Gotta start somewhere, I thought. It was the end of 2020 and I felt a malaise coming on. No, it wasn’t COVID, although perhaps it was COVID-induced. I had no fever but I was beginning to feel heated; I just couldn’t follow the narrative. Out of sorts and out of patience, I needed solace, which I have sometimes found in the Psalms.
This time around, I decided to switch it up and listen rather than read. A quick search on Audible.com took me to Logos Bible Study led by a retired UCLA professor named Dr. Bill Creasy.
Dr. Creasy has no idea who I am but after a felicitous journey with him through Psalms, I’ve spent the entirety of 2021 under his guidance through the first half or so of the Old Testament. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well – his “dad jokes”, his stories about growing up in Pittsburgh, serving as a U.S. Marine and ultimately earning a doctorate in Medieval Literature and becoming a professor.
A 2000 article about him in The Los Angeles Times stated that he “logged more than 2,500 miles a month driving across Southern California and teaching nine weekly Bible classes to more than 3,000 people.” How had I never heard of this guy?
I’ve done a handful of Bible Studies through the years, including one intense season of Bible Study Fellowship studying the book of Revelation, from which I emerged with more questions than answers. No wonder, since my biblical scholarship is spotty at best. As Creasy told the L.A. Times “the problem most people have studying the Bible is that they read it in bits and pieces.”
So I decided to begin at the beginning: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”
And so I began with Genesis. And onward through the Pentateuch: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. I cringed at the ten plagues upon Egypt (the flies…the boils…the locusts!!!) and wandered through the wilderness with the Israelites. (Yes, they must have been a little tired of manna after forty years!) Then it was on to Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.
Creasy’s personal experience in the military gives him a unique take on the life of King David in I and II Samuel and through the wars and conquests in I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles. More than once he invokes his twin favorite epics – Homer’s Iliad and the first Godfather film – to illustrate the action unfolding in Biblical history. If this makes him seem irreverent, not at all. He is clearly a believer, but he states at the outset that here he is teaching the Bible as literature. You’ll find no hair-splitting theological conundrums here, nor does he spend time pondering apparent dissonance around historical dates. After the upheaval of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests we were on to books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Fittingly, I finished up this less-than-wonderful year of 2021 not, admittedly with the patience of Job or the wisdom of Proverbs, but at least with the study of them completed.
Creasy has led many study groups to the Holy Land and his thorough knowledge of history and geography greatly illuminates his commentary.At one point, Creasy compares his teaching to someone leading a hike and reminding the group what to look out for up ahead. He doesn’t read the scripture word for word – he leads you through the biblical narrative. And finally, after a season of a narrative that didn’t work for me was one that did. As I look back over my entire year of reading, I find that these books twined around all the rest of my reading, and, indeed, my daily living, like a glorious, blooming vine. Christians are continually admonished to be “in the Word” and indeed, it is a mysteriously edifying discipline. I took a week off between each book and invariably found myself hungering for the next one. Will I make it all the way through the Bible? We’ll see…
And will you? I have one friend who managed to read the entire Bible from beginning to end in 2020. I have many friends who have never opened a Bible. And, of course, many more whose experience lies somewhere in between.
It does seem reasonable to ask why, if you aren’t a believer, you would want to read the Bible? Which leads me to remember my beloved atheist professor of freshman English Literature telling the class that every single one of us should read the Bible because it is the world’s single most important piece of literature. That, and, of course, if one is truly a non-believer, one should probably read it to know what one doesn’t believe.
I don’t know how many “pages” I read or how many hours in total I spent listening, but I do know that they were truly some of the best hours I spent in 2021. Somehow a not-very-good year was transformed into one of my best.
It’s enough to make one a believer!
(Next week – 2021 fiction…)