Reading Scripture: History and Wisdom

A recent post by Real Person Friend MrsDarwin reminded me of one way in which my Old Testament curriculum is “complicated.”

Not to contradict what I said here–my OT class really is pretty simple–there is one very powerful move to make when reading Scripture.  The framework of my class is historical: read the story of Israel from Abraham to the Persian restoration, spanning two years (Genesis to Joshua, Judges to II Kings+).

I strongly believe the Old Testament needs to be read this way rather than carved up lectionary-style, at least once you have students of a certain age.  It’s remarkable how unified the narrative is, and how much the interpretations depend on previous passages.  You just can’t see this without reading it as a historical whole.


The wisdom literature and the prophets are a huge force multiplier.  Do not delay their introduction, but read them as they are composed (canonically-speaking).  When you finish David’s desert adventures in I Samuel, go read some (all?) of the psalms he composed on the run (or that are composed about him being on the run, whatever your preference).  When you finish II Samuel 12, read Psalm 51 and watch both passages make a world more sense.

Solomon?  Things go pretty terribly for him at the end, and actually not so great at the beginning.  After reading I Kings 1-11, why not read some of what he writes about sons, family, wisdom?  Vanity of vanities?  Does his end help make sense of his warnings about wisdom and the allure of women?  I may not read Song of Solomon with middle school boys, but it sure fits in well with this too.

Dei Verbum and the Catechism speak of the mutually illuminating words and deeds of Jesus Christ; fire up the dual-action floodlights here and everywhere else you can.  II Kings 14 mentions the work of a certain prophet Jonah, son of Amittai.  Yes, that’s Jonah Jonah.  Go read something else rather famous about that prophet.  Read the prophets as they are mentioned by the historical narrative, or insert them as they speak directly about events you are reading.  Hosea is a fantastic complement to Ahab and Jezebel, or more properly deferred until the destruction of the north in II Kings 17.  Isaiah is practically a protagonist during the reign of Hezekiah.

I don’t do this perfectly–the danger of over-stuffing the curriculum is very real, and there is only so much time.  But the wisdom books bring the history to life, and help draw the lessons from the history when this is not always clear.  If I taught the boys two hours each day, who knows what we could accomplish!

Some day I’ll write a suuuuper fancy curriculum that coordinates wisdom passages with my historical outline.  Or I’ll just keep flipping over to the books I need on the fly.  It doesn’t have to be rocket surgery.  Just wisdom.


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