If I Could Go Back (20 Years)…: Preparing for a Career in Biblical Studies (Part 1)

Delorean

I am starting a new series called “If I Could Go Back…” I am now almost a decade into my teaching career, and it has given me a chance to look back and appreciate some things I did right, and also to consider how I could have better prepared for this vocation as teacher and researcher.

In this first part, I am going back 20 years to 1998. I was a sophomore in college at Miami University (OH). First I will talk about good decisions, then about what I could have done differently.

Good Decisions

I kind of stumbled into a major – I started first in music education. But I realized quickly this was not that interesting to me as a career. Then, I switched to “Speech Communication” as a placeholder. I had some interest in ministry (youth or college ministry of some kind). It didn’t occur to me at all to become a Bible professor. I wasn’t even interested in seminary at the time.

Probably the first good decision I made (accidentally) was taking Attic Greek. This was my first learning experience in Greek. I needed to take a language to fulfill my “language” requirement, and I thought it might be fun to learn ancient Greek and maybe study the New Testament. I took 8 credits my first year of college and LOVED it. So, I ended up taking 20+ credits of ancient Greek and had enough credits to be a major (even though I never officially declared it as a second major). This knowledge of Greek gave me a leg up (and I tested out of Greek in seminary). Now (2018), I am working closely with Plutarch, Xenophon, and other Hellenophone writers, and some of that knowledge is coming in handy as I return to classical resources.

Another “good decision” I made back then was taking journalism writing courses. My Speech Com concentration was “Public Relations” – I had to take two journalism courses. I cannot tell you how helpful these were both for learning about “research,” but especially for learning to write clearly, factually, and compellingly. I think every aspiring writer should take a journalism course. I also had to take marketing courses, and these came in handy when it came to learning how to “sell” an argument, article, book, idea, etc. And I had to take “interpersonal communication”: I don’t think I need to make a case for how crucial this is, but whether it is working with students, colleagues, or editors, you just can’t be a recluse in the academy and make it very far!

Done Differently

Ok, so what could I have done differently? I was at a public university, so I wasn’t confident in the strength of the religion courses. I took one (with James Hanges to boot!), but I didn’t understand a lick of it at the time (on apocalypticism in the ancient world). I think I would have benefited from a good course in ancient Greek and Roman history and civilization. Also, I wish I would have taken courses on archaeology and ancient historiography.

Perhaps the biggest regret I have from that time is that I didn’t heed people’s advice that I should do a semester abroad. We had abroad programs all over, and I just was too lazy to put any effort into it. I don’t have just one single benefit in mind from this, but I know now (having done my PhD abroad) that it helps to see other education systems, learning styles, and to explore and navigate other cultures.

I actually don’t look back to my college years with much regret. I seriously had no idea I would head down a professorial career. So I don’t beat myself up much in retrospect. Much of what I ended up learning has helped me, even though I made many course choices haphazardly.

When undergrads approach me, asking me how they can prepare for a path to doctoral studies and a career in academia, I often tell them to focus on languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German if you can. Learn history. Explore the world. Become a better writer.

Oh, and sleep while you can. 🙂

3 thoughts on “If I Could Go Back (20 Years)…: Preparing for a Career in Biblical Studies (Part 1)

  1. Dr Gupta, I have always appreciated your writing style and your heart behind your words.

    This is one of those articles that you want to read because of the time you’ve invested …. even for those of us who are older.

    Can’t wait for Part 2!

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