The recent article on the SBL forum by Michael Bird and Craig Keener, “Jack of All Trades and Master of None: The Case for “Generalist” Scholars in Biblical Scholarship,” brings up an important point that graduate student really need to contemplate. Many PhD programs seem to encourage students toward sharply focused specialization. Students then try to pick a niche and often it is perceived that the more obscure the area the better. This is certainly not a bad thing. However, we also need generalists who are able to assimilate data and perspectives into a coherent and accurate big picture.
Not only does the field and the general public need good quality big picture presentations, but having the capability to teach a wide variety of courses is very beneficial for employment purposes. Only the very big research institutions are going to want to hire someone with an incredibly focused niche who is not able to also provide general presentations of the wider field(s). For example, my specialty is clearly Old Testament and Mesopotamia (this already is pretty general since one can specialize just in one biblical book or one genre of literature within Cuneiform studies) but I talked with a school about a position that they were looking to fill and they wanted someone who could teach not only Old Testament but New Testament and even Eastern religions. This was way too far outside of my abilities and interests (I am interested in the Jesus Festschrift as Jim Getz calls it but I wouldn’t be able to teach a class on Eastern religions without a lot of prep work and it wouldn’t be very exciting for me) but it showed me that all but about 5 schools in the country really care about Neo-Sumerian (this same school told me, “So what? You know Ugaritic, Akkadian, and Sumerian–we only teach biblical Hebrew one semester every other year IF there is student demand for it. Have you ever taught an Old Testament survey course; now that’s what we’re looking for.”).
So, I’m in praise of the Generalist since I consider myself to be one (with one or two little specialties). What are your thoughts?
The problem is not praising the Bible, it’s giving official recognition to it and not other sacred texts. Ironically, by pushing this notion, its advocates run the risk of diminishing the stature of the Bible.
Why? Because when it comes to religion in the public sphere, you usually have two choices. You can have religion completely stripped from the public sphere. Or, you can have religion in the public sphere — and also pluralism. You want a creche on the city hall lawn? You’ll have to accept a Menorah, too. Congress allows Christian ministers to give benedictions in the name of Christ — but it also invites Muslims, Jews and Hindus to open legislative sessions.
If you as a private individual say, “The Bible is the most important religious book in American history,” you’re not likely to get a whole lot of argument. But if we make that an official governmental pronouncement, then we really must look at doing Year of the Quran and the Year of the Sutras.
Personally, I don’t necessarily oppose a multi-faith, pluralistic approach. If Congress wants to pass a resolution praising a wide variety of sacred texts and their importance in American history, I could live with that.
a) we’re better off having government just stay out of the business of passing judgment on religious texts and
b) Christians should know that they’re taking us down a path that will not lead where they want to go.
One of the hottest topics within higher education these days is virtual learning. Almost every institution is exploring how to integrate electronic learning into their programs. There are many reasons for this not the least of which is financial. However, does physicality matter for the various aspects of education?
For instance, should students be forced to physically move for a number of years to a campus in order to study? Should conferences be held via the web instead of renting out convention centers and vast numbers of hotel rooms?
Personally, I think physicality is vitally important to almost every aspect of education and research. I think there are certain courses that can migrate online but personal, physical interaction is a huge catalyst for creativity. Students having the ability of interacting with professors in person during a class session–but more importantly, chatting over coffee or something outside of class hours–is a tremendously productive thing. Meeting together for the various conferences is incredibly beneficial not necessarily because of the presentations, although there are a handful of presentations that I find valuable every year, but the conferences are the best way to make personal relationships and explore tentative ideas with other experts over lunch or dinner.
As much as telecommunications and IT technology have helped and will help education, the most effective learning environments are physical learning communities.
A blog on The Atlantic has a very fascinating post about creative clusters in the music industry. Even though it would seem that the technology exists to create music from any location with a high-speed connection, LA, NY, and Nashville are still the places to be if you want to be in the music business because they posses the infrastructure and the community that facilitates creative expression. Similarly, this is why physical campus education remains so important.
Another CDLJ article is available for free download. This article publishes the cuneiform collection of Florida State University. It mostly consists of Ur III tablets from Umma. Everything is pretty standard.
It seems that every translator of Neo-Sumerian has a somewhat different view of how to translate various terms. I found it interesting that the authors of this article translated giri3 PN as “under the authority of PN.” While there is an aspect of this involved, it seems that the recent consensus is to see the giri3 official as a “conveyer” or someone who oversees the physical transport of an item(s). This view coheres with the meaning of giri3 as “foot.”
Also they include a personal name that I was not previously aware of: Giri3-d-Shara-i3-dab5. However, this name is listed in the onomastics section of the BDTNS as Gir3-d-Shara which I think makes more sense. The former reading would mean something like: “He received the foot of Shara” while the latter makes more sense: “He received the might of Shara.” Furthermore, it might be that the i3-dab5 is not part of the name but the verb, “he received.”
When one thinks of the Bush (43) administration, the word “liberal” rarely comes to mind. However, an examination of the use of Bible verses on intelligence briefing cover pages reveals that the people who produced these reports were thorough-going adherents to reader-response criticism (and apparently the “seniors” who read the reports liked the practice). GQ broke the story and you can see photos of the memos here on their site, but I first read of this in a WSJ piece. Here are some of the verses that the compilers lifted out of context and used for their own purposes (via WSJ):
Next to a picture of an American tank is the quote: “Open the gates that the righteous nations may enter, The nation that keeps faith. Isaiah 26.2″
A photo of two soldiers in prayer is accompanied by the quote, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us. Here I am Lord, send me! Isaiah 6:8″
A photo of an American tank at sunset has superimposed on it, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13″
If there weren’t impractical classes computers would be ugly and Apple might not even be in business. My advice–take some impractical classes; there’s more to life than accounting and chemistry. But, don’t take it from me, take it from Steve Jobs (Stanford commencement address 2005):
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
§1.1. The aim of this paper is two-fold: first, to analyze some normative aspects of metrological and numerical notations in mathematical cuneiform texts; second, to examine issues raised by modern conventions of transliterations.
§1.2. The argument presented in this paper relies mainly on Old Babylonian school tablets because these sources bear deep traces of normalization processes, and they serve as examples that elucidate the principles of notations used in mathematical texts. In the Old Babylonian period, metrology and place value notation were taught in scribal schools in which this knowledge made up the first level of the mathematical curriculum. School tablets provide us with valuable evidence of the elements that the teachers considered essential. Thus, they constitute a good source for understanding the new concepts involved in numeration and metrology that emerged at the end of the 3rd millennium BC.
§1.3. From a methodological point of view, the paper will for the most part depend on the visual properties of the tablets, and will examine closely the way in which the texts are displayed. This kind of analysis potentially yields a classification of graphemes most similar to that of ancient scribes. In another respect, this paper is based on the general principles and functional classification of graphemes developed by CDLI collaborators. It contains, moreover, an attempt to import the descriptive system of graphemes used in the field of Mycenaean epigraphy.
§1.4. This paper will first present a detailed analysis of texts used in scribal schools to teach metrological notations (§§2-3) and place value notation (§4). Problems raised by the distinction between positional and non-positional numbers will then be examined (§5). The last section (§6) advances some practical suggestions for a greater standardization of the transliteration of mathematical texts.
Last week I sent in the proofs for my article, “Allusions to the Stream of Tradition in Neo-Assyrian Oracles” in ANES 46 (2009): 50-61. It should hit the bookshelves in bit and at that time I’ll try to make an electronic offprint available but until then here is the abstract and a teaser trailer. The trailer is only around 30 seconds and it is formatted for play on iPhones.
The purpose of this article is to begin the evaluation of the rhetorical aims and
strategies of the use of allusions within Neo-Assyrian oracles. These allusions are
to some of the most prominent texts within the Mesopotamian literary stream of
tradition: Adapa and the South Wind, Atra-hasis, and the Gilgamesh Epic.
The authors borrowed imagery from these works and fused it with their own
rhetorical purposes. Prophets even used allusions that contained a complex set of
apparently conflicting associations. The use of subtle allusions that often contain
complex associations should cause modern readers to more greatly appreciate the
rhetorical abilities of the Neo-Assyrian prophets.
The Chronicle of Higher Education site has an interesting article entitled, “Choosing and Using Textbooks.” This article describes some studies that examined how students interacted with “pedagogical features” within textbooks (such as bold face terms, glossaries, outlines, discussion questions, and self-tests). Sadly, a study of psychology students (presumably undergrads) found that only 27% of the students read the assigned readings before the class period while 70% of them read the readings before the test–which I assume means that 30% didn’t read it at all.
I’d love to do a study like this with my students. I have a feeling that while not everyone reads my assignments, many of the students do because I structure at least part of many of my sessions along the lines of a seminar instead of a straight lecture–I get the discussion going and then expect the class to join in with their reflections from the readings. Also, about a quarter of the students’ final grade is participation which specifically includes their activity within the discussions.
Another aspect of the study that I found interesting was that the students read and valued supplemental materials if the professor emphasized them. At the end of the day if you want the students to read the course materials and truly engage with them I think the instructor has to instill an internal motivation in the student–a passion for the subject–not merely an external motivator of the fear of failing the class. A couple years ago I wrote a little electronic document for ChangeThis in which I talk about some tips on how to accomplish this and as we go into the summer break and start thinking of our classes next semester (in the spare bits of time in between our feverish efforts to churn out publications) it might be a good thing to think about how we can be even better teachers for the next year. Any suggestions?
I would love to add two books recently out by Brill to my library, however, as is often the case will Brill books the price is prohibitive. I really love physical books, but when the price point gets into the hundreds of dollars I think that the books should be released electronically. It’s doubtful that many libraries will even acquire a $400 book that isn’t vital to it’s collection–especially after endowments have been decimated. Furthermore, the Hallo book is a compilation of essays which would be handy to have but I already have copies of many of his articles and for $270 I’ll gladly round up the rest through JSTOR or inter-library loan and send off the packet to a bindery if I care about having them in one cover. I know that the weak dollar is part of the problem with Brill, but seriously, these prices are ridiculous. In any case, here are the books that I’ll longingly look at through the window…
The World’s Oldest Literature Studies in Sumerian Belles-Lettres Culture and History of the Ancient Near East – CHANE 35 by William W. Hallo Brill Academic Publishers, Forthcoming April 2009 vi + 736 pages, English Cloth ISBN: 9789004173811 List Price: $287.00 Your Price: $272.65 www.eisenbrauns.com/item/HALWORLDS