Category Archives: Seminary

Pondering and plotting: Biblical resources tips?

Because of some classes, lately I’ve been thinking a little and would like to bounce something off of anyone who’d have some input. I’d be particularly interested in hearing from those who’ve been through a seminary or similar program, and/or those who have planned and implemented a really successful Bible Study program in their parish.

I’m thinking of putting together a short list (or two) of Bible Study resources for the use of seminarians not only for their own use and edification during seminary, but that would also be of permanent value in planning out Bible Study programs in their parishes after seminary, and in fact of permanent value for personal study.

Now, I’m quite familiar with the Bible, the wider ancient Near Eastern cultural context, the history of scholarship, and so on. But in seminary, we’re seeing people, my fellow students, who don’t know the general outline of, much less the stories of the Old Testament, and never mind the cognate languages and cultures and the history of the ancient Near East and such relevant matters. These people are, however, need to be brought up to speed within four years, so that they can help others to learn these things. I think I can help, and I’m not going to abandon my fellow students just because the task is a daunting one. Already I’m helping them as much as I can. One has even affectionately termed me, “The guy who knows too much!” So droll. But it’s a serious issue. If one can help in such a situation, one not only should, but must.

They’re also going to need to have a set of resources available that will be useful in planning Bible Study programs in their parishes, particularly if they’re ordained and find themselves in charge of all the educational programs of a parish, or in fact need to introduce such programs, starting them from scratch, as the case may be.

Now, my problem is that I’m familiar with rather technical works, original language lexicons, chief reference works, advanced monographs, and so on. I’m not familiar at all with the level of references and helps available to the middle range of Bible students who want solid scholarship. I’d like help from my very helpful readers who’ve had experience in these areas. I’ll make some suggestions below in various categories, and maybe we can refine them through discussion in the comments. If we go about this right, the results could (and should!) be generally useful for everyone in a similar situation.

SOFTWARE PACKAGES
I don’t want to get into a huge discussion over which software is “best” or anything like that. I think it’s clear right now that we’ve got three major players: Accordance for the Mac, BibleWorks for Windows, and Logos for both. Accordance and Logos both have mobile device versions, which is very useful. The pricing for the three varies, but essentially they share the same approach: a basic application is purchased to which one may add various purchased modules. These modules may be entire collections of books, etc, or individual ones (particular versions of the Bible, single books, etc). Logos has a staggering array of materials available, but they are not cheap. Accordance likewise has a large number of materials available, but not too much on the free end. BibleWorks is the only one of the three which makes it easy to import fully any Bible version files (or anything else for that matter). I tend to think of Accordance and BibleWorks as roughly equivalent in search and analysis capabilities, but with BibleWorks being better for importing. The mobile Accordance is great (I have it on my iPhone and iPad). Logos I have used for many years not for Bible study, but as an electronic book reader. I think that’s really what they used to be, primarily. I have a large number of books and journal runs in Logos format. It’s very nice for that. The mobile version of Logos is also great, but there’s an important proviso: one must own one of the various base packages offered by Logos (see here) in order to access your electronic library in the mobile version. So, even if you own hundreds of books in Logos, if you don’t have one of those base packages, you won’t be able to see any of those books in the mobile Logos. That’s something to keep in mind.

Now, all three of these programs can of course be used in a basic, midrange, or advanced manner. So I think that the combination of either Accordance or BibleWorks (depending on platform) along with Logos (available for both Mac and Windows) would be one item.

And within those programs, in addition to a variety of English Bibles, the user should make certain to have the following:
1.) a Greek New Testament (in the case of us Orthodox, both the UBS/NA critical text and a representative of the Byzantine Text)
2.) the Septuagint (in both the original Greek and the New English Translation of the Septuagint and/or the Brenton translation)
3.) the BDAG NT Greek lexicon
4.) the “Great Scott” (the Oxford Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon)
5.) [if the user has Hebrew] the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible
6.) the HALOT Lexicon
I think those are a core of necessities.

To Logos could be added all of the above, and any other books discussed below (though I’ve found that things with illustrations are awkwardly displayed in the mobile version, with images not being zoomable, which lack simply results in useless illustrations) if they are available in the Logos format. It’s great to have a book in Logos, as it’s searchable! There’s no need to curse the lack of an index or a poorly done index.

COMMENTARIES
I’m rather eclectic in my commentary collecting. Electronically, I like to have commentary sets that are both recent and close to complete or indeed complete. I’ll buy individual volumes in hard copy from commentary series that for whatever reason don’t cut the mustard in toto when those volumes are said by reliable sources to be excellent. But I don’t think this is a very practical way of going about it. Multivolume commentaries may simply be too much in several dimensions: cost, size, potential uselessness. Perhaps a one-volume commentary would suffice in some cases?

So, what would be a good commentary set, particularly for Eastern Orthodox Christians? The Ancient Christian Commentary is cute, but it’s not fully a commentary, is it? (I don’t own any of these.) Blurbs from Church Fathers does not a commentary make. Is there a good set that would fulfill the following requisites: 1.) not too technical: enough detail to clarify, but not so much detail as to obfuscate; 2.) relatively conservative; 3.) references the Church Fathers: a boy can dream!; 4.) good interaction with historical-critical method: discussion of the perspective of historical-critical issues, even if it doesn’t wholly accept them; 5.) coverage of ancient world: that is, it should provide some discussion of the context of the ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman cultural spheres; 6.) coverage of the extended canon: the Orthodox Bible includes not only all of the books of the Protestant Bible, but those of the Catholic Bible and then some: 1 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, Prayer of Manasses, Psalm 151 and 4 Maccabees.

For one-volume commentaries, a while ago I picked up a copy of the Eerdmans Commentary of the Bible. I find it to be quite nice, a good balance of the above requirements, if a bit short in coverage. That’s the nature of one-volume commentaries. A definite plus of this single-volume commentary is that it covers all the books in the NRSV/RSV (which both include all the books of the Orthodox Bible) as well as including a commentary on 1 Enoch, which is a first, as I recall.

BIBLE ATLAS
Here, I’m all ears. I love my Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, my Carta Bible Atlas and The Sacred Bridge, and even the Oxford Bible Atlas (although the fourth edition really needs to be bound differently so that the double-page-spread maps don’t lose content in the gutter). I also have the ESV Bible Atlas, which is a very nice production and probably exactly what I would recommend in this case. Any other ideas?

Any ideas on collections of electronic maps? These would be useful for presentations. I haven’t really looked into this, as I’ve never (yet–I shudder to think) had to do such.

BIBLE DICTIONARY
For this, I think the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible wins hands down. For a more advanced approach, I would recommend the Logos electronic edition of the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. But perhaps there are other recommendations, as well?

VARIOUS
Something that provides a good way to track down subjects that span multiple books of the Bible so that the reader can plan a thematic Bible Study program of some sort. I know there are lots of these things, but I don’t know of any in particular. Can anyone recommend something or several?

How about some books on planning a Bible Study curriculum itself? I have some books on individual Bible Study (Traina, Methodical Bible Study, McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible, Jensen, Independent Bible Study, and Bullinger How to Enjoy the Bible, and some others probably kicking around here somewhere), but nothing on preparing a group Bible Study.

Anything else? Have there been any particular books or types of books that have been essential or very helpful in preparing Bible Study programs? That helped you learn more about the Bible itself when you were starting out? That work well for several levels of familiarity with the Bible?

Those of you readers who’ve done this kind of planning or studying already, who are in or have been through seminary or a similar program, particularly those with a robust program in Bible and some sucess in implementing a successful, appreciated, and well-attended Bible Study program, please do share some suggestions. We need all the help we can get!

Posted in Seminary | 40 Comments

Stuff and whatnot on classes

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.

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New beginnings

Some will know that I’ve begun an MDiv program at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. And those of you that didn’t, well, now you do! At the request of several interested parties, I’ll be posting some occasional thoughts on what it’s like to be a “returning student” to an Orthodox seminary, a strange beast to the thoughts of most. I decided that I won’t post anything about the trials and tribulations involved in getting to this point. While the Holy Cross and Church aspects went thoroughly smoothly, the UC Berkeley side of everything was decidedly unsavory. So, as my mother taught me, as I cannot say anything nice about that, I will instead say nothing at all. And we’ll move on!

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology is situated in a particularly beautiful part of the most beautiful suburb of Boston, Brookline. The school is actually both Hellenic College (a four year undergraduate college) and Holy Cross (the graduate school; Masters progams only, no doctorates). The school is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which is under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Archbishop Demetrios is the bishop we commemorate in our liturgies. There are just over 200 students total at the school, most of which live here on campus in either a dormitory (where I live now; more on that below) or in family housing, for married students and their children, of which there are quite a few! The campus is small, but beautiful. It’s situated on what appears to be the highest hill near Boston, with the chapel at the highest point on the campus, so we have a good view of Boston (but I was spoiled with a stunning view of San Francisco Bay from work and home back west; we aren’t high enough or far enough to have a view like that–I can’t even see the ocean from here). There are two hawks, a male and a female, which live here and will perch on the cross atop the dome of the chapel. Very striking. Very near to campus is Jamaica Pond, a large pond which is great to walk around, at least for now while the weather is nice! In walking distance is the cute little town of Jamaica Plain; it’s Berkeleyesque, but the architecture is much more interesting. Old New England houses really look like proper houses to me. It must be a childhood thing (I was born in Manchester, NH, just north of here a bit). One of the neatest things is that the curbstones are granite, not concrete. And there are huge stone walls everywhere. Somebody has done a lot of stonecutting around here! It’s a nice touch, these giant chunks of granite everywhere as curbs. And the corners of streets with drains and manholes cut into them are really cool. I’ll have to post some pictures of those. The weather is, at best, fickle. As one of my professors has said, “This is New England. If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.” Part of me wonders how these people can live here. Just over this past week, there’s been a fifty degree spread in temperature, both rainy and sunshiny. When I arrived at the beginning of September, there was super high humidity and it was in the high 70s and 80s. I loved it! It was positively tropical. Today, it was 81, but not as humid. Tomorrow it should be around 84, they say. But as I said, the humidity has dropped already, so it’s not as nice. I’m the one who loves it hot. When I heard of that heat wave that hit New England a couple weeks before I got here, I was positively jealous! But enough of weather talk.

I haven’t had much time to wander about or even visit Boston itself aside from a dinner with a visiting friend a few days after I arrived (Hi Doug!), and an evening trip into Cambridge (my first T trip, organized as a group thing for new students, the ‘Boston T Party’!). There are several people here who know the area very well and walk (as I love to do), so they’ve pointed me in various directions, but I’ll just have to tag along on one of their excursions, and do a bit of my own wandering, as well. Now that I’m feeling more settled, I’ll probably be able to do that soon. I’ll probably end up in Cambridge quite a bit, as that’s the most likely contender for the combination of venues that I require for me to feel as though I’m living a civilized existence (good bookstores [PLURAL!], cafés with good coffee and fresh baked goods, pubs with local brews, tailors, cobblers, etc). We’ll see. I don’t expect to find a Jupiter here, but something that’s relatively similar would be nice. I don’t expect winter outdoor seating in this area. More’s the pity!

So, I live in a dorm. I never thought I would ever live in a dorm. But now I do and it’s not so bad. The worst part was actually moving in. I had my stuff from Berkeley shipped here via one of those shipping cubes, and then had to move everything up three flights of stairs (there is no elevator here!). The measurements I got for this room were incorrect (some rooms are the measurements I was given, but not the one I’m in), so I ended up having a book giveaway of about 200 or so books (10 medium sized boxes) as soon as I arrived, and gave away two bookshelves too. I had no room for them, and there is no storage for such a huge amount of stuff here, nor could I face lifting it back into some other storage container. So, within a day of my arrival a whole bunch of people got to know me as the guy giving away literally a ton (indeed, quite literally a ton, roughly 2,000 pounds!) of scholarly books on all kinds of interesting subjects. I’m still getting used to that. I’ll go to my bookshelf to look for a book and it’s not there. Oh well. That was a lesson in acquisitiveness. I’ll replace some of those books in the future, but not all of them, for sure. And certainly not while I’m living here! I’ve learned my lesson of having to lift all that stuff! Over the course of two days, I lifted 3,950 pounds of stuff out of that cube, with roughly half of that going into my dorm room. And I have to move everything out of here at the end of the year, as they use the dorms during the summer for conferences and such. So I’m already dreading that move. Really. I shudder when I think of it. But living in the dorm is not so bad. I thought it would be some wild bacchanal that would drive me insane. It’s not. It’s a Christian school after all. Which is decidedly not to say that all of the dorm’s inhabitants are pietistic spotless lilies, pure as the driven snow. But the character of the students here is really striking for its absolutely being a cut above what I’m used to seeing. I’m truly impressed with the people around me. I’m actually finding this a positive experience, rather than the nightmare that some led me to expect.

(to be continued tomorrow!)

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