Making the Bible Come Alive
"I really enjoy your Sunday School class. I've been going to church all my life, and I've never had anyone make the Bible come alive the way you do."
Someone in my Sunday School class recently told me this. It was one of those compliments that not only made me feel good, but also it made me think. While "making the Bible come alive" has certainly always been my goal, I wondered how I actually accomplish this. After all, I know—and sometimes feel guilty about—how much more time I could devote to preparing my lesson each week.
While there are certainly things I could do to be a better teacher, I think the thing that has helped me "make the Bible come alive" for my students is that I try to bring out the historical and geographic background of the passages we cover. I'll show maps, photographs of related artifacts, artistic reconstructions of things like the tabernacle or various altars. The more I help them understand what life was like in the ancient world, the more the Bible characters and events we read about become real flesh-and-blood people doing real things in the real world.
This, of course, echoes my own experience. While I never finished seminary (I got this really great job instead!) and still have much to learn about the Bible, I have done a fair amount of research on Biblical places (in writing the early editions of the Accordance Bible Lands PhotoGuide) and on Biblical people and the world in which they lived (in writing the Accordance Bible Times PhotoMuseum). Along the way, I was amazed to discover how much more the Bible had "come alive" for me. (As I said, it's a really great job!)
That's why I'm very excited about the recent release of two new Accordance resources: Archaeology of the Land of the Bible and A Marginal Jew. Both of these resources are part of the Anchor Bible Reference Library, and bring the same level of scholarship to their subject matter as the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary and the Anchor Yale Bible (Commentary). Both of these resources also are designed to help "make the Bible come alive."
Archaeology of the Land of the Bible offers a scholarly survey of Biblical archaeology and its findings. I have often enjoyed reading Biblical Archaeology Review and have found it very helpful in learning about the ancient world of the Bible, but it has often whet my appetite for a more comprehensive or systematic treatment of a given subject. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible gives me just that. Want to learn more about the Assyrians or the Philistines? Want to know more about how the Israelites lived and worshiped? Here you'll find a thorough treatment of what Biblical archaeology is teaching us, yet written in a way that is not too technical for the uninitiated.
I've found one of the easiest ways to get into this resource is to search the Captions field for items of interest. You'll find hundreds of helpful illustrations from maps and photographs to beautiful architectural reconstructions. In fact, just search for the word "reconstruction" and you'll find images like this wonderful artist's rendering of what it would be like to look out from the colonnade at the southern end of the Herodian temple mount.
A Marginal Jew is a modern contribution to the so-called "Quest for (or of) the Historical Jesus." Catholic scholar John P. Meier devotes five volumes—the fifth volume just released this year—to exploring various aspects of the life of Jesus. Personally, I have always found the efforts of "Historical Jesus" scholars to be a little bewildering, and thankfully, Meier devotes his entire first volume to clarifying the terminology and laying out the challenges and methodology involved. I found his introductory discussion to be very clear and carefully reasoned, and I especially appreciated the concluding chapter of the first volume, which asks and answers the question, "Why bother" trying to reconstruct the "historical Jesus"?
After discussing the relationship of the historical study of Jesus to faith in the person of Jesus, Meier helpfully lists four ways the "quest" can "serve the interests of faith": (1) It blocks attempts to reduce Jesus into a mere "mythic symbol" or to turn faith in Christ into a mere "way of being in the world." (2) It blocks attempts "to swallow up the real humanity of Jesus into an 'orthodox' emphasis on his divinity." (3) It makes it impossible to "'domesticate' Jesus for a comfortable, respectable, bourgeois Christianity." (4) It likewise makes it impossible to turn Jesus into a "political revolutionary," which Meier asserts can only be done "by contorted exegesis and special pleading."
In short, the "Quest for the Historical Jesus" is really just an attempt to make the Jesus who lived in space and time "come alive," and if done carefully, it becomes a helpful corrective to attempts to co-opt Jesus by those on the right and on the left, or by people of faith and people without it. I've only just begun to explore A Marginal Jew, and I don't imagine I'll agree with everything I find there, but I'm encouraged by what I've read so far that it too can help make the Bible, and the person of Jesus, come alive for me in a new way.
Don't forget, the introductory sale on these two resources ends October 3rd. Don't miss it.