My musings on Biblical Studies, Biblical Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Popular Culture, Religion, Software, and pretty much anything else that interests me!

Old Testament on Film

  • Searches

Archive for the 'Teaching & Learning' Category

Banning Laptops in Class?

9th April 2007

Sounds like a good idea to me. While we got rid of our wireless Internet in our classrooms after the Christmas break (by unanimous decision of the faculty council), students still bring laptops to class. Just last week one of my colleagues was complaining how a student was clicking away during a presentation by another student — very annoying. I don’t have strong feelings about banning laptops, though nothing irritates me more when I am lecturing (or a student is asking a question, etc.) and a student is clicking away on their laptop in a way that suggests they are NOT taking notes. Of course, if someone is actually taking notes and is not being disruptive to other students, then I don’t have a problem with it.

If you want to read about someone who banned laptops in the classroom, check out this post over at The Volokh Conspiracy.

What do other professors/students think?

Posted in Teaching & Learning, Technology | 17 Comments »

Learning Ancient Hebrew

1st March 2007

John Hobbins over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has some good tips about learning Classical Hebrew.  John sets the bar high with his introductory paragraph:

If you want to learn ancient Hebrew so as to savor its sounds, understand the nuances of its words and expressions, and recognize the formal structures of its poetry and prose, then you will seek to make the language your own. A standard test of linguistic competence is the ability to engage in simultaneous translation from one language to the other, unaided by a dictionary. When you are able to translate ancient Hebrew into your mother tongue without the aid of a dictionary, you will have moved in the right direction. When you are able to translate from your mother tongue into ancient Hebrew without the help of a dictionary, you will have attained a degree of active competence in the language. Your sense of accomplishment will be great, and rightly so.

Do take a look at his suggestions, especially the resources he mentions that will allow you to make progress on your own.

Posted in Hebrew, Teaching & Learning | Comments Off

Tate on Biblical Interpretation

22nd February 2007

tate_bib_interpretation.jpgIn the past when I taught the introductory hermeneutics course at Taylor, I used W. Randolph Tate‘s Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (Revised Edition; Hendrickson, 1997; Buy from or

I found that its engaging, easy to read style — as well as its review sections and study questions — made it an ideal textbook for undergraduate students. I especially appreciated Tate’s theoretical basis and how he organized the book into three major sections: world behind, within, and in front of the text (although I structure my class a bit differently, starting by getting students to recognize their own presuppositions). I am planning on using Tate again this upcoming fall when I take over teaching the introductory course in hermeneutics and method (unless, of course, someone alerts me to a more suitable textbook).

I was pleased to see that Tate has produced a companion handbook to his text:

tate_handbook.jpgInterpreting the Bible: A Handbook of Terms and Methods
Hendrickson, 2006
Buy from or

One of the constant problems in entering any new academic discipline is learning the jargon and technical language that people within that discipline use — and biblical studies is no different. This work is a guide to the key terms and theories used in biblical interpretation. From a quick flip through I found the Handbook to be quite exhaustive, particularly in regards to the more theoretical side of biblical interpretation. Thus, if you ever wanted to know the difference between Langue and Parole, or what ideological overcoding entails, or transactive criticism is, then this book is for you.

That being said, its focus is more on terms relating to biblical interpretation, not biblical studies in general. Thus, while it covers much the same territory as Soulen‘s Handbook of Biblical Criticism (3rd ed.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2001; Buy from or, it includes far more discussion of more recent interpretive terms and methods. On the other hand, there are some discussions which I would like to see expanded a bit (see “lament”) and others included (e.g., terminus ad quem and terminus a quo, palistrophe, etc.).

All in all, this work appears to be a very useful resource for students and scholars alike. Next time I am trying to figure out what the heck polypoton is, I know where to look!

Posted in Bible, Hermeneutics, Reviews & Notices, Teaching & Learning | 1 Comment »

Religious Studies Review: Religion and the Internet

26th January 2007

I just received the latest edition of the Religious Studies Review (Volume 32, number 4, October 2006), which is a special issue on Religion and the Internet edited by Christopher Helland. The volume highlights and evaluates a number of different religious studies resources online. The reviews are by no means exhaustive, typically only reviewing a handful of sites and totally ignoring the blogging community. Be that as it may, here is a summary of three areas related to my own personal interests.

Biblical Studies on the Internet (Matthew Mitchell)

The review of biblical studies on the web is pretty basic, highlighting only four resources, one relating to NT, one to OT/HB, one to the DSS, and the ancient world.

These are all great resources, though there are so many other excellent resources available on the Internet for biblical studies that I can’t help be a bit disappointed with the brevity of the list. Noteably, the sites of bloggers Mark Goodacre and Chris Heard are both mentioned.

Resources for Christianity on the Web (Heidi Campbell)

The focus of this section is on scholarly websites on the Christian tradition, not confessional sites of a particular brand of Christianity. As such only two sites are reviewed in any depth:

A number of other confessional sites were also mentioned.

Researching Judaism Online (Jay Michaelson)

Three types of sites are highlighted, primary source sites (first five), a couple indexes, and non-academic sites (last five).

Other categories that are also covered in the volume are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, New Religious Movements, and Wicca, Witchcraft and Modern Paganism.

On the whole a number of very good sites are noted. With the Internet the challenge will always be sifting the valuable from the trash, so such reviews, while not exhaustive, at least give people a place to begin in their online research.

Posted in Online Resources, Religious Studies, Teaching & Learning | 2 Comments »

And God said, “Let there be Limericks” (Genesis as a Limerick)

18th January 2007

I’m teaching an undergraduate course on the book of Genesis this semester. One of the first assignments I require students to complete is to read through the book of Genesis (preferably in one sitting) and write one or two brief yet descriptive sentences for each chapter of the book. I have a number of different reasons behind getting students to do this assignment, perhaps my biggest reason is to get students into the biblical text right at the beginning of the semester. This exercise also provides students with an outline of the book which they can use as a study aid throughout the semester.

While I always encourage creativity, most of the assignments are well done, but pretty straightforward. That being said, a number of years ago when I was teaching a course at Wycliffe College in Toronto, one of my students, Joseph Walker, went far beyond any expectations and wrote his chapter summaries as an extended limerick. Joseph is now the rector at St Timothy’s Anglican Church here in Edmonton (he kindly gave me permission to share the limrick with you). Enjoy.

1 The God who created the world,
2 on this planet humanity hurled,
3 with a snake in the grass,
4 to tempt family en masse,
5 Adam’s generations unfurled.

6 They were wicked (no need to convince!),
7 God said “Get in the ark, I’ll evince
8 with a great Holy Wash,
9 my covenant, gosh
10 and three sons will come out in the rinse.

11 They could not reach heaven by skill
12 so God thought “Someday I’ll fulfill
13 a promise of lands
14 where Melchizedek stands
15 if Abe keeps my covenant still.�

16 So Ishmael resulted from quibbling
17 but the promise of “heir� kept on nibbling.
18 After Sodom’s destruction,
19 and old Lot’s instruction,
20 tell us, is she or ain’t she your sibling?

21 Finally Sarah and Abe had a son,
22 (by sacrifice almost undone!)
23 and then Sarah died
24 and young Isaac applied
25 to the birthing of two, not just one!

26 Now Isaac, his father did imitate,
27 and a strange way of blessing initiate,
28 on Jake’s dreamy head,
29 who then thought instead,
30 of marriage (and family) to consummate.

31 At Laban’s striped flock he did point,
32 his new name put him all out of joint,
33 his bro’ burst his bubble,
34 his kids got in trouble,
35 and all their 12 names we have loint.*

36 Esau’s descendants were listed by name,
37 Joe’s brothers did wrong, to their shame,
38 what with Judah’s romances,
39 and Pot’s wife’s advances,
40 some hard luck to Joseph soon came.

41 Yet Joseph was favored with power,
42 and his brothers before him did cower,
43 though he tricked like a thief,
44 to his brothers’ relief,
45 his father with presents he’d shower.

46 So Israel left his vicinity,
47 in Egypt they were blessed by Divinity
48 and the Patriarchs passed
49 on their blessings, at last
50 and the Covenant went on to infinity

*With apologies to the Brooklyn / east side N.Y. accent

If you liked this sample of his writing, you should check out Joseph’s blog, Felix Hominum.

Posted in Bible, Genesis, Humour, Teaching & Learning | 4 Comments »

HBRW WTHT VWLS (Hebrew Without Vowels)

10th January 2007

When I am teaching about the Hebrew Bible, the fact that Hebrew was originally unpointed often comes up. And at that point I will provide some sort of example with English, such as the title to this post: HBRW WTHT VWLS.

Well, Mississippi Fred MacDowell (that’s a great name!) over at English Hebraica has an interesting post entitled, “Ravens and Arabians: Hebrew with and without points in English,” in which he provides an example where the English and Hebrew actually coincide; here’s an excerpt:

This interesting book, The Parchments of the Faith by George Edmands Merrill published in 1894 by the American Baptist Publication Society, does the best job I’ve ever seen of it because it combined words in English as they would be in Hebrew (“and the ravens” are three words in English, but just one, וה×?רבי×?, in Hebrew–”nd th rvns” less accurately shows what Hebrew is like than “ndthrvns”). In addition, the vowel letters are formatted the way nekkudot are, dotting the consonants.

This is a great example; take a gander at it.

Posted in Hebrew, Teaching & Learning | 1 Comment »

Student Evaluation Feedback

21st December 2006

Now that final grades have been submitted, I received a copy of my student evaluations (typed and collated so I don’t know who they are from). The comments were typical (I’m great, they loved the classes, etc. :-) ), though this one comment stood out:

Tyler is a great humorous teddy bear of Biblical knowledge. He is filled with joy, laughter, and Hebrew.

I’ve never had it put quite that way before!

Posted in Personal, Teaching & Learning | 1 Comment »

Marking Done – Grades Submitted – Need Sleep

16th December 2006

Ah, nothing like the end of semester marking push to put someone in the mood for Christmas! Be that as it may, I am now finished (in more ways than one!). Marking is done; grades have been submitted. I am actually ahead of the game this semester since final grades are not due until this upcoming Friday. This is quite the accomplishment for me since I am usually one of the last professors to hand in grades.

Now I must turn my attention to a number of other important tasks before the next semester begins, including a number of blog posts that are needing some attention in my drafts folder.

Posted in Personal, Teaching & Learning | 2 Comments »

‘Tis the Season… for Marking

5th December 2006

Nothing like a big stack of papers to grade to get you in the Christmas spirit! The silence of this blog is due to the heap of marking I have to get done in the next week.

If you are in the same predicament, you may enjoy this cartoon:


Posted in Personal, Teaching & Learning | Comments Off

God in the Academy

19th October 2006

Inside Higher Ed recently reported on the findings of a survey regarding the religiosity of college and university professors in the United States. The study was conducted by by two sociologists, Neil Gross of Harvard University and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, and was for a presentation sponsored by the Social Science Research Council.

Here are some excerpts from the Higher Ed article:

Listen to many critics of higher education, and you would think that faith had been long ago banished from the quad — or at least all those quads not at places like Notre Dame or Liberty or Yeshiva.

It turns out though, that there are plenty of believers on college faculties. Professors may be more skeptical of God and religion than Americans on average, but academic views and practices on religion are diverse, believers outnumber atheists and agnostics, and plenty of professors can be found regularly attending religious services.


On the question of belief in God, the study notes the “common perception� that professors are atheists and suggests that this view is simply not true. The following statistics show how professors aligned themselves:

Professors and Belief in God

Positions of Belief % of Professors
I don’t believe in God. 10.0%
I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out. 13.4%
I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind. 19.6%
I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others. 4.4%
While I have my doubts, I feel that I do believe in God. 16.9%
I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it. 35.7%

While the study found no sector of higher education without believers, there are significant differences by type of institution and discipline. Faculty members at religious colleges made up about 14 percent of the sample in the survey and they were more likely to believe in God. While 52 percent of professors in non-religiously affiliated colleges believe in God either despite doubts or without doubt, 69 percent of those at religious colleges feel that way. Professors are most likely to be atheists or agnostics at elite doctoral institutions (37 percent) and less likely to be non-believers at community colleges (15 percent).In terms of disciplines, professors in psychology and biology are the least likely to believe in God (about 61 percent in each field are atheists or agnostics), with mechanical engineering not far behind at 50 percent. Professors most likely to say that they have no doubt that God exists are in accounting (63 percent), elementary education (57 percent), finance (49 percent), marketing (47 percent) and nursing (44 percent).

The survey found a “surprisingly high� proportion — 19 percent — of the professoriate that identifies as “born-again Christian,� and they are not restricted to religious colleges. While very few professors (about 1 percent) have this identity at elite doctoral institutions, the share at secular institutions over all is 17 percent.

This is quite interesting. I imagine that the results would be a bit different for Canada, with a less belief — especially in the major public universities as compared to private institutions.

(HT Targuman)

Posted in Faith & Scholarship, Popular Culture, Teaching & Learning | 1 Comment »