Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: my SBL presentation recording

On Thursday, I presented a paper titled “Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism” at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Annual Meeting 2020 (online this year). The recording is available for those who registered for the conference. (Hopefully, someday, for the sake of public scholarship, most of these recordings will be made available on YouTube!) To find it, just search by my name. Here are PDFs of the handout and slides I used:

Here I am presenting on the ol’ Zoom machine!

#SBLAAR2020: Days 3-4

Yesterday, I attended the joint session “The Intersection of Bible and the United States 2020 Politics” of SBL’s Bible and Practical Theology and AAR’s Evangelical Studies Units where I heard Anna Hutchinson’s “The Role of Theological Education in Evangelical Bible Reading and Interpretation” and Marie Purcell’s “A Battle between Good and Evil: Ethnographic Reflections on the Election from First Baptist Dallas”. Both were fascinating. Then I got to hear some of the presentations from the Ecological Hermeneutics/Paul and Politics SBL session.

Today, I’m presenting at 5 pm EST (4 pm CST) on the topic “Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism”. It’s a “teaching tactic” style presentation on an activity I had my students do in order to teach them a little bit about how the Bible is formed. If you’re interested, here are PDFs of the handout and the Slides:

Here are a couple of posts I wrote after I offered the activity to my students:

Presentation at the 2020 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting

It’s been several years since I’ve had a proposal accepted for the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I’m excited to announce that this year—presuming we are able to meet in Boston, MA, in person in late November—I’ll be presenting on the topic ‘Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism’ for the program unit Teaching Biblical Studies in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context. I’ve written about the activity that I’ll be discussing in this paper/presentation. See these posts:

  1. ‘Making textual criticism fun! Hopefully.’
  2. ‘Pictures of my textual criticism activity’

I’m excited about this. I hope it’s live in Boston because (1) I have never been to Boston; (2) I enjoy this conference because I’m a geek; and (3) by November I’m going to be sick of presenting things online if that’s the way it goes.

Pictures of my textual criticism activity

Yesterday, I mentioned that I’m experimenting with a new activity that is designed to teach my students the basics of textual criticism. Honestly, this year’s a bit of a test run. I haven’t built many lessons around the activity but I had an extra day in my calendar that allowed me to try something new. One class did the exercise yesterday and three more will do it today.

In this post, I want to share some pictures of my preparatory work so you can visualize it. Yesterday, I (1) printed the translations (see that there’s some diversity so the wording is different); (2) tore the edges; (3) went outside and rubbed the paper in the mud; (4) tore up the paper further and put them in baggies that I hid around my classroom area. Each group needed to find a baggie, reconstruct the paper the best they could, type out what they think the text says (I chose Mark 16 so some with have the longer ending and some the shorter), and then they had to compare and contrast their results. Here are the pictures:

Five different translations to simulate various manuscripts with their differences in wording, including one text in Spanish that represents a ‘Latin’ translation of a ‘Greek’ (English) text.
The initial damage.
Rubbed in mud.
Further damage!
Baggies to be hidden.

Finally, as a class, I wanted them to create their own standardized version from their different manuscripts but I ran out of time. In future versions of this class (Spring 2021!) I may add a class period prior to this exercise to talk more about the development of the Bible and then one afterward so we have time for them to create their standardized version.

Making textual criticism fun! Hopefully.

Today and tomorrow I’m going to try something new. I want my students to have a basic idea of how they get their Bible but I want to do it in a way that is interesting and interactive (especially since Tuesday and Wednesday classes are our long ‘block’ periods of 1 hour 15/20 minutes rather than the normal 45 minute periods). Several years ago I heard of an activity that James D. De Young of Western Seminary used (I didn’t take his class) and I’m going to adopt and adapt some of his ideas.

First, in my activity English language translations will represent the Greek texts and Spanish will represent Latin. (Since my students don’t read Greek [some know Latin] I have to do it this way, obviously.) This way they can imagine the idea of a text’s mother language and then its secondary translation language.

Second, I’ll have them play the role of archaeologists. I’ll take six printed texts, cut them up, and put them in baggies that will be hidden near my classroom. I’ll create a map on the board so they know where to look.

Third, since the text will be damaged, they’ll need to ‘reconstruct’ it so it makes sense. This gives them a chance to play the role of papyrologist. I’ll make sure that some parts of some documents are missing completely so when it comes time to reconstruct, they’ll have to rely on other groups.

Fourth, not only will there be English and Spanish texts but the English text will be from mostly different English translations, but translations similar enough to mimic how close many ancient texts might be to one another. For example, I’ll be using the NRSV (2 x’s), RSV, and KJV. I’ll throw in one Spanish language text from the Dios Habla Hoy translation and then one tricky English paraphrase: The Message.

Finally, once each group has reconstructed their texts, they’ll have to debate over the version that they will produce as their official text.

Hopefully, in a oversimplified but interesting way, this will get them thinking about how they got their Bibles. If you’re interested in the document I’ll use to guide them, here it is:

AAR/SBL 2019: Days 3 & 4

Sunday was Day 3 of AAR/SBL 2019. I began my day at the ‘Comparative Studies in Religion Unit’ where the question was being asked whether ‘comparative studies’ was still a good approach to teaching religion. Many continue to say yes. Some advocate for teaching ‘worldview’ which would focus more on various lived experiences found in varieties of religion: myth, ritual, community, etc. Others seem committed to the ‘Great Traditions’ (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other -isms) for heuristic purposes. Mixed into this discussion were questions regarding whether the best focus would be cultivating empathy, or creating global citizens, and how these foci might alter the shape of a course.

The most interesting thing I learned during this first session was that games like ‘Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence (1945)’ and ‘Constantine and the Council of Nicaea: Defining Orthodoxy and Heresy in Christianity, 325 CE’ exist.

My second unit on Sunday was ‘Hinduism Unit and Teaching Unit’ where they discussed ‘Teaching Religion in Translation’. Being that I don’t know Sanskrit, Pali, or other relevant languages, I hoped to just hear the expert’s advice on choosing a good translation. Some preferred translations were given and the general feeling was that more translations are better than one. Not sure this benefits me much since I cover so much territory I can’t spend a lot of time on the Upanishads or Dhammapada, so I don’t see myself doing a lot of side-by-side translation comparisons. Maybe someday our school will lengthen and divide our current ‘World Religion’ offering and then that might be more feasible.

Yesterday I socialized, bought books, and attended one Biblical Studies session: The Synoptic Gospels/New Testament Textual Criticism group was discussing Matthew Larsen’s Gospels Before the Book. I’m about half-way through it, so it was good to hear some soft push-back on his thesis before I got to the end. It gives me some things to consider.

AAR/SBL 2019 purchases!

AAR/SBL 2019 comes to an end this morning. I won’t be attending any more sessions. It’s time for some vacation before school begins again next week.