By Barb Arland-Fye
A friend’s inspiration led me to read the Bible about nine summers ago, and I remain thankful to her.
I purchased a one-year Bible and faithfully began with the Scriptures for that summer day, which was in the Second Book of Samuel. The portrayal of King David fascinated me; his dedication to God remained steadfast, yet David demonstrated serious human failings.
While I was familiar with Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments, I had never read them in their entirety. Some Scriptures baffled me — either because I couldn’t figure out who was speaking (God, a prophet, a narrator?) or the context of the passage was unclear. But I continued reading, taking each Scripture at face value. When I had completed the Bible in one year, I started over and continued this pattern over the course of about five years.
Amazingly, to me anyway, the day’s Scripture seemed new again, even though I had read it three, four or five times previously. The Old Testament challenged me the most, at first, because the depiction of God didn’t seem to be the same one I grew up with. And I thought, rather smugly, that I understood the New Testament.
I was disabused of that over confidence when I began graduate classes last year with deacon candidates for the Diocese of Davenport and their spouses. We took our first Old Testament course with Micah Kiel, assistant professor of theology at St. Ambrose University, and I learned about a process for studying the Bible called exegesis. This is an examination of what the text is saying by examining what precedes and follows it, the historical context, genre, anthropology, sociology and the politics of the era in which it was written — among other aspects. It was a valuable lesson and one which I find myself applying today when I read Scripture or an article that references Scripture or listen to a homily.
Last weekend, we had our second Old Testament course with Kiel, focusing on the third part of the traditional Hebrew Canon of Scripture which contains a variety of material: wisdom literature, novellas and songs among them. His syllabus said the topics that the writings deal with are “core to human consciousness across the centuries — how do we talk to God? Why does evil exist? How do people of faith navigate political situations? How do we know what is true …”
The class discussion, lectures and coursework are exhilarating, enlightening and exhausting. On Saturday night, I left class wondering whether I understood anything at all about the Old Testament. But I returned Sunday, realizing that it’s OK to challenge my pre-conceived notions and to have teachers answer a question with another question. We learn from each other as well as from Scripture, participation in Mass and prayer and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
I’m still working out my understanding of the Book of Job, but the class provided more light for me to examine it with. The Book of Ruth continues to be one of my favorite in the Old Testament and our class discussion endeared me even more to this story of a woman’s faith, loyalty and courage. My mind is whirling with the Scriptures we examined from Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith and Psalms. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to become more intimate with the Word.