Thursday, April 28, 2005

I agreed to send off my copy of Theology Without Foundations to Tim Enloe, since a. he badly wanted it, b. it seems to be out of print and copies are in short supply, and c. I really need to get some books out of the house. I told him I'd reread it and then send it off to him. I'm enjoying it even more the second time around, probably due to some small shifts in my thinking bringing a bit closer to the some of the writers in the volume.

Only one of the essays was less than useful to me, and even that one had a very poignant story in it. I'm on the last section now, an article by Jewish scholar Michael Goldberg called "Discipleship: Basing One Life on Another--It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know". In the first part he talks about traditional rabbinic methods of teaching in which the disciple serves his teacher/master uncritically, observing everything about the teacher's way of life and performing mundane tasks for him. He contrasts this with his experience at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in the 70's. He starts the section with a quote: "When I was at the [Jewish Theological] Seminary, the least frequently mentioned word was God." --Art Green

Goldberg continues a bit later:

I remember a Bible teacher who had spent some lengthy period of time translating a difficult text in Isaiah on the basis of certain parallel cuneiform texts. Barely able to contain himself, he proudly informed us of the text's proper translation. But when we asked him what that meant, i.e., what religious meaning that prophetic text might have for us, he waved his arm as if shooing flies, and said, "That's not my department."

The Bible teacher's answer may well be acceptable within the modern academy. For despite foundationalist quests to decontextualize and depersonalize knowledge, that quest itself provides a context within which a certain type of personality is produced with a certain set of virtues particular to it:"clarity but not necessarily charity, honesty but not necessarily friendliness, devotion to the [academic] calling but not necessarily loyalty to particular and local communities of learning."[footnote refernce to Schwehn, "The Academic Vocation"--pb] But even though the Bible teacher's answer would likely gain acceptance within the academy, it would be, it must be, unacceptable in any institution that would lay claim to being heir to what Israel's sages taught. In fact, it remained unclear to me how what the Seminary's teachers taught or what we students learned might be called Torah--God's instruction to and for his people. But if talmud torah was not what we did, then into what practice were we being schooled? And what kind of practitioners were we expected to become? Seminary faculty such as the Bible professor--like many academics everywhere--generally taught their clases and then disappeared. Few shared with students anything at all about thier lives, and far fewer shared anything with us at all about life itself. The sages believed their distinctive life-embracing practices critical to making God present to their disciples. It can hardly be surprising that at the Seminay, where there were so few rabbinic masters, God's presence was so largely absent.

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