Bible literacy in teen narrative form

Organizers seek help in shaping a new teaching tool

A team of scholars, writers, graphic artists, and media producers have begun work on a project that introduces young people to the Bible and to its historical contexts in visually and narratively compelling new ways. A set of graphic novels, already in production, seeks to embed Scriptural stories in the imaginative context of ancient teens’ struggles to live lives of faith. The creators are seeking to “test run” their flagship novel with North American teenagers and teachers beginning this month, in order to refine its language and imagery before final roll-out in Fall 2016. Members of the REA are invited to learn more, and to suggest links with North American high school teachers, youth ministers, and teen groups who would like to participate in vetting the text.

The flagship text, Pathfinder, is framed as a cliff-hanging teen adventure told in full color manga style. It presents the story of Jesus as relayed in Mark’s Gospel, through the eyes of early Christian young adults. The year is 64 c.e., a few weeks before the Great Fire sparks Nero’s persecutions in Rome. A boy runs through the streets of the capital. He is late. He sees an ichthus sign on a door and goes in. Behind the door all is hope and expectancy; the boy’s fellow Christians are awaiting the arrival of Peter and his companion Matthias, who have come to tell stories about Jesus. … Eventually, scapegoated by power-hungry Roman aristocrats, a number of leading Jesus-believers are put to death, including Peter and Paul. The survivors ask: what will happen to the stories of Jesus now? When Jerusalem is finally destroyed some years later, Mark decides to write down and circulate his memories, and the “gospel” genre is born.

The text is set in “broadcast” English, geared to a general public of reading age 9-13. The translations and background frameworks have been developed by an ecumenical group of Bible scholars including James D.G. Dunn, Morna Hooker, Markus Bockmuehl, Judith Lieu, Chris Rowland, and Nicholas King, SJ. Also involved are Hollywood and international artists (e.g., writers Stan Berkowitz and Alan Burnett, the manga cartoonist Siku), and religious educators from across the UK. Behind the project is Methodist minister Brian Brown, one-time executive producer and co-creator of animated Bible programing such as ITV’s The StoryKeepers and BBC’s Friends and Heroes, and now the Visiting Fellow in Media and Communication at St John’s College, Durham University in England. Animated shorts, discussion materials, and cross curricular activity guides are also planned.

Future books in the series include: The Trail, the story of a teenage Jewish Christian girl and her family – forced by persecutors to leave their home in Antioch, they join a doctor on his quest to gather stories about Jesus and his earliest followers (Luke / Acts); The Teacher, the account of a young Galilean who learns from his grandfather – a first-hand witness of Jesus’ ministry – how to build a new life in post-70 c.e. eretz Israel (Gospel of Matthew); and additional novelizations of John’s Gospel, Paul’s main letters, Revelation / the remaining Epistles, and First Testament texts.

Over the next 12 months, students and teachers will receive sections of the Pathfinder text for review and comment; the production team will then incorporate student feedback into the final version of the book. At the end, students will gain free access to Pathfinder in digital form. The organizers hope to line up interested groups of reviewers during April 2015. To learn more about the project, to see some examples of the text and art, or to suggest links with religious educators as potential vetters, email john.paul.falcone@gmail.com.

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