Sneaky Bible-Teacher Trick
While prepping for the upcoming semester I finalized a little exercise I’ve been doing to have students inductively discern sources for themselves. Since a fair number of my readers teach the Bible, I thought it might be useful to some and additionally might provoke dialog on how to teach this concept.
The problem I have had with teaching sources in the Bible (and the Bible as a whole), is my students’ assumed expertise on the matter. Over half my students have gone through some form of confessional religious training, usually CCD or J School. Consequently, students resist reading the Bible through a different paradigm (or reading it at all). This exercise gets students to look at the text differently and alerts them to the fact that I’m bringing something new to the interpretive table.
First, I pass out the following handout (Flood Stories). The handout contains J and P (Yahwist and Priestly) sources of the flood story disentangled onto separate pages. Students are to take one sheet (i.e. one source) and pass the stack along. Usually, students fail to realize that the piece of paper that they have is different from their neighbors. This is helpful in randomizing the activity.
I then have students pair up with a student who has the other flood story. Since we have previously read Gilgamesh and Atra-Hasis in my class, students are not surprised that they are being exposed to even more flood stories. The two students need to read over both texts and then make a list of the differences between the two. Often times students won’t even realize the two sheets are culled from the Bible.
Next, we use the board to write up a list of distinct characteristics in each text. Sometimes this requires a little prompting, but students often see the general differences. Within five to ten minutes the standard differences between J and P are up on the board.
Finally, the grand reveal: the two independent stories are entangled in the Bible. Further, I then move back to Gen 1-3 and use the criteria the students created to show the two separate creation stories (P and J). This last step is important because it helps students realize that the point of the exercise was not to make them feel stupid but rather to give them a new tool for looking at the text.
All in all, I’ve found this exercise helpful. There are a few other texts that can be used (see Norman Habel’s Literary Criticism of the Old Testament for some interesting ideas), but this is the one that works best for me. I encourage you all to try it and see how it goes.
n.b. The text is from NRSV (available online here). The source divisions are based largely on a combination of S. R. Driver’s An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (available as a free pdf from Google books here) and Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? (see also his The Bible with Sources Revealed).