To Do List

As I work through another stack of exegetical papers, I’m struck by the variety of ways that students approach the task of writing an interpretive essay. I’ve said before, elsewhere, that we in the biblical field have a very hard time articulating what we expect of students; we enter the field by having successfully assimilated an array of criteria that rarely (if ever) come to explicit expression, so when we assess student papers, it’s hard to communicate just what we’re finding right or wrong, praiseworthy or unsatisfactory. Our students aren’t dull-witted or willfully obtuse; they just don’t observe a translucent, rule-governed discourse that they might emulate. Even when one articulates an extensive description of criteria, and explains characteristics of excellent work, students often go their own way. They may be unaccustomed to these criteria, or may have been so firmly imprinted by another teacher’s different approach, or be generally confused about argumentation, exposition, or other tasks. In a word, student’s lack a clear, coherent, lucid explanation of what biblical scholars do, of what they as students should do, of how one might frame a sound interpretive argument, of what constitutes a supporting argument or a rebuttal, and so on.
If, as seems moderately likely, I have a certain amount of free time during the next year, I look forward to producing a small tract that lays out a rough sketch of what constitutes an interpretive problem, how to distinguish among a report and an expository essay and an exegetical essay, what constitutes evidence in exegesis, what to make of various exegetical methods, how to introduce the testimony of scholarly sources (with due attention to their diversity and disagreements), and so in — somewhat in the style of my handout on conducting NT research in Seabury’s United Library.
But first, I have to finish these papers. And if I do perchance find a job, this task — though all the more urgent — may have to wait for other immediate obligations.

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