The Exegetical Thesis as (Digital) Storytelling

The “exegesis project” is a The Big Project for masters students in a biblical studies course. Usually, it’s a paper, of course. This term, I hope to encourage students in my “Book of Daniel” to consider doing the project in the form of “Digital Storytelling.” I realize that this calls for a two-part explanation:

  1. What makes exegesis “storytelling”?
  2. What makes exegesis “digital”?

I am going to take these one at a time. Today, we will stick with the first. In beginning to learn exegesis, one of the big hurdles for students is that they are asked to bracket their spiritual autobiography long enough to attend to the biblical text’s own historical context. That being so, what can I mean when I ask them to accomplish their exegesis as “storytelling”? I’ll break it down:

What makes it “exegetical”?

  • The body of the work asks questions about the meaning of the biblical text for its author, and for the community to whom the author appears to have written, in that author’s own social and historical context.
  • The work’s arguments rely on publicly available evidence and explicit lines of reasoning. They do not depend upon private revelation, confessional dogma, implicit lines of reasoning, or logical fallacies.

What makes it “a thesis”?

  • The work is organized around the defense of a single claim, or thesis. A thesis is NOT, then, an opinion, a narrative, an “exploration,” or a review. A thesis should be defensible, relevant, and manageable. By “defensible,” I mean that it is a proposition that can be established by publicly-available evidence (not private revelation or confessional dogma) and an explicit line of reasoning. By “relevant,” I mean that the thesis forces your reader to re-evaluate the biblical text; the thesis “makes a difference” to how the biblical text is read. By “manageable,” I mean that the thesis can be argued comprehensively within the constraints of the assignment; it is not too big an idea for the word count, and also not so small that the paper falls significantly short or has to be “padded up.”

What makes it “storytelling”?

  • Even when presenting data (as in a lecture, or a thesis paper), there is a “narrative” of sorts: you lead the reader from a starting place, through a terrain known only to you, to a destination. A good presenter “knows her narrative”: you could take away her slides or her paper, and she can still guide you through the “narrative” of her subject matter or thesis (Ask a student about a recently-completed paper; if they can do this, it’s probably a good paper.)
  • We commonly ask our students to “book-end” their thesis with an introduction and a theological/hermeneutical conclusion. The project should begin with a statement of the student’s interest in the biblical passage. It should end with her own assessment of the passage’s theological claims as determined by exegesis. (Are those claims moral? coherent with other biblical passages? intelligible to today’s reading communities?). This conclusion should also include claims about how the text might, or might not, lend itself to preaching and teaching in particular, well-defined communities of hearers. This is to say, the thesis project is a “round trip,” beginning and ending with the student’s own pressing theological and hermeneutical concerns.

So…What makes it “digital,” if it is?

Stay tuned. In a follow-up post, I will look at the phenomenon of “Digital Storytelling” in the digital humanities, and how it might serve as a platform for “exegesis as storytelling.” In the meantime, what do you think of this way of putting things? Does “storytelling” offer a useful lens, or muddy the waters?

[The Exegetical Thesis as (Digital) Storytelling was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2012/01/30. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Good Morning, Eager Young Minds.”

This is the first day of the new term. My classes this time around are:

  • “Introduction to the Old Testament”: yes, we are reading backwards again. We’ll also continue with viewing lectures as pre-recorded downloads outside of class. New this term is the Wikipedia assignment, in which students will make a series of course-related edits to relevant Wikipedia articles. Also new is a plan to prepare for in-class discussion with threaded, asynchronous, online discussion between sessions.
  • “Elementary Hebrew 1”: as in recent years, we’ll be starting with about ten hours of oral/aural exercises, using no texts of any kind. I’ve got a small surprise planned for today, if I can manage to walk to a store between classes.
  • “The Old Testament in the New Testament”: a new seminar, beginning in tee minus 150 minutes. The meat and potatoes of the course will be student presentations, with each student presenting a “method” article on some aspect of literary allusion as well as a “content” article on NT allusions to the OT. Something new: all presentations will be offered from a standing position and must have some A/V (multimedia) component. The idea is to raise the energy level up from “somnambulant rap session” to…I don’t know, something where blood continues to flow to brains.

And, yes, each of these meets today! The seminar meets once each week, the Intro course twice, and Hebrew thrice, so Tuesday is the big day of the week this term.

How about you (both profs and students): what’s on the menu for Fall 2010? What’s new, and what’s old?

[“Good Morning, Eager Young Minds.” was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/09/07. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything

This is an idea about which I could not be more enthused (hat tip to Pharyngula).[1] Ten biologists collaborate together to answer any questions that a layperson might pose them. The front page provides some relevant caveats; for example, if the question is quite basic, they might gently point a reader to the standard textbooks, rather than be roped into doing someone’s homework for them.

I especially like that the site builds a searchable growing repository of questions already answered. This should be a helpful resource, not only for inquirers, but for the team members to consult when dealing with new questions.

The idea of a similar, “Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything,” site has seized my imagination. In my experience, answering questions about the Bible and biblical studies for genuinely curious laypeople is a delight. Part of that delight comes from my sense that only a few people have a resource in their lives to field such questions; when I make new acquaintances, they often have a short list of questions about the Bible that they’ve waited to unload, or that they’ve bounced off of others without receiving satisfying responses.

Some desiderata that come to mind are:

  • As with AaBA, there would need to be a fairly large team: at least eight, I think. The good news is, I suspect recruiting new team members wouldn’t be all that hard, such that the team could grow (or shrink) according to traffic. The idea is that nobody should have to spend more time on it than they want to, with a very low minimum expected commitment.
  • Team members should have terminal degrees in biblical studies, or else be candidates in a terminal degree program.
  • The team members would have to have a shared understanding that “biblical studies” is a non-confessional literary and historical enterprise, relying for its claims on the shared public evidence of the biblical texts and such extra-biblical evidence as variant manuscripts, ancient Near Eastern texts, material remains, and so on (rather than on private revelation and confessional dogma). Theologically, it’s about the theology in the texts rather than one’s theology of the Bible. This understanding would need to be communicated on the front page of the site.
  • There would have to be a standard rubric for recognizing and dealing with poor-faith inquiries coming out of the culture wars. This would, at the same time, have to allow for good-faith inquiries coming from those whose frame of reference has been distorted by the culture wars. (In English: What about spamming inquiries from folks like Answers in Genesis? What about well-meaning inquiries from folks whose minds have already been addled by AiG?)

I’m not in any hurry on this—believe me!—and it is the very beginning of the school year, with all its busy-ness. Still, if anyone who meets the second criterion above would be interested, let me know, and we can begin to look into it. If enough scholars were interested that the work load were low, it could be a real service.

BACK TO POST By the way, P.Z. has been having a hell of a time. He won’t be grateful for your prayers, but if you’re in a position to give to Red Cross, donate blood, or otherwise render service to heart patients, he’d be pleased.

[Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/26. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Little Help: The Old Testament in the New Testament

Do you have any favorite resources concerning allusion to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament? It could be books, essays, or articles.

I’m thinking of things like Richard Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale, 1989) or J. Ross Wagner’s Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul ‘in Concert’ in the Letter to the Romans (Brill, 2002), or Thomas R. Hatina’s In Search of a Context: The Function of Scripture in Mark’s Narrative (Sheffield, 2002).

Do you have any favorites about the OT in the NT? And if so, what makes them good?

What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity?

Answer: According to Crossley, this dread feeling could potentially unite biblical scholars of all competing stripes.

In the online journal Bible and Interpretation, James Crossley writes that biblical scholars can hang together in defense of their discipline’s relevance, or we can hang separately in the public square of budget cuts in higher education.

The humanities will no doubt be the first target within universities in times of recession and cuts, and attention has already turned to those subjects deemed “irrelevant.” Unfortunately, the critical study of the Bible can be misunderstood as academics at prayer[.]

Please do read the whole thing: it is not very long.

Joseph Kelly offers a brief round-up (first paragraph) of bloggers already commenting on the piece.

[What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Gayle’s List of (Women) Bible-Bloggers

Besides my other projects for the week, I am working through J.K. Gayle’s list of (women) Bible-bloggers, and I invite you to do the same.

I have been making a short list of Bible-bloggers to remove from my own RSS feeds on NetVibes: mostly those who 1) blog on the Bible or biblical studies only very rarely, or 2) those whose Bible-related blogging is mostly devotional rather than critical. (A previous incarnation of the “bibliobloggers” list sought to select for both of these criteria, though it had other problems related to bias; Jeremy’s current incarnation of the list is, as far as I know, open to anyone who wants to be included.)

Pruning my current feeds in this way will provide space for those on J.K.’s list who fit my criteria. Thanks for the heads-up, J.K.

[Gayle’s List of (Women) Bible-Bloggers was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/07. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL

What does it look like for a person of Jewish or Christian religious faith to—as a matter of method—bracket her sectarian claims about the Bible in her investigation into the content and context of biblical texts? And why is it necessary that she be willing to learn to do so?

As some of you will know, a conversation has been underway about book reviews in biblical studies that appear, as a matter of academic method, to privilege sectarian claims (sometimes along with the reviewed book itself). Alan Lenzi has raised up occasional samples, and one in particular has generated some conversation. Calvin at the Floppy Hat wrote a thoughtful post that garnered some comments.

The readers at Art Boulet’s finitum non capax infiniti, especially, have produced a comment thread especially worthy of attention. It’s not a record-breaker in terms of length or number of participants, but it is clearly drawn and notably free of distracting polemics.

The basic question underlying the discussion—what does it mean for anyone, religious or not, to engage in “academic biblical studies” over against sectarian apologetics—may be of special value to students in higher education who are being asked to make this distinction, or to religious laypeople who wonder how seminary “book learning” differs from confessional “Bible study.” By all means, take a look.

[Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/27. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

New Course: The OT in the NT

In Fall 2010, I will be teaching a new course: “The Old Testament in the New Testament.” Students will learn about literary allusion, and examine select examples of allusion to the Hebrew Bible in the Christian New Testament.

As part of assessing the case for specific examples of allusion, students will develop claims about

  • what the OT source text means in its literary and social/historical context, and
  • how this allusion in the NT alluding text functions as a rhetorical trope in its own literary and social/historical context.

I will be allowing students to take the course either for OT credit or for NT credit, shaping their final exegesis papers accordingly.

Besides the usual run of Masters students (mostly M.Div or MTS), the course will also be open to doctoral students, who will have to meet an appropriately higher bar in the course work.

My dissertation—“Daniel Evokes Isaiah: The Rule of the Nations in Apocalyptic Allusion-Narrative”—involved allusion to Isaiah in the book of Daniel, and I have looked forward to the opportunity to teach allusion to my students in Bible.

If you have any interest in literary allusion generally, or in “the OT in the NT,” what would your wish list be for select topics? (I have a handful of my own ideas, of course.) What related issues would you want to see treated?

[New Course: The OT in the NT was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/12. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Biblical Studies Carnival LI

I dub this month’s Biblical Studies Carnival to be the “Blogroll Amnesty Edition,” because it embodies in part God’s preferential option (on February 3rd, anyway) for the smaller blogs. I had asked that contributors give special consideration to the smaller blogs in this carnival, and several did. So, to the small fry linked herein: happy hit counts to us!

In accordance with venerable tradition (i.e., Duane did it), I am offering this Carnival in two parts. The first part is “Your Carnival,” and includes posts nominated to the carnival. The second part is “My Carnival,” and includes posts that I rounded up on my own. Again, “My Carnival,” in the spirit of February’s “Blogroll Amnesty Day,” will comprise mostly (but not only) posts from blogs that are sub-Top 50.

Your Carnival:

Old Testament and Suchlike:

The bloggers (in the persons of Darrell Pursiful and Tsalampouni Ekaterini) called our attention to Richard Hess on personal names in Gen 1–11.

Suzanne at Suzanne’s Bookshelf looks at Gen 3:16 (“and thy desire shall be to thy husband,” KJV), specifically the meaning of the woman’s desire.

Busybody Loren Rosson looks at Israelite/Judaean land ethics in the context of Philip Esler’s review (PDF) of Ellen Davis’ Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Claude Mariottini takes a closer look at the Song of Solomon, including Song 1:5 (“I am black and/but beautiful”).

David Stark at NTinterpretation is engaged with Martin Abegg on the meaning of “works of the Torah” for the Qumran community.

The New Testament and Suchlike:

Cynthia R. Nielsen at Per Caritatem has written a well thought piece on Eschatological Developments Within the Pauline Corpus.

Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis looks at the translation of σαρξ in Galatians 3:3.

On NT pod, Mark Goodacre lays out some of his case against the hypothetical Q source.

The Pistis Christou debate is alive and well at James Gregory’s All Things Ephesians, as he reviews a portion of Bird and Sprinkle’s The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies (Milton Keynes, U.K., and Peabody, Mass.: Paternoster and Hendrickson, 2009).

As a part of his series on Foucault at Political Jesus, Rod of Alexandria defends deconstruction and looks at the concept of Pauline “authorship.” See, too, the response by J.K. Gayle at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject.

(I have taken the “mythicism” conversation out of the NT section and given it its own area: see further below.)

Teaching and Writing:

Karyn at Boulders2Bits writes a thorough pre-publication review, with excerpts, of Jo Ann Hackett’s A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (with CD) (Hendrickson, 2010). How much would you pay for Karyn’s review? Don’t answer! There’s more! She has also reviewed Bordreuil and Pardee’s A Manual of Ugaritic (Eisenbrauns, 2009).

Alan Lenzi at Feeling Finite asks, “When Should Editors Step In and Say ‘Not on My Watch,’” concerning William Barrick’s review of Hill, Andrew E., and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament. What ideas about the history of ancient Israel or the composition history of biblical texts is an academic journal obliged to entertain? What ideas is it obliged to dismiss as unsupportable?

(Late breaker: the question is raised anew in Alan’s space in response to another RBL review, this time Bruce Waltke’s review of Michael Fox’s Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Yale University Press, 2009]. What is the role of confessional assertions about the Bible in peer-reviewed review articles representing the Society of Biblical Literature?)

ZOMG! Mythicism! And Stuff!

The Big Conversation of the month, though, had to have been that started and maintained by James McGrath on the subject of “mythicism,” or the claim that the person Jesus Christ never existed in history. In a month-long dialogue spawning thousands of comments and dozens of responsive posts elsewhere, James found himself in a polygonal conversation with (caution: overlapping categories ahead) mythicists, creationists, atheists, and his fellow bibliobloggers.

I’ll offer links to James’ posts, then to some of the responses that I found. There is just no way for me to be comprehensive about this, but I figure that 1) if you were in the conversation, you will have caught what I’ve missed, and 2) if you are new to the conversation, this is more than enough to get you immersed.

Here is James, with the titles often paraphrased. If you would rather see all these on one page (albeit in reverse order), just search for “mythicism” on James’ blog. Here we go: mythicist misunderstanding (Feb 6), the discussion spreads (Feb 8), microexistence v. macroexistence (Feb 9), accusations and assumptions (Feb 9), more creationist parallels (Feb 10), creationism and ID (Feb 11), death of mythical messiah (Feb 11), Tacitus on mythicism (Feb 12), publishing on historical Jesus (Feb 14), YECs are like mythicists (Feb 14), yet more mythicist/creationist parallels (Feb 16), unreasonable faith and Jesus’s existence (Feb 17), not all atheists are mythicists (Feb 18), is there evidence for mythicism (Feb 19), mythicism and John the Baptist (Feb 20), mythunderstanding the criteria of authenticity (Feb 21), mythicism and historicism as theories (Feb 22), mythicism and paradigm shifts (Feb 23), at long last I understand mythicism (Feb 24), mything links (Feb 27).

Mid-month, Mike Koke at the Golden Rule took time to gather the links to date and offered a response with reference to 1 Thess 2:14-15, and also with reference to an earlier “historicity of Jesus” post of his own.

Neil Godfrey at Vridar was a steady interlocutor, arguing for the validity of questioning the historicity of Jesus (Feb 4), against misunderstandings on the part of historicists (Feb 9), and against circular arguments on Jesus’s historicity (Feb 11). (The dates should help you cross reference to James’ posts listed above.)

John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry offered some considered judgments on the analogy from King Arthur (Feb 9) and on whether Albert Schweitzer can be called a mythicist (Feb 13).

Undoubtedly I have only scratched the surface on this topic. I assure you that I have left no-one out intentionally. I invite readers (and writers) to supplement my links to the “mythicism” conversation in the comments to this carnival.


My Carnival:

Technology:

Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue wants to know what biblical scholars could do with an online information visualization tool.

Language, Linguistics, and Translation:

Peter Bekins of בלשנות literally had the audience drooling over linguistics at the Midwest SBL.

Crescat Graffiti blesses us with three great words that sound great together: Hieroglyphic…sex…graffiti.

In the “No, no, you can’t do that!” department, Doug “Clayboy” Chaplin alerts us to Preachers! Using! Greek! Claptrap detectors out, everyone.

(Oh, and speaking of claptrap, Jason at Εις Δοξαν reminds us that we can never, never get tired of the comedic preaching stylings of Steven Anderson.)

Tim at SansBlogue is reading Seth Sanders’ The Invention of Hebrew (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Join him for first impressions, the introduction, the first and last ’graphs, chapter one, and chapter two.

On the perennially favored topic of apologetic translation, David Ker at Better Bibles engages a post by Daniel Kirk at Storied Theology on theological manipulation in a translation of Gal 5:6.

Timothy at Catholic Bibles wants to hear you state your case for your favorite Bible translation (h/t to Qohelet at the Bible Critic).

Inscriptions and ancient texts:

Steve Wiggins of Sects and Violence in the Ancient World sees only “escapees from Flatland” (awesome literary ref there, Steve) in a bit of iconography claimed to represent Yahweh and his Asherah.

With a work in the hands of the printers, Alan Lenzi of Feeling Finite is now “off and running” on Reading Akkadian Prayers.

Speaking of reading Akkadian poetry: Beware of abnormal side effects! Duane is having Crazy Thoughts About Blindness and Reading Clay Tablets.

At כל־האדם, Joseph has continued to read The Context of Scripture. Here at Anumma, I have tried to do my part. We’re reading CoS in a year at the January 1st invitation of Charles Halton at Awilum.

Old Testament:

Paavo at מה יתרון has been working through Perdue on empire in Proverbs and in Job.

In response to Julia O’Brian’s piece in The Bible and Interpretation, “Biblical Scholarship and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Phil Sumpter at Narrative and Ontology has been reflecting on Biblical Scholarship and the State of Israel, and on ethnic Israel and Esther.

Qohelet’s church accidentally made a comedic case against (or for?) lectio continua. Or, at least against randomized selections from Deuteronomy.

Genesis and Stuff:

Thomas Verenna is one of several who observed Darwin Day on their Bible-related blogs.

Steve Wiggins finds that the scientific fact of evolution is, in the United States at least, still Out of Reach.

At כל־האדם, Joseph Kelly reacts to Strimple’s Historical Adam essay, calling it on the fallacious “argument from abbhorent consequences.” (It is fortuitous, then, that a related lecture came to Joseph from Princeton Theological Seminary.)

At Biblia Hebraica, Doug Mangum follows up on Joseph’s post, with  a related word on the similarly fallacious “argument from the NT.”

Nijay Gupta offers recommendations for reading on Genesis and theology.

New Testament:

Wright on Paul, now made easy! See N.T. Wright for Everyone: The Apostle Paul, by Nijay Gupta.

Qohelet (The Bible Critic) endorsed the “analogy from Arthur” that was offered by Eric Reitan beginning with a comment to the historical Jesus discussion. (Above, as a respondent in the “mythicism” section, John Hobbins also weighs in on Arthur).

Also relating to the Historical Jesus, Phil Harland (Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean) continued his podcast series on Studying the Historical Jesus with parts two and three.

At NT/History Blog, Bill Heroman is thinking on “Synagogue” in James 2:3.

Little help now! Patrick McCullough at kata ta biblia is looking for assistance on NT manuscript preservation as reception history, and also needs a good title for an SBL session (not a paper, a session).

Conclusion:

Well, I’m about wiped out. Don’t delay to begin nominating posts to the next Biblical Studies Carnival (instructions for nominating at that link). I will edit this preliminary information upon confirmation, but unofficial rumor has it that the redoubtable Jim West will take next month’s Carnival into his own strong hand and outstretched arm. [That’s a ’firm.]

Thanks for the opportunity to steer the ship this month, and I hope that everyone who enjoyed the Carnival will consider hosting when they may.

[Biblical Studies Carnival LI was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/01. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

A Wiki Bible (at כל־האדם)

I will write more substantively on this later on, but for now, just take a look at Joseph’s post and its comment thread.

Short version of my response: I very much like the idea of a Bible translation that is subject to the Wiki’s ways.