Three weeks in and graduate school is so far going swimmingly. The classes are easier than I thought they would be; my fellow students are a diverse, intelligent, and friendly bunch; and my professors are helpful. Also, after three years of the frantic quarter system, it is so nice to be back on the semester system!
I elected to take a language-heavy term this semester. Thankfully I got much of my biblical languages work done as an undergraduate, but I believe there is always more to learn. So I am taking Dead Sea Scrolls, Muslim-Christian Dialogue, Intro to Rabbinic Literature, and Northwest Semitic Epigraphy. That last class is basically Hebrew inscriptions from the 10th to 6th centuries BCE, which is often harder to make out than it is to actually parse and understand. The Dead Sea Scrolls class also has a Hebrew reading section so I am getting practice on unpointed texts.
After going to an undergrad school where the student body was rather, well, monochromatic, the diversity of the Graduate Theological Union is a breath of fresh air. The GTU is a consortium of seminaries and institutes, both ecumenical and interreligious. Biblical Studies students (that is, me) get to cross-register with UC Berkeley’s Classics and Near Eastern Studies departments, which opens doors into Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian, Aramaic, Ugaritic, and, most important for later, Arabic.
The school I affiliate with, the Jesuit School of Theology, is also a part of Santa Clara University (my undergrad school). This means I get to keep my SCU student job working in Archives and Special Collections. My main task in that department is showing off the Saint John’s Bible, which we have a Heritage Edition (high-quality facsimile) of. Today I gave presentations on Science and Religion in the Saint John’s Bible to two sections of a freshman religious studies class. This was my first time presenting the SJB to a class, and it was a very gratifying experience. My next class visit is Friday, and then I am doing two more in November.
A few other things I have been pondering lately.
First, the other day I was riding BART home and praying/discerning what my next step will be in graduate school. I have the kind of scholarly temperament where I like to make broad connections. I like doing things not many others have looked at. I have the heart that wants to change the world now, and a head that enjoys being an antiquarian and a philologist.
So it hit me, while I was riding the train and listening to Surah ar-Rahman, that I should move into the connections between Qur’an and Bible. A few of my professors assured me that yes, this is a thing, and it seems it is a hot thing in biblical studies these days. Though I have taken classes on the Qur’an and dabbled ever-so-slightly in Qur’anic Arabic, it has never occurred to me that this might be my calling.
Mostly, I want Christians to be aware that we are all part of one spiritual heritage, that Muslims are not some terrifying collective stranger to be feared. Our scriptures have more in common than we think.
And I guess being married (coming up on one month now) has made me more settled in general. I dabbled a lot as an undergraduate, and that dabbling made me a stronger graduate student, but I am at a point now where I must focus my interest in a sustained research direction. And thankfully my languages are strong enough that I don’t need to choose Tanakh or New Testament to focus on, but can maybe work across both.
Major point: marriage has changed the way I think. I like who I am as a married man. And of course, I love the woman I married.
I promised one last point. I really liked Jamie Holmes’ piece in the New York Times, “The Case for Teaching Ignorance.” In it she focuses on teaching ignorance in the science curriculum. But why not the humanities?
When I am in class decoding an ancient inscription, pondering the nature of the sectarian community at Qumran, or theorizing about the beginnings of rabbinic Judaism, it is very obvious that we antiquarians know very little. But for at least a year now I have thought we could convey this better to the public.
So what about this book idea: an anthology on what we don’t know about the ancient world. Each chapter would be written by an esteemed expert in a given field. So a Homer expert could write about what we don’t know about Homer, a Qumran expert on what we don’t know about Qumran, and so forth. And each chapter would have to answer the question of what one find would answer the most questions about that area. From classical antiquity we have many writings we know only by name, since all copies are lost to us. But if we found the epic that narrates the time gap between the Iliad and the Odyssey, what might we answer? If we found the lost parts of Aeschylus’ Prometheus trilogy, what might we discover? So the title of this might be “Missing Manuscripts.” Or something like that.
Just a thought. Signing out for now.