The Making of a Reader

The Making of a Reader (Summer 1999)

For several decades I have been reading Bible alongside others and within other traditions and teaching what I have come to learn in the process. This much I have come to believe: Readers are made in the same sense that reading must be taught.

The Making of a Reader — Part II (Fall 1999)

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of spending time with Professor Robert Sacks at St. John’s University in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In his mind, he was fascinated by many things, but, above all, he was a wonderful reader of the biblical text. In fact, he wrote a commentary on reading Genesis entitled The Lion and the Ass. I am fortunate to have a copy of this unpublished work and have learned much from his reading skills.

The Making of a Reader - Part III (Spring 2000)

A good story must capture our attention and hold it. This is accomplished as much by the artful telling of it as by the content. A good story, told badly, becomes an uninteresting story. In contrast, an ordinary story told well can be very engaging.

The Making of a Reader: Part Four (Summer 2000)

We learn to read Bible in bits and pieces. We begin with individual stories, usually unattached to what happens before and after. This is the way of reading taught in most Sunday School curriculums, confirmation programs, and even the weekly reading and preaching of Biblical texts in worship. As a result, we often miss the narrative flow, the rhythms and pace of the unfolding drama, and the impact of one scene set against another. In the synagogue, by contrast, the entire Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is read once a year in its entirety, beginning to end.

The Making of a Reader: Part Five (Winter 2000)

A few weeks ago, my first Bible teacher died. He was the Rev. Douglas Cedarleaf. I was fortunate to be in his confirmation class at the time when students had to memorize and then recite in front of the whole congregation, without notes, large portions of scripture. I still take some pleasure in telling new confirmands the rigors they have missed.

The Making of a Reader: Part Six (Summer 2001)

have been reading and teaching from within the magnificent texts of First and Second Samuel for the past several years. Recently, I encountered the incident at the Pool of Giv'on found in II Sam. 2:12-16. I offer this reading into this strange event in order to explore some of its implications, as well as an example to further our inquiry into becoming better readers of the diverse biblical landscape.

Making of a Reader, VII Six Scenes from Matthew 26 (Winter 2001-2002)

The important point is to understand that all placement is intentional and that we must take this into consideration as readers. Matthew 26 is a remarkable example of how attention to this careful placement provides dramatic effect and meaning to the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. In order to highlight this editing technique, I find it helpful to read the narrative as if I were following a play.

The Making of a Reader Part VIII (Summer 2002)

I learned more about reading Bible from Earl Schwartz than any other teacher I have known. Earl has been teaching Jewish studies and Biblical texts to a whole generation of Jewish children and adults.

The Making of a Reader Part IX (Winter 2002-2003)

In the last article of this series, I began to explore the critical dimension of repetition in the making of the biblical text. The presence of deliberate or patterned repetition can be seen everywhere. Martin Buber has been the most helpful in lifting up this literary element, restoring it in his translation of the Hebrew Bible into German. For this reason, I eagerly await each new English translation that emerges from the hand of Everett Fox, who works with both the Buber/Rosenzweig German Bible and the Hebrew text. Fox takes these literary structures to heart as he renders one language into another. The result is often startling and strange to our ears, which are acclimated to a different rhythm and a more lyrical English line. If we watch for these repeated words and phrases, however, there are treasures just beneath the surface.

Reading from the Garden—Genesis 2 and 3 (Winter 2004-2005)

I am writing this little piece the morning after Ash Wednesday Eve, still vividly imprinted on my forehead as a dark, gray smudge. The opening narrative for the first Sunday of Lent is the story of our debut as humans, walking about the garden “at the breezy time of the day,” as I imagine it. It is a wonderful tale, full of curiosities and possibilities, a thousand questions which lead in countless directions.

Reading from the Garden—The Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil (Winter 2005)

A critical skill in reading bible is learning to notice the physical setting of the drama, its spatial design and presentation. If we assume that the choice of words and their careful placement in dialogue is a deliberate process in the telling of good stories, then, where staging is deliberately indicated we must also take notice.

The Garden Part 4—Aftermath (Summer 2006)

The set changes quickly once the man and woman are expelled from their lovely world of rivers and trees. The text does not linger to reflect on what has just happened. The woman and the man make love and then disappear as through a trap door on the stage floor. The result of this act of “knowing” results in two sons, Cain and Abel.