The big academic book about John the Baptist has been submitted to the publisher. It is presumably time to declare my sabbatical over, turn off the automated reply on my email, and consider myself back. How better to celebrate but with song? I’m teaching my course on the Bible and music this coming semester, and one of the things I’ve had as an assignment in the past is the creation of song lyrics. Most of the educators I know are worried about students using ChatGPT to make essays, and have a good sense of what that AI chatbot will and won’t do effectively. However, one thing that ChatGPT has shown itself to be adept at is creating song lyrics and poetry. To experiment with it and see if I need to rethink that assignment, I gave it this prompt:
Sure! Here’s Matthew 3:1-17 rewritten in common meter:
Verse 1: In those days, John came to preach,
A voice cried out from wilderness reach,
“Repent, for God’s kingdom is at hand,
Prepare your hearts, take a stand.”
Verse 2: For this is he who was foretold,
By the prophet Isaiah of old,
A herald, crying in the desert land,
Make straight the way, obey God’s command.
Verse 3: John wore garments of camel’s hair,
With leather belt, he did declare,
He ate locusts and wild honey’s sweet,
His message strong, souls to entreat.
Verse 4: Jerusalem and Judea’s throng,
To Jordan’s banks they did belong,
Confessing sins, they were baptized,
In waters deep, their guilt revised.
Verse 5: Pharisees and Sadducees drew near,
John’s baptism, they sought to jeer,
He warned them, “Fruit worthy prove,
Repentance true, God’s love to move.”
Verse 6: Then Jesus came, from Galilee,
To Jordan’s river, humbly He,
To be baptized by John, the seer,
A perfect Lamb, without a peer.
Verse 7: John was hesitant, feeling the awe,
“I need your baptism, not this flaw,”
But Jesus said, “It must be so,
Fulfilling righteousness, I’ll go.”
Verse 8: As Jesus rose from water’s flow,
The heavens opened, a voice did show,
“This is My Son, My Beloved dear,
With whom I’m pleased, His path is clear.”
Verse 9: The Spirit, like a dove, did rest,
On Jesus’ shoulders, He was blessed,
Anointed for His mission grand,
To save the lost, throughout the land.
Verse 10: Tempted in the desert’s heat,
By Satan’s wiles, He did defeat,
With Scripture’s truth, He held His ground,
The Word of God, a shield profound.
Verse 11: John baptized with water pure,
But Jesus’ baptism, to endure,
Would be with Spirit’s fiery might,
Baptizing hearts with heaven’s light.
Verse 12: The winnowing fork in hand,
He came, To separate wheat from chaff’s shame,
The righteous gathered in God’s store,
The wicked burned, forevermore.
Verse 13: Then Jesus, to the Jordan, went,
To begin His ministry’s ascent,
A journey full of love and grace,
To seek and save the human race.
Verse 14: But John objected, “It’s not right,
That I should baptize You this night,”
Yet Jesus said, “It must be so,
To fulfill God’s plan, I’ll go.”
Verse 15: So John consented, and there they stood,
In waters deep, for what was good,
Jesus submerged, and as He rose,
God’s Spirit on Him gently flows.
Verse 16: The heavens opened, a voice declared,
“This is My Son, for whom I’ve cared,”
The Holy Trinity’s display,
God’s glory shining on this day.
Verse 17: From that moment on, Jesus began,
His ministry, to heal and mend,
To bring salvation, love untold,
To reconcile us to God’s fold.
There’s a lot to comment on. First, that isn’t common meter. It certainly is poetic, but it doesn’t have a genuinely even meter. The content is something of a muddle in relation to the biblical text, but there are some moments that are genuinely striking. For one thing, I didn’t expect ChatGPT to be Trinitarian and insist on full-immersion baptism! The denigration of John’s baptism as a “flaw” goes beyond what the text says. How much hymn theology has been shaped by what rhymes at the expense of what is felt to be theologically right?
I am interested in your thoughts on this, but even more so on your thoughts on the assignment. I am inclined to offer the same constraints as I impose on written work in traditional humanities classes since this technology appeared. You may use what is available so long as you indicate how you used it. Simply getting it to generate text with an interesting prompt can earn a few points. Evaluating, editing, and otherwise working critically and reflectively with what an AI generates can earn substantial points. What do you think? If you’re an educator, what have you been doing or what are you planning to do in the coming academic year?
Obviously in order to have an image to go with this post, I had to ask Dall-E to create something related. I gave it the prompt “John the Baptist singing as though he is the lead in a musical.” Here are the 4 images that resulted:
I’m interested in your thoughts on the above. I also have heard so much about AI for creating music, including ways of getting a professional-quality AI-generated human-sounding voice singing your own original lyrics. Anyone I know familiar with those and have recommendations? Thanks in advance!