Today, I spoke with my professor, Russell Fuller, and asked him what technique the Jews used to memorize the Old Testament. His answer shocked me:
"They began when they were children. Every day they would go down to the synagogue and, together with many other children, chant the scriptures continuously for about two hours. They continued doing this every day for years, until they knew it."
"Really?" I said. "Even on the Sabbath?"
"Especially on the Sabbath", he told me. "Probably twice on that day".
So apparently memorizing things is not complicated; just difficult. I have since reflected on this technique, and concluded that it must be effectual. My own life experience bears it out.
When I was in my second semester of seminary, I had few friends and spent a lot of time by myself. To keep from going stir crazy, I would play movies on my computer. Usually, I played "The Lord of the Rings". For months, the characters from "The Lord of the Rings" were my constant companions, and their words were repeated over and over and over in my hearing. Now, watch this:
It began with the forging of the Great rings. Three were given to the elves-immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven, to the dwarf lords-great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine-nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who-above all else-desire power. For within these rings were bound the strength and will to govern each race. But they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a master ring to control all others, and into this ring he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life. One ring to rule them all. One by one, the free lands of Middle Earth fell to the power of the ring. But there were some who resisted. A last alliance of men and elves marched against the armies of Mordor, and on the slopes of Mount Doom, they fought for the freedom of Middle Earth...
Victory was near, but the power of the ring could not be undone...
It was in this moment, when all hope had faded, that Isildur, Son of the King, took up his father's sword...
Sauron, the enemy of the free peoples of Middle Earth, was defeated.
The ring passed to Isildur, who had this one chance to destroy evil forever. But the hearts of men are easily corrupted, and the ring of power has a will of its own. It betrayed Isildur, to his death, and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge-until, when chance came, it ensnared a new bearer...
The ring came to the creature Golem, who took it deep into the tunnels of the Misty Mountains. And there, it consumed him.
"It came to me. My own. My love. My own. My precioussssss....Golem!"
The ring brought to Golem unnatural long life. For 500 years, it poisoned his mind. And in the gloom of Golem's cave, it waited. Darkness crept back into the forests of the world. Rumour grew of a shadow in the East. Whispers of a nameless fear. And the ring of power perceived-it's time had now come. It abandoned Golem. But something happened then that the ring did not intend. It was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable.
A hobbit. Bilbo Baggins of the Shire.
"LOOOSSSST!!!! AAAUUUGH! MY PRECIOUS IS LOST!"
For the time will soon come when hobbits will shape the fortunes of all.
If I really felt like boring you, I could go on, but you see my point. I didn't have to watch the movie in order to write any of that down. It just flowed out of my mind because it is locked in there by the power of repetition. The same could become true of the Bible, if I will only have the discipline to regularly, consistently, faithfully read through the scriptures.
Two hours a day will do the trick, but I am not sure I have enough discipline to do something like that. For right now, I think I'll just commit to thirty minutes a day and see where it leads.
But just because I am adopting the strategy of reading extended portions of the scripture, that doesn't mean I want to abandon other other strategies. So I have developed some flash cards, each of which has five consecutive verses of scripture on it. The first one starts at Genesis 1:1, and the last one I've made closes out Genesis 10. So here's the plan of attack, as I see it:
Day one: Read the Bible, out loud, for thirty minutes. Learn flash card #1.
Day two: Read the Bible, out loud, for thirty minutes. Review flash card #1. Learn Flash Card # 2.
Day three: Read the Bible, out loud, for thirty minutes. Review flash cards, numbers 1 and 2. Learn Flash Card # 3.
Day four: Read the Bible, out loud, for thirty minues. Stop reviewing flash card #1. Review flash cards, numbers 2 and 3. Learn flash card #4.
Day five: Read the Bible, out loud, for thirty minutes. Stop reviewing flash card #2. Review flash cards, numbers 3 and 4. Learn flash card # 5.
And so on, until I reach the end of Revelation. Then I'll probably start all over again, taking the flash cards in larger chunks this time.
The process will take years, and being consistent with it will be very daunting. But when God has spoken, the more familiar I am with what He said, the better.
I'm starting tomorrow. No turning back now.