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Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: My PhD Exams

I CONTINUE MY RECOLLECTIONS OF MY EXPERIENCES WITH MY MENTOR, BRUCE METZGER: Metzger directed my PhD exams, and was responsible for writing the questions for one of them. To explain that situation requires a good bit of background. In a typical PhD program, at the end of two years of taking seminars (usually three a semester, for four semesters), a student takes the PhD exams. These go by different names: “Comprehensive exams” (that’s what we called them at Princeton Seminary); “Preliminary Exams” (i.e. preliminary to writing a dissertation); “Qualifying exams” (i.e. that qualify you to move on to the dissertation stage) – all of these refer to the same battery of exams. In most respects the way it was set up at Princeton was fairly typical – it is the way we also have it set up in the PhD program that I teach in at UNC. Here at UNC, students take five examinations, each of them four hours in length, followed by a two-hour oral examination before the examining committee. At Princeton we took [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: Serving as his Teaching Assistant

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY RECOLLECTIONS OF MY TIME WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR AT PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY FOR SEVEN YEARS (BOTH MY MASTERS AND PH.D. DEGREES) In addition to studying with Bruce Metzger for seven years, four of them as his PhD student, I also served as his teaching assistant on a number of occasions. Teaching assistants normally help with the teaching of a large lecture course. Sometimes that means meeting with groups of students regularly – once a week – for a discussions section dealing with aspects of the course. And always it means helping with the grading, or – even more commonly – doing all the grading! The professor then lectures, gives assignments, directs the course – and the T.A. (= teaching assistant) does all the grunt work. It’s part of the training. Metzger tended to have large courses for the MDiv students (Masters of Divinity is the basic degree for training to become a minister; MDiv students already have a college degree) – because so many of the students revered [...]

Introduction to the Bible: Part 1

Here is part of the opening statement in the first chapter of my Introduction to the Bible.  (It is only in rough draft -- but it gives you an idea of what I have in mind at the outset, trying to convince readers that it is indeed worthwhile to study the Bible, whether one believes it or not.  Some of you may find these statistics a bit, well, unsettling.  :-) ) ************************************************************************************************************************ Arguably the most important reason for studying the Bible – especially from a historical point of view --  is because of its importance for the history of Western Civilization.   The dominant religion of Europe and the New World for the past 2000 years has been Christianity; and Christianity, as we will see, grew out of, and alongside of, Judaism.  Both religions continue to assert an enormous influence on our form of culture.  This is true not only on the individual level, as people are guided in their thoughts, beliefs, and actions by what they learn in these religions.  It is true on [...]

2020-04-03T19:35:09-04:00July 6th, 2012|Book Discussions, Teaching Christianity|

Some Reading Suggestions on the New Testament

QUESTION: I've enjoyed reading "Jesus Interrupted" and "Misquoting Jesus". I am also listening to two of The Teaching Company courses you recorded - "The New Testament" and "Lost Christianities". Here is my question: Can you suggest additional books by other authors that provide balanced information on the New Testament? Such a bibliography would be a nice addition to your web site.   RESPONSE: Ah yes!  It’s important to hear various (balanced) views.  I tell my students this and they sometimes are surprised, since they think that I imagine that my view is the only one worth hearing!  But in my textbook on the New Testament (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings) I provide suggestions for further reading at the end of each of the thirty chapters, for each relevant topic.  I include, in virtually every chapter, an important book that I completely disagree with.  Students, of every age, should get a range of perspective, weigh evidence, and make a decision for themselves. FOR THE REST of this Response, go to [...]

My Apocrypha Seminar at the National Humanities Center: Part 2

In my earlier post I talked about the seminar I am now leading at the National Humanities Center, and mentioned the various primary (i.e., ancient) texts we’re discussing over the course of our three weeks together.  These cover a range of books that did not “make it in” to the New Testament: non-canonical Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses.   Terrific and terrifically interesting books, even if they never did become Scripture in the long run (many of them were in fact considered to be Scripture by one group or another during the early years of the church; that is one of the issues we are discussing in the seminar.) For part of each seminar we are talking about the meaning and interpretation of these texts:  how does one understand the giant Jesus in the Gospel of Peter?  The three – or is it four – Christs in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter?  The nature of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas (are they best seen as Gnostic?).  The view of Jesus in the [...]

2020-04-03T19:38:43-04:00June 14th, 2012|Christian Apocrypha, Teaching Christianity|

Personal Reflections: My Apocrypha Seminar at the National Humanities Center

If I had a fiver for every time someone who knows I’m a university professor says to me, “So, now you have the summer off!” – I’d buy an apartment on the upper West side. But it’s understandable, I know. The professorial life looks awful darn cushy: teach a couple a classes per semester, for fifteen weeks at a shot, and that’s *it*! 30 weeks of the year on, 22 weeks of the year off. Right? Yeah, well, kinda. To be fair, I should stress that it is indeed an amazing job and an unbelievable privilege to teach at the university level. I have colleagues who take it for granted, but after 27 years at it, I don’t at all. I know very deeply just how lucky I am. But it really is not (at least for anyone I know very well) a year-long boondoggle. Quite the contrary. In one of my “series” of posts I’ve been trying to describe what it is professional scholars do, for those out there who wonder. So far I [...]

2020-04-03T19:39:02-04:00June 12th, 2012|Christian Apocrypha, Teaching Christianity|

Undergraduate Courses (2): Introduction to the New Testament (Part 2)

Once students have come to see what the contents, characteristics, and emphases of each of the Gospels are, and have recognized that the Gospels cannot be taken as historically reliable accounts of what “really” happened in the life of Jesus, both because of their many discrepancies and because of historical implausibilities (as just two examples: Luke’s “census” that gets Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem; or the Triumphal Entry, where Jesus is publicly acclaimed messiah by the massive crowds and the authorities do nothing about it) – once students have recognized this, they are in a position to consider the criteria that scholars use to ferret out from sources such as these bona fide historical information. I stress with my students that the literary questions one brings to the Gospels are different from historical questions.  The literary questions are the ones we ask about the Gospels as works of literature: what they want to teach and what message they want to convey.  The historical questions are ones we ask about the Gospels as sources: what they [...]

2017-12-25T12:23:10-05:00May 22nd, 2012|Historical Jesus, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

Undergraduate Courses (1): Introduction to the New Testament (Part 1)

In my post on The Work of a Professional Scholar I gave a brief overview of the sorts of courses that I teach at UNC.  There is nothing particularly unusual about the courses I teach.  I have hundreds of friends and colleagues who teach classes on the New Testament and on Early Christianity around the country, and most of them have courses very similar to the ones I teach – so long as they are not teaching in a fundamentalist or conservative evangelical environment.  One difference among my friends and colleagues has to do with the teaching load.  At major research institutions such as UNC, the normal teaching load is relatively light – two courses a semester (for me that translates into one undergraduate lecture course and one PhD seminar each term; the seminars are much smaller, but they are also way, way more work!).   At smaller colleges the load may be as many as four or five courses each term.   Obviously the research expectations in that setting are much lower, just as the expectations [...]

2017-12-25T12:25:18-05:00May 20th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 5: Graduate Seminars

              In addition to my undergraduate classes, I teach one PhD seminar each semester.   We have a small but terrific graduate program in the Department of Religious Studies.   Students admitted each year are the cream of the crop.  Most of them come to us already with both an undergraduate and master’s degree, and we admit students (maybe 7-10 a year) in a range of fields: Islamic studies, Religion in the Americas, Asian Religions, Religion and Culture, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Ancient Mediterranean Religions. My area is Ancient Mediterranean Religions, which comprises religions of the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Graeco-Roman Religions (i.e., “pagan” religions), ancient Judaism, and early Christianity (which includes the New Testament).    We have probably 35 or so applicants a year who want to study early Christianity with me and my brilliant colleague Zlatko Plese (who specializes in Hellenistic and Roman philosophy, Gnosticism, Coptic, and lots of other things).  Normally we can admit one or maybe two of these students.   So, as with all good graduate programs, competition to get [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:40-04:00May 9th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 4: Undergraduate Courses

The principal work of a professor, of course, is to teach! Different colleges and universities have different requirements and expectations for their faculty. At many small colleges, professors teach four or even five courses a semester. Rarely can a person teach that much and still produce substantial (or much of any!) research, so that professors in those contexts are usually handicapped when it comes to publishing scholarship in the form of books and articles. Research universities, on the other hand, expect their professors to be at the cutting edge of scholarship, and so the teaching requirements are lighter (since the research demands are so much heavier). Faculty in research schools can never get tenure or promotion (or raises!) if they do not regularly and extensively publish in their fields of expertise. (That is becoming increasingly true in all colleges and universities, even ones with heavier teaching requirements, which scarcely seems fair, and is probably not good for scholarship or teaching). The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a “Research 1” university, which [...]

2020-04-03T19:44:05-04:00May 5th, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 3: Undergraduate Theses

In addition to my regular teaching, I often get asked to direct Independent studies – where an undergraduate student will pursue a research project of his or her own choosing, something that normally is not taught in a regular class that we offer – and senior honors theses. I rarely am able to do an Independent Study, I’m sorry to say, as I have so many other demands on my time. But some of my colleagues are able to do several a year. I do occasionally direct honors theses, though, especially when a student looks especially promising as someone who may be able to go on and do graduate work in the field. The honors thesis is done by a graduating senior who has a certain (rather high) GPA who wants to have some experience doing original research on any topic of his or her choosing. I direct ones, of course, that have to do with the New Testament or the history of Christianity during the first three centuries. The thesis takes two semesters to [...]

2020-04-03T19:45:00-04:00May 3rd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|

The Work of a Professional Scholar 2: Supervising PhD Dissertations

In describing what professional scholars in the academy do – at least those who teach in the Humanities, the one area I know something about – the first thing that comes to my mind is probably not what would come to yours.  It comes to mind because I have just now been traveling across country (I’m now in an airline lounge in Chicago) and in the plane I have been reading a (very fine) doctoral dissertation, whose author will be “defending” (that is, being subject to interrogation by the five faculty members on her committee) tomorrow. It’s a very good dissertation, I think.  Like all dissertations it is book-length (will be turned into a published monograph, I should think), highly technical in places, very learned, the result of something like three years of full time labor.   This particular student is not one that I am directing (each student has one faculty member directly responsible for supervision of the dissertation); I am just one of the other committee members. One of the things I like best [...]

2020-04-03T19:45:08-04:00May 3rd, 2012|Bart's Critics, Teaching Christianity|
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