In my previous post, I shared my observation that the Internet is stretching the boundaries of the canons of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Or, we might say it is shrinking those canons, as people are less likely to stumble upon the Book of Obadiah when they’re going straight to the part of the Bible they want to read because they’re going there digitally. Either way, canons are physical things, whether we’re talking about Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, or the Nestle-Aland 28 (except, of course, when they’re digitized, as the previous series of links shows they are now). As they become digitally accessible, the boundaries between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Thomas are blurred because your access to them is not limited to the books on your shelf but by your knowledge of what you might google.
What subjective, imposed metanarrative do I use to introduce biblical literature then? What do I do to try to hook students into the ‘big picture’ of what the Bible is, where it came from, and why it’s important (other than doing a history of the Bible’s development, which experientially, doesn’t seem to interest my students…but that’s anecdotal to the point where I’m not sure it would be a problem in other contexts). Instead of shaping my classes around the canon, strictly (since our school still labels them ‘Old Testament’ and ‘New Testament’), I’ve shaped them around the traumatic events that inspired the composition, editing, and collecting of many of the texts that eventually became canon. For the Hebrew Bible, my focus is two-fold: (1) the Babylonian Exile, which many scholars see as the period when earlier texts were being collected and edited, and new ones were being created, in order to help the Jews establish their identity vis-`a-vis the Babylonians, and (2) the occupation of successive empires such as the Persians, the Ptolemaic Greeks, and the Seleucid Greeks. For the Greek Bible, my focus is also two-fold: (1) the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, which crushed the variegated hopes of those who had joined his movement, but which gave way to the conviction that Jesus had been resurrected or revived from death in some way and (2) the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which in my opinion, at least indirectly influenced the Christian Movement to begin writing the stories of Jesus and mixing them with collections of his sayings.