Tona Hangen

New Ways to Read Old Books (Archive Post)

Doing some housecleaning in Summer 2018, to simplify the navigation and site map, so I’m archiving some old content into blog posts.

(Originally from 5/30/2015; links may not be active)

Workshop, “New Ways to Read Old Books: New Strategies for Finding Answers to Modern Problems in Ancient Scripture,” Let Your Light Shine New England Regional Women’s Conference, Saturday 30 May 2015, Lowell MA

Speaking Notes
(apologies in advance for these being sketchy – I didn’t speak from prepared remarks but rather rough notes. Also these don’t match up exactly with the slide numbers, this is just the order in which I discussed the topics.)

1) Intro – the amazing freestyle soda machine at Five Guys – many flavors, abundant refills, easy access even for non-readers.

Scriptures, too – come in many flavors. For Mormons: multiple books, a wider canon.
Stats: 88% of American households own a Bible, most own at least 4. 36% engage the Bible of a daily / weekly basis. But 57% worldwide do not (yet) have the Bible translated into their “heart language.”

Re: Unlimited Access, Unprecedented Technological Mobility
Created, in fact, in cultures that actively suppressed women’s voices and authority and denied tem access to the Word. Not unlike modern-day Pakistan, where education of girls like Malala Yousafzai is contested, not a taken-for-granted right. These texts were forbidden to women for centuries. We live in a place / age of unprecedented unfiltered access to divine wisdom through ancient scriptures – rejoice as women!

2) What is Scripture?

Latin = writing
A written record, a sacred account
“canon” accepted as genuine, inspired, authentic – of admitted authority, excellence, supremacy – orthodox, standard

Bible = Biblia, book (scroll, papyrus), treatise, subdivided treatise

Oxford English Dictionary 1867 squared piece of stone to grind / polish the ship deck

3) A Manifesto for women IN the scriptures and women WITH the scriptures

I’m going to talk to you like adults about the scriptures
Even though women are largely absent from the scriptures, that absence is not absolute or final, and if they weren’t created with women in mind, we can still derive eternal value from them.
God = the hound of heaven – we can still use them to reach us because nothing – not systemic sexism – nor exclusive language – can separate us from the love of God and as daughters of heavenly parents we have both the RIGHT and the RESPONSIBILITY as moral agents to claim these texts (and their blessings in our lives) as our own, and make them live – make these dry bones live

Story of Joseph – God made beauty from the ashes of his life
Story of Ezekiel 37, valley of the dry bones

4) An Invitation

Begin – Deepen – Extend your practice
What’s working – what’s not?

Some ways to vary / improve your practice:
Change the INTENSITY
Change the PROCESS
Change the STRATEGY
Change the FREQUENCY

5) A word about INTENSITY

Analogy #1 Immersion / Swimming

Analogy #2 Food
Nibble / Taste
Daily Nourishment

6) A word about PERSPECTIVE

My 9th grade English teacher’s classroom had chalkboards facing each other on opposite walls. He told us to imagine that they each proclaimed mutually exclusive propositions = a paradox. One board said “S/he who hesitates is lost.” The other said “Look before you leap.” This has always stuck with me, because the space between two (seemingly) mutually exclusive truths is a productive, creative space, a place of balance. Likewise, I envision several mutually exclusive boards (MBX for short) regarding scriptural texts. In the following pairs, EITHER / BOTH of these are true. If you find it more comfortable to gravitate to one board, consider what it would feel like to move more towards the other & how that might change your perspective.

MXB #1
Scriptures were written for THEM (and they were specific, real people)
Scriptures were written for US in our day (scriptures as a giant quote book)

MXB #2
The people in the past were just like us (historical empathy)
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”

MXB #3
Read it like any other text (& apply primary source questions)
Don’t read it like any other text (portal to revelation / living words)

7) A word about PROCESS

HDS theologian Harvey Cox, new book How to Read the Bible

He describes 3 Ways (a continuum)

Devotionally: extract personal inspiration and guidance
Critically: as scholars, to excavate meaning using historical / literary approaches
Contxtually: a (happy?) medium, a blend – as a believer but with awareness of historical and our own context – staying open to nonliteral readings (metaphorical, poetic, abstract, parables, stories, legends)

OK to acknowledge that some texts are richer than others, both in general, and for you. And/or: Try a different translation.

8) 3 Strategies / Concepts I Find Helpful: Palimpsest ~ Midrash ~ Gleaning

9) Palimpsest

Palimpsest – a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain. (layers of text / authors / story / meaning) on multiple levels

Try Using Primary Source Analysis Questions

Who created this? When/where (time/space coordinates)? How/by what process? Why do we have it?

Historical Context
Who was the creator? Why was this created? what else was happening then? What else do we know / not know? What have others said about it? How close was the author to the events it depicts? What does this reveal about the time period of its creation?

What is this? Who is its audience? How typical is it of other texts in this genre?

Surface Meaning
What does it say? (What does it NOT say?) What words does it use to do this? Structure? Literal reading helpful or not? What is unexpected here? What are its biases, stereotypes, assumptions? Whose perspective is represented? Does it make an argument? What evidence does it use, is it persuasive / reliable?

Emotional Content
What feelings / thoughts / emotions does it trigger in you? What questions does it raise?

Deeper Meaning(s)
What’s the message the writer is trying to convey? Intention, motivation? Prescriptive v. descriptive? Tone? Implications (not stated explicitly but present)?

Alternative Readings possible
How else could this be read / understood?

What does it mean? How does evidence from this source alter, or fit, existing interpretations of the past? How can you use it to test your own assumptions? What research questions could this answer? What else would you like to know about this document or its topic? How could you find the answers to those questions?

10) Midrash

Midrash: a useful approach to ancient texts – awareness of gaps, silences, writing in / claiming for your own – a form of dialogic journaling / writing alongside, commentary, companion stories. Deep Jewish tradition; reinvented by feminists, eg Judith Plaskow 1970s, Anita Diamant in Red Tent 1997.

An approved Jewish way to encounter sacred text. Claiming authority to write, interpret, make meaning. Midrash101 explains: “Midrash responds to contemporary problems and crafts new stories, making connections between new Jewish realities and the unchanging biblical text.”

A useful lesson plan provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive elaborates: “Historically, rabbis wrote midrash to explain parts of the biblical text that aren’t clear. If there seemed to be a missing piece to a story, an inconsistency between two different passages, or a redundant word or verse, the rabbis would explain the problem by writing a new midrash, filling in the missing dialogue, reconciling the seeming contradiction, or showing how there is no redundancy since each word is there to teach a different lesson or practice…. In the last 40 years, there has been a transformation in how people think about midrash. More people now look inside themselves, at their own experiences, in order to begin a conversation with the biblical text, rather than looking to the rabbis to tell them what the text means. Thus, not only rabbis from past centuries, but Jews today from diverse backgrounds and experiences feel empowered to write midrashim, expressing new perspectives on our texts.”

A sense of collective ownership.
Jacob and the angel (see Gen 32:24-29) – wrestling with the text – “I will not let thee go except thou bless me

11) Gleaning

Book of Ruth – gleaning. So much in this story. Distance Moab – Bethlehem 40-50 miles, opposite sides of the Dead Sea. Moab is dry highlands, there can be snow on the peaks. Present-day border between Israel and Jordan.

Barley harvest = Passover time. Barley is firstfruits, easily threshed (presented at the temple as sacrifice… what is your “barley”?) Egyptian tomb paintings showing harvesting and gleaning → Ruth is part of Christ’s lineage because of this story, she’s one of the 4 named women in Matthew’s genealogy

The story itself is about gleaning – it and Esther are the only “complete sheaves” in the Bible – like the good grain Boaz arranged to have left in the field

A symbol of Christ. He fed 5000 at Passover time with 5 barley loaves – gather the fragments “that nothing be lost” John 6:12 – reading the fragments is like this

Trail of women and their discipleship – like UV black light releasing fluorescent path through the books.

12) A List of Other Ideas & Techniques

Techniques, Ideas
Read for Story
Follow a person
Look for patterns
Bring a question, read for answers
e.g. Genesis 25:22 – Rebekah said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord & she got an answer that would help her make decisions with and about her life & children down the road

Explore language, even a single word or phrase
Interrogate the text, read to generate rather than resolve questions
Pay attention to lists
Listen for commandments, comfort, promises – who’s talking to whom
Liken to yourself 1 Ne 19:23 – put yourself in the story
Keep a Journal / Log / List of Questions
Mark your way w/ color
Sticks (using active verbs) – pull one from a jar, and: Connect ~ Apply ~ Testify ~ Praise ~ Ask a Question ~ Liken
(Note: these work well with readers, tweens and teens – for younger kids you might consider simpler verbs like “Restate” in your own words or “Charade” to act it out w/ out words or “Draw” to make a Pictionary version of the scripture)

13) a word about FREQUENCY

When – The Joys of a Regular Habit

Don’t Wait for Quiet Time – Blend it w/ the Messiness of Your Life

Daily habit allows us to listen, God is always speaking. The ambient landscape of your-mine-all of our life IS God’s voice.

Also He is always inviting us to ACT on his Word (even when that Action is Slow Down, Listen, Be Still)

A promise:
Ez 36:9 for behold [O mountains of Israel] I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown
36:36, I the Lord build the ruined places and plan that that was desolate
36:26 a new heart… I will take away the stony heart

14) Closing Thoughts

Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness? The word of God is the thing (the only thing) that satisfies that hunger & thirst

Jacob 6:7 (parable of the vineyard) after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit[?]

What I have learned through encounter with ancient scripture is the vast scale (and yet individualized character) of the love of God

Moroni 10:30 (Moroni’s parting exhortation) I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift

Far from finding ancient scripture to be a valley of dry bones when it comes to women, I see a gift from our God, rich feast laid before us by generations of believers before us with an essential role for women (i.e. ME, and YOU) as vessels for holiness, nurturers of goodness, bringers of truth, architects and cultivators of wisdom.

Recommended Reading

Harvey Cox, How to Read the Bible (HarperOne, 2015)

James E. Faulconer, The New Testament Made Harder (Maxwell Institute, 2015)

Jerrie W. Hurd, Leaven: 150 Women in Scripture Whose Lives Lift Ours (Aspen Books, 1995)

Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer, eds., Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story (Ballantine, 1994)

Charlse Merrill Smith and James W. Bennett, How the Bible Was Built (Eerdmans, 2005)

Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Engaging Students with Primary Sources (Smithsonian, n.d.)

Joanna Weaver, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy With God in the Busyness of Life (Waterbrook Press, 2000)

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