A study of the nature of religious knowledge and its role in the life of the individual and the community, with special reference to the content, aims and methods of bible teaching

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis had its point of departure in a concern with the aims and methods of Bible teaching in the Jewish day high schools in South Africa. The work began with a survey and conflation of recent scholarly writings concerned with the teaching of the Bible, and with an extensive survey, by face to face interview, of Bible teaching methods in Jewish high schools in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Although this last occupied a great deal of time spread over more than a year, it does not now form part of this thesis, whereas the former does. The reason for this is that neither the current practise, nor most of the scholarly opinion, with notable exceptions, seems to have asked the basic questions concerning the essence of what is being communicated, how it comes to be embraced by the individual, and how it functions in the social context, before becoming involved in the matters of aims and methodology. Even those like Goldman, who have pioneered the study of Bible teaching methodology have been primarily concerned with what the pupils could receive, and that on the cognitive basis, rather than with the essence of the Bible itself. We have retained in Part I a survey of ten scholarly opinions, ranging all the way from the ultra-orthodox, through the modern religious, the nationalists, the humanists to the marxists. Although almost all of these are drawn from Israeli experience, almost all that they have to say is generally applicable to the teaching of the Bible in any place where the Hebrew tradition is taught. It represents as wide a cross-section as one is likely to find anywhere, and it is with this, or something like it, that the intending teacher of the Bible is confronted when he begins his task. The conflicts are deeply rooted in the understanding of the essence of what is to be taught. Part II, the central contribution of this thesis, is therefore concerned with the basic questions of what the Bible is in itself, what is the experience which men have called God, and how they have sought to communicate about it (Section A), how religion is held by the individual (Section B), and how it functions in society (Section C). We have endeavoured to bring the model thus developed to bear upon the opinions reviewed in Part I in order to reject those that will not stand up, to resolve seeming conflicts and to glean that which, by the criteria of our model, will be of lasting worth. Only then have we made an attempt to express what, in the light of our model, would seem to be the real essence and the possible aims of teaching the Bible. Throughout this section we have presented our summary points and our conclusions based upon them separately, which may be a little awkward for the reader, but allows the summary points, standing on their own, to be a clear presentation of the heart of each model. Part III aims only at presenting some basic considerations for the development of a methodology. It makes no pretence to be itself a methodology. Even for this purpose, however, it was felt necessary to review Goldman's contribution and to look at its roots in Piaget, in order to see what, in the light of our findings about essence, was still lacking. To meet the discovered needs, we have drawn upon Erikson, and to some small degree, upon Sears. We have felt that this thesis draws upon so many disciplines that no reader could be expected to be familiar with them all. We have therefore tended, more than otherwise would be the case, to include extensive accounts of our source material. This is particularly the case in Part III where we have included a summary of the three theories of child development drawn from a secondary source, H.W. Maier. This in no way form part of the thesis, and the reader who is familiar with Piaget and Erikson, and even Goldman, is invited to pass over this summary presentation to our resulting critique of Goldman's contribution and to our basic considerations for a development of methodology.