Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tattoos as Teaching Tools? With an Excursus on Sugar Packets...

I've been having a serious form filling week and fancied something even more frivolous that I normally post so please indulge me! I've been preparing my lectures for my undergrad course on Second Temple Wisdom, specifically on the Song of Songs. I've got the general introduction done and want to cover something about the interpretation of the Song throughout the history of biblical study in the second more indepth lecture. Now I don't have a whole deal of time (oh one day I'll get a whole 24 hour semester course to have such fun!) so I have to give a snap shot. Historically it's fine-start at Hippolytus and work through Origen, Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercian commentaries and a hop skip and a jump up to Pope Benedict XVI's Deus Caritas Est. Sprinkle with a little Messianism and I reckon I'll have it covered! But I want to include something more modern-for the rest of the Wisdom Literature books we've worked on I've tried to look at how the 'modern' Catholic Liturgy uses them and how the texts or the literature is still used even in secular society.

Anyone who I've ever tutored Wisdom Literature with knows about my Gem sugar packet trick-I show the longevities of the popularity of proverbs as a genre of literature that derives from a society’s oral tradition and how proverbs are an integral part of a culture by "procuring" packets of Gem sugar from every coffee shop and cafe I visit. Gem sugar print an Irish proverb on the back of each individual serving of sugar. I throw a packet out to each student (so much more fun than passing!) and we read them out-my year long collection means I can normally have a different proverb for each student. This always generates a bit of a giggle as some of the proverbs can be a little obscure. Some are easier to understand than others. Some require a little thought or an explanation of the image (e.g. you need to know what is involved in the process of thatching to understand "The day of the big wind is no time to be doing the thatching") Sound familiar? Exactly the same process with Hebrew proverbs. Without the threat of tooth decay...

To try and find something similar for the Song of Songs, I thought about what most people associate the text with and as they usually only hear the text at weddings, the phrase "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies" of 6:3 is probably familiar to most and has been interpreted in a very modern context as a good thing to ink on your body to show your love for your new spouse. David and Victoria Beckham have a matching tattoo which I put up on a power point slide with the Hebrew inserted in a text box over it. Then on the next slide I have David's matching one. It's a hard job hunting through hundreds of pictures of David looking for this-but I'm nowt but dedicated :)

We have a discussion then about the problems of David's feminine form of the verse and of the difference between the pointed and unpointed versions-using an example of Christina Aguilera’s similar though unpointed tattoo. Then we usually have a good debate (time permitting) about how this is actually an interpretation of the text as about a marriage between a man and a woman and how apt this is.
I never fail to highlight how Victoria is actually smarter than she acts as she obviously knows her Hebrew-the association between the Hebrew terms of David and Beloved is surely deliberate! More debate here, though not usually focused on the biblical text!

For more information on Hebrew Tattoos in general have a look at the Hebrew Tattoo blog for more whacky and beautiful designs.

And here's my Tat before you say I'm avoiding mentioning it :) Hebrew of hesed meaning "steadfast love", with pointing on my left wrist.

Lecture is in the next month so I'll let you know how it goes and of any revisions I make! Feedback as always greatly appreciated...

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