Old Testament Stories
As many of you know, we are putting out a full curriculum starting with second and third grades, this summer. And because we are as committed to serving those who want to create their own curricula and use either general resources from us (like the Curriculum Overview) or specific unit studies like Roman History or Botany, we will have a number of volumes available each year which can be purchased either as part of their corresponding curriculum or on their own. Our next addition to the growing list is Old Testament Stories, available January 2008.
Writing this book has been an enormous challenge for me! I have worked hard to be mindful of the needs of people from differing cultural and religious backgrounds whilst simultaneously working from the conviction that these stories really are magnificent pictures of the change in consciousness that the 9 year old child of whatever cultural or religious background is going through. And, as I have sat like a talmudic scholar, surrounded by my books, carefully considering the language I used as I wrote out the stories, often consulting with my husband who has some knowledge of Hebrew, checking the Hebrew text against King James and the New English Bible, I was humbled by the task I had set myself. And equally amazed as Paul and I debated the relevant merits of this word over that word how people can actually think “this is what it says in the Bible – end of story.” Even just a cursory knowledge of Hebrew reveals so many nuanced shades of meaning.
And then of course there is the anthroposophical understanding, based on Steiner’s lectures on Biblical themes, that one can bring to all of this. I had for quite a while debated on whether to simply recommend that third grade parents use Jakob Streit’s books but have felt that the anthroposophy as well as the use of stories from the midrash is rather startling for some people (but would encourage those who relate to either the deep anthroposophy or to the midrash to use it in their families). I wanted something simple and open, something which can be read on whatever level a parent feels is right, whether as a good story that is an important part of Western culture or as a meaningful part of their religious life. I wanted God to be there and the full spiritual glory of the Old Testament stories to be apparent – but also non threatening to those who are challenged by these stories.
And they can be very challenging! Whether it’s Lot’s wife being turned into a block of salt or Cain’s murder of Able or Abraham raising the knife to sacrifice Isaac, many people have a tough time with these stories. And that, for me, is where anthroposophy can be helpful. I have gained an enormous amount in my own grasping to understand the Old Testament by reading passages such as this one from Roy Wilkinson’s Commentary on Old Testament Stories, an important book used by many Waldorf teachers as part of their own inner preparation for teaching this main lesson:
With his pre-Fall consciousness, Cain has no understanding of good or evil. The Lord tells him that he must learn self-control but for the moment he does not realize what is meant. Anger clouds his mind and in that state he kills Abel. He does it without compunction and when challenged by the Lord, he rejects responsibility….Now Cain is made aware that what he has done is a crime. He must expiate it. The time of self-responsibility has come. He must develop earthly consciousness – “the ground shall henceforth not yield thee her strength.” Being a fugitive and a vagabond means to seek experience of the world and of the inner self.
I have not brought such material into the stories themselves but have included it for adults to ponder if they choose. For me as an adult, I find inspiration from such writing, but the children need only receive the simplicity of the power of the stories as they are. We adults can contemplate the meaning and power – and share the stories with our children as a means to help them as they struggle through their own Fall from Innocence, their separation from Paradise, their first true experiences of their own sense of Self and their relationship to the Law. Gone is the atavistic clairvoyance of Joseph – and in its place is the Law which Moses brings. Gone is the child’s unconscious connection to the spiritual worlds from where he came – and in its place are the laws of human society. As adults we have gone beyond legalisitc thinking as we seek true freedom – the child,as he grows toward adulthood will also experience this development. But for now, to meet him where his soul is, these challenging Old Testament stories are rich and nourishing food.
And again, they are for all of us. I have real concerns about the fairly recent trend in Waldorf schools (and Waldorf homeschooling circles) to identify these stories so closely with Judaism that third grade becomes the “Jewish year.” This seems very odd to me. These stories are certainly central to Judaism – but they are a vital part of two other major religions, too – Islam and Christianity! Though the stories in the Muslim tradition are often quite different, nevertheless, they trace their roots to the same major figures from these stories. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses – all are revered as prophets in Islam. And the link to Christianity is of course obvious!
And because there is meant to be a clear lack of religious teaching in Waldorf schools, I worry a little about this “Jewish year”. Of course at home, one is free to do as one pleases – and a Jewish year might be a really important way to bring an understanding of a major religion to ones children (and of course if one is Jewish – well – it’s just part of life!!). But… I don’t like it when such things become the norm when they’re not founded on solid pedagogical ground. For me, I see a study of Judaism and Christianity in 6th grade, during the Roman history block. And then, during the Middle Ages, one must have a good look at Islam in order to understand anything of the cultural development of a rather vast part of the globe during this time!
Back to my point…. the Old Testament stories in any case are not a study of religion! This is not a religion main lesson! It is a “Stories of Humanity” kind of block – just like the animal legends in second grade, just like the Norse myths in fourth grade. And again, when one studies the Myths of India in 5th grade, this is not a religion block about Hinduism per se!
Our book will, as I said, be available in January. The stories span the Creation through the arrival at the Promised Land. To my mind, this is the period that most clearly mirrors the changes in the 9 year old’s soul. The stories change quite dramatically after that and are better, I feel, suited to 4th grade. I was most gratified to learn from my priest, Richard Dancy, of the Christian Community (founded on indications and inspiration by Rudolf Steiner) that he also feels that this is the case. So look toward the fourth grade story collection to find some of the great stories from the second part of the Old Testament.
The book is based on 1 six week OT main lesson. There are lots of paintings in it for you to use as inspiration for painting with your child (including full instructions) as well as a puppet play including script and how-to suggestions. There are also other suggestion for a main lesson book and other craft activities.
In the next couple of months we will have a section on our website devoted to our new curriculum where you can read about various aspects of the work. Keep an eye open for it! And more detials on this book to come!