On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila notes that St Andrews' classes start today. Likewise I see in my diary that term starts in Birmingham today, and it feels a bit odd not being there for the beginning of the academic year for the first time in a decade. But over here at Duke, I had my first class today, the first few weeks having been covered by Andrew Mbuvi. It's a first year class, or what we'd call a "Level 1" class in the UK, on the Introduction to the New Testament. Because of the set up here I have more time with the students, a longer semester (about 13 weeks against Birmingham's 10/11) and three hour long sessions a week rather than one two hour block. I rather like that -- it gives one much more scope to develop a theme with the class. When doing my Intro NT in Birmingham, I always had to cover the Synoptic Problem, for example, in the one two-hour session. Here I am able to cover it in four hour-long sessions, so it does not feel like we are dashing through it.
Today we looked at the data, the Synoptic Problem without prejudging anything by introducing solutions to the problem. One of my complaints about some introductions to the Synoptic Problem is that they in fact leap straight into solutions to the problem without first exploring all the interesting contours of the problem, and giving students some kind of itinerary, or even some feel for why it's worth studying. I was particularly struck by Raymond Brown's comment in his Introduction to the New Testament that many students will find the Synoptic Problem "complex, irrelevant to their interests and boring". I repeated those comments in class today, with some attempt to explain why I do not find it boring and why they too might find it worth the investment of time that is demanded.
In case you are wondering, I would like to say that it is an accident of timing that I have taken the Synoptic Problem as the topic for my first week of lectures here, but it is not. I thought when preparing the syllabus that it might be nice to begin lecturing here on something I would particularly enjoy.
My first impressions of teaching in America? Actually not that different from teaching in the UK. The class was bright, lively and engaged and many were willing to make useful and interesting contributions. The number in the class is a manageable 30 or so, a little less than I am used to, but not a lot less.
By the way, I am wasting less time now getting lost while driving to campus, and with a parking permit too, things are getting a little more civilized each day. Today was the coolest day since our arrival, but it was still warm enough to take a swim outdoors before some light rain this evening. North Carolina natives seem to regard the temperature as cooler now and apparently there were raised eyebrows in the mall today when my wife Viola bought a swimming costume (here called a "bathing suit") for our younger daughter in what is regarded as out of season, but the plus with this was that they were able to get a $25 costume for $5.
American English discovery of the day: the word "leaflet" is apparently not known. What we would call a leaflet would here be called a brochure.