Reading the Hebrew Bible—Aloud—over Two Years

Posted on by Brooke

As Charles and Daniel had made known, the Miqra Group plans to read the Hebrew Bible over a two-year period. So, you‘ll find me blogging and commenting over there as well as here.

My own “twist” on the reading program is to read the entire[note] Hebrew Bible aloud in two years. Despite years of teaching, and despite my continuing efforts to shape my teaching of biblical languages into an immersive mode, my reading fluency is not yet of a quality to satisfy my harshest critic (me). At some point, maybe I will add the Greek New Testament into the mix.

Anybody want to read the Bible aloud?

BACK TO POST And by “entire,” I mean, “except when grading, administrative emergencies, or urgent opportunities for professional development intervene.” Let she who is not a junior instructor cast the first stone.

[Reading the Hebrew Bible—Aloud—over Two Years was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/01/18. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Open Access Intro to OT

Posted on by Brooke

This post concerns my ideas for a particular kind of open-access Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

I recently floated a Tweet (and Facebook status update) that asked around about any open-access Introduction to the Old Testament. I have an idea for such a project, and wanted to see if anything was already out there (knowing pretty well that there is not).

Akma proved (as I knew he would) to be an eager conversation partner, and his responsive post has generated some discussion. I follow up there with some remarks about what I have in mind.

What I plan to try for is an Introduction to the OT that:

  • is freely available online;

  • is historical- and literary-critical in focus (as is a Coogan or a Collins, say; in other words, not a "theological introduction" narrowly reflecting the concerns of faith communities or other readerly social contexts);

  • is authored by a socially diverse body of contributors.

With the "open source" aspect, I mean to respond to a clear need. I would like my own students to have a freely-available, critical Introduction. (I'd actually like them to have several, as well as several open-access Hebrew and Greek grammars, and so on.)

With the authorship and content that I have in mind, I mean to address a situation in the field. During the time that historical criticism was held to be in decline, traditional historical-literary introductions continued to be ceded to the white male authors, while women and people of color wrote works intended to supplement such introductions. Now, though, the recognition of the biblical authors as among the "Others" to whom we try to listen earnestly has prompted some rehabilitation of the historical-critical approaches. It is well past time to have "traditional" historical-literary-critical Introductions to OT that reflect genuine diversity of authorship. (What holds together such an Intro would be a shared commitment to grounding one's historical-literary claims in publicly-shared evidence and lines of reasoning; what makes it diverse would be the unpredictable range of possible perceptions and assessments regarding that evidence.)

Akma had the excellent idea that such an Intro could be "modular": after the initial publication, if somebody wanted to offer a supplemental chapter, zie could do so as long as the controlling body agreed that the supplemental work fit the scope and formatting of the project.

I will be writing up an outline delimiting the methods, outline, and scope of the project, and will also be having discussions with possible contributors. I am at a very early stage on this, so you will have to stay tuned a while to hear more about what takes shape.

What I'm Reading: Eastern Religions Edition

Posted on by Brooke

I am trying to learn something of the history and development of eastern religions in Korea, and am somewhat hampered by my lack of preparation in the “eastern religions” part. And in the “Korea” part.

Into the fifth of six chapters in Joseph A. Adler’s Chinese Religious Traditions (Prentice Hall: 2002), I can recommend this work to other newcomers to eastern religions. The focus is on:

  • Confucianism

  • Daoism

  • Buddhism

  • “popular religion”

After introducing each of these, the presentation is diachronic, exploring the development of each religious strand in China’s stages of history. The work brings certain running characteristics of each of the “big four” into regular comparison and contrast, creating narrative pathways that help me, anyway, to meaningfully navigate the subject matter’s complexities. This ’graph, concluding a major section on Neo-Confucianism in early modern China, is an example (brackets represent material I add for clarity):
Neo-Confucian self-cultivation bears interesting resemblances to the realization of Buddhahood in Mahayana [Buddhism] and Perfection…in Daoism…. While Confucians objected to the Mahayana [Buddhist] theory of no-self of emptiness, the original Confucian claims that individuals are inherently social beings is logically very similar to the premise of the [Mahayana Buddhist] theory of no-self, namely the radical interdependence of all things. And like the aspiring Daoist zhenren (perfected person), Neo-Confucians understood self-cultivation to involve the transformation of the whole person, including the psycho-physical nature.

This sort of synthesis is typical, and I find it a great help as a novice to the material.

Personally fascinating to me is the inclusion of “popular religion,” which is essentially a synchretic set of practices whose origins precede even Confucius and whose development continues today.

Also in my hands are Daniel L. Overmyer, Religions of China (Harper and Row, 1986), and James Huntley Grayson, Korea: A Religious History (rev. ed.; RoutledgeCurzon, 2002).

I know that this subject matter is not “up the alley” of my usual readers, but if you can recommend further reading, especially on the development of eastern religions in Korea, I would be grateful.

[What I'm Reading: Eastern Religions Edition was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/05/24. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

A Little Help? History of Eastern Religions in Korea

Posted on by Brooke

I would like to find some reading on the history of eastern religious traditions in Korea, especially Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. If possible, these resources should:

  • be balanced chronologically: they may include modern times, but the ancient stuff should not be rushed to get to the present;

  • be at a near-introductory level; we can presume some knowledge of the origins of these traditions outside Korea, but I’m looking for textbook-type materials, not cutting-edge scholarship;

  • distinguish between myth and history, acknowledging the scarcity of early data and also the historical value of myth, while not uncritically embracing myth as history;

  • focus on the introduction and development of these religious traditions in Korea.

Anyone? Anyone? Thanks.

[Addendum: I should clarify that the intended reader is me, not my seminary students. So, it's okay if the readings are academically rigorous and not specifically geared toward Christian learners.]

[A Little Help? History of Eastern Religions on Korea was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/05/21. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Reading-from-the-Page in Presentation: Crazy's Defense

Posted on by Brooke

Opinions about how to present effectively (or at least, not crashingly boringly) at the professional conferences come up perennially on the blogs, usually (for us Bible types) around the time of our November professional conference, but at other times as well. Other fields also make their own observations (h/t to Bitternsweet Girl).

Now, Dr. Crazy makes a thorough argument for the “reading from a piece of paper” model of presentation. Crazy is in literary studies, and most of her argument is directly relevant to what we usually do in biblical studies: present novel interpretations of literary source material that is already well known to our hearers.

As usual, Crazy’s post draws thoughtful comments, some of which challenge the distinction she makes between presentations of experiments (as in the sciences) and presentations as described above (as in literary and biblical studies, though I know our epigraphy and archaeology sections might fall more into the description-of-research mode).

Take a look. It’s never too soon to be thinking about the next conference. Does Crazy make you re-think the “reading a paper” mode of presentation favorably, even though that’s almost certainly not how you teach?

[Reading-from-the-Page in Presentation: Crazy's Defense was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/04/30. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Who's Reading Context of Scripture?

Posted on by Brooke

If you visited the last Biblical Studies Carnival, then you’ll know that Joseph is reading Hallo and Younger’s The Context of Scripture (3 vols; Brill, 1997) in a year, and so am I. Charles Halton had come up with the reading schedule at New Year’s, but one could join in any time.

Is anyone else reading CoS in a year, and posting about it occasionally? If so, please let me know. I don’t want to miss out on any posts.

[Who's Reading Context of Scripture? was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/04. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Dressing Like A Professor

Posted on by Brooke

A good friend of mine tells me about a seminar in which an uncomfortable, even heated, exchange arose over “dressing like a professor.”

For my part, I used to dress informally when teaching. In short order, I realized that:

  • I look younger than many of my students;

  • I am younger than many of my students;

  • Many of my students don’t respect the au-tho-ri-tah of some kid in jeans. Even in jeans and a sweater. Even in sunglasses.

So, pretty early on, I learned that I have to “suit up.”

Except for my tennies. And except for examination days, when according to custom so long-standing as to amount to superstition on my part, I make a point of dressing down.

Besides, in the immortal words of Joey “the lips” Fagan, “All the Motown brothers wore suits. You play better in your suit.”

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Of course—the devil is always in the details—there are still the finer points, especially for women (after all, why should this be an area where professional women don’t live in a perpetual double-bind)? Must a prof be dowdy? Is it possible to be too hip? Or even too (gasp) “feminine” (that is, shaped vaguely like a human female)?

So, for your part: what does it mean for you to “dress like a professor”? To what extent may a professor “embrace her/his inner fashionista (or fashionisto)”?

[Dressing Like A Professor was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/03. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

COS in a Year: Anyone Else In?

Posted on by Brooke

I don’t normally make resolutions for the New Year, but Charles’ suggestion to read Context of Scripture (Brill link) in a year…well, that’s like making a resolution to, um, read really fun stuff every day.

Charles’ reading schedule (see PDF link in his post) offers enough variety to keep any one section from becoming deadening, while also providing enough continuity to keep the “C” in COS. Most of the daily readings are short enough that I’ll have time to make the most of the footnotes and, where appropriate, lexical helps.

I am caught up so far. Is anybody else giving it a shot?

Alone or Collaborating: How Do You Like to Work?

Posted on by Brooke

A day or two back, New Kid was writing about working with others and working alone. (This is only a partial quote: I recommend you read her whole post if you’re interested.)

Something valuable I realized, I think, was that I do like working with people, more than I realized. I think I used to underestimate how social teaching really is; academia values research more highly, and research (in the humanities) is a relatively isolated endeavor, and so I always thought of academics (and myself) preferring to work independently.…[B]ut [my history internship] became much MORE interesting when there were other interns around and I started to be able to discuss it with them.

Finishing my masters work (Master of Theological Studies), I was one of only two MTS students in a school full of M.Divs, and I was the only student working in Bible. I cross-registered at three other schools in order to meet my requirements and get with other Bible people, but around my own campus, I was alone in my endeavors.

So when I began looking over Ph.D. programs, having classmates was high on my list of priorities. Visiting one prestigious campus, I met a young man who was the only biblical-studies Ph.D. student in residence. For his part, he was as happy as could be: he had the profs to himself, and they had quickly begun to act toward him as toward a junior colleague. But for my part, I had been lone-wolfing it for a couple of years already. When I began at Princeton Theological Seminary, I entered with a class of eight (four each in OT and NT), and was happy almost to hysterical giggling to have colleagues in my field.

PTS had an exceedingly collegial student culture during my years, and I enjoyed a level of collegiality in my coursework that I think I pretty rare. This meant, too, that the shift to dissertation work, while not unanticipated, was fairly stark. My diss years were entirely post-student-housing, and (for me) pre-Facebook. So I finished my graduate work in Bible as I had begun, a lone combatant.

In all this back-and-forth, I’ve learned that my default preference is not to work alone, but rather with friends and peers. “Collegiality” is that space into which I can drop a half-baked idea to be hammered and exercised until it swims on its own or get sent back to the drawing board. If my colleagues are my PTS classmates, it’s great because we all share the same “shorthand” and can get down to business quickly. If my colleagues are not my PTS classmates, it’s great because we don’t share the same shorthand and I have to re-examine all my usual ways of talking about things.

Occasionally my work is briefly interrupted by an email from a colleague, saying, “I have to learn about X right away. Can you explain X, or tell me where I can find out about X quickly?” This is, hands down, one of my favorite experiences. I get briefly distracted from whatever is vexing me at the moment; I get a short, manageable research project to feel good about; and I get to do something for a friend. Seriously, it’s like a two-hour Christmas.

Sure, we have all had some ugly experiences with “group projects”: I myself have often muttered that a group moves at a rate inversely proportional to its size (Brooke’s Law of Movement). But, among graduate students and professionals you don’t have many slackers, just occasionally folks who are regrettably over-committed, and anyway the rest of the group have acquired the skills to work around such blockage.

What are your experiences with working alone or working with others? Do you prefer the long, solitary stretches of single-handed mental combat with your projects in research, writing, or teaching? How early or how late do you seek the input of your colleagues?

Help Me Write a Metaphor

Posted on by Brooke

I am writing an introductory paragraph to an essay about poetics. I am trying to craft a catchy metaphor to kick things off. Need help. Here’s the idea behind the content of the essay, then I will show you the current state of my metaphor.

Overall, the quick-and-dirty that I am trying to get across is that poetic speech calls attention to itself, and yet, at the same time, tries to work with enough subtlety that its use doesn’t completely stop dead the basic task of communication.

The content: In normal communication, the language we use is trying to be a clear window: we do not want the hearer to pay attention to the language we use, but rather to the meaning alone. Just as she would look through a clear window to see what is behind it, we want her “listen through” the language to hear the meaning, the message.

In poetic speech, however, we deliberately “fog” or “tint” the window.* Our language is crafted such that it calls attention to itself. Take this sentence from Chapter 17 of the Hobbit:

Winter thunder on a wild wind rolled roaring up and rumbled in the Mountain, and lightning lit its peak.

This is not a selection from a poem, but is rather just one sentence in a narrative paragraph. The wind is the first warning the protagonists receive that the Goblins and Wargs have arrived unexpectedly to join the battle in progress. Still, the sentence is strongly poetic, mainly in its use of alliteration (winter, wild, wind; rolled, roaring, rumbled; lightning, lit). The sonorant, liquid consonants beat forward, reaching a sharp but delicate crescendo in the unvoiced stops of the t’s in “lightning lit.” (In a comment I may say more about the poetics of this snippet.)

My point is that the alliteration slows the reader down slightly, calling her attention to the poetic device (the fog on the window, as it were). At the same time, the window cannot become so opaque that the poetic language stops the reader dead by distracting her completely from the meanings unfolding between her and the text: she either cannot or will not continue following the story. If the poetic language goes too far in calling attention to itself, communication stops. If the goal of everyday language is clarity, then the goal of poetic language is translucence, but not outright opacity.

The metaphor: At the start of the essay, I wish to compare the poet to a certain kind of criminal, the reader to a member of the public who hears of the crime, and the critic to a detective. I am thinking of cat burglars, or graffiti artists, or anyone else who commits an act that calls attention to itself, that seeks to send a message. On the one hand, this brand of criminal wants to accomplish a mundane task: she wants to steal something of value, or vandalize a public space. This mundane act corresponds in my metaphor to the simple act of communication. The criminal, like the poet, wants to get away clean with the task at hand (for the poet, the task is communication). On the other hand, the criminal wants the public not only to know that a crime has been committed, but to pay attention to the details of the crime: its difficulty, its elegance, its mystery, perhaps how it bears certain signature elements characteristic of the criminal. These elements call attention to themselves for the hearer the way that poetic language calls attention to itself.

Sometimes some of the witnesses will be aware that a crime has happened (something’s missing, a wall is tagged), but lack comptetence to see the artistry (no sign of forced entry; there’s no apparent way to get to that wall). The detective, though (our literary critic), has enough experience to help other witnesses see the elements that they might otherwise miss.

This is the background thinking going on behind my paragraph. All I want to do is to pique their interest in poetic language by capturing some of the romance and grandeur of the master criminal. At the same time, I do not want to bring in the grisly, darker side of the metaphor (serial killers harvesting trophies, and such). Also, it has to be quick and short. Here is my first draft:
The writer who employs a poetic device—say a metaphor, or a bit of satire—is like the criminal who commits a sensational crime. On the one hand, the act must be done covertly enough to accomplish its work. The criminal wants to put over her crime and steal on. On the other hand, the act must be overt enough to be recognized for what it is. Those who discover the crime—say a cat burglary, or a bit of signature vandalism—must “get it,” must have a moment of “a-ha.” The artist walks a tightrope: how shall she weave language that calls attention to itself as language, and yet do so in a way that operates on the reader before he becomes cognizant of the device? The reader, then, like the witness, is confronted with an act that is both showing and hiding itself. The critic, like a seasoned detective, has the task of determining whether the apparent elements of the poetry of the crime are intended by the criminal artist at all, and if so, to demonstrate them to the rest of the public.

It still feels clunky and a bit forced in some ways. In your view, is the metaphor working at all? Is the idea sound but my implementation flawed? In what ways is it not working? Are there elements of the metaphor that raise tactical problems that I’ve missed? What suggestions do you have for improvement?

*(The concept of poetic language as opacity I first found in Gian Biagio Conte and Charles Segal, The Rhetoric of Imitation: Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and Other Latin Poets, Cornell Studies in Classical Philology vol. 44. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986.)

Being a Student: Letters

Posted on by Brooke

Bryan Bibb’s recent post on “How to Argue with Your Biblical Studies Teacher” has me reflecting on that hatful of things I’d like my students to know about being a student. Expect occasional posts on the subject, beginning today with “letters of reference.”

Imagine it’s the first day of the first year of your course of study. Besides everything else on your plate, take a moment to focus your gaze on that figure at the front of the room. Think: “I will be asking this person for a letter of reference.” It may be for admission to a degree program, or for a scholarship or fellowship, or it may be for the thing you don’t know yet you’ll need. That is, it will involve money and opportunities: can you hear me now?

Advance preparation:

  • Don’t be a wallflower, even a high-performing wallflower. Come to class with genuine questions that engage the subject matter. Check in with the prof before or after class occasionally. Sign up for office hours. If you are self-conscious, do this enough that you can relax and be yourself: after all, you are the self that she will be supposed to be writing about.

  • Do what you can to perform well. Do you devote two hours outside of classroom on the course for every hour inside the classroom? More on “performing highly” in a later post, but for now: if you follow that 2:1 formula and do not get the results you want, check in with the prof about tips on how to spend that time.

  • Get advance permission: “Would it be possible for me to ask you for a letter of reference in the future?” This translates to, “Don’t forget about me while two or three more waves of incoming students crash over your bow in the next year or two.”

  • Cultivate more than one professor. When you need a letter, any one prof might be out of commission: What if she has been denied tenure and left; or had a family emergency; or been carried off by a twister?

Getting the letter:

  • Give your prof a month’s notice if at all possible. For one thing, she’s probably over-booked already with responsibilities that are out of her control. For another, her writing practices may include multiple sittings with periods of “percolation” in between.

  • Be ready to offer a portfolio. Besides any official instructions for the letter, I like this to include 1) the graded copies of everything you have written for her; 2) copies of any personal statement and cover letter that you are sending to the approving institution; 3) a URL for the approving institution. The point of this is to help the prof write a personal and on-target letter rapidly. You win because it’s the best letter it can be; she wins because it takes as little of her time as possible.

Think on the difference. In one scenario, the prof is unhappy to find herself rushed, to fill a page about a student she doesn’t remember well, and whose records show sub-optimal performance. In another scenario, the prof is grateful to have time to woolgather, concerning a student with whom she has a relationship, producing a letter that recalls detailed and individual accomplishments.

All of these steps are simple to do (even the one on “2:1” homework: in the long haul, “short cuts make long delays”).* However, none of them can be made up later if missed.

Remember that profs want to write good letters: we need students in the chairs, and when the “housekeeping” aspects of your life are going well, you hypothetically are better positioned to focus on our coursework and do well. Take care of your end, and we’ll do our part to help you reap some benefit.

* Peregrin Took to Frodo Baggins, Chapter Four of Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkein).