Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Memorize the Old Testament in Under 30 Minutes

So, I’m a Catholic priest. And I was thinking the other day: “It’s kinda embarrassing that I don’t have memorized all of the books of the Old Testament.” Sure, there are 46 books and I’ve read through them and studied them, but I couldn’t recite them to you as one long list. I’d get lost somewhere in the ah-ba-dibah-sounding prophets…

So, if you told me that I could memorize all of the books in half an hour, I would laugh at you. And tell you to get out.

That is, until today.

Over the weekend, I was hanging out with a few brother priests and one of them told me how he had discovered a way of memorizing a lot of material with relative ease—in fact, he memorized all of the books of Scripture. How? He said that he read in a book about how you mentally “build a house” and “fill it” with the things that you are trying to memorize. The pneumonic devices and visual aspects of imagining a house lead to a higher retention rate. So, you pretend that you enter a foyer and there, in the foyer, are the pneumonic objects that lead you to remember the things you wanted to remember. Then, you turn to the next room (a dining room, a kitchen…) and remember the other things that you placed there. Pretty cool stuff, actually.

“It’s worth a shot,” I said to myself.

So, this morning I “built my house” and filled each room with pneumonic devices so that I'd remember each book. And when I was done, I realize that I had memorized all of the books of the Old Testament. In fact, I had all of the books memorized in 25 minutes. In fact, it was so quick and so awesome, I decided to try it on my 6th graders who I would be teaching later that morning. During class, I “built a house” with them and in just half an hour, a vast majority had retained 40 or more books—and in order. I was so proud of their achievement and this discovery, I had to share it here.

So, here is the "house" I “built” for the 46 books of the Old Testament. Enjoy!


Imagine you’re walking up to a house. Any house. But a big house. Maybe a mansion. And you walk up the steps to the door and at the foot of the door you see a floor mat. It says GENESIS. The beginning. As you are about to knock on the door, you see it has a sign on it: Not an Exit, but an EXODUS sign. Weird. You knock on the door and a priest answers the door. His name is LEVITICUS. “Hi, I’m Leviticus” he says. In his hand, he’s holding a book of NUMBERS. Maybe it’s a math book or a geometry book. No, it’s a DEUTERONOMY book! [5 books]

The priest lets you in and you walk in to the foyer. There, in the foyer, you see a man scrubbing the floor. His name is JOSHUA. He’s cleaning up some smudges left by some JUDGES who stepped on a baby RUTH bar. Poor guy. [3 books]

Immediately to the right of the foyer is the living room. In the living room, there is a table with two men at it playing checkers. Strangely, they are both named Samuel—SAMUEL #1 and SAMUEL #2. As they play checkers, you noticed that they only have two kings—1 KINGS, 2 KINGS. Behind them sits a guy in a recliner reading the CHRONICLES of Narnia. (Books 1 & 2). The guy in the La-Z-boy is EZRA. Beside the recliner is a fireplace, where we see two people warming themselves: NEHEMIAH is warming his knees; TOBIT is warming his toes. [9 books]

If we go to the end of the living room, we discover the kitchen. JUDITH and ESTHER are there. They are both swatting at bees—MACCABEES (1&2). That is their JOB. If you look out the kitchen window, you will see a PSALM tree. Turning to the refrigerator, you notice PROVERBS magnets on the door. Open the door and inside the fridge there is a delicious, chocolate ECCLESIASTES. [8 books]

From there, we hear beautiful music coming from the library. In the doorway, we discover a record player playing the SONG OF SONGS. We go in the library and we see look up and see stack upon stack of books—a library full of WISDOM. We enter in and greet SIRACH the librarian. He is watching a table of several guys studying. At that study table, we see ISAIAH with an eye-patch and JEREMIAH has a bullfrog. We see a guy crying—that’s LAMENTATIONS—and he’s crying because BARUCH broke EZEKIEL’s wheel. At the end of the table is DANIEL. He is quiet because he doesn’t want to wake the lion under the table… [9 books]

We leave the library and head up the stairwell…. As we go up the stairs, we see a Santa Claus coming down the stairs! “Ho! Ho! Ho!” he says; but we know that it is Ho-Ho-HOSEA. Behind him is an elf singing “The First JOEL.”  At the top of the stairs, we see a hallway. At one end, AMOS is taking aim with his bow and arrow. He is shooting at OBEDIAH (who thinks this is a bad idea). At the end of the hallway is the bathroom. We go in and see that JONAH is there in the bathtub, playing in the bubbles with his toy whale. [5 books]

We turn and enter the bedroom. There, we see three boys having a pillow fight with feathers everywhere. We ask them their names. “MICAH” says Mike as he’s hit in the face. “My name—um” says another who is hit in the stomach. (NAHUM is his name). The third tries to tell us his name “HABBAKUK”—he is obviously choking on the feathers. Underneath the bed, ZEPHANIAH is playing hide and seek from HAGGAI who is currently looking in the closet. Next to Zephaniah is ZECHARIAH who is also under the bed. MALACHI storms in the room and tells us it’s time to go bye-bye! [7 books]

So.... that's the house I built. Obviously, you can build your own house and use your own pneumonic devices. Strangely, once you've built it, you pretty much have it memorized. In fact, I typed this entire thing from memory. (!)