I’m in an unusual position. For those who know me, back in Berkeley, when you would find me reading (very often at table 311 in the Panini section of Jupiter!) you would find me reading something that could generally be considered “Orthodox seminary fare.” My reading matter of choice is, in roughly descending interest: Bible, Church Fathers, Patristics, Biblical Studies, History/Archaeology, and Classics. The fact that I’ve been reading most of these subjects since 1984 (Church Fathers and Patristics since about 1997), I’ve got quite a lot of reading under my belt. That my undergraduate education was in Biblical Hebrew under Jacob Milgrom at UC Berkeley, where, by lucky coincidence, I also had classes with Hayim Tadmor and Moshe Weinfeld while they were visiting, is something that I’m always grateful for, even more than I was while in the midst of it. The training I received then led to my being able to continue my studies without being part of a graduate studies program. As I was working full-time, I was also able to afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, more than I really needed, as it turns out. Even so, I’ve had the benefit (some would say, and I would not correct them, guided by Providence) of learning a great amount of very useful stuff which is coming in handy now that I have begun a seminary program. Aside from excellent study habits and organizational skills (the latter being something that an adult in the workplace either develops and succeeds with or doesn’t and flounders), I’ve got a pleasant personality, and I enjoy helping other people when I have the opportunity. I don’t want this to sound like some kind of bragfest, but intend it rather as background for the commentary on my first few weeks of classes below. I’m not the average first year MDiv seminarian track student at my school, if there even is such a creature.
So, here are some short description of the classes I’ve got right now, all of which are interesting in different ways.
First is Introduction to the Old Testament, with Fr Eugen Pentiuc. Fr Pentiuc is the author of, among other things, a book of his that I picked up on the recommendation of a friend, a very interesting book-length standalone commentary on Hosea, Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations (Holy Cross Press, 2002; reprinted 2008), and the very interesting sounding West Semitic Vocabulary in the Akkadian Texts from Emar (Harvard Semitic Studies 49; Eisenbrauns, 2001), and a book assigned for our class that I hadn’t known of before seeing the syllabus: Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible (Paulist Press, 2006). Fr Pentiuc is a very engaging lecturer, full of enthusiasm for the subject. I look forward to spending more time with him to work on some other engaging projects. In fact, I’m hoping he’ll be able to help me learn Syriac while I’m here. If not that, I’m sure we’ve got other interesting things to work on. I have numerous ideas for projects related to the Old Testament rattling around in my head, and some actually in progress, so it will help tremendously to have someone readily available to both bounce ideas of off and to get me to knuckle down and do things. I tend toward a kind of ADD in my independent studying: “Okay, let’s start working on a history of modern biblical criticism from Michaelis onwards . . . Oh! Look! A book of Sumerian poetry in translation! . . . Oh, online Emar tablets! Wait! Let’s type up Hebrew paradigms!” So, a little direction will be welcome. I found out that the only bar around here that I’ve yet been in (John Harvard’s in Cambridge), which I mightily liked a liking thereof, is also a place that Prof Pentiuc likes to meet to talk at. So that’s a plus. So, I’m looking forward to getting to work with Fr Pentiuc some more.
Second is Religious Education, with Dr Anton Vrame. Having never read up on education of any type, I’m finding this one to be fascinating. The history of Sunday schools alone was an eye-opener. Anyhow, this is a very promising class, particularly for introducing various tools and approaches that’ll come in handy later on. The bibliography for the class (that is, the recommended and required readings in toto) is intriguing, if daunting. While I have in the past been one to regularly read all the recommended reading, this is a class where much of it will need to wait, as there are entire books assigned as recommended reading, and several of these are not even in our library. I’ve bought a couple of the more seminal works (Groome’s Christian Religious Education and Boojamra’s Foundations for Christian Education), but I’ll check out the others (Interlibrary Loan, get ready!) and evaluate them for keepery at that point. I’ll have to go through them at a later date. But this class has already got me thinking of projects for various kinds of students of all ages, particularly in how my familiarity with the internets and various gizmos may be useful in this regard. This week I’ll be talking with people at Holy Cross Press (Dr Vrame is the head of the press) about ebooks. More on that later.
Next is Byzantine Music I. This class is awesome. It’s beyond awesome, in fact. I am now learning Byzantine musical notation, how to read it and chant it. Within four years, I should be very good at it. That’s just too awesome to even describe. The professor is Menios Karanos, and he’s both very good at it and obviously loves it. You can tell when you see him in services as Protopsaltis in our chapel.
New Testament Greek. We’re using the old Stephen Paine book, Beginning Greek: A Functional Approach (Oxford, 1961). The teacher is Evie Zacharides-Holmberg, and she’s also teaching the liturgical Greek class which follows on this. She’s been teaching from the Paine book for long enough to know from memory the page numbers of where, say, the relative pronouns are found. Very interesting! She really knows the Greek well, but some of the students are having trouble adjusting, as they haven’t had any language classes before, so the concepts, much less the terminology, is all new. It’s a steeper learning curve for some of our fellow students as their first language isn’t English! So, they’re learning a new foreign language through the medium of another foreign language. Imagine how frustrating that could be!
Church History. This one is the first of a series of several Church History classes, with an eventual focus on the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Right now, we’re just in general history territory. After a month, we’ve just gotten to Constantine. So I think we’ll be going more in depth over the next few weeks. Or maybe we’ll keep doing a century a week or so! Anyhow, I’m an avid reader of Church History anyway. The books assigned for this class are Chadwick’s The Early Church (Penguin History of the Church, volume 1; revised ed. 1993), Bettenson’s Documents of the Christian Church (3rd ed, 1999; I see there’s a new edition out next month), Kesich’s Formation and Struggles: The Birth of the Church AD 33-200 (The Church in History series, volume 1a; St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007; this is the only modern Church history series done from an Orthodox perspective, a corrective to Catholic and Protestant distortive approaches to issues like church authority and various East/West controversies), and John Meyendorff’s Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church from 450-680 AD (The Church in History volume 2). [In the Church in History series, the two volumes above are okay, but the other two currently available volumes are absolutely excellent: volume 3 by Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071, and volume 4 by Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church 1071-1453 AD. I suppose we’ll be using those next semester or later. This class is taught by Fr Tom FitzGerald, who is also the dean of the graduate school. He’s extremely knowledgeable and yet comfortable to leave topics to be covered in more depth in one of our following classes, whether Dogmatics or Liturgics or Exegesis or whatever. That’s quite refreshing!
Patrology. This is my favorite class, not too surprisingly. The teacher is Fr George Dragas, who is a real treasure. As the qualities about him that so strike me are spiritual in nature, I hesitate to describe them. Suffice it to say, I enjoy his lecturing and speaking with him after class, immensely. And I am not alone in this, as several generations of seminarians have thought the same. The book we’re using is one that he translated, Greek Orthodox Patrology: An Introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers, by Panagiotes Chrestou. Chrestou’s Patrology in Greek is in five volumes, and is the most recent multi-volume Patrology, and the only one from an Orthodox perspective. The translated volume above comprises the first half of the first volume only. Fr George is working on the rest. He’s going to be giving us printouts of preliminary translations of some of the rest as textbook material this semester now that we’ve finished with the above-mentioned volume.
So, that’s it right now for the classes I have. I’m going to be writing some more on general aspects of life here, as thoughts strike me. I just need to get back in the habit of blogging, really! I’ve been slacking off for too long, for which I apologize. So, stay tuned.