Bibliolog - Uta Pohl-Patalong - ebook

Bibliolog ebook

Uta Pohl-Patalong

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"Bibliolog" is an approach to experience the Bible as alive and important for one's own life. A group, congregation or school class discovers biblical stories from within and interprets them by identifying with biblical characters and answering questions left unanswered by the text. Invented by North-American Jewish scholar Peter Pitzele, this approach has its roots in the Jewish tradition of Midrash. It is fascinating how quickly people - whether they have been socialized by the church or not - can be moved by biblical texts when they immediately experience how relevant they still are. Bibliolog has quickly spread across the German-speaking area and is now practiced in many different countries. The growing experience with this approach has led to the decision to offer this concise presentation to an English-speaking audience. Pohl-Patalong focuses on the basic form of Bibliolog, which can be performed in a short period of time and with groups of any size.

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Uta Pohl-Patalong

Bibliolog

A Creative Access to the Bible

Verlag W. Kohlhammer

Translated from German by Saskia Eisenhardt.

Cover: Marc Chagall: Jakobs Traum, 1931

          © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015

All rights reserved

© 2015 W. Kohlhammer GmbH, Stuttgart

Production:

W. Kohlhammer GmbH, Stuttgart

Print:

ISBN 978-3-17-026970-5

E-Book-Formats:

pdf:       978-3-17-026971-2

epub:    978-3-17-026972-9

mobi:    978-3-17-026973-6

Table of Contents

Preface by Peter Pitzele

Foreword: Development, content and usage of this book

1. Bibliolog – an introduction

1.1 Three examples of Bibliolog – an appetizer

1.2 The plot of Bibliolog

1.3 The conductor in a Bibliolog

1.4 Bibliolog and the contemporary religious situation

1.5 Roots and development of Bibliolog

1.6 Bibliolog and Bibliodrama

2. Practice of Bibliolog

2.1 Selecting a text

2.2 Preparing a Bibliolog

2.3 Roles in Bibliolog

2.4 Echoing

2.5 Interviewing

2.6 Prologue

2.7 Introduction

2.8 Epilogue

2.9 Continuing after a Bibliolog

2.10 Parameters and resources

2.11 Dealing with unexpected events and disturbances

3. Hermeneutical principles of Bibliolog

3.1 Access to biblical texts

3.2 The process of understanding

3.3 The ambiguity of biblical texts

3.4 The “black fire” as a limit to interpretation

3.5 The subjects of interpretation

3.6 Bibliolog and the deconstruction of gender roles

3.7 Questions addressed to the “classic sermon”

4. Bibliolog in different fields

4.1 “I sing and pray against my fears” Bibliolog at Sunday service

4.2 “Sometimes I would like to leave, just like he did!” Bibliolog in church groups

4.3 “It’s kind of great that he just comes here and says, ‘Come along …’” Bibliolog in confirmation classes

4.4 “Cool, now we’ll make the Bible become alive again” Bibliolog at Sunday school

4.5 “Is he crazy? – In the temple! What’s next?” Bibliolog in religious education

4.6 “I put on a nice dress, a white one …” Bibliolog in a retirement home

4.7 “Suddenly it was so sacred in here …!” Bibliolog in secular environments

4.8 “… these are stories for today!” Bibliolog in Jewish, secular and interreligious contexts

4.9 “Because I want to show them that this is not the last word on our lives!” Discovering the Bible with colleagues from youth work

4.10 “To get out of the castle” Bibliolog and spiritual retreats

4.11 “But I’m not a prophet” Bibliolog with prospective pastors

4.12 “It’s good to know that Jesus cares about us” Bibliolog with curates in training

4.13 “I’ve experienced

and

learned something” Bibliolog in adult education with nursery school teachers

Epilogue by Peter and Susan Pitzele

Further training and organization

Preface by Peter Pitzele

 

A man of great stature in the contemporary Jewish world, Ismar Schorsch, the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York, wrote recently that though he was by training a historian, he had come at the ripe age of seventy to appreciate “the importance of the imagination in renewing the Torah.”

Ah, the imagination, that often unwelcome guest at religion’s feast, regarded with misgiving and fear. Where among the symposia, conferences, the ecclesiastical synods, the parish conversations, where, oh where, is the religious imagination to be found? Our ministers, priests, educators, lay leaders are fearful lest imagination track mud into the sanctuary, distract the pious from their prayers, hint at the forbidden, picture the invisible, or disturb tranquility of approved methods with a riot of contrary interpretations. A little imagination, yes. Perhaps. But imagination unbridled? No thank you.

What is this fear of the imagination that seems to be so deeply interfused with religion?

You might say it was there in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden itself, with the serpent inviting Eve to consider the possibility that the tree in the garden is not what it seems. “Who told you the tree would cause you to die?” he asks. Well, she has it on good authority from her husband and he from God. Oh, really? Says the serpent. Perhaps there is another story here. Another story? Could it be? And so he speaks not to reason and not to order, but to desire, to possibility, to the unknown. The serpent stands as imagination’s emblem and to this day religion disputes whether the serpent is the devil in disguise or an instrument of divine love.

I cannot speak with any authority about Christianity, but I know Judaism has its own caution about imagination. We read in Genesis 6:5 that God, fed up with man, destroys the world by flood because God saw that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that his imagination (Hebrew yetser) was bent on evil.” Here is man made in God’s image and yet the very faculty of image-making in man is connected with evil. So law, custom, and the literalism come crowding in to repress imagination’s vagrant tendencies.

And our culture has grown up in the shadow of that repression for many thousand years, repressing imagination and her hand-maidens: the body, the feminine, the erotic, the earth’s music, and the fertile, ever evolving diversity of human experience. This repressive tendency has come so far that an elder of the Jewish tribe, Chancellor Schorsch, may write that in his old age that he sees as if with the force of revelation that imagination is necessary for renewing Torah. In the human search for meaning, imagination has a key that history, etymology, analysis, theology do not. Imagination is not superior to these approaches, but she informs them and she deserves her own enterprise.

Some of us have known this for a long time. Some of us have been seeking, patiently, respectfully, to find a way to bring imagination to religion’s feast. Some of us know what the serpent knows, that there are other stories, other interpretations. We see that religion may either follow the path of exclusiveness – reducing to a single voice the range of meanings a text or tale may have. Or it may be inclusive – expanding the possibilities of meaning ad infinitum. Can the Rabbis be serious when they say that we are to “turn the Torah again and again for everything is in it?” Everything? Even you and me?

So welcome, dear reader, to Bibliolog, which once I called “the psychodrama of the Bible,” and later “Bibliodrama,” and which has been called and will be called many other things. It is a label, the name of the fruit that grows on the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. You stand in precisely the same place Eve stood and I am the serpent addressing you. What have you been told about the tree? Who told it to you? And is it possible there might be another story? How will you find out?

We always stand at this moment in the myth. We are always Eve – daring, gullible, desiring, fearful, brave, foolish, curious, bored, defiant. Nothing will ever be quite the same after this act. Like her you will learn to see with your own eyes. You will become an authority for your own experience. You will have made a covenant with your imagination and you will find it is a sacred bond.

Foreword: Development, content and usage of this book

 

Bibliolog is an approach to discovering and interpreting a biblical text that involves a group of people, e.g. a congregation or a school class. Bibliolog was developed approximately 30 years ago by the North American scholar Peter Pitzele. Since the late 1990s it has been established in Germany and later in many other European and some African countries as well. This approach obviously fascinates people throughout different cultures – one could say perhaps that Bibliolog shows how different people can all be fascinated by biblical texts. Bibliolog employs the Jewish tradition of Midrash. By creatively filling the ‘gaps’ of the biblical texts (white fire) Bibliolog seeks to get closer to these written texts (black fire). Bibliolog can be performed with any group that is dealing with the Bible, whether it is in a service as a “sermon together with the congregation” or at school, or in women’s groups, senior groups, children’s groups or with people who have had little or no contact with the Bible.

This volume introduces the theoretical and practical essentials of Bibliolog, which can be performed in a rather short period of time with a group of any size. The book’s contents correspond to what is taught in basic Bibliolog courses. It often refers to “Scripture Windows”, written by Peter Pitzele.1 In this book Pitzele introduces his concept of Bibliolog – which, in North America, is known as Bibliodrama – and presents the reader with helpful practical examples. In Europe, however, Pitzele’s approach could not be adopted without some minor changes. In Germany, for example, an approach related to Bibliolog, called Bibliodrama, had already been established. This had to be taken into account while trying to adapt Pitzele’s approach. Pitzele, who profits from his many years of experience, acts on intuition and often merges shorter and longer forms of Bibliolog spontaneously, while in Europe it has proven successful to start with the basic form and work on the more advanced forms later (which will be described in a second volume). This clear structure makes it easier to teach people in different contexts and cultures how to conduct Bibliolog – by now there are several thousand people who have been trained in Bibliolog.

This book may be used as accompanying literature while participating in a basic course for Bibliolog or as a reference later on. And for readers who are not yet acquainted with Bibliolog at all, this volume provides them with all the essential information and hence might help them decide whether or not they would like to learn this particular approach. Reading the book, however, can by no means substitute for actually participating in a basic course. Especially people who already have a lot of experience working with the Bible might think that they could learn Bibliolog by simply reading this book. This cannot be recommended because Bibliolog is a very complex approach in which the details play an important role. Experience has shown that the attempt to conduct Bibliolog without having learned it properly is not very successful and might lead to confusion on the part of the participants. At worst people might have negative experiences with Bibliolog or even with biblical texts. Usually, the basics for performing Bibliolog can be learned in a one-week course (which can be divided into two parts). Bibliolog is a very versatile approach and provides a point of access to the Bible in many different environments. Therefore, learning Bibliolog requires relatively little effort, compared to the rich outcomes. Information regarding Bibliolog courses all over the world is available at: www.bibliolog.de or www.bibliolog.net.

At this point, I would like to add a few words regarding myself: I first encountered Bibliolog in 1999 in several workshops by Peter and Susan Pitzele and have been in touch with them ever since. Authorized by both of them, I have been giving seminars on Bibliolog since 2004. Furthermore, I have developed the advanced training concept for Bibliolog, on which this book is based. After all these years I still have a lot of fun performing and teaching Bibliolog. To see people get enthusiastic about Bibliolog and thus find a point of access to the Bible is fascinating and makes me very happy. Meanwhile, approximately 60 other people from different countries have become coaches in Bibliolog as well. In 2006 we founded the International Bibliolog-Network and as its spokesperson I am responsible for the internal and external communication. Together with all the other coaches it is my concern to spread Bibliolog and to give as many people as possible the chance to get to know this access to biblical texts.

In order to show that Bibliolog can be performed in many different fields and in different styles, I have asked several colleagues to present some of their experiences with this approach in the last chapter of the book.

Many people have been involved in the process of writing and publishing this book, either directly or indirectly. First and foremost I would like to thank all participants of my Bibliolog courses. With your curious, constructive and also critical questions and ideas you have contributed not only to the practical implementation of Bibliolog but also to its hermeneutical and theological foundation. My thanks also go to the coaches of Bibliolog with whom I am connected via the International Bibliolog-Network and who have taught courses on Bibliolog together with me. They have played an important part in further developing Bibliolog in theory and in practice – and they continue to do so. Furthermore I would like to thank all the people who have agreed to share their experiences with Bibliolog in a particular field. I am thankful for Iris Weiss, Jens Uhlendorf and Maria Elisabeth Aigner’s valuable advice regarding the German edition. I would also like to thank Saskia Eisenhardt for her translation, which profited both from her language expertise and her experience with Bibliolog. I owe special thanks to Peter and Susan Pitzele – for their wonderful friendship, for their generosity in sharing Bibliolog with all curious and open-minded people as well as for the gift of Bibliolog which they have given to people across the world. It is a great pleasure for me that Peter and Susan can now read this book in their language. Both have been very supportive of this project and Susan even agreed to proof-read the translation. Thank you so much!

May this English edition help more people in different countries to get to know Bibliolog. Hopefully, they will be inspired by this approach and experience that biblical texts are still alive and relevant for their lives.

Kiel, December 2014

Uta Pohl-Patalong

1     Cf. Pitzele, Peter A. 1998.

1.        Bibliolog – an introduction

1.1       Three examples of Bibliolog – an appetizer

The best way to understand Bibliolog is by experiencing it. Re-narrating a Bibliolog, however, comes closest to actually experiencing it and therefore helps to understand this approach. The roles and questions were taken from my notes. The participants’ utterances, however, as well as mine during the echoing and interviewing were taken from memory.2 For a better understanding, everything I say in my role as conductor in direct speech is printed in italics.

 

Bibliolog during Sunday service Matthew 14:28–33

Dear congregation,

Preaching usually means that the preacher studies a biblical text in preparation for the sermon and then communicates the results of this study to the congregation. The members of the congregation listen and reflect upon what is said. I have been invited to deliver a different sermon today: instead of telling you about my take on the text, I would like to take you into the text and discover it from within – in other words, I would like to “preach” together with you. By using an approach called “Bibliolog” we will enter into a dialog with the Bible.

It’s pretty simple: I am taking you with me into the world of a biblical text. I am going to read part of the story and then stop. Then I will ask you to identify with a person from the Bible. In this moment every one of you will be this person and I will address you as that person and ask you a question. You are invited to share your answer with the group, even if it is quiet and short. I will be coming to your seat and will repeat your answer in my own words, loudly so that everybody can understand. I might have to check with you at some point. Most importantly, there are no wrong answers: everything that is said is valuable and gives insight into the biblical story. Everyone does not have to share his or her thoughts with the group. To keep them to yourself can also be just as valuable and worthwhile. If, however, nobody chooses to express his or her thoughts it would be like having a meditation – which is very nice as well but not as lively as a Bibliolog. Therefore, do not hesitate to share your ideas!

The story that we are about to enter can be found in the 14thchapter of Matthew. Jesus and his disciples have been on the road for quite a while. The disciples have made many different experiences since they joined Jesus. They have seen Jesus healing people and exorcising demons; they have listened to him discussing and arguing – and they have done the same in his name (Matt. 10:5–15). Just today the disciples have seen Jesus feeding a great crowd although they had nothing there but five loaves and two fish! Immediately afterwards Jesus orders his disciples to leave and get into the boat and go ahead to the other side. He would meet them there. His disciples do as they were told but soon find themselves in the midst of a storm rocking their boat to and fro. The boat gets battered by the waves, the situation becomes dangerous, – and then they see a figure on the water moving in their direction. They cried out in fear, “It is a ghost!” But then they hear Jesus’ voice saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

In this situation one of the disciples, Peter, reacts differently than the others. The Bible says (I open the Bible and read out Matt. 14:28): Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

You – all of you – are Peter. Peter, what makes you say these words? What makes you want to leave the boat?

– I don’t care where I go – but I have to get out of this rocking boat full of screaming people.

I just have to leave this small rocking boat and I have to get away from those screaming people around me. I just want to get out, even if that means I have to go onto the water.

– I’ve been with Jesus for quite a while now. I can heal; I can exorcise demons, so it’s time for me to learn something new.

I want to learn more from Jesus and I’m eager to enhance my abilities. Today’s lecture is walking on water.

– This is my chance! If he can do it, maybe I can as well!

Now is my chance to walk on water myself! And if it works, that would be …

– Amazing! Walking on water – wow, I’ve always wanted to do that!

Being able to walk on water – that must be amazing and a long-cherished dream would come true for me.

– I want to know if that really is Jesus. If it is indeed him then it’ll work.

I want to find out if that person really is Jesus and this is my way to prove it.

Thank you, Peter.

And it says in the Bible (Matt. 14:29): He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.

You are Andrew, Peter’s brother, who, just like his brother, chose to follow Jesus and is sitting in the boat right now. Andrew, you see your brother walking toward Jesus on the water. How do you experience this situation?

– Shoot! He was faster than me … again.

I am angry and annoyed that he was, again, faster than me.

– I wonder if that’s gonna work …

I am not sure whether this is going to work out or not. Why are you doubtful, Andrew?

– I know my brother and he has a big mouth. He likes to talk big but in the end he never follows through.

He’s just not as good as his word. He never finishes what he’s started.

– Oh, that is so typical. Always him!

I’m used to my brother acting like this. He’s always …

– He’s always the star. He’s just got to be the center of attention.

My brother likes to be in the spotlight. What about you, Andrew?

– I don’t even have a chance anymore.

Because of my brother I can never be on top. He pushes me into the background.

– But I’m also scared for him. The waves are so high …

It is very dangerous out on the water and I am afraid that something could happen to him!

This is what happens next (Matt. 14:30–31): But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

You are Jesus. Jesus, how do you say these words to Peter? What are your reasons for saying this?

– Well, I thought he had finally understood what all this is about – but I guess he’s not ready yet.

I thought he had made greater progress by now. But he still needs to learn a lot.

– Oh, that’s too bad. It looked quite promising at first – but in the end it wasn’t enough … again.

I am disappointed with my disciple. I really thought him capable of doing it – and he didn’t make it.

– But at least he tried. He ventured to take the first step.

I appreciate that he had the courage to give it a try.

– It’s a pity that he was doubtful in the end. I’d really like to know why so that I can help him next time.

If only I knew the reasons for his doubts. I could help him overcome them. And then …?

– It would work the next time!

If I helped him he would be able to make it.

We continue to read in the Bible (Matt. 14:32–33): When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

You are Peter once again. Peter, we see your fellow disciples falling down on their knees and saying, “You are the Christ”. Surprisingly, you remain silent at this point. Peter, what do you do, what do you say now? Or what do you think without saying it out loud?

– This whole situation is very embarrassing for me. I wasn’t thinking and then it went all wrong.

I’m not saying anything at all because I feel so embarrassed. I was acting without thinking and hence I failed.

– I am still shocked by what has happened.

I’m still frozen in shock. I need to take a deep breath.

– At least I was daring enough to try, as opposed to the others. It’s easy for them to criticize. They were sitting safely in the boat all along.

I was the only one daring enough to actually do something. The others are only talking big. And for me this is …?

– I think it’s completely wrong that suddenly I am the one looking small. I mean – I was the only one with the courage to step out of that boat.

I am upset and think it is unfair that my courage, unlike the others’ words, is not appreciated.

– Jesus held out his hand to me and saved me. He was there for me when I really needed him.

What’s really important to me is that Jesus reached out to me when I needed him.

– It’ll work next time.

It wasn’t that bad for a first attempt. It’ll work next time, I’m sure. It’ll work because …?

– Because now I know that I mustn’t look down at the water. I should only look at Jesus.

Now I know that all I have to do is concentrate on Jesus instead of the dangers of the sea. And then it won’t be a problem.

Thank you, Peter.

This is how our story ends. We do not know how Jesus and his disciples reached the shore or what they thought. We also do not know what this experience has meant for Peter and his relationship to his brother, the other disciples, and Jesus, respectively. But there are other passages in the Bible addressing those issues, telling stories of courage and fear, of faith and doubt and of the relationship between Jesus and those people believing in him – now and then.

Thank you, Peter, Andrew and Jesus for being present and for telling us about some of the things we could not find in the text but were able to read between the lines.

I am asking you to return to this book (at this point I make a gesture with the Bible as if inviting the biblical characters back into the Bible). Thank you, dear congregation, for being open to this way of discovering a biblical story from within and for lending the biblical characters your voice. You are yourselves again, members of the “Church of x”. You are now going to hear the whole story again, as yourself. If you like you can check whether there is a new aspect or a certain sentence of the story that has become important to you (I reread Matt. 14:28–33).

Together we have interpreted a biblical text and we have seen how multifaceted this almost 2000-year-old story is. It combines many different experiences, emotions and motives regarding Jesus and the people. Furthermore, we have realized that some of the emotions, thoughts and experiences that were portrayed are quite close to those moving and affecting us today. When biblical stories get connected and interwoven with our stories today, there is a great chance of experiencing the biblical message as relevant for our own lives. Maybe you have had this experience today.

 

Bibliolog in religious educationCrossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:5–15:21)

The 4th grade in an elementary school in Hamburg is learning about Moses. What is special about religious education in Hamburg is that every child in the class, regardless of his or her religion or denomination, participates (“Religious education for everybody under the responsibility of Protestantism”).

At the beginning of the unit we talked about the Israelites’ experiences as slaves in Egypt and about slavery in general. The children quickly realized that this unbearable situation called for a change. “We really need to leave this place”, one student said. We further discussed the back and forth that went on between Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh. The latter has forced the Israelites to stay until he experiences the plagues brought upon Egypt and lets them go. On the evening before they leave, the Israelites celebrate Passover. Here our Bibliolog sets in.

The class has experienced Bibliolog before and therefore already knows the “rules”. However, I remind them once again (prologue):

I am telling a part of a biblical story again. Then I will stop and tell you what character you are going to be and I will ask you something. If you want to say something – as this person from the Bible – raise your hand and I will come to you and repeat your answer in my own words, audible for everybody. As you know, everything that is said is valuable and important. And you know as well that you can but don’t have to answer in front of everyone – but it is going to be more interesting to hear many different ideas.

Now let’s begin our story about the Israelites who are finally free to leave Egypt. Eventually Pharaoh let them go and before he could change his mind they quickly set off. They walked through the desert, Moses and Aaron ahead, followed by many women, men and children. They haven’t been on their way that long when this happened:

(I am reading – in part – from a Bible translation for children and teenagers3) Soon Pharaoh regretted his decision to let the Israelites go. He gathered his army to pursue the Israelites and chased after them. Meanwhile, the Israelites have reached the Red Sea. In front of them was nothing but water. Suddenly they saw Pharaoh’s mighty army drawing nearer from a distance. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they accused Moses, “Is that why you made us leave Egypt? So that we would die out here in the wilderness? We should never have trusted you in the first place!”

You are an Israelite. In front of you is a huge sea and behind you Pharaoh’s army is approaching. You can already hear them. What do you say in this situation? Do you also cry out to God, are you angry with Moses as well – or do you perhaps say something completely different?

Several hands go up spontaneously.

– I’m angry with Moses, too. It was obvious that Pharaoh wouldn’t just let us go.

I am angry. It is Moses’ fault. He should have known that, with Pharaoh, things never turn out well.

– I guess we will have to carry heavy rocks again and that is sooo exhausting …

I fear that we have to go back working for Pharaoh and that can only mean struggle and pain.

– And our babies will be killed again. I don’t want that!

The worst thing about this is that our babies will be murdered again.

– Help! I cannot swim.

I am scared of drowning in the sea.

– Pharaoh is going to ice each and every one of us!

I am scared that we are all going to die.

– I’d rather keep carrying those rocks.

It was really bad for us Egypt, but it is way worse here.

– Maybe there is a sand bank somewhere.

I’m not giving up just yet. I’m looking for a way to save us that we just haven’t seen yet.

– I’m praying. Maybe God will show me where to go.

Maybe God can save us. I’m asking for his help.

Thank you, Israelite.

Let’s hear how the story continues (I continue reading). Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. All Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!”

The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps and the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night. Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind.

You are an Israelite once again. You feel the strong wind and see a path opening up through the water. What is your first thought?

– Wow, that’s great! We can walk through now!

That’s wonderful, a passage for us!

– But I wonder if that’s safe. That should actually be impossible.

I wonder if that really is a path for us. A sea usually does not behave like this. And …?

– I believe it only looks as though we could pass.

I am afraid that we are deceived and that this is not a real path.

– Besides, the Egyptians are coming after us. And then?

It’s a pointless endeavor anyway. We are not safe because the Egyptians can simply follow us.

– I want to go through now!

I want to get going. Because …?

– The faster we are, the greater our chances.

We have to be fast now and grab our chance.

Thank you, Israelite.

In my own words I add: And the Israelites walk on the path through the water. Moses stretches out his hand with the staff and the path stays dry.

You are once again an Israelite. You are walking through there. To your right, there is water and to your left there is water but your feet stay dry. What is it like passing through the water?

– Why? I just keep going. La la la …

That is nothing special. I’m just going through there, singing to myself.

– I think it’s weird.

It feels weird walking through here. Weird, because …?

– Because this is practically impossible …

It is an odd feeling to experience something that defies any explanation.

– Oh wow! That’s like in an aquarium. So many colorful fish!

I can take a look into an entirely different and colorful world.

– I am scared because the water might come back.

I don’t feel safe at all. Who guarantees that the walls of water will hold until we reach the other side?

– What would happen if Moses lowered his hand?

The rest of us are depending on Moses and that he keeps his hand up. Are you afraid he might put his hand down?

– Well, yeah. I mean holding his hand up can be quite exhausting.

I just don’t know whether or not he has enough strength.

– God brought us out of Egypt. He couldn’t just abandon us now.

To me it was clear that God would help us. He led us out of Egypt and he wouldn’t just let us die now.

– I also didn’t think he would bail on us.

I know that God helps us when we really need him.

Thank you, Israelite.

I continue reading: Then the Egyptians – all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers – chased them into the middle of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered them all – the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived. The Israelites watched from ashore.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron and Moses’ sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea.”

You are an Israelite again. Are you singing a song as well? What is most important to you right now?

– Great.

That is great. Great, because …?

– We were rescued!

It is a great feeling to be safe now.

– That was a close call.

It could have easily come out differently. That was anything but a sure thing.

– I almost wet my pants.

I was very scared.

– But that the Egyptians are all dead now …

I am thinking about the Egyptians who had to die. And what do you think about it?

– I don’t like it. They should have turned around instead.

I feel sorry for the Egyptians. There was no need for them to die. It would have been sufficient if they had turned around.

– I think it’s awesome. Now they can’t harm us anymore.

Now we really are safe from them.

– I’m singing, la la la.

I’m singing a song. I’m singing, because …?

– Because it feels so nice to be rescued and safe.

It is a wonderful feeling to finally be safe.

Thank you very much, Israelites, for being here and for telling us how it might have been back in the day. Thank you, dear class 4b, for giving your voice to the biblical figures and for sharing your ideas. You are yourselves again and as yourselves you will hear the whole story once more … (I reread the story).

 

Bibliolog with university studentsThe encounter between Eve and the serpent (Genesis 3:1–7)

In an interdisciplinary seminar I, as a Practical Theologian, have worked together with a Systematic Theologian. We have dealt with the concept of sin and its relevance for people today. I begin our next session with a Bibliolog addressing the encounter between Eve and the serpent. In Luther’s translation the biblical story is titled “Der Sündenfall” (“The Fall into Sin”) although the word sin does not occur in it.

At first I introduce the concept of Bibliolog (Prologue):

We are about to discover a biblical text that is known as “The Fall into Sin” or “The Fall of Man.” You probably know the storyline: Genesis 3:1–7 tells us about an encounter between a serpent and a human being that has serious consequences. We are going to access this story via Bibliolog, an approach that allows us to interpret the text together. In concrete terms this means that I will stop a few times while reading the story and I will ask you to slip into a certain role. I will address you in that role and ask you a question. If you want to answer this question, just give me a hand signal and then I will come to your seat. I will repeat your answer in my own words and I might have a follow-up question. In Bibliolog it is not about making profound theological statements but rather about making your own discoveries within the text, which is far more valuable and enriching. You also have the right to keep your answers to yourselves but our experience will be livelier and more exciting if we hear many different ideas.

Now let’s discover the biblical text. We are in the Garden of Eden, which God has made as part of his creation and in which the first man and woman live. We know from other texts that their names are Adam and Eve. Together with many different animals they live in the Garden, eating the fruits growing there. But in the middle of the garden is one tree whose fruit God has forbidden them to eat. Otherwise they would die.

We do not know what Eve, Adam and all the animals were normally doing all day long. But today something special happens (I open the Bible and read Gen. 3:1–3): Now the serpent was more cunning than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’? The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”

You – every one of you – are the woman, Eve. Eve, you answer the serpent by saying: We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ How do you say these words? What is going through your mind?

– I have to set the record straight. The serpent misunderstood.

It was just a misunderstanding and I have to clear up the confusion.

– The serpent is addressing exactly those things I’ve been thinking about the whole time.

I have been wondering about this as well. For quite some time now I have been thinking about why we are not allowed to eat from this tree. Now someone is finally saying it out loud. What is it like for you, Eve, to have the serpent expressing these thoughts?

– I guess I didn’t dare to really think it through to the end. But now that the serpent is saying it …

Other than me the serpent has the courage to speak about it and therefore my thoughts become more concrete as well.

– I’m wondering what he wants.

The serpent sure is not just asking this without a reason. He wants something from me? Does he want something from you, Eve?

– Well, he comes directly to me, doesn’t he?

It is no coincidence that the serpent comes talking to me.

– I feel a bit uneasy.

I feel uneasy because …?

– Until now everything was just so peaceful here in the Garden, and so clear. And now this serpent comes along, making trouble. He wants me to do something that I was forbidden to do.

The serpent disturbs the peace in the Garden and only causes turmoil. Until now I had never been in a conflict between what I want to do and what I am supposed to do. But now that’s different.

Thank you, Eve. We are proceeding within our story (Gen. 3:4–5): But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”