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.


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.

When should children learn about Noah and the Ark?

When I talk about ‘generational hermeneutics’ as a potential sub-field within larger fields like Religious Studies or Biblical Studies, I imagine fruitful conversations await us both in describing how things are but also how things should be (the ‘is/ought’ division). Let me begin with the ‘is’ question. I see few scholars asking questions about how children and adolescents actually read the Bible when they read it. The only book I’ve encountered (at a library), and intend to buy and read one day, is Melody R. Briggs’ How Children Read Biblical Narrative: An Investigation of Childrens’ Readings of the Gospel of Luke. I’m sure there’s more work being done but I don’t think it’s receiving as much attention as it should.

How do children read the Bible differently from adolescents and how to adolescents read the Bible differently from adults? Or, how do children process religious instruction differently than adolescents and adolescents differently from adults? I know the latter has received some attention, for example, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton. I think more attention is deserved.

The second question is the ‘ought’ question. As a high school teacher I have to be cautious about how I teach certain parts of the Bible. For example, I don’t spend a lot of time on the Song of Songs. Likewise, it’s always a little tricky explaining the appearance of Shiva’s lingam. This task is complicated further for my colleagues who teach middle school students. Definitely skipping the Song of Songs with the seventh graders! But this raises a question: When can students read the Song? Or, as I joked in the meme above, when should we teach the story of Noah and the Ark? I mean, the Creator literally washes humanity from the earth like we’re a stain and we turn around and tell children about it because, ‘Oh, look, cute animals!’ Is this wise? Is this age-appropriate?

On a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts—The Bible for Normal People with Pete Enns and Jared Byas—they interviewed author Cindy Wang Brandt about her book Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness. She talked about growing up in a fundamentalist-type home and how certain approaches to the Bible and religion can leave adults with a lot of baggage to work through. They spoke about how parents might avoid harming their children with the Bible and religion. I think these are questions that should be asked even outside of ‘practicing’ circles. Scholars of religion can and should mix with psychologists and sociologists who study children and youth and their brain development. We should be asking questions about the ‘ethics of indoctrination’. I know some of the more established religious traditions have been thinking about this sort of thing for centuries as we see in say Catholic Confirmation or the Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah. But there’s more to be done. And I have a feeling some work is being done in various disciplines but we need cross-pollination.

So, when should children read the story of Noah and the Ark? When are they mature enough? Is it ok to introduce it to them as a happy story about God saving animals when they’re young and then return to it later to discuss some of the more complex, even disturbing aspects of the story later?