There is a challenging futility in teaching ancient texts at the college level. While I encourage students to acquire tools for research, I know that they will not master the ancient language in question during their time in college. Those who take a course or two with me, will continue to rely on my up to the very end for the original. They will ask a question, and if I say in the original the meaning is X, they will have no choice to accept it. Yes, they might doubt it, and ask a second time “is there no other possible interpretation?” but once I’ve repeated my answer, they will not be able to provide a counter-argument about the original. And this, of course, is exactly the opposite of what higher education should strive to inculcate.
So, I take great pleasure in the rare instances when a student applies a methodological principle in theory, even when they have no way to implement it. It shows that they are on the right track, despite the limitations of time and resources the entrap the course.
We read Gen 1:26: “Let Us make Man.” As always, I asked the class why is god speaking in the plural. One student suggested the pluralis maiestatis explanation. A fairly common explanation, but nevertheless impressive to hear it from a student, rather than have me supply this option. Another student protested. It sounded to him European and medieval, and “unless there are more examples of this usage within the Hebrew Bible,” he would be inclined to reject this explanation for Gen 1:26. What a great philological principle!
I asked for further suggestions. Another student asked, somewhat hesitantly, if it might refer to the Trinity. While it cannot, and the possibility should be rejected, as far as the author of Genesis is concerned, it nevertheless opened a whole new world into the course, the one of intertextual relations between the Old and the New Testaments. For the English reader, the disparity of the two in language, time, place and social history are not self-evident. At the same time, I remind myself that such connections are the bread and butter of the Church Fathers. I don’t remember ever hearing this suggestion before, and enjoy seeing that I still have plenty to learn. The prisms by which the text can be illuminated have not been exhausted for me, after so many years of study. What a wonderful realization for the first week of the term.
[Intro to HB, Winter 2014, Lawrence University]