Giving lectures in Paris on “The Bible from Yesterday to Today”- Help me narrow my topics.

Paris_-_Eiffelturm_und_Marsfeld2I’ve been asked to give a series of three 1-hr lectures on the Bible in French, to be held at three different LDS chapels in Paris, beginning in mid-June. (Yes, we’re currently in Paris, where man can live on bread alone. Quite happily, too.) These lectures will be open and advertised to the public, as a kind of open-door/public education thing. They’re still to be finalized and scheduled, but I’m trying to narrow down my topics, which will not be Mormon-centric.

Each lecture must be freestanding, because we’re not going to get the exact same group each time, though presumably some will attend all three. I have five general areas that need to be reduced to three, either combining, condensing, or just eliminating.
  • Old Testament
  • Period between the OT and NT, sometimes called the Inter-testamental period, or 2nd temple period (term which also includes the New Testament time under that term)
  • New Testament
  • Transmission/translation process
  • Reading/interpreting the Bible today
My general thought is to talk about the contextual world of the Bible and perhaps major events that shaped it, contrasting the OT and NT. I wrote elsewhere that
roughly speaking, the New Testament involves less than 100 years of history, two cultures (Greco-Roman and Israelite/Judaic), and a few languages (Greek, and to a lesser extent, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin). By contrast, the Old Testament covers more than 1000 years of history (not counting the deutero-canonical Apocrypha written in the 400 years between the two testaments), multiple cultural influences and languages (Egyptian, Assyrian/Babylonian, Hittite, “Canaanite”, Persian, and Greek) and nearly 3.5 times the amount of text as the New Testament.
Old Testament– I have two different ideas about approaching this. What I want to emphasize is a contextual approach, that this was not written in a vacuum nor a modern context.
The world that gave us the Hebrew Bible

  • Talk about other cultures, contexts, and languages
  • roughly 1000 years of history
  • Hundreds of thousands of documents
  • Amarna letters, Ugarit, Assyrian/Babylonian, etc.

Or, covering more or less the same territory, but done as more of a backwards-looking RE-discovery of the world that gave us the Old Testament.

  • Discovery of Babylonian, Assyrian, Ugaritic, etc.
  • Like a timeline?
  • Point is to show the Bible in discussion with its context, and the rediscovery’s impact on our understanding and interpretation

Inter-testamental period

  •  The OT and NT read quite differently in many ways. Players (Rome instead of Egypt/Babylon/Assyria/Hatti/Persia), socio-political context (scribes, pharisees, tax collectors, sicarii,) languages, concepts ( Father/Son/Holy Ghost?  works/grace? Messiah(s)? ), lots of differences.
  • When you turn the page from Malachi to Matthew, you skip 400 years of history, during which all the transitional changes took place.  I’d like to highlight some of them, taking a historical approach, and probably talking about the Dead Sea Scroll community.
  • I think of this period as roughly equivalent to that covered by Thomas Alexander’s Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986). During that period we had the major transition from the early LDS church to what we know today-; out with polygamy, public doctrinal speculation, and cultural isolationism, in with Word of Wisdom, major temple-related shifts, becoming mainstream Americans instead of isolationists, priesthood formalization (see Hartley’s article here) and so on.

New Testament

  • Genres and how we got it, i.e. oral tradition/letters/apocalypses>scribal preservation.
  • Rough contemporaries, e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, Philo.
  • LXX and Targums
  • Greco-Roman context

Transmission and Translations

  • Basically, the history of the Bible from the early post-NT period to today
  • Vulgate, LXX, Targums,
  • Catholicism
  • Scribal traditions and hand copying
  • printing press, early translations into English, French, German
  • Controversies, with Luther, Geneva Bible, etc.
  • I’m more familiar with the relevant English Bibles, but I can adapt for a French context fairly easily.

Reading the Bible Today

  • I’ve taught a number of classes, firesides, YSA conferences and such on how to read the Bible.
  • Context and tools
  • questions to ask
  • “One of the most important things to remember is that the Bible was not written for us today. It was for people who shared the culture and language of the author. Since we do not, we won’t fully understand without making some kind of effort. You can visit a foreign country without reading any guidebooks or speaking the language, but it’s not going to be as fun or as meaningful as doing a little homework or having a native guide.”


I can go with OT, Inter, NT.
I can go OT, NT, Reading Today.
I could combine the OT/Inter/NT into one,  necessitating the cut of a lot of material, then Transmission, Reading Today.


Or, I could do something fairly different.


World of the OT
Reading the Bible Today
Then, modeling the knowledge and suggestions from the previous two, Reading Creation in its Ancient Context and talk about Genesis 1, science, and ancient context, as I’ve written about much here at T&S. This will help show how reading Genesis against a modern scientific reading is the wrong thing to be doing.


I anticipate having a projector and using slides and visuals, as well as handouts with some terminology and references.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Preferences? Questions? I assume not much of the T&S audience would be present (or French fluent), but value your input.




8 comments for “Giving lectures in Paris on “The Bible from Yesterday to Today”- Help me narrow my topics.

  1. May 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I could combine the OT/Inter/NT into one, necessitating the cut of a lot of material, then Transmission, Reading Today.

    This would be my recommendation, based on mission familiarity with the French. Most of your audience will be completely secular, so questions like reading Genesis and science will seem ridiculous to them (of course the Bible is not science!) and religious concepts like works and grace will seem as arcane to them as we might find a discussion of why some Amish wear one overall strap and others two.

    The people I remember best would appreciate a discussion of why people still read the Bible today. Most of them would need some refresher background in what the Bible is — you can’t take it for granted that your listeners will be familiar with stories or concepts, so combining the OT/Inter/NT would be about as much depth as most will care to have. You’ll still have to retell your Biblical stories and briefly explain any religious concepts you refer to in your other two lectures.

    And that’s not being at all condescending toward the French. If your audience does include more knowledgeable people, they’ll recognize your expertise and understand why you’re not assuming any Biblical knowledge on the part of your audience — they won’t be offended.

  2. stephenchardy
    May 13, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Oh, come on. Give a guy a break. We must moved from Paris, so we won’t be there. Are you in the Paris Ward? We miss it.

  3. Ben S
    May 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    We’ve been in the Paris ward before, but this time we’re in the 20th near Buttes-Chaumont, so Paris-Lilas. Sorry to miss you Stephen.

    Ardis, some good points. I’ll have to decide what I think my audience bias is. Do they already value and read it, and perhaps need some guidance? Or are they more skeptical, and need some intrigue/justification for finding value in it as a modern? Probably depends on the mix of Lds vs non who end up attending.

  4. May 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    I’d vote “OT, NT, Reading Today.”

    This approach seems be the most sensible/logical to me. Moreover, I think it makes it easy for people to pick a session or two, if they can’t make all of them, and still get a lot out of the session(s) they do attend.

    Good luck, whatever you do! (And I hope you’ll return and report afterwards.)

  5. Wilfried
    May 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    “These lectures will be open and advertised to the public, as a kind of open-door/public education thing”

    Well, perhaps better be also prepared to have a 95% Mormon audience. That’s what happens often with Mormon PR initiatives which in theory are geared to the outside world…

  6. stephenchardy
    May 14, 2013 at 7:57 am

    As Ben knows, the Paris Ward is located right in the middle of Paris, in “le Marais” district, described in Wikipedia like this: “The Marais is now one of Paris’ main localities for art galleries. Following its rehabilitation, the Marais has become a fashionable district, home to many trendy restaurants, fashion houses, and hype galleries.”

    Thousands walk by every day. Good signage and advertisements may make it so that a number of walk-ins may stop in.

  7. stephenchardy
    May 14, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Also, the French people are not very religious, but there is a real interest in culture, history, literature and philosophy. Advertising an exploration of the Bible as it relates to French society, past and present, might result in a number of non-Mormons attending. It is all about publicity. Who is sponsoring the lectures? What is their purpose?

  8. larryco_
    May 15, 2013 at 1:55 am

    In the “Transmission” section, I’ve always been fascinated by the role that the Irish Christians played in “reintroducing” the bible to the continent during the middle ages. And since William Tyndale is one of my 10 all-time favs in history, you can’t say too much about him.

    Wait…you were requesting that folks help you narrow your focus, not expand. My bad.

Comments are closed.