New website, technology-enhanced classroom help reinvent Bible course

bealHave a question about the Bible?

After four years in the making by religion scholars, including Case Western Reserve University’s Timothy Beal, the online site, “Bible Odyssey: People Places and Passages,” has launched with answers and information at

“The main idea for the site was to make the best of nonpartisan biblical scholarship accessible to a broader public,” said Beal, the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion.

When the 134-year-old Society of Biblical Literature received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to establish the website, Beal was tapped to serve on the board to offer suggestions about the kinds of questions and interests people have about the Bible. He also edits contributions to the site.

And if people cannot find an answer, they can submit questions online at the Bible Odyssey website for Beal, the author of eight books related to the Bible, and other Bible scholars.

Among Bible Odyssey’s early visitors are 18 students in Beal’s “Introduction to Biblical Literature” course. They began using the site with their first assignment on Babel and will continue to tap it as a resource throughout the semester.

The website is among several changes Beal has incorporated in a class he has taught for 20 years.

“During that time, we have been in the midst of a media revolution that is radically changing the ways we teach, do research and publish,” said Beal, who earned the distinction of Active Learning Fellow after completing the university’s Active Learning Fellows program this past summer.

“At the same time, this revolution is radically changing cultural and religious ideas and practices around ‘the Bible.’ This is a great opportunity to revise the course in light of these revolutionary changes,” he said.

One of the fellows’ requirements is to introduce active-learning activities to the classroom. Active learning is a process that engages students in analyzing and evaluating course content and uses technology as part of the experience.

Beal considered it an opportunity to reinvigorate and reinvent his popular Bible class that has been taught much the same way for years.

Beal said his class traditionally attracts students from a wide variety of religious, non-religious and anti-religious backgrounds, and most are unfamiliar with academic biblical studies, which differs from how the Bible is studied in a religious context, such as church or a campus fellowship group.

Many arrive for his course with what he calls “Bible baggage” that often relates to common misperceptions about the Bible.

His students approach the Bible:

  • As literature for reading and discussing the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament in their socio-historical contexts.
  • As scripture, where they analyze and interpret how Bibles, Bible readings and biblical interpretations function in a particular religious context—and how Christian and Jewish scriptural practices compare with those of other religions.
  • As a media, where past media revolutions have radically transformed the Bible and what is changing the holy book now.

With the start of a new school year, Beal also took advantage of Information Technology Services’ new technology-enhanced classroom in Thwing Center.

The classroom, with tables, chairs and oversized computer screens on wheels, enables Beal to incorporate Bible Odyssey and the online Oxford Biblical Studies, which is available through the Kelvin Smith Library, into his course. Beal is working on an encyclopedia of the Bible for Oxford University Press, which is to become part of the online Oxford Bible site.

Beal still includes readings from his previous class format. These include two of his popular books about the Bible—Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know and The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book—along with the websites.