Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On Teaching The Book Of Revelation...

I love my job.

Teaching the Bible opens up a world that is (mostly) unseen to the teenage boys with whom I deal on a daily basis; the challenge is always how to help them understand what Scripture is trying to say, both to its original audience and to the current reader.  I learn something new every day from my own studies of the subject as well, and with a subject as vast as Scripture, it will never get boring, at least not for me.  I would say that I have been able to convey the matter fairly well, but as always, there is and will be room for improvement.  Teaching is an artform that is always in need of reproof and modification.

Then there is the Book of Revelation...

Apocalypticism is one of my 'pet' subjects.  I fell in love with it when taking an advanced class on the topic in college (with the wife, I might add).  The literature and everything that has been spawned from it has been a continuing fascination of mine.  When we had the summer seminar at school in 2009, I submitted the topic and led it for several of my colleagues.  And therein lies the problem.

Between formal studies and constant continuous reading on the subject of apocalypticism and the Book of Revelation, I have come to know most of the background and the purpose(s) of the literary form and the mindset that informs such purposes.  Most people, however, do not. And that includes my students.  No, I am not saying they are ignorant; I am saying that most of their information regarding the subject has been influenced by popular culture: music, television, and movies.  To teach the topic to a large group of fifteen and sixteen year old boys is difficult and cannot be done in the same fashion as the rest of the Bible.  It takes a whole lot of deconstruction and, dare I say it, 'deprogramming' of the mind that is conditioned to equate the 'apocalypse' with a bunch of explosions and cool special effects.

When I started teaching back in 2004, I wanted to completely eliminate that aspect of the topic, but it was ultimately a fool's errand to try, just as it was a fool's errand to try and teach source theory of the Torah to high school sophomores.  As I have moved through the years, the goal has become to get them not to eliminate the popcorn-disaster film-explosion memes from their minds, but to get them to realize that apocalypticism is so much more than what was in the Deep Impact, Independence Day, or Armageddon.

To that end, it becomes a very fine balance of learning the nuts and bolts about the mindset that prompted apocalyptic thought and the literature while acknowledging that American culture is entirely unique in its obsession with the topic (thank the Puritans who settled in the 1600's).  The question is how to convey the background without getting extremely technical about it, because that is a very real temptation, especially for someone like me who is a wonk on the topic.

Yesterday, we talked about the Beast of Chapter 13, and it's number (six hundred and sixty-six, not just some triplicate six.  As I said to a student, we aren't playing slot machines here, it's a whole number, not 6-6-6).  One of the great mysteries has always been the identity of the Beast, since John himself only gave out the number for 'him who has wisdom' to understand. Explaining the commonly understood identity (Nero Caesar - whom many later believed had been resurrected in the form of the emperor Domitian) was a walk through a mine-field, but it had to be done, even as I could watch the mouths ajar and the non-understanding eyes from my students.  Such is the challenge of this topic, ultimately.

Likewise, explaining that 'Armageddon' is actually a place (the Mountain of Megiddo) rather than a thing or an event is fraught with difficulty, since we have a movie named as such, and most will tell you that the term is a catchall for the last day when the world ends.  But you know what?  I don't mind.  I love it and I accept the challenge.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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