On laughing at students’ mistakes

For some years I have been annoyed with and quietly disdainful of scholars who reproduce their students’ mistakes in public or semi-public forums. It usually occurs when they are marking student essays or exams. They will pick a silly mistake and hold it up for mockery by, mainly, fellow scholars. And it obviously resonates, because these posts usually get several replies from other scholars.

I have been wondering why this behavior rubs me the wrong way. The big obvious reason is that this is “punching down”. I have no problems with trenchant criticism of fellow scholars, and all the more so for things marked “the consensus”. Tear it down! By all means attack what scholars have said and have published: at least they’ll know they’re being read. But come on: students?! Have you suddenly figured out that they don’t know as much as you? Is that it? Sure, mention a humorous mistake in a one-to-one conversation. Some of these mistakes are, after all, funny – that’s not in dispute. But there is something just wrong about a whole group of scholars laughing about their students making mistakes. Students are there to learn. They are allowed to make mistakes. Yet it has seemingly become quite acceptable to post their mistakes in public or semi-public forums, and is done by both seasoned and younger scholars. And it strikes me as a dick move.

It’s prominently a North American preoccupation, too. It is almost always accompanied by a holier-than-thou justification along the lines of: see how little they work! see that they do not read the Course Book that I spent hours preparing! see how much smarter I am! Well, that last justification is not expressed, but it is always implied by the discourse of mockery. What is it about some scholars, in particular North Americans, that they can endlessly whine about students not being deferential enough to their higher status in life? Some of the longest threads I have seen on Facebook involve scholars, mostly North American scholars (I have a lot of them as Facebook friends, perhaps not much longer, though), complaining that a student emailed them with “Hey” instead of “Dear Doctor” or “Professor” or “Herr Professor Doctor” or whatever they demand in recognition of their Higher Station In Life. Surely there might be better ways to advertise your cultural capital…. if you really feel the need? This, too, strikes me as basically a dick move. (If you don’t believe me that this is a especially a North American trait, have a search through North American course syllabuses – there are usually detailed instructions about how to email or address your lecturer “properly”.)

By far the worst example of student-mocking I have seen is the twitter account Bible Students Say (@BibleStdntsSay). For about eight years or so, @BibleStdntsSay tweeted more than ten thousand examples of mistakes that he found in his students’ essays and exams. More than ten thousand. Having not looked at it for years, I recently checked in on the account, and it is now only available to subscribers . But when the vast majority were posted, the account was open to the public.

What makes this the worst case? It is not simply the fact that @BibleStdntsSay posted so many student mistakes. What makes this egregious is that these were students enrolled at a community college, in Delaware – a low-fees college which gives many people with less education the opportunity to participate in tertiary education. These include many students from lower and lower-middle class families. These include many students who struggle in their learning. It was this particular demographic that a Biblical Studies lecturer (and pastor) chose to mock – by tweeting their mistakes.

I know that people often look for new reasons to defend their actions after receiving criticism. But if that’s your initial reaction, maybe it’s worth considering that what has become acceptable academic behavior is, well, something that truly deserves mocking.

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What is the New Sheffield?

Professor Yvonne Sherwood with one of her PhD students

In 2014, the University of Sheffield closed what was arguably the most innovative and exciting Department of Biblical Studies in the United Kingdom. Sheffield Biblical Studies offered cutting-edge biblical scholarship in the subfields of literary criticism, cultural studies, political criticism, and Hebrew Bible/Old Testament historical criticism. Biblical Studies at Sheffield also boasted notable, colourful, and sometimes controversial scholars, including David Clines, Philip Davies, Keith Whitelam, Cheryl Exum, James Crossley, John Rogerson, Stephen Moore, David Gunn, Barry Matlock, Diana Edelman, Meg Davies, Andrew Lincoln, Yvonne Sherwood, and Loveday Alexander.

But now there is a …. New Sheffield!

In her introduction to the latest Biblical Interpretation, Yvonne Sherwood writes, “I say that our aim is to make Kent (in the south of England) a ‘new Sheffield’, and to draw on the ‘logo’ of this biblical studies city of the north” (“Futures, Presents and Gestures of Supersession: The Futures of Biblical Studies at the University of Kent“, Biblical Interpretation 25, no. 4-5 [2017], 436).  Sheffield has fallen to yet another supersession narrative in  biblical studies:

We are not saying that the north has fallen to the Assyrians (and you can allegorise ‘the Assyrians’ however you please), nor do we want to simply territorialise the new Sheffield exclusively here in some imperial gesture. The futures of ‘Sheffield’ are diasporic. But we feel a great need to strategically open up a new institutional space that specifically supports the kind of interdisciplinary work that Sheffield represented here in the United Kingdom. Our vision is to have a large international Ph.D. community, like the kind of community that met at the Monday weekly research centre and then went for lunch at the local pub, The Bathfield, in Sheffield’s pasts. Groups appropriate a name and a story for a reason. To us it seems important to define ourselves as one of ‘Sheffield’s’ futures: ‘Sheffield’ here signifying the kind of international and interdisciplinary biblical studies that is particularly open to other disciplines and that works between the biblical pasts and the futures of those pasts. (p. 436)

If it is objected that Sherwood’s aims are too bold, the retort must be that this type of chutzpah is ‘Very Sheffield’. In fact, Sherwood’s vision of an audaciously interdisciplinary biblical studies, one which combines the philosophical ‘turn to religion’ with a more metacritical biblical studies, seems precisely what was envisioned by the authors of the programmatic volume, The Invention of the Biblical Scholar: A Critical Manifesto (2011). Biblical Studies at the University of Kent successfully marries Sherwood’s literary criticism with Ward Blanton’s interventions in Continental philosophy.

And if there is any doubt, there’s this fact: the University of Kent now houses David Clines’ library. Boom.

The University of Kent: More Sheffield than Sheffield.

 

The Tennessee Ordinance of Sex Sessions

Tennessee Ordinance of Sex Sessions

“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing….”
– 1 Tim 2:12-15

Preamble

In these latter days, false prophets have heinously distorted the Christian View of Sex Sessions – a view of human sexuality and sexual congress which was held by Adam and Eve before the Fall, later reaffirmed by Our Lord in the days He dwelt amongst men, and in the Early Church, and adhered to steadfastly throughout the centuries-long Epoch of Christendom by all True Christians (excluding Catholics). Now, during this twilight of Christian morality in the West, there have arisen self-proclaimed ‘Evangelical’ Christians – but in truth heretics and perverts – who would seduce, if it were possible, even the Elect. These pseudo-Evangelicals have sought to replace the eternal design of God Almighty for the Respective Roles of Men and Women and Proper Conduct for Sexual Coitus with nothing more than the concoctions of their own hearts.

Therefore, in witness to this sinful generation, and in repudiation of the Lies of Satan, we, the undersigned, declare our faithfulness to the original Christian View of Sex Sessions. We eschew the delusions of the Nashville heretics, who would reject the divine plan for sexual practice for their secularist, post-modernistic innovations. In its place we offer nothing more than the Truth given once and for all to the Saints, in the ante- post-Christian era.

To the glory of God, we offer the following affirmations and denials:

Article I

WE AFFIRM that sexual intercourse should be undertaken without joy or passion: ‘just like many a laborious work accomplished by the compliant operation of our other limbs, without any lascivious heat.’ Christian men must prayerfully seek to recover Adam’s ability to engorge their penises for coitus ‘simply by the direction of the will, not excited by the ardor of concupiscence.’

WE DENY the joy of sex, except for that sober and pious joy of achieving the only good purpose of sexual congress: the procreation of the species.

Article II

WE AFFIRM, given the nearness of the End Times, which is really very, very close now, so close it could happen any minute now, in fact, that it is better for the unmarried to remain as they are, and better for the married to abstain from any Sexual Sessions.

WE DENY that even the single man who is a chronic masturbator should seek marriage, given that the End Times is so very, very close. It’s going to happen any moment. We even doubted we’d get to the end of these articles before Our Lord came on the clouds, so to speak.

Article III

WE AFFIRM the missionary position.

WE DENY any other sexual position is acceptable in the sight of God, including, but not limited to, Doggy Style, the Cowgirl, Reverse Cowgirl, the Man Chair, the Camel Ride, the Downward Dog, anal, oral, standing, sitting, the Ballet Dancer, the Wheelbarrow, Angry Dragon, the 69er, Spooning, or Saddling.

Article IV

WE AFFIRM that God has graciously bestowed on the female sex the privilege of salvation by childbirth. Thus, womenfolk have an additional means of salvation not available to men.

WE DENY that any honors rightly given to men, whether leadership of the church, headship of the household, entitlement to the top position in Sex Sessions, or rights of discipline over women, imply any inequality between men and women. For women still have the bonus means of salvation, via childbirth. No other worldly power may compensate for this grace received by women alone.

Article V

WE AFFIRM that menstruation is the overflow of sexual build-up, evidence of the inherently excessive concupiscence of the female. Menstrual blood is damaging to the male penis, which requires strict separation during the week of flow. So too, ‘the gaze of a menstruating woman can dim and crack a mirror.’

WE DENY that menstruation can be falsely reduced to mere natural or materialist processes. Attempts to do so are the result of the atheistic scientific worldview, and is only a presupposition, so just as much a matter of faith as belief in the evil of menstrual blood.

Article VI

WE AFFIRM that women should in every way be subordinate to men in public.

WE DENY that subordination is any way to be equated with intolerance of women. Rather, it is those who claim to be ‘tolerant’ of women who are truly intolerant of those who would restrict a woman’s role in public, for if they were really tolerant, they would be able to tolerate our alleged intolerance. So it is the ‘tolerant’ who are truly intolerant, by being tolerant only of tolerance, while not being tolerant of intolerance. We have truly taken tolerance to a higher plane of toleration.

 

Signed by:

Cletus Edwards
President, South-south-east Tennessee Baptist Seminary, and Pastor

Enoch Stansfield
Professor of Apologetics, Libertarian University

Mrs Laverne Colton
Authoress of ‘Devotion: In Your Heart and On Your Back’, mother of eight

Otis Lee
Professor of New Testament, Rockwood Upper Floor Full Gospel Seminary

Denny Keller
Cotton Mather Professor of Apologetics, Scripture and Prayer and author of How to Keep Your Right Eye and Right Hand (Zondervan, 2011)

Randy Hawk
PhD: Hard Complementarianism in the Four Gospels: An Anti-Bultmannian Approach (Durham University)

Mrs Denny Keller
authoress of Button Up that Blouse! and proud homemaker

Bart Ehrman now podcasts… via a prophet

Bart Ehrman, Professor of New Testament at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has commenced a podcast: The Bart Ehrman Podcast. But his words are spoken by another, his prophet on earth, John P. Mueller.

It involves a weekly podcast in which John reads two posts that have previously appeared on the blog, some of recent vintage and some archived, often from long ago.

So John P. Mueller reads posts from The Bart Ehrman Blog. The Blog is only available in full behind a paywall (to raise money for charities fighting poverty, hunger, and homelessness). The podcast is free, but only includes a selection of the posts on Ehrman’s blog. That is, the blog is not-for-profit but not via prophet, and the podcast involves no fee but is via prophet.

While Mueller’s voice differs from Ehrman’s slightly, his words are the ipsissima verba of Ehrman, a feature which is – after all – much more than can be said for the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament.

InterVarsity Press, SBL, and Rumors of a Ban

IVP Academic:

Just today, InterVarsity Press claimed:

For 70 years, IVP has been committed to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas
– Jeff Crosby, InterVarsity Press

This is great news, although admittedly surprising to me – because I’ve been looking for a publisher for some rather radical new biblical criticism I want to have published.

Yesterday, Michael Bird leaked the possibility that IVP’s bookstall might be banned from the SBL annual meeting and Jim West leaked parts of a letter from John Kutsko of SBL to InterVarsity Press, in which Kutsko expressed the desire to discuss the future IVP exhibits at the annual meeting. This all follows a Time Magazine report on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA’s decision to fire employees who disagree with its Position Paper on sexuality. IVP’s sex position is still firm (i.e. the gays are bad).

Expectedly, evangelicals have become outraged at the possibility of discrimination against a discriminatory employer, and insist that this is all to do with academic freedom, and nothing to do with their homophobia. There’s a concerned article in the conservative evangelical World magazine, a response by Michael J. Kruger of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina called “How My Books are Being Banned at the Society of Biblical Literature“, and conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson announces in alarmist terms that “The Society of Biblical Literature Is Now Banning Christian Organizations“. Christianity Today reports on Michael Bird’s blog post, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative deplores “The Power Of The LGBT Seal Of Approval“, and Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) claims that the “secular left” has become more intolerant than the Christian evangelicals who are firing pro-gays from their jobs and that the SBL has “trended to the left” over the years and now wishes to ban any group not committed to “the biblical truth” of gender, marriage, and sexuality.

But as for the question of whether IVP should have a space at the SBL annual meeting? Well, I agree with Noam Chomsky, and not just because I want IVP to display my forthcoming book. A few decades ago, Chomsky said, in defending a famous French holocaust denier’s right to express his denial of the Jewish holocaust:

It is elementary that freedom of expression (including academic freedom) is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely in the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended.

Thank God that IVP share this commitment to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas. I’ll send my book proposal in soon.