Introducing the Contextual Orientation to Bible: A Comparative Study

Published: 
Jan. 15, 2008

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 74, Issue 1 January 2008 , pages 53 - 82

 

Barry Holtz' (2003) presentation of a map of orientations for the teaching of Bible provides a certain kind of focus for research, enabling us to ask deeper and richer questions about those orientations. This article investigates the teaching of one teacher, in two different settings - more specifically, how that teacher introduces Bible in those settings - as a way of generating insight into the particular features of what Holtz calls the "contextual orientation." Building on the sketch that Holtz offers, it explores the internal variation within that orientation, and hence begins to reveal some of the pedagogic possibilities.

To begin to gain some insight into the contextual orientation, this article will examine a small set of empirical data about one teacher, "Moshe," a university instructor who is committed to teaching within the contextual orientation. More specifically, how Moshe introduces the study of Bible to his students is examined. His introduction is not merely a prologue to his "actual" teaching; on the contrary, it is the pedagogic moment where he articulates what is most important to him about Bible, the occasion for him to frame his teaching approach and identify its significant features. But rather than analyzing just one instance, the author compares how he introduces the Bible in two different contexts: first, in his survey course on Bible at the college where he teaches ("Bible 101"), a course for undergraduates with no prerequisites populated by a mixture of Jews of varying backgrounds, as well as non-Jews; and second, in the opening session of a year-long Jewish adult education course ("Bible for Adults" or "B4A"), which is part of an intensive two-year cycle of study. So the title of this article has two meanings. It is, of course, about how one teacher introduces the subject to his students, but the article itself is intended to function as a kind of introduction to the contextual orientation. Building on the sketch that Holtz offers, it explores the internal variation within the contextual orientation, and hence begins to reveal some of the pedagogic possibilities.

 
The article is an argument on behalf of a deeper understanding of the pedagogic phenomenon to which it points and which it describes, not an endorsement of it nor an argument on its behalf. If this inquiry is successful, it will serve to promote a more grounded and nuanced discussion of the merits and challenges of the contextual orientation, by proponents and opponents alike. And in addition, this inquiry may serve as a model for the serious study of teaching Bible that is relevant to and instructive for other orientations as well.

Updated: Mar. 26, 2008
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