Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Reflections on Biblical Studies Part II: Great Blessings

This is the second post in my series on reflections from my first year of studying theology in graduate school. You can read my first post here.

My first year of graduate school was filled with some great opportunities. As planned, I took two semesters each of Greek and Hebrew. It was intense. I would not recommend starting both languages at the same time if you can avoid it. However, I did learn a lot and am now reasonably competent with both languages. That is, I can read “real” texts with extensive help from dictionaries.

I also had a chance to TA and get a taste of teaching at the college level. Since this is one of my possible career paths, it was helpful to get a taste of what teaching is really like. Chronologically, the class covered everything from the Gospel of Mark (probably the earliest book in the New Testament) to Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI). Obviously we didn’t read everything important that was written during that time, but the class did give me a chance to read some classics that I hadn’t gotten to yet.

During my first semester of graduate school, I took a class on early Christianity with John Cavadini. He’s a very interesting and compelling lecturer, and he really focused on the theological ideas of the thinkers we were dealing with. We covered the first through fourth centuries, which had some really great theologians (and some not-so-great ones, by which I mean heretics).

I also had a wonderful class on Genesis with Gary Anderson. We focused mostly on the story of Joseph, which was different from most Bible studies on Genesis I’ve been in, which focused on the beginning. We read a book that I’d highly recommend, Jon Levenson’s The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. His book deals with a reoccurring pattern of sons being sacrificed and then restored to their parents that appears throughout the book of Genesis. The obvious example of this pattern is Isaac, when Abraham nearly sacrificed him on Mount Moriah. But Levenson also brings in Abel, who dies because God prefers him to Cain; Jacob, who is also prophesied to rule over his brother but has to flee his home because of it (and then returns); and Joseph, the beloved son whom his father believes to be dead, but who actually survives and saves the entire family. Levenson doesn’t go into the fact that Jesus also fits this paradigm (nor would I expect him to, since he’s Jewish), but as Christians, this is exactly what we should expect to see in the Old Testament. Genesis tells the Gospel story again and again, though it does this in a way that is subtle and easily missed.

Thus, I learned some wonderful things during my first year of graduate studies. However, I also struggled with some aspects of the field of Biblical Studies, which I plan to discuss in my next post.

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