Lenten Course Offered on Bible as Literature

 Based on his introductory course “The Bible as Literature,” currently offered in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh (Oakland), Fr. Stephen Honeygosky, O.S.B., Ph.D., pastor of St. Benedict’s Parish, Marguerite, will offer a mini-course as part of an adult continuing education program Tuesdays during Lent. Each evening will consist of either Vespers or Mass at 7 p.m., followed by a presentation and discussion on selected biblical stories. The presentations will begin at 7:30 p.m., in the narthex of Saint Benedict’s Church, concluding at 9 p.m. with light refreshments.

The Lenten program will aim to teach people how to read the Bible as one would read Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Woolf, Steinbeck or any favorite author. Fr. Stephen notes that “belief is not the basis of this course. One would not have to be a Roman emperor to appreciate the shattered dreams in Julius Caesar, a whale-chaser to appreciate the compulsive question in Moby Dick, have one’s beloved murdered to get the most out of a film text like Ghost, or have cancer in order to value and learn an important life lesson from one like Terms of Endearment. Searching for meaning, purpose, joy and identity aren’t confined to any particular faith. They are basic to our human nature.

“Other than, perhaps, familiarity with a few popular stories, the Jewish or Christian reader of the Bible as literature has no appreciable advantage over a Buddhist, Muslim or someone with no institutional affiliation, as long as one is seriously committed to reading literature and thinking about it in the context of the period in which it was produced and which it hoped to influence,” Fr. Stephen explained. “At the same time, those who do profess a faith rooted in biblical texts will have an opportunity to deepen and broaden their biblical knowledge and, in turn, perhaps their faith. This objective approach lets a reader view the Bible, first, as literature – ready to see all that’s there before believing; only then, as a testament to faith.”

The program will look at the genres of writing contained within the segments chosen for these meetings; the process of canonization, or how the Bible came into being; the importance of history in the cause and consequence of the scriptural selections; and the relationship between what is regarded as the Old Testament and the New. The various types of literature to be explored include mythic stories of origin, prophecies, poems, laments, history, parables, folksy aphorisms, tales, and visionary literature.

“By handling the various books of the Bible as literature, I would hope to remove it from the proverbial pedestal where it is typically held at such distance, such respect, such awe if not fear, that even believers have too often missed the full literary and human power from the various types of writing found in the Bible,” said Fr. Stephen. “And so, we will aim to bring the Bible very near, preventing distance and obscurity from disempowering it and leaving it only irrelevant, foreign, and dull.”

The Vespers or Mass will begin at 7 p.m., and the course at 7:30 p.m., as follows: March 21, Vespers and Session; March 28, Mass and Session; April 4, Vespers and Session; April 11, Mass and Session; April 18, Vespers only.

The course will be limited to selected passages from the Old Testament. Participants should bring a Bible and should have read the passages designated for each evening beforehand. Preparation time is estimated at 60 to 90 minutes a week, according to Fr. Stephen.

Session I, March 21, is “From Judges to Kings: Meet Samuel, Saul, David, Jonathan and Solomon.” Readings are: 1 Sam, Chaps. 7-10, 12, 15-20, 23-24, 28 and 1 Kings, Chaps. 2-3, 8-9, 11-12, 17-19, 22.

Session II, March 28, is “From Kings to Prophets: Meet Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and Hosea.” Readings are: Isaiah Chaps. 1-10, 40-42, 58; Jeremiah, Chaps. 1-4, 6-7, 13-20, 24, 27-28, 30-31, 50-51; Jonah, all and Hosea, all.

Session III, April 4, is “From Prophets to Apocalypse: Meet the Daniel of history and the Daniel of Story (four centuries later).” Readings are: Daniel, all, and Rev., 1-3.

Session IV, April 11, is “Wisdom for Then and for the Ages: Meet the Wise Ones Behind the Gems of Ecclesiastes and the Brief Epic Story of Job.” Readings are: Ecclesiastes, all and Job, Chaps. 1-3, 7-12, 15-27, 32-42.

This adult continuing education program will continue over three years, dealing with the Gospels, with attention to Luke, in 2001, and with the letters in 2002.

There is no admission fee but weekly free-will offerings will support the church’s Renovation Fund.