Many blogs do a fine job introducing us to folks via interviews. I decided to take another tack on interviews. Rather than a long interview, I’m only going to ask 5 questions. Hopefully some of them may be a little unexpected and will yield some interesting answers.
My first guest for “Take 5” is Dr. Pete Enns. Pete is a good friend and I’m grateful that he took the time to answer these questions. Be sure to read his bio which is posted on his blog, A Time to Tear Down, A Time to Build Up. While there, you can also download many of his articles and essays, view his speaking itinerary (you really should hear him in person), and find lots of information about his book Inspiration & Incarnation.
Can you give us a little of your educational background? What do you value from that time of study?
I was never much for school growing up, although I did alright. I went to Messiah College (1982) and graduated with a degree in Behavioral Science. It wasn’t until the following fall that I began to get interested in academics. I was discussing the existence of God with two high school friends–one a Christian and the other an agnostic philosophy major–and I saw how little I really understood about my own faith. That motivated me to begin reading and one thing led to another. Three years later I was an MDiv student at Westminster Theological Seminary (1985-89) and four more years later I was doing doctoral work at Harvard University (Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, 1989-94).
What I valued most came to a head at Harvard. There I found a true community of learning that valued intellectual adventure, true discovery, and the freedom to go where evidence leads. It was a truly academic environment, and I will always be thankful for the years I had there.
Was your dissertation, Exodus Retold, a stepping stone or a trajectory setter? In what way(s)?
I was exposed, through Jim Kugel and Jon Levenson, to the world of Jewish biblical interpretation. Even though it was not addressed at any length, it became very clear to me–as it has for many other who have gone down that same path–that the NT’s use of the OT must be understood within this larger hermeneutical world. My dissertation is on the Wisdom of Solomon, a likely early 1st century AD text, that handles the biblical exodus tradition for a particular theological purpose. That author was also clearly dependent on interpretive traditions that had been built up about the exodus for a very long time. This same general situation is quite evident in the NT: NT authors re-appropriating the OT for particular theological purposes, and in numerous instances showing clear dependence on previous interpretive traditions. So, I think it was both a stepping stone and trajectory setter: I wanted to broaden my understanding of the NT hermeneutic but I did not fully anticipate where that trajectory would lead.
I know you are currently teaching a Hebrew reading course and that the biblical studies courses you have taught involved a lot of Hebrew. Can you speak to what you think is important to learn about Hebrew before reading the Hebrew Bible? How does reading the HB in the original languages affect your own study of scripture?
I am teaching “Accelerated Hebrew Reading” at Princeton Theological Seminary, and we are reading through selected portions (about 80 chapters) of the Pentateuch. At Westminster, most of my teaching had some explicit connection with the Hebrew OT, particularly my doctoral seminars. There are a lot of ways I could answer your question about what is important to learn about Hebrew before reading the Hebrew Bible. Besides the obvious–a lot of memorization of paradigms and basic vocabulary–I would mention three things. One is to do a lot of reading out loud even at the earliest stages. It facilitates a working knowledge of Hebrew by engaging hearing not just seeing. Second, I would be prepared at how Hebrew does not “behave itself,” i.e., how grammars necessarily abstract the language almost to the point where a fair amount of what you’ve been learning doesn’t correspond to the actual biblical text. Third, I think vocabulary recognition is huge. Simply put, the more words you know, the more comfort you’re going to feel when you look at a page from the Hebrew Bible.
As for my own reading of the Hebrew Bible, reading in Hebrew reminds me constantly how very foreign this text is. It is too often tamed in English translations and Christian theology. The Hebrew also raises basic questions of meaning that are wholly lost in translations. It actually unsettles me, in a good sense of the word, to remember how big and unpredictable God is.
What kinds of projects currently interest you and why?
I am working on a Homeschooling curriculum for grades 1-12, and I am taking a biblical theological approach rather than a “Bible stories” approach. For the first 4 years the focus is on getting to know Jesus, then the overall drama of the Bible, followed by historical issues in the high school years. I feel that children are taught a view of the Bible that does not always stand up to scrutiny and it can lead to unnecessary crises later in life.
I am also working on a book that dialogues between Christianity and evolution from the point of view of biblical scholarship (there isn’t really much if anything out there like that). In my opinion, this is a vital conversation to have where scientific paradigms and Christian theology are aiming for some rapprochement, not separation.
You are a die-hard Yankees fan. What lessons can be learned from sports teams (and their fans) that might also be helpful for people studying the Bible?
Uh, nothing. Those are two things I do keep separate. Or maybe the Yankees are the Israelites and the Red Sox the Canaanites. It’s a contemporary application of herem warfare.