participants are encouraged to read Breed’s lead essay, though it is not required.
  • Arrange three tables so that 5-8 people can sit at each table for small group discussion.

Materials:

  • Have resources (collected for previous lesson) at-hand in case needed. Gather commentaries, biblical encyclopedias, concordances, Greek/Hebrew dictionaries, and any other educational resources helpful for studying scripture texts.
  • Place bibles (multiple translations, if possible), scrap paper and pencils on the three tables.
  • Print color visuals of Amos and the descriptions that go with them (offered below). You will distribute three visuals per table during the exploring section.
  • Print excerpts (below) from Breed’s article so that each table group has multiple copies.

Course Sequence

Opening (5 min):
As people gather, invite them to sit at a different table than where they sat last week. Encourage participants to sit so that all of the tables have equal numbers.

Open with prayer:
O gracious and holy God,
give us diligence to seek you,
wisdom to perceive you,
and patience to wait for you.
Grant us, O God,
a mind to meditate on you;
eyes to behold you;
ears to listen for your word;
a heart to love you;
and a life to proclaim you;
through the power of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ. Amen.
2

Once everyone is seated, spend a few minutes recapping the previous lesson to catch-up any new participants. Invite individuals to share what was explored and studied in the previous lesson, describing to any newcomers Ricoeur’s three worlds of the text.

Exploring Part 1 (10 min):

In his lead essay, Breed argues that discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, expose a “pluriformity” of scriptural texts, making it difficult—or impossible—to define an original text or an original context. Because of this, he proposes we study biblical texts wherever they go, seeking how these texts function in different cultures and contexts throughout time.

Briefly introduce the topic of reception history. At each of the tables, distribute the following printed excerpts from Breed’s essay:

There are multiple, irreducibly different versions of the texts as far back as we can discover. Particular communities of faith, of course, have their commitments to particular canons and particular versions of texts. Now we know, however, that at the dawn of both Christianity and Judaism there was not a pristine text, but rather a general acceptance of pluriformity. Canonical and versional preferences are later developments. Thus, the “text itself” is not simply one version of a text; rather, the text itself is the totality of the various forms that a text has taken. [ Breed p. 9-10 ]

Perhaps we should no longer ask, “What does this text mean,” or “How should we read this text” – but rather, “How has this text functioned? What can it do? Of what is it capable? What capacities does it have, and how might these capacities reveal themselves in a variety of contexts?” [Breed p. 15]

In short, I propose that biblical scholarship re-imagine itself not as an updated historical-critical enterprise, or as a society of close readers, or as a guild of cultural critics, but rather as a group of nomadologists. We study the text wherever it goes, from the ancient Near East to the present day, as it moves through a myriad of contexts, both at home everywhere and ultimately at home nowhere, with this question always in mind: What can these texts do? [Breed p. 16]

Invite the groups to read these excerpts together and discuss the following questions within their group:

How does Breed’s proposition for reception history compare to Ricoeur’s three worlds? Do you agree or disagree with Breed’s approach? What are the possible benefits and limitations of this approach? What questions are you left with?

Exploring Part 2 (20 min):
Once the groups have had time to discuss, explain that reception history utilizes many different mediums including art, music, popular culture, news journals, etc., to study how texts are received and interpreted in different contexts. In other words, reception history doesn’t just study the writings of theologians and biblical scholars, but instead surveys all the documents that evidence how the bible is received and interpreted within a certain context.

Explain that, using visual art, you will briefly explore together the visual reception history of the prophet Amos.

Before distributing the images, take about 5 minutes to ask the group what they know about Amos. Who is he? What kind of prophet was he? Can you recall bible studies or sermons on the book of Amos? Can you think of any cultural references? What descriptors, words, or phrases come to mind? What sorts of messages did he deliver? As the group responds, write words and phrases on a whiteboard or graffiti sheet for all to see.

The groups will each be given three pieces of art depicting the prophet Amos. Each visual will come with a short description about the art. Invite the groups to study their images and how they correspond to specific passages in the book of Amos. Encourage them to discuss the following questions: What do you see? How is Amos portrayed? What is he wearing? What objects are included in the image? How does this image correspond to the scripture? What does this image say about how Amos was received in this particular context? Does he appear as a doomsday preacher? Revered prophet? Social justice-minded whistleblower? How do the three images compare and contrast? What do these images do?

[Click on "Visual" headings for links to the corresponding images.]

Group #1:

Visual #1: Amos on the western exterior of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Amiens, France. 1200s, Gothic style. Depicts Amos as a herdsman and a dresser of the sycamore tree (Amos 7:14). Background: Amos was more likely to have been a herdsman or sheep-breeder than a shepherd, meaning that he owned sheep instead of tending to them. Amos describes himself as a pruner or trimmer of sycamore trees. Some scholars think he may have pioneered a new method, in which he pierced or slashed the fruit, to induce ripening. If this is true, he may have been a wealthy man for developing a new technology.

Visual #2: Amos on the western exterior of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Amiens, France. 1200’s, Gothic style. Depicts Amos’ vision of God constructing a wall or plumb line (Amos 7: 7). Background: During the Middle Ages, Amos began to be aligned with Jesus, due to his vision of the plumb line. The plumb line, as an instrument of judgment, linked Amos to Jesus as the judge of souls.

Visual #3: Amos with ram’s horn to alarm Israel. From a manuscript in the British library, 1148. Background: Shofar (horn) blown to initiate war, typically in the temple. Carrying a club. How does this visual compare to Amos as the shepherd/herdsman?

Group #2:

Visual #4: “Amos and the European Sibyl.” Bernardo Pinturicchio: 1492, Fresco. Background: Sibyls were considered prophetesses in ancient Greece, Italy, and Asia Minor; they wandered from place to place prophesying at holy sites under greek deities. Michelangelo’s frescoes at the Sistine Chapel depict many sibyls with prophets. During the Renaissance, due to increased fascination with ancient Greece, there was more interest in sibyls. There are no mentions of scrolls in the book of Amos, yet, Amos is portrayed as a pensive, wise scribe.

Visual #5: “Amos the Prophet,” by Salvador Dali (1964-67), Spanish Surrealist painter (Amos 7:7). Background: The plumb line, as an instrument of judgment, aligned Amos with God as the judge of souls. How does this dark, shadowy figure compare to the image of Amos as the wise scribe?

Visual #6: “Amos and the Angel holding the pincers of the passion of Christ.” From the cupola of the Sacristy of St. Mark, 1477. Fresco. Loreto, Italy. Background: Pincers part of the “weapons of Christ” and used as symbols in Christian art. These “weapons” refer to what Jesus used to gain victory over Satan. The pincers were used to remove the nails. Amos sits beneath an angel holding the pincers of the passion. In this image, Amos is aligned with Jesus’ passion and resurrection. What might it mean for Amos to be connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Group #3:

Visual #7: “Twelve prophets” by Aleijadinho in Brazil: soapstone, completed in 1805. Located in the Brazilian municipality of Congonhas do Campo, where they adorn the forecourt of the Santuário do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos (Basilica). Background: Amos portrayed totally differently from the other sculptures. He has a broad face, no beard, and calm expressions. His garments are made of sheepskin for a shepherd, and he wears a hat commonly used by Portuguese farmers in the region. Some people think the statues are a call to political freedom for both African slaves and native Brazilians who wanted independence from Portugal. On Amos’ Shield: “At first I am a shepherd and a prophet, and I am against fat cows and the rulers of Israel.”

Visual #8: Batik, “Thirst for Justice,” by Solomon Raj, Indian Christian theologian and artist. 2001. Background: Meditation cloth (to be placed over the Eucharist during Lent--a tradition developed in the Middle Ages to emphasize the sacredness of the Eucharist) inspired by Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Batik commissioned by Bread for the World to focus on the right of every person to have access to clean drinking water. Includes imagery of India: cattle and women carrying loads, a refugee family, a man pulling a rickshaw. At the top right, God’s hand reaches out of a cloud pointing to the fiery wheel (symbolizing God’s coming justice). The upside-down tree represents Raj’s perspective that Christians are to live rooted in God in heaven, but offering their fruit to the earth. The blue river contrasts with the dryness of the yellow and red land. The cry for water in a desert area is like the cry for justice in desperate situations.

Visual #9 on our Columbia Connections blog: “Hear this, you that trample on the needy,” banner installation planned by Rev. Ann Laird Jones and executed by artist Johanna Garrity. Installed in Anderson Auditorium, Montreat Conference Center, NC, summer 2012. Background: Banners created for Sunday worship when guest preacher, Rev. Paul T. Roberts, Sr. (president of Johnson C. Smith Seminary, Atlanta, GA), preached on Amos 8: 4-6. Banners 14 feet tall, painted with acrylic paint on newspaper and brown craft paper.

Presenting (8 min):
Invite each group to briefly present their three visuals to the other groups, providing details about the art and what the group discussed. After each group presents, tape or pin their visuals on a board or wall in the room. Hang or pin the images so that they are all visible together.

Responding (15 min):
Once every group has presented their art, ask the group the following questions:
Looking back at our own preconceptions and ideas about Amos before we began our visual research (point to whiteboard or graffiti sheet), how do these visual representations compare? What did you learn about Amos? What did you learn from the other groups? Which visuals do you find surprising or unexpected? What was challenging about this exercise? How do these visuals reflect changing interpretations of Amos’ message? What do these images do? What do these images teach us about Amos’ message for us today?

Closing (2 min):
Close with your own prayer, or read the opening words of John 1 from the VOICE bible for a closing prayer/meditation:
1 Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.
The Voice was and is God.
2 This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
3 His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
4 His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
5 A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.
(John 1: 1-5, The Voice)

 

Notes:

2. Attributed to Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547), in Book of Common Worship: Presbyterian Church (USA), 24.

 

 

Lesson Plan #3

 

Texts of Terror

What Do We Do With the “Bad” Texts of the Bible?

Concept: In his response essay, Brown questions whether certain biblical interpretations throughout time and space should be determined more correct or “life-giving” than others. Concerned about how to treat the “bad texts of the Bible,” Brown questions whether reception history treats all interpretations equally, or whether it values certain interpretations as better--or more harmful--than others. Similarly, in her response essay, Junior argues that texts do not escape their own boundaries, but instead are “repurposed, corralled, and coerced into new contexts” (p. 2). Junior cites how texts such as Exodus 21 and Ephesians 6 were used to justify slavery in the United States. In this lesson, participants will study one of these notoriously “bad texts,” and explore ways to interpret it.

Setting: Intended for an adult education class, this lesson is set to run for about 60 minutes, but if time permits, this class would be best if extended for 75-90 minutes in order to show the entirety of a lecture utilized for study. This class is part of a four-part series on biblical interpretation. Participants are encouraged to attend all four sessions.

Objectives:
In this lesson, participants will:

  1. Discuss how texts can be “coerced” or misused to support oppressive practices.
  2. Watch and discuss Anna Carter Florence’s lecture on the rape of Tamar.
  3. Develop interpretive approaches for some of these “bad” texts of the bible.

Preparation:

  • Participants are encouraged to read Breed’s lead essay and Brown and Junior’s response essays, though the readings are not required.
  • Arrange three tables so that 5-8 people can sit at each table for small group discussion. Arrange the tables so that all can view a powerpoint screen.
  • Because participants will be reading and studying a very difficult text, the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13: 1-22), be aware of pastoral concerns that may arise during discussion. If you know of specific participants for whom reading this text may stir up experiences of trauma and pain, you may consider speaking with those people ahead of time and/or amending this lesson to fit your group’s needs.

Materials:

Course Sequence

Opening (3 min):
As people gather, invite them to sit at a different table than where they sat last week. Encourage participants to sit so that all of the tables have equal numbers.

Open with prayer:
Eternal Light, shine into our hearts;
Eternal Goodness, deliver us from evil;
Eternal Power, be our support;
Eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance;
Eternal Pity, have mercy upon us,
that with all our heart and mind and strength
we may seek your face
and be brought by your infinite mercy to your holy presence;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
3

Spend a few minutes recapping the previous lesson to catch-up any new participants. Invite individuals to share what was explored and studied in the previous lesson. Ask the group to define or describe the process of reception history. Refer to the visuals of Amos to reflect and share.

Exploring Part 1 (10 min):
Distribute copies of the following excerpts to each of the table groups. Invite them to read these excerpts together and discuss the following questions.

William P. Brown:
This is what I consider to be the greatest benefit reception theory offers to the exegetical arts: it transforms exegesis from an exercise in application to a process of participation, of participation in the life of the text, enhancing it, diminishing it, enlarging it, or wounding it. Therein, I suspect, lies the key to adjudicating between competing interpretations. I suspect that even for reception theorists not every interpretation is considered equally correct or valid. But here I’d like to hear more from Brennan about how he might go about determining which interpretations are more correct, more life-giving perhaps, than others. Does his hermeneutical theory of relativity result in mere interpretive relativism? In other words, can one determine whether some interpretations do a better job of “making sense” of the text than others, with some even deemed “non-sense”? And what about the bad texts of the Bible—those texts that are inextricably linked to the justification of oppression and violence, the “texts of terror”? How does one counter these texts reception-wise? [Brown p. 5]

Nyasha Junior:
Breed’s focus on what texts “do” suggests that texts themselves have agency without acknowledging the interpreters who press texts into service. While I agree with Breed that texts “overrun boundaries,” texts do not cross boundaries or “escape” to move on their own from one context to another. Instead, texts are repurposed, corralled, and coerced into new contexts. Asking “how has this text functioned” is a good question, but to ask “who has (re)used this text, how, and for what purpose” identifies more clearly the particular interpreters and agendas behind these reinterpretations.

For instance, biblical texts such as Exodus 21 and Ephesians 6 were used to support pro-slavery positions in the U.S. These texts did not “escape” their ancient contexts. Those who supported slavery were very deliberate in their recycling of these biblical texts into new contexts to support chattel slavery. The movement of these texts is not a characteristic of the texts themselves but a choice made by particular interpreters in support of their unique interpretive aims. [Junior p. 1-2]

Discussion Questions:
Given Brown and Junior’s concerns, can we distinguish whether some interpretations are better, or more correct, than others? If so, how do we determine which interpretations are better? How can we safeguard against harmful interpretations that, as Junior asserts, may be used to justify oppressive practices?

If you have time, take 1-2 minutes to open discussion to the whole group so that the table groups can share what they discussed.

Presenting (31 min):
Pass out the printed copies of 2 Samuel 13: 1-22. Tell the group that they will watch part of a lecture given by Anna Carter Florence, Associate Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary. Guided by Florence’s lecture, you will read together a “bad” text, or “text of terror”--the rape of Tamar. You may want to begin by offering the group a few words of caution (Florence does this in the video as well). This is a difficult text and can stir up difficult emotions. But as Florence reminds us, “there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus in this text.”

Before starting the video, begin with prayer:
Eternal God,
you are the power behind all things;
behind the energy of the storm,
behind the heat of a million suns.
Eternal God,
you are the power behind all minds:
behind the ability to think and reason,
behind all understanding of the truth.
Eternal God,
you are the power behind the cross of Christ:
behind the weakness, the torture and the death,
behind unconquerable love. Amen.
4

As they watch the lecture, invite participants to:

  • Underline, circle, and annotate the scripture text as it is read in the video. Highlight words and phrases that stick out to you.
  • On the scrap sheets of paper, jot down notes, thoughts, and questions as they come to you.
  • As you listen, keep these questions in the back of your mind (you may want to write these on a white board or graffiti sheet): What is Florence’s interpretive approach? What “worlds” of the text does she explore (thinking back to Ricoeur’s “three worlds”)? Where is God in this text?

Video: “It Could Have Gone Differently”: Repertory Readings of Texts of Terror by Anna Carter Florence. Part of the Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School in November, 2012.

For the sake of time, I suggest starting the video at 13 min. 40 sec. and ending at 44 min. 20 sec. If you are able to extend the class for longer than an hour, I encourage you to show the entire video.

Responding (15 min):
Begin by welcoming initial reactions, comments, and questions. Encourage participants to share the notes and questions they wrote down during the video, inviting them to share particular moments in the text and lecture they found especially striking.

Using the following questions, guide the group in a closing discussion:

● What is Florence’s interpretive approach? How does she “enter into” the text? What questions does she ask? What information does she gather?

● Thinking back to Ricoeur’s “three worlds,” what “worlds” of the text does she explore? If you were to continue studying this text, what information would you gather? What historical questions would you want to investigate? If you were to follow this text in other contexts, where would you look?

● Based on our reading of this text and the information we have shared and gathered, how might we prevent this text from being used to support sexual violence? What interpretive approaches or questions can we develop to prevent harmful readings of texts like this one?

● And, finally, where is God in this text?

Closing (2 min):
Close with your own prayer, or pray the following, opening with words from John 1 and closing with a prayer by Maya Angelou:

1-2 The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.
3-5 Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
(John 1: 1-5, The Message Bible)

Father, Mother, God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.
Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.
And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.
For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.
For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.
For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.
Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the
world that which we need most—Peace. Amen.
5

 

Notes:

3. Alcuin of Tours (c. 735-804), in Book of Common Worship: Presbyterian Church (USA), 24-5.
4. Book of Common Worship: Presbyterian Church (USA), 21.
5. “Prayer,” Maya Angelou. World Prayers. The World Prayers Project: http://www.worldprayers.org/archive/prayers/celebrations/father_mother_god_thank_you.html.

 

 

Lesson Plan #4

 

Reflections and Conclusions

Who Are Our Conversation Partners?

Concept: In his response essay, Schipper critiques Breed for referencing only biblical scholars who are of European/Caucasian descent and male. Arguing that we need more diverse conversation partners for biblical interpretation, Schipper points to the demographics of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) to show how 89% of its members identify as European/Caucasian, and 76% identify as male. In this final lesson, participants will consider these statistics as they think about their own conversation partners in their personal study and social circles. Participants will also engage in activities and discussion to reflect on how their perspectives on biblical interpretation may have shifted over this lesson series.

Setting: Intended for an adult education class, this lesson is set to run for about 60 minutes. This class is part of a four-part series on biblical interpretation. Participants are encouraged to attend all four sessions.

Objectives:
In this lesson, participants will:

  1. Discuss issues of diversity in biblical interpretation.
  2. Articulate and explore how their personal convictions about biblical interpretation may have shifted.
  3. Develop conclusions about what they have learned throughout this lesson series, and challenges for continued study of the bible.

Preparation:

  • Participants are encouraged to read Breed’s lead essay and Schipper’s response essay, though the readings are not required.
  • Arrange three tables so that 5-8 people can sit at each table for small group discussion. Arrange the tables so that all can view a powerpoint screen.
  • Create enough open space in the room for the “Opinion Barometer” exercise again. Like in the first lesson, you may want to tape (or somehow mark) a straight line onto the floor of the room, making the line long enough for all participants to stand along. On one end of the line, place a sign that says, “I strongly agree,” and on the other end, a sign that says, “I strongly disagree.” In the middle of the line, place a sign that says, “I’m not sure.”

Materials:

  • Set up a powerpoint projector and screen to display demographic tables (See Tables 3, 5, 6, 7, and 11 on pages 12-15 of: http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/memberProfileReport2014.pdf) about the Society of Biblical Literature, or you can print these tables and distribute copies to each table group.
  • Place index cards, pencils and pens at each table.

Course Sequence

Opening (3-5 min):
As people gather, invite them to sit at a different table than where they sat last week. Encourage participants to sit so that all of the tables have equal numbers.
Open with prayer:
Grant unto us, O God, the fullness of your promises.
Where we have been weak, grant us your strength;
where we have been confused, grant us your guidance;
where we have been distraught, grant us your comfort;
where we have been dead, grant us your life.
Apart from you, O Lord, we are nothing,
in and with you we can do all things. Amen
6

Spend a few minutes recapping the previous lessons to catch-up any new participants. Ask the group to define Ricoeur’s “three worlds” and the process of reception history.

Presenting (15 min):
Using a powerpoint screen (or distributing printed copies), display the following demographics of the members of the Society of Biblical Literature, the leading professional organization for biblical scholars.
As you show each table, direct attention to the majority and minority groups represented. (See Tables 3, 5, 6, 7, and 11 on pages 12-15 of: http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/memberProfileReport2014.pdf)

Discussion Questions for the group:

  • Based on these demographics, the majority of leading professionals in biblical scholarship are male, Caucasian, and North American. How might these statistics affect the field of biblical studies and the scholarly work that is produced?
  • Think of the groups in which you study or read the bible (bible studies, book clubs, sunday school, church, etc.). Think also of your social circles and friends/acquaintances with whom you may discuss religion and faith. Who are your conversation partners in these groups? How diverse are they? What perspectives do these members bring? What do you gain from different perspectives in these groups? How can you find new and more diverse conversation partners when reading and interpreting the bible?

Exploring (25 min):

“Opinion Barometer—Where do you stand now?”
Invite participants to gather again around the “opinion barometer” line taped on the floor in the room. Explain that after you read certain statements (the same ones as before), they will stand in a spot on the line to mark their opinion. In between each statement, instruct participants to step away from the line to “reset” before the next statement is read. Reassure participants that there are no right or wrong answers.

After each statement, invite participants to reflect on if their position on the line has changed since the first lesson. Encourage participants to share why or why not their opinions have changed. Allow for ample time for discussion after each statement.

[Again, if you have members in the group for whom moving around is difficult, invite them to remain seated for this exercise. Instead of standing on the barometer line, offer them paper to write their opinion scores on a scale from 1-10 (10=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree, 5=not sure), in response to the statements. While others move on the barometer scale, those sitting can hold up their opinion scores for everyone to see.]

Statements*:

  • “Studying the historical context of biblical texts is the best way to understand their true meaning.”
  • “No matter how cultures and societies change over time, the true meaning of the bible is timeless. It doesn’t change.”
  • “As readers of the bible, we should try not to impose our own subjective beliefs and cultural biases onto the text.”
  • “The bible creates a world of its own. We don’t necessarily need outside resources to interpret the text. God gives us all we need to know in the text itself.”
  • “Respected biblical scholars are the ones best equipped to study the bible. Their writings and research help show us the true meaning of the bible.”

*Side note: These statements are intentionally ambiguous. Participants may find themselves responding without a clear “yes” or “no” opinion. Hopefully this will lead to a more nuanced conversation about biblical interpretation.

Responding (12 min):
Gather back at the tables. Pass out index cards and pencils.
On one side of the index card, invite each participant to write three things they have learned or gained from this lesson series.
On the other side of the card, invite them to write three challenges for continued study of the bible. Challenges might include: concrete ways they can find new conversation partners, commitments to read and study other “bad” texts in the bible, commitments to read the bible more often, or to read new commentaries, etc.

When everyone has finished writing, invite them to take these cards with them to use as bookmarks for their personal bibles so they can continue to meditate on these blessings and challenges.

Closing (2 min):
Close with your own prayer, or pray the following, opening with words from John 1:

1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
(John 1: 1-5, NLT Bible)

Creating and sustaining God,
in your presence there is life.
Living water springs up,
and deserts blossom where you pass.
Seeking the life that comes from you,
we have gathered before you.
Our hearts are ready, O God.
Our hearts are ready.
As we go out, delight us with your presence,
and prepare us for your service in the world;
through the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.
7

 

Notes:

6. Book of Common Worship: Presbyterian Church (USA), 21.
7. Book of Worship: UCC, 477.

 

 

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