Search SBL

SBL Forum Archive
<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Student Creative Projects: Aural and Video Productions as Biblical Exegesis

As teachers of the Bible, we are both students of "texts" and pedagogues who seek to engage our own students in the pleasure and power of biblical literature. Since a biblical "text" is the product of "weaving" (Latin texere "to weave"; textus "a woven cloth, web"), as scholars we are attentive to the layers of creation in each text from its formation to its subsequent interpretation and its ongoing presence in social, ecclesial, and political life. Although our critical work with the Bible often engages in the creative possibilities task of biblical interpretation, inviting our students into this process can be a challenge. Whether we teach in graduate or undergraduate institutions, most students of the Bible come to our classes with a previously held notion about the text's character; this can impede their own thoughtful engagement with the text. Whether or not they have a "religious" background, the sense of the Bible's "authority," whatever form that may take, has led many of my students initially to conceive of "creative reading" of biblical material as something foreign, inappropriate, or even dangerous. Thus, in my own teaching I have sought to find ways to invite my students into the joyful task of creative and responsible interpretation in ways that make sense for their own lives and experiences.

One particularly helpful exercise for undergraduate students has been the regular assignment of a "Creative Project" in biblical studies courses. This is introduced to students on the first day of class. To quote a recent syllabus:

"Creative Project/Paper. Students will prepare a creative project, due on Monday Nov. 27. This may be (1) a research paper, 15-20 pages in length, examining a text or theme from the Christian Old Testament, OR (2) an interpretive exploration of a text, character, issue, or theme from the Christian Old Testament, in the form of a musical composition or performance, an art piece (sculpture, painting, collage, etc.), a video production, dance composition, etc. SUBJECT, METHOD, CONTENT, AND MODE OF PRESENTATION CHOSEN IN CONSULTATION WITH INSTRUCTOR."

Although some students who are particularly comfortable with writing choose the first option (and the number of English majors among this group is nearly 100%!), many opt for the second. I require them to meet with me in my office, either individually or as a small group (2-4 persons) to decide which text they wish to explore and the way they wish to express that exploration. Once they realize that they have permission and encouragement to utilize video and audio productions, as well as their talents in dramatic presentations, music, dance, sculpture, or drawing, the excitement of the students is often palpable. For them, this won't be "just another class" of doing readings, writing papers, taking texts, and hoping for a good grade. Whatever their backgrounds, once students engage in the task of the "Creative Project," they move beyond information, or "knowing about" the Bible, into the realm of thoughtful interpretation.

Of equal importance, however, has been the affirmation of the value of interpretations of biblical texts that are not written or inscribed, but visual, oral, physical, tactile, and sensual. Student creative projects have shown me, and those who have produced them, that every interpretation, in whatever form, truly is a "web," a tapestry of interpretive response or, as Kristeva claims, "a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another."[1] Thus, these creative productions have educated both students and teacher, opening new interpretive space that is not only verbal or abstract, but concrete, physical, and deeply personal. By offering new opportunities for work with the Bible, the interpretive task becomes a source both for deeper knowledge of the biblical material and the expression of students' thoughts, feelings, struggles, and perceptions of the world. In addition, since many of today's college students lack the skills to write clear and coherent essays consistently (a subject worthy of separate and extended treatment), these projects allow all students to express their insights and utilize their gifts and interests, whatever their previous background and training might be.

Although any text covered by the course is fair game for a creative project, certain biblical texts tend to be more popular, perhaps because of their visual or sonic resonances, as well as the issues they treat. Foundational texts such as Genesis 1 and 3, which have shaped our culture's conceptions of nature, gender, self, and the world, are often examined. Among the prophets, Ezekiel is the overwhelming favorite, with the visions of chapter 1 and chapter's 8-11 regularly utilized. Revelation also is a common subject, again due to its visionary character. Like its role in inspiring the hymnody of past faith communities, the Psalter inspires musical composition and performance, with a range of styles, from guitar-inflected folk singing to group rap productions. Job is often considered, due in large part to its profound and ambiguous treatment of evil and suffering, which students confront and with which they struggle in their own lives. Finally, New Testament parables also appear, as their narrative character stimulates contemporary retelling.

Video and visual interpretations tend to take certain recognizable forms. Some are montages of photographic images set to music, either performed by popular bands or of the students' own composition. Others are video montages, combining clips from films and music videos with original narration and musical background. Often the biblical text is reenacted or visualized, with human actors playing the parts of the deity, spiritual entities, or characters from the text. Treatment of the biblical text as a film or dramatic script, with the narrative performed in a contemporary context,[2] is also popular. In addition, students depict or respond to biblical material with handmade diaramas, collages, and poster boards.

collage image

Wherever these projects have been part of my biblical studies courses, they have proved immensely valuable. First, students become carefully attentive to the biblical text and its contents, which is the soil from which their creative work grows. Given the chance to interpret the Bible in forms with which they are familiar, particularly video and pop music, biblical themes and narratives come to life in their own cultural universe. Also, in the context of an exercise that is responsible to a given source text and yet a creative response to it, students find, in fresh and revealing ways, that the Bible really does "matter" and that it is applicable to current life. Whether the Bible remains "God's inerrant Word," as it does for some students, or is seen as bizarre enough to be "freakish" (so described by a student in an "Introduction to the Bible" course a few years ago), all who produce creative projects become freer and more conscious interpreters and bring forth new "sacred texts," woven from the Bible, contemporary culture, and their own lives.

James D. Findlay, California State University, Northridge


[1] Julia Kristeva. Word, Dialogue, and the Novel. The Kristeva Reader (ed. T. Moi; New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 37.

[2] For instance, in one video, titled "The Parables of Jesus," the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan parable drive large high-status cars, while the despised Samaritan who helps the wounded traveler drives only a small motor-scooter. This video was produced in car-conscious southern California!

Citation: " Student Creative Projects: Aural and Video Productions as Biblical Exegesis," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited July 2008]. Online:


© 2021, Society of Biblical Literature. All Rights Reserved.