Reading the Bible Digitally 2.0

Last December, I shared a new project I was introducing to my students called ‘Reading the Bible Digitally’. It’s the last exercise for students who take my class, ‘The Hebrew Scriptures’ (formerly ‘Old Testament’). I wrote a blog post about it here: ‘Guiding students toward a critical use of Internet resources’.

Well, I have a new, updated version of this project with help from my friend and colleague, Fr. Nate Bostian, who developed the ‘C.L.E.A.R.’ rubric used at the end. Also, since my creation of this project, I found Crash Course’s ‘Navigating Digital Information’ series, which is really helpful. Here’s version 2.0:

The updates don’t change the goal: ‘to teach my students to think critically about the Internet resources they use.’ These students may take another class with me. They may take my class ‘The Christian Scriptures’ giving them access to the Bible again. But at some point, they’ll be on their own, and except for the few who major in religious studies, they’ll rely on the Internet for information about the Bible. I hope this project provides them with some tools to make them discerning readers and researchers.


Guiding students toward a critical use of Internet resources

Traditionally, one might end a semester of teaching the Hebrew Bible with a large cumulative assessment to see if students can tell you who ‘Abraham’ and ‘Moses’ are and what happened during the Exodus. I received permission to go a different direction. I created a project that tries to focus more on what they will learn than what they have learned. I called it ‘Reading the Bible Digitally‘ and the point of the project was to teach my students to think critically about the Internet resources they use.

If you’d like to see the basic rubric, you can access it here:

In gist, the project consisted of three parts in two sections: (1) analyze Ronald S. Hendell’s article ‘The Search for Noah’s Flood’ written for The Biblical Archaeological Society and then do the same for Answer in Genesis’ YouTube video ‘What Are Some Evidences of the Flood?’ featuring Andrew Snelling; (2) write a short reflection (five to six sentences) in response to this exercise.

In part 1, I want my students to see what they could learn about Hendell and Snelling (credentials, vocation, publications, etc.) as well as the organizations giving them a platform—The Biblical Archaeological Society and Answers in Genesis. Then I wanted them to comment on things like whether their arguments seemed based on evidence or conjecture and anecdotes; whether evidence (a line of thought that could be followed) was provided or just claims made (which doesn’t make them wrong, per se); whether there was an obvious religious or political bias (not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing but something worth knowing); and whether the article/video tended to sensationalize or even dip into conspiracy theory type thinking (e.g., Snelling attacks the ambiguous group ‘scientists’ at the end of the video).

In part 2, I asked students to tell me what this exercise taught them about doing research on the Bible, how it might help them in their other classes, and how it might help them in life in general.

As I begin grading I’m happy with what I’m seeing. There’s some questions I’ll word differently next year but I’ve already had a couple of students tell me how much they enjoyed this project and I’ve heard from a colleague that a student told them about it. My main motivation was this: most of my students won’t major in Religious Studies, or go to seminary, but they’ll hear claims made about the Bible the rest of their lives. I know that the first place most of them will go to find out more about something is Google. So, the question I’m asking myself is this: Will my students be prepared to be discerning life-long learners in our digital age after they’ve left the guidance of my classroom? I hope the answer is a little closer to ‘yes’ now.

Presentation on a ‘lesser-known’ religion

When I began teaching comparative religion to high schoolers I was lucky enough to inherit a semester (mid-term or final) project from my colleague, Fr. Nate Bostian, that I has been useful since the first time I used it and that I’ve kept mostly intact. It’s withstood the test of time. The project is centered around research-and-presentation. In gist, student have to take what they know about studying and comparing religions and then do it themselves for a lesser-known (to them) religion like Jainism, Scientology, Sikhism, or Zoroastrianism.

The small changes I’ve made have had to do with the emphasis on the categories of ‘Belief’, ‘Behavior’, and ‘Belonging’ promoted by scholars like Benjamin Marcus and adopted by the AAR’s ‘Guidelines to Teaching about Religion in K-12 Public Schools in the United States’. As I continue to reform my curriculum it’s my goal to organize my units and assessments around these subunits. (I don’t teach comparative religion again until fall 2020, so I have time.) For the most part, the ‘3 B’s’ is clean, simple, and easy-to-understand, so it’s the skeletal structure around which I ask my students to build their presentation.

This year our school’s administration wanted us to explain our projects before releasing them to our students. So many teachers have embraced a form of project-based learning that there’s been a risk of overdoing it so that students have nothing but projects for the final few weeks of the semester. When I had to explain the assessing value of this project, it was easy. I’m not teaching Religious Studies so that my students can memorize data. Sure, there’s data to know: What does Easter celebrate? Why do many Muslims organize their spirituality around the ‘Five Pillars’? Why have Indian thinkers understood time as cyclical rather than linear and what does that have to do with Samsara? You get the idea. But data memorization isn’t the point. Critical thinking skills about religion is the point.

By having my students research and present on a ‘less-known’ (I used to say ‘minor’ but that’s not quite accurate) religion, they’re forced to ask what qualifies as ‘belief’, ‘behavior’ and ‘belonging’ when analyzing a religion about which they don’t know much. They get to show me that they know how to research, interpret, classify, and present the gist of a religion to another. In my opinion, this is a much better use of the last week of school than having them memorize key words and ideas to regurgitate to me in a multi-choice exam!

For those who’d like to see the exam’s content, you can download it here:

Job: a cosmic drama (table reading)

Yesterday, I taught my last bit of fresh content for the semester. In my ‘Old Testament’ class, I end with the Book of Job. In fact, this last week I’ve used the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job to summarize our discussions because as I’ve written in other posts, rather than building the course around the canon of the Tanakh/Old Testament simply because it’s canon, I’ve chosen to build it around the traumas that I believe inspired the writing, editing, and collecting of many of these texts that would eventually be canonized: the Babylonian Exile and the subsequent occupations by the Persians, Ptolemies, and Seleucids.

Job stands in contrast with not only the Book of Proverbs, but also the Book of Deuteronomy, and many of the other texts that argue for a kind of karmic, cause-and-effect view of reality, where the righteous who do good will be blessed and the wicked who do evil will be cursed. I end with this to exhibit how the texts we have read aren’t all in unison all the time. Instead, they create a dynamic conversation about God, our origins, our purpose, or teleology, and more. And while there’s some key agreement—most notably the superiority of Israel’s God—there’s also a whole lot of diversity. Job itself seems like a inter-canon critique of other parts of the canon. Or, as I framed it for my students, Job is the dissenting voice in the roundtable conversation we call the Bible.

But since I can’t expect my students to read Job in its entirety (though we did read key excerpts), I needed a way to get them the gist of the book. So, I turned Job into a script for a drama and I had my students do a ‘table read’. This was one of the most enjoyable exercises of the semester. My students really owned it and at times there was a lot of laughter as certain personalities played their roles. If you’re interested, I’ve uploaded a PDF version of the script. Remember, I’m not script writer but it got the job done:

Multi-Generational Reading Project summary report: part 3: why trust those sources?

As I’ve stated in a few post already, over the Thanksgiving Break I gave my students an extra credit opportunity where they’d read Micah 6.1-8, have a trusted/known adult (parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.) read the same passage, and then both would send me an email answering a series of questions about this text, about their pre-knowledge of the Book of Micah in general, and about their approach to learning more about something about which they know little. In the last post, I shared the answer of both my students and their chosen adults regarding how they’d go about learning more about something they unfamiliar to them. In this post, I shared the reasoning behind their answers. In a future post, I’ll give some insights into the commonalities and differences of the interpretations of Micah 6.1-8 that I read but this will be the last post of this particular series since my main concern here is how they ‘go about’ reading the Bible, in general.

The third question I asked was this: Why would you choose these sources/people? Why do you find them trustworthy? This is a summary of the answers:

The students tended to answer these questions with justifications for their use of Internet resources. While five of them mentioned clergy as a source, only two said anything about why. It boiled down to the fact that clergy seem more devoted to studying these things; therefore, clergy are more learned about these things. The one who mentioned ‘church’, without specifics as to ‘who’ in the church, said that the church is who they trust because that’s where the Bible is most often discussed/found. 

When parents or teachers were cited as an authority, it was for reasons like their ‘trust’ in their parents, that their parent has ‘read the Bible for years’, that a parent ‘has attended church for a long time’, and that the teacher (me) is more knowledgeable and has been studying these subjects.

As to digital resources, the common logic was this: use the Internet but make sure to check multiple sources. If the same point is made across several websites, it’s probably true. If a website has been used successfully in the past, it’s probably trustworthy. One did say that some sort of ‘check’ should be done to test reliability but mentioned no criteria. Another looked for the word ‘Bible’ in the URL.

The adults spoke about clergy a lot more in response to this question. The seven who said they’d go to clergy gave three shared main reasons: (1) clergy are devoted to studying the Bible; therefore, clergy are learned in the Bible; (2) clergy are trained professionals; (3) clergy are trustworthy (or should be as one said). One person claimed that whenever they asked their clergy member a question, and then later researched the answer themselves, the clergy were always proven correct. A similar remark was made by the one person who mentioned ‘perish educators’. It was argued that they can be ‘trusted’. It seems that past experiences, if good, equal trustworthiness (unsurprisingly). 

Other forms of trust in humans included trust in librarians, something no student mentioned. Similarly, a couple mentioned the necessity for ‘peer-reviewed’ sources. Again, no student mentioned this need for one qualified human to check another’s work. 

When it comes to the Internet, adults shared a common logic with the students: multiple searches should be done in order to find common themes across a variety of websites. A couple mentioned the need to vet websites to see if they are credible but didn’t explain ‘how’ they’d do it. A couple explained their use of Wikipedia with one saying it contains extensive information and the other pointing to the value of the endnotes/external links that allow you to see where they got their information. Two adults affirmed what most of the students seemed to imply: online searches are valuable because, frankly, they’re quicker!

There were other rationales ranging from trusting a practitioner of Judaism since Micah is in the Tanakh (my language) to trusting a daughter who was a religion major and another a boyfriend who knows a lot about the Bible/religion. Very few seemed confident in their own reading of the Bible. Only one mentioned this as a trustworthy way of knowing about the Bible. Another trusted the study Bible they had because they trusted the person who recommended it. One person mentioned the popular pastor, Charles Stanley, as their guide.

Multi-Generational Reading Project summary report: rart 2: how they’d find more information

Yesterday I began sharing my summary of the responses I received from the extra credit opportunity I offered my students: the ‘Multi-Generational Reading Project’. Since I used Micah 6.1-8 as passage I wanted students do discuss with an adult (parent, grandparent, sibling, etc.), I began by showing what pre-knowledge was had about this passage by both students and the adults with which they paired. Today, I turn to the second question I asked:

Question 2: If you wanted to know more—like who Micah was, or who his audience was, or what his message was—where would you go (to what sources or people) to find that information? How would you get access to these sources/people?

Here are their answers:

Most student respondents said they’d begin by searching online. Seven made reference to ‘the Internet’ while seven others were more specific, mentioning Google. A few of those who said they’d search the Internet said they’d do so using multiple online sources. This is an exercise that Sam Wineburg refers to as horizontal reading where you check the information about a website not by digging deeper into that particular website but by checking it against other websites. It’s a valid activity but the reasoning behind this approach wasn’t always sound. For example, one student suggested that if multiple websites report something, and there’s no evidence that the writers/creators are collaborating, then it is likely to be true. This is questionable, to say the least. Only one student cared about the specific URL ending saying they would look for a .org or something other than just a .com. One student said they’d search specifically for an ‘article’, which seems to indicate they wanted something more ‘official’ than a blog post, tweet, etc.

Other search engines mentioned include Bing and Baidu. Notably, Wikipedia received only a single mention, which is surprising, and differed from the adults a little bit.

There were some who wanted ‘Bible’ to be in the URL, including Others said they’d look for Bible-centered websites. One said they’d trust the videos created by The Bible Project out of Portland, OR. (I use their videos even though they have a strong evangelical bent at times and risk being supersessionist when discussing topics related to the Hebrew Bible…I just have to complicate those messages when I show the videos.) Only four students stated specifically that they’d go straight to the primary source itself: the Bible (whether physical or digital).

Back to adults: three of my students said they’d go directly to me, their teacher, while three said they’d go to their parents, and five said they’d trust a member of the clergy (priests and pastors mentioned). One said they’d ‘go to Church’ but didn’t say who’d they talk to once they arrived.

Only one student mentioned their phone as their go-to source. I don’t think this means that most use computers rather than their phones. I think it means most assume that their phones are their primary hardware for these searches.

The adult respondents said they’d go online as well. Five of them mentioned the Internet with three providing the caveat that they’d look for ‘reputable sources’. Five mentioned Google specifically. Three mentioned Wikipedia specifically, which I found this surprising because in this group the adults seem more comfortable with Wikipedia than the students (3-to-1…so not much comfort in general).

While only four students said they’d go to the primary source itself, three adults said they’d do the same, but others four others mentioned Bibles that had study aids: a ‘reference’ Bible, a couple ‘study’ Bibles, and even an ‘Adventure’ Bible (which apparently has a lot of good maps and other visual aids). 

The biggest difference is that while not a single students said they’d look at a physical book about the Bible—not a single one—four adults said they’d look at things like a ‘Bible reference book’ or a ‘textbook on Bible history’ or even ‘Bible commentaries’. One mentioned their university library and using a digital database to find ‘book lists’.

Eleven students mentioned another person who they’d ask about the Bible, whether a parent, teacher, or member of the clergy. Twelve adults said the same thing, with seven mentioning clergy (compared to five students), one mentioning the ‘Bible teacher’ at Church, one mentioning parish educators, one mentioning a former college professor, and only two citing familial relationships: one a boyfriend and another a daughter (though one did say they wish their mother-in-law was alive still for this sort of thing). Interestingly, even though Micah is part of the Tanakh, only one adult said they might talk to someone who practices Judaism. Notably, most of our student body and their families are associated with Christianity.

In the next post I’ll tell you why my respondents trusted these resources.

Multi-Generational Reading Project summary report: part 1: pre-knowledge of the Book of Micah

Prior to the Thanksgiving Break I offered my students an extra credit opportunity. I titled it the ‘Multi-Generational Reading Project’ and I asked them to pair with an adult in their life who would read Micah 6.1-8, answer a few questions for me via email, and then they’d discuss the passage together (for the full context, read ‘Reading the Bible from the perspective of different generations’). Seventeen students participated (eleven boys/six girls) which means seventeen adults joined them. This included eight mothers, five fathers, a grandmother, a grandfather, and older brother, and an aunt. The criteria was that these adults must be over thirty years of age, though I didn’t ask the adult participants to confirm their age.

While this isn’t a scientific study by any stretch of the imagination, the responses did result a small but interesting data set. I’ll discuss my observations in a series of blog posts. Tonight I begin with my participants pre-knowledge of the Book of Micah.

I should state at the outset that I chose Micah because it’s obscure to most, even life-long Bible readers, and people who attend Synagogue or Church. I did this on purpose. I wanted to see what knowledge was ‘in the air’ that would suggest it was based mostly on high-levels on biblical literacy rather than say movies, film, the news, etc.

The first question I asked was this one: What do you know about the Book of Micah without researching it? Here are my summary observations based on the responses I received:

There were fifteen students who said they knew nothing about the Book of Micah, though this isn’t quite true. A couple stated, correctly, that it’s in the Bible and in the Old Testament in particular. Most assumed that this wasn’t a legitimate answer to the question I was asking. It must’ve seemed like a given. I know that most of the others know it’s a book in the Old Testament because that’s what we’ve been studying this semester.

Those who knew something (two students, total) knew that the main figure, Micah, was a prophet. Also, surmising from the context of 6.1-8, it was stated that it seemed to be a book about the punishment of the Israelites and the forgiveness that was available to them. One student thought it had to do something with leadership.

There were seven adults who said they knew nothing about the book and one who said ‘not much’. Seven knew that Micah was a ‘lesser’ or ‘minor’ prophet. Two others knew he was a prophet, in general. One said it must contain the sayings of Micah. Another thought it contained his writings. And another thought it was about his life (a biography?). 

There were some who offered more educated statements (whether they learned in Church or in a college setting) about the book including that it was written in Hebrew and eventually translated into Greek and Latin;  that it was located at the end of the Old Testament, specifically; and that the audience was ‘Israelites’. Few knew much about the historical data related to the book but there were comments from a handful about things like Micah being from Judah in the south; prophesying during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah; being a contemporary of Isaiah; predicting the fall of Samaria/Israel; prophesying when Israel fell; preaching against Judah’s wickedness; and focusing on judgment. One suggested that Micah focused on resurrection. Another thought the book was influenced in some way by Roman Imperialism (though it was written too early for that…unless this comment had something to do with the canonization process?).

Clearly, most adults knew a lot more about Micah without doing any research. In fact, some had impressive amounts of knowledge. To clarify, my students didn’t study Micah this semester, which is why I chose the book. How the adults knew more can be credited to longer lives, of course, but as I’ll share in the next section, there seems to be more to it.

Chinese Religions Podcast Project

Last November our librarian, Lynn Lada, forwarded us teachers a link to the ‘NPR Student Podcast Challenge’. While I wasn’t quite ready to jump into this challenge, I did like the idea of having my students create a podcast. Additionally, the creation of a podcast had the potential to solve two problems I was facing. First, since the ‘World Religion’ course I teach is only a semester long, I was pressed to find time to cover Confucianism and Daoism adequately. Second, I needed something toward the end of the semester to break up our approach a bit. We had done some lectures, some videos, some short readings, some group discussions, but at that point I lacked good projects. So, inspired by the NPR contest, I created the Chinese Religions Podcast Project. How does it work? Below I’ll share the instructions that I’ll be giving to my students tomorrow and if you have any questions leave a comment!


Step 1 – In your cohorts, choose one person who will play the role of the podcast host/radio show interviewer. This person’s job is to compile the script, working with the others in their cohort to create the outline of their podcast episode.

Step 2 – The remaining members of the cohort should be divided into (1) experts on Confucian though and (2) experts on Daoist thought

Step 3 – Using the Patheos Library of World Religions, as well as the chapters on Confucianism and Daoism found in Prothero’s God Is Not One, create questions for the interviewer to ask and answers to be given by the interviewees. 

Step 4 – Together, work on and finalize your script. The order should look something like this:

Example Outline of Script:


Confucian #1:

Confucian #2:

Daoist #1:

Confucian #2:

Daoist #2:

You can go off-script. You can add commercials. Have fun! 

Step 5 – Do a sample run. Make sure you get a feel for how you’ll perform the interview. Try to keep the podcast at 8-10 minutes. You can do up to 2 minutes of commercials but must have no less than 6 minutes of actual content.

Step 6 – Record your podcast! 

Step 7 – Email/share the file with me. We’ll listen to them in class.

Reading the Bible from the perspective of different generations (a project)

Iconography of the Prophet Micah (via ‘The Ohio Anglican’ blog)

I have some students who have asked if they can do anything to earn some extra credit to help their grades, and of course, I have students who will do as much extra credit as possible to perfect their grades. So, I’ve created a project that answers those requests while also providing me with data I’ll find valuable. In other words, basically, I’m a modern tech company: I provide a service; you provide me information!

I’m calling the assignment the ‘Multi-Generational Reading Project’. Here’s the basic purpose and instructions I’ll be sharing with students today:


This extra credit assignment pairs a student with an adult in their life. The adult can be a parent, a guardian, an aunt or uncle, grandparent, or any adult with whom the student has a meaningful connection. The goal (on my end) is to see what similarities and differences I can observe in how people from different generations read and interpret the Bible. The benefit for the student is the extra credit and hopefully a unique, shared experience with the aforementioned adult.


Below, you’ll find an excerpt from a passage from the Jewish Tanakh/Christian Old Testament. Please read the passage separately at first. Then both of you will email me at answering the questions I’ve posted below the passage excerpt. Please do this separately as well. When you’ve both sent your email, then you can come together and discuss how you both understood the passage. Once your discussion is finished, the student should then email me again with five observations from your discussion (e.g., What did your interpretations have in common? In what way were they different? Did you share approaches to finding out more about something you don’t know offhand?)

The passage I chose (thank you Daniel A. for the recommendation) is Micah 6.1-8 (NIV). This is a short excerpt making it easier on the adult who agrees to participate. Also, it has elements that may be confusing to those who are less biblically literate (e.g., who are Balak and Balaam), elements that are more familiar (e.g, references to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam), and then what we might call ‘moralistic’ statements open to interpretation (e.g., ‘what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’).

These are the questions I’ve asked my students to share with the adult they choose. My goal is that they would read the passage, separately, answer these questions via email, separately, and then they’d come back together to discuss. The student is required to send me a follow-up email about their discussion where they make five observations about how they read the Bible in juxtaposition with the adult with which they’ve paired. Here are my questions:


  1. What do you know about the Book of Micah without researching it?
  1. If you wanted to know more—like who Micah was, or who his audience was, or what his message was—where would you go (to what sources or people) to find that information? How would you get access to these sources/people?
  1. Why would you choose these sources/people? Why do you find them trustworthy? 

Interpretive (answer without researching):

  1. Why do you think this author depicts God as appealing to the mountains/hills to hear his case in verses 1-2? 
  1. What’s the value of mentioning Moses, Aaron, and Miriam in verse 4?
  1. What’s the value of mentioning Balak and Balaam in verse 5?
  1. Rhetorically, what’s the point of questioning the sacrificial system in verses 6-7?
  1. In your opinion, what does it mean in verse 8 to ‘act justly’? What does it mean to ‘love mercy’? What does it mean to ‘walk humbly with your God?’

My hope is that this gets students to talk with their parents, or grandparents, or someone about the Bible they’ve been studying this semester. The Thanksgiving Break is a great time for a project like this. Selfishly, I’m interested to see what similarities and differences emerge as I compare how students read the Bible with the adults in their lives.