After taking off 18 months or so, I’m returning to teaching Institute in my free time. Beginning January 12, 8 PM in the Union Square chapel of Manhattan, I’ll be teaching a class called “Genesis, with an Introduction to Studying the Bible in Hebrew.” The Institute Director added the last part, but I don’t mind one bit. I’m quite looking forward to it.
Institute can really be a breath of fresh air, especially for those who are looking for a deeper exploration of the scriptures than Sunday School allows. After all, there’s no schedule to follow, no manual to adhere to, none of the constraints that people argue over. Instead of 45 minutes with ambivalent mostly non-readers, I get 75 minutes with a self-selecting group of slightly less ambivalent reading-a-bit-more.
This is not to say there are no constraints; in a lesser implementation of Helaman 10:4-5, teachers generally get vetted one way or another, and then are simply trusted to teach. I have reviews/recommendations from teaching for eight years under three different Institute Directors plus my three summers teaching at BYU, and they contact my Bishop and Stake President as well. After that… well, I teach the scriptures and the Gospel, and love it. And that’s all the local Powers That Be really care about. Are the students edified? Growing and learning? Reading their scriptures more? If so, they’re supportive.
This class will be selective. I anticipate spending several weeks on the first few chapters (along with framing and some study techniques/suggestions), skip the Flood (if I can get away with doing so), move on to the Tower of Babel, Abraham and covenants, Judah and Tamar, etc. But we’re not going to feel compelled to move on until we’re happy with the depth we’ve gotten wherever we are. We may never get past Genesis 15, which would be fine. The theme of the class, if there is one, is expressed well by Elder Widtsoe, quoting Brigham Young-
“Many Bible accounts that trouble the inexperienced reader become clear and acceptable if the essential meaning of the story is sought out. To read the Bible fairly, it must be read as President Brigham Young suggested: ‘Do you read the scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them?’ (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 197-8). This is our guide. The scriptures must be read intelligently.”
We’re going to try to read Genesis as if we were Israelites, which means stepping into their cultural
shoes sandals. We’ll talk about Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, Enuma Elish, Ugarit, covenant curses, and other fun stuff that relates directly to Genesis, which knowledge is assumed by the text. While we certainly won’t answer every question, approaching it this way will help make sure we’re asking the right kind of question, and in the process resolve (or at least, reframe in a more productive manner) some issues. And of course, I get to try out book material and see how people respond.
So if you’re in the New York area, come on down, and bring your scriptures.