Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Between Semesters

Last week was Finals Week at Amarillo College. On Thursday, we reported all of the course grades for the semester. Looking back on a term just completed, I usually have two feelings:

1. I wish that I'd done a better job of teaching. One of my great fears is that my classes will only reinforce the notion that the Bible is a boring book, tedious and impossible to understand. Teaching that engages students, that leads them to become invested in the subject, is not easy. Sometimes I do that fairly well. Other times I don't.

2. I'm confident that my students know and understand much more of the Bible than they did at the beginning of the semester. It recently got back to me that one of them commented, "He makes us work." I was glad to hear that. Without intimidating students, I want to set high standards for them. The Bible and Religion shouldn't be easy As, should they?

Anyway, on to the next challenge. Beginning in January, I'm scheduled to the teach five courses. Here they are, with a few notes about each one:

1. Introduction to World Religions

Few people on the planet can teach this course really well. I'm not one of them. Not even close. So this is the course where I abandon all hope of being the sage on the stage. I'm much more the guide on the side. Here's how it goes: First, we explore some definitions of "religion" and the growing diversity of religion in the United States. Then, one at a time, we take up
  • Native American Spirituality
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Judaism
  • Christianity
  • Islam
The course textbook is the mostly-good World Religions, 5th edition, by Warren Matthews.

2. Life of Paul

Mucho fun, this is a sophomore-level course that Religion majors are required to take. But it doesn't count as a general humanities credit. What this means is, the class size is small and students tend to be motivated. There are so many ways this course might be taught. I haven't mastered my own approach just yet. Currently, we use the outline of Paul's life provided by the Book of Acts. As we go along, we study the letters at those points in time where Paul likely wrote them. After the Bible, the secondary textbook is F. F. Bruce's, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.

3. The New Testament

This is a first-year level introduction focused on the content of the NT. For this course I've settled on a three-unit approach:
  • Gospels and Acts
  • Letters of Paul
  • General Epistles and Revelation
The secondary text is Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament, 2nd edition. One of the best features of this text is that it comes with a CD-ROM that contains everything in the book, plus some short videos, questions and answers, etc. Really nice.

4. General Epistles

This is a first-year, one-hour credit class that meets at lunchtime on Wednesdays. We eat, drink, and read. No textbooks. No tests. No term papers. Grades are based on attendance, quality of participation, and one-page written responses to questions about the biblical text. The more questions a student answers, the higher the grade. 15 good responses earns an A.

5. Intermediate Biblical Hebrew

In the Fall of 2007, sixteen students began a first-year Hebrew class. About five of them made it through the first two semesters, one year's worth of language study. At this point, two of those students are still standing for the second semester of second-year Hebrew. Mah Norah! (How awesome!) We're one Christian, one Jew, and one Bible Chair director. And I have to say, studying with Rhonda and Trent is one of the highlights of my week.

Having completed the first-year grammar, Biblical Hebrew, by Kittel, Hoffer, and Wright, we're currently making our way through Readings in Biblical Hebrew: An Intermediate Textbook, by Ehud Ben Zvi, Maxine Hancock, and Richard A. Beinert (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).


Arlene Kasselman said...

Frank, do you have a syllabus for your Acts class that I can look at. I am about to begin teaching a 9/10th grade religion class at Ascension Academy on Acts. I just want to help orient myself. I have a pretty good idea of where I am going with it, but it would be helpful to have your input.

Are you going to be at the Danley's open house next week?

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi Arlene,

Although I don't teach an Acts class per se, I do have a "Life of Paul" syllabus that includes an outline of the relevant sections of Acts. I'd be glad to share that with you.

You might check out the stuff on Acts in the CCofC library. I wandered in there one time and thought it was a pretty good collection.

The 1989 Harding lectures were on Acts. The lectureship book (I have a copy you can borrow) includes three presentations on "Walking Through Acts" by Richard Oster. That would be a really good resource for what you're doing.

Leland V said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family. Best Wishes for the New Year and the new semester.

Your mention of the General Epistles class brought up another memory. Do you know what has happened to the planned volume on the pastorals by Abe in the Hermeneia series?


Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi Leland. Merry Christmas to you and yours as well. How I'd love to see all of you sometime.

I believe that the Abe Malherbe commentary on the Pastorals is still in the works. As you know, from the time he agreed to do the Thessalonians comm. to the time it was published was many, many years. So it's the same song, second verse: he's taking his time. When the commentary finally comes out, it'll make a big splash, that's for sure.

Although he makes a strong argument for the authenticity of 2 Thess, he doesn't think Paul wrote the Pastorals (exactly the positions of his mentor, A.D. Nock). What I'll be interested to see in the new work is whether Malherbe will make a strong, detailed case against pauline authorship, or just rehearse the old position. I don't think it's a stretch to say that he has the capacity to make that argument as no one has before. I also wonder how much he'll take up and debate the arguments put forward by D. Guthrie, G. Knight, G. Fee, and L.T. Johnson to name a few.

Either way, the old Herm. commentary by Dibelius-Conzelmann should be replaced. It's a goldmine for folks interested in philology, but it's just not a good commentary. I think Malherbe has a much better sense of what a commentary should and shouldn't be.