Reading the Textbook with an Open Bible

Typically, in an “Introduction to Bible” or “Introduction to Old/New Testament” sort of class, the student is expected to read weekly in a textbook and also in the Bible. However, some students find themselves reading through a chapter of the textbook without the content seeming to “stick,” or gain traction, with them. Others will find themselves getting bogged down in confusing biblical material, blowing a lot of time on (say) the Book of Jeremiah, without much payoff in their understanding of critical issues in that material.

I regularly suggest that students read the textbook with an open Bible. The textbook will regularly cite the biblical texts, usually in the context of making some critical point. “In Jeremiah 7:4-14, we can see the prophet’s attack on his opponents, who are convinced of the Temple’s inviolability and therefore unimpressed by the Babylonian threat on the horizon.” At this point, the student should read Jeremiah 7:4-14, checking to see 1) that the textbook is reading the Bible correctly, and 2) whether the student is understanding the textbook correctly. The student should do this with all of the Bible references in the textbook.

In the above example, the student may also find that related aspects of the course work are reinforced: the fall of Israel (where Shiloh is) to the Assyrians, for example.

“But reading the textbook already takes so long: now it will take longer!” Will it really? Perhaps, but with a net gain in time. By the time a student has read the textbook on, say, the last years of the first Temple, she will not only have already “skimmed” the whole book of Jeremiah, but will have done so with attention to critically significant texts, in the context of an informed discussion (with the textbook) about those critical issues. So, there’s the main part of the assignment to read Jeremiah, checked off the “to do” list.

Also, the words of the textbook are now gaining traction for the reader: by “checking up” on the textbook’s claims about the Bible, the student is out of a purely passive, receptive mode of reading, and into a dialogic, critical, active mode of reading. Additionally, related critical issues are being brought into synthesis with the material at hand (“where is Shiloh? why is it destroyed?”). This kind of active learning is what makes material “stick.”

Have you tried “reading the textbook with an open Bible”?

2 Responses

  1. Although I am always tempted to just read through the course materials for the week on its own (which may I say most of everyone in class would agree that more often than not is just too overwhelming), I am finding myself with at least 3 or 4 other books spread on what was a few moments ago a table or an open space to walk on, as cross references to the reading task at hand. I even posted the timeline on the wall in front of the table where I do most of my readings. And although I often find myself having difficulty finding space in my aging brain to tuck away my new found knowledge, I agree that there is “added value” or what you call a “net gain in time” reading the text with an open bible. Scholars or students might not be able to read all the materials (because there will always be another written material for a given text), some texts will “stick” not because of the trauma of opening another book (although psychology says traumatic experiences always stick) but because of the act of cross referencing the materials, thus the “net gain in time” phenomenon.

  2. I try to read the textbook with an open Bible but what I seem to find my self doing is reading the Bible first, before I open my text book. I then read the text book with the knowledge of reading the assigned Bible readings. While I am reading I will then try to flip back in case I don’t remember a certain part of a text. The only time reading the Bible text before reading the textbook gets problematic for me is when there is a reference to a Bible passage we have not covered yet. Then I must go back and look it up.

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