A Confession (or, “Picking on Leviticus”)

Where I’m from (the Bible belt), having read the Bible “cover to cover” is a point of pride. Persons who have done so flaunt it like a merit badge. But I have a confession to make: I’ve never read the Bible cover to cover.

For those that would take this confession as a question of my ability to study or teach the Bible, let me say that I’m fairly certain I’ve read (or at least heard) every word of it, whether through articles, books, the liturgy, sermons, etc. That is, I can’t remember the last time I read something that “surprised” me in the sense that I didn’t recall having encountered it previously. But I have never started at the beginning and made it to the end.

I have tried to do so three times: once when I was in high school; once in college; and once this morning. That’s right, this morning I started to read the Bible from the beginning.

But why this morning? First of all, I turned in another chapter of the dissertation yesterday, and  I decided that today I needed a break from editing and writing (I realize that I’m writing this in a blog post). Second, I’m slated to teach an Introduction to Theology course this summer and an Introduction to the New Testament course in the fall, and I figured I would dive in and start putting together some reading assignments (tentatively, of course). In doing so, what I realized is that Leviticus is typically the point at which my eyes start glossing over the pages. When I got to the second genealogy in Numbers, I took two Excedrin and called it quits. “Never again,” I said. This time, I think I mean it.

Is this to say that I find the Old Testament boring? Not exactly. I find certain portions of it (like Leviticus) to be quite tedious, but for the most part it is comprised of engaging and even entertaining (at points) narratives.

The experience lead me to think about the expectations we have of those we teach. In the tentative outline I had prepared for my summer class, I had as an assignment, “read Leviticus.” That has now changed to “skim Leviticus.” If I, as one who is passionate about this material, cannot bring myself to read Leviticus all the way through without my eyes glazing over, then how can I expect my students (many of whom will be taking my class against their will) to do otherwise? Maybe things would be different if I were teaching a course on Leviticus (which will never happen) or the Pentateuch (which may happen), but for Introduction to Theology, I think this approach will suffice.

Or, perhaps I’m just justifying my own laziness and encouraging my future students to do likewise? We will see.


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