Monday, January 31, 2005


Originally uploaded by Michael Homan.
Here is my mom, Gilgamesh, Kalypso, Kochise, Mosey, Therese, and Keith getting ready for Barkus. We were a Quibitch team. You can see more pictures here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Number 20 in the Bible and Bible Review

An article I wrote about the number 20 recently came out in Bible Review. I especially like the cartoon. You can see an excert of it by clicking here.

39 Years

Today is my birthday. I'm 39 years old today. That isn't much for a tortoise or an olive tree. It strikes me as no big deal, but I'm curious if 40 will be a bigger deal. I get anxious when months pass, being a workaholic and all. I feel I should have done more for instance when January's end rolls around. But the years don't really bother me. I heard that Jack Benny always told people he was 39, so it must be a good year. This morning my children and Therese woke me up singing happy birthday and they had a cool tribal mask for a gift and a nice card from Kalypso. That was a great way to start off the day. In about an hour I'm giving a lecture to faculty about my student blog project. Then tonight I'm taking students to hear Gabi Barkay, an Israeli archaeoligist and friend of mine (we worked together at Zeitah). It will be nice to see him, but even better to see my mom after the lecture, who is coming into town for Barkus this Sunday.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Why Be a Christian?

For the first week of my Theology 1120 course, I ask students to blog about their background and their expectations for the course. One funny and profound and depressing comment read as follows:

"I hope that through this class I become a better Christian because I really hate earth and I don't want to go to hell if it is worst than this."

Look Out World, Here Comes "Freedom"

Yesterday, as Bush 43 was inaugurated, I attended a jazz funeral for democracy/a wake for peace here in New Orleans. I asked that my students who regularly meet on Thursdays for my Intro to Biblical Studies course come along with me. I thought they could learn more about the Bible and biblical authors by attending an event such as this than they could simply from hearing me talk. My point was that biblical authors wanted to change the worlds in which they lived, much like people at this rally, and that the students ought to be the change they seek to see in the world, to paraphrase Gandhi. I also wanted them to hear Howard Zinn, the keynote speaker. In the end I probably would have been better off simply holding class as usual. This was because of two reasons. First, not one student showed up, even though many promised. There were about 1,500 people there, so there is a small chance that some did show up and I didn't see the. I did see other faculty from Xavier there. Second, Howard Zinn had to cancel because his wife was ill. It might have been worth it for selfish reasons. I heard some great live New Orleans music from the Treme Brass Band, and met a lot of people who share an interest in improving our world and community. I really do want to be more active in our community. I even got to share a couple of turbodogs with my friend Bart, and besides, it was a beautiful day.

Then I got home and started listening to the press coverage of the inauguration speech. I found it ironic that a speech so full of words like "freedom" and "liberty" was given during a time with unprecedented security, with snipers on every roof, with massive fences and metal detectors everywhere, with very few protestors given a chance to voice their opinions, with people being held in prison without being charged of crimes, etc. Bush said that "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." What does this mean for our "allies" like Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia? And with Cheney and Rice in other recent interviews directly linking Iran to tyranny, are we about to invade yet another country? To me the speech was arrogant, and typified this administration's binary view that you are either with us or against us. And if you are against us, and don't subscribe to our type of oligarchic "democracy," then our guns are on the way. I additionally believe that this whole idea about spreading freedom is a result of no WMDs found as promised in Iraq. That is to say, first the war was about preemptive strike to remove Sadam before he attacks us with the smoking gun mushroom cloud we heard so much about. But then no WMDs, so now that war was about spreading freedom.

Finally, I just received an email from my mother that contained the following joke which I found to be appropriate:


They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't
we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart
guys, it's worked for over 200 years and we're not using it

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Bible Mysteries: Group Projects for My Intro Class

A few years ago I came up with this idea for group projects that I call Bible Mysteries. It has been very successful in getting students to present interesting material to their sections. Below is what I handout as guidelines:

Groups will have 10 minutes to present (do not read!) their mystery and solutions in class. Creativity is strongly encouraged. Presentations must involve at least two powerpoint slides loaded on the computer before class. After conducting preliminary research, the group must meet with Dr. Homan outside of class for discussion and relevant articles. One mystery will appear on the Midterm and Final Examinations, so these presentations need to be clear and correct, as they are valuable study guides. Please keep in contact with Professor Homan during your investigation to make sure you are on the right track. The objective of these mysteries is to enable students to problem-solve in groups, to differentiate between sound scholarship and crazy unsubstantiated ideas, and to explore the Bible’s profound impact on our world. Each group will do two mysteries evenly distributed (e.g. 1 & 7, 2 & 8, etc.). Presentations will be graded based on content, clarity, and ability to engage student interest.

Mystery One: In your English Bibles, there are three ways to write “lord”: LORD, Lord, and lord. What are the original Hebrew words for all three, what do these words mean in Hebrew, and why do the translators write “LORD” instead?
Mystery Two: Why does Michelangelo's famous sculpture of Moses depict him with horns?
Mystery Three: Why are Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles each divided into two books (e.g. 1 Samuel & 2 Samuel)? Why do some consider Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all to be one book? Hint: Think scrolls.
Mystery Four: How does the judge Ehud kill Eglon, and how does Ehud escape?
Mystery Five: To what biblical passage does "Lord of the Flies" apply? Using textual criticism, what was the original passage? Why did they change it? Similarly, according to the Bible, Saul has a son named Ishbosheth. However, his name was not in fact Ishbosheth. What was his real name, who changed it, and why was the change made?
Mystery Six: What is the Ark of the Covenant, what was inside of it, and where is it?
Mystery Seven: Why did David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, take this name? What does Second Isaiah say about Cyrus and why?
Mystery Eight: Read Isaiah 7, an extremely influential prophecy for Christianity. In verse 14 it says either a young girl or a virgin will conceive. What is the issue here? Most scholars do not believe that Isaiah is knowingly predicting the birth of Jesus. What then is Isaiah talking about, and what is the Syro-Ephraimite War?
Mystery Nine: Using what you know of biblical parallelism, how would you punctuate Isaiah 40:3? A voice cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of Yahweh make straight in the desert a highway for our God. How do the authors of the New Testament get this wrong?
Mystery Ten: Describe the biblical concept of Sabbath for people and land. When and why did the Christian Sabbath move from Saturday to Sunday?
Mystery Eleven: Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? Why do some scholars believe Jesus was born in the Spring? And why is 2004 actually somewhere between 1998 to 2000? Hint: this last question has to do with a man named Dennis the Little and his miscalculations of Augustus's reign.
Mystery Twelve: To what is the number 666 in reference, what is gematria, what is Armageddon, and why is the number 13 widely held to be unlucky?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Why I'm "Into the Biblecal Times"

Yesterday I posted a comment from a student who felt that the course material in my Intro to Biblical Studies course wasn't appropriate for her. She especially found that reading the textbook by Stephen Harris called Understanding the Bible to be a waste of time unless you were interested in the Bible. So yesterday I responded to her email by saying the following:

"Hi (student's name), sorry you are finding the textbook Understanding the Bible to be difficult. If you have specific questions about the material why don't you come see me during office hours. When you say that the course material is "just good to know and not anything that will help me in the future" I'm not really sure what you're talking about. I believe that no matter what your major/career paths is, that the material in this course will help make you a more educated critical thinker."

This morning she responded by saying "Well i meant that it seems like something that would be nice to read if you were into the Biblecal times but as far information it was not helpful."

This is a perfect illustration of my theory about how university education changing to a "bottom line this is a business" is creating a "what's in it for me?" type of student. A better teacher than me might see this student and the increasingly pervasive attitude that Biblical Studies is not relevant as a challenge. At this point I'm not sure how to approach it.

So I simply responded by saying: "I understand that you don't feel the textbook is appropriate for you, but are you asking me something?"

Thursday, January 13, 2005

What I Teach Turns Out to be Meaningless

Last night I received an email from a student in my Intro to Biblical Studies course who wanted me to tell me her opinion about the course so far. She said that she could see why some people might find the course material interesting, but that it wasn't anything that was going to help her in the future. This might turn out to one long freaking semester.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Jazz Funeral for Democracy

On inauguration day, Thursday January 20th, there will be what looks to be an amazing event in New Orleans. It is a Jazz Funeral to protest the policies of the current US government. The event is called a Jazz Funeral for Democracy. I applaud whoever came up with the idea.

I'm encouraging my students to attend, and I posted the following notice on the course website:

A very important part of this class is the fact that biblical authors and many biblical prophets didn't just sit in their ivory towers and theorize. Instead they took action. I think there is a very important and educational event coming up in New Orleans on Thursday January 20th which fits in well with the course goal. The event is a Jazz Funeral for Democracy set to coincide with the inauguration of the president. I am not trying to preach to you my political views, but rather I feel the world is currently in a lot of trouble, and like a biblical author I want to voice my feelings and concerns for this country and the world. So I'll be attending this event and marching in this wake/second line in protest. I would encourage you to do the same if you feel so inclined. It looks very interesting, and is uniquely New Orleans. If you want to meet me there, I'll be in Congo Square (Armstrong Park) wearing a Xavier shirt. I might even make a sign. What this means is January 20th you'll still have to do the reading, but we will cover the discussion/lecture in class January 18th. The first Bible Mystery, then, will be pushed back to Tuesday January 23rd, with the second Bible Mystery staying the same, Thursday Jan 25th. If you have any questions email me or ask in class.

Monday, January 10, 2005


I just finished meeting with a former student who wants me to write a letter of recommendation for her. I honestly don't know her very well, but I do remember she was a pretty good student who had me for a teacher for one class a few semesters ago. It turns out that students who want to go to medical school have to get one person outside of the sciences to write a letter of rec, so I'm sure her two other letter writers know her better. I'm always curious if my letter really means that much, as if the decision to admit the student into med school comes down to my letter. So I always ask about scores on the MCAT and gpa. This student said that she was a junior with a gpa of 4. I asked do you mean like 4.8 and you're rounding it up? She said no, I mean 4.0. That really impressed me. I told her jokingly that there was a HUGE difference between students with a 4.0 and those with a 3.82. There were semesters in which I earned a 4.0, but overall my gpa was never that high. I wasn't too mature when I started college, and even if I were I'm not sure I would be capable of the discipline it would take to get a 4.0. I can always blame it on the fact that I always had to work 30-40 hours per week for money while taking classes, but the truth is that I didn't study as hard as it would take to get a perfect gpa. I also think there is something to be said for a 3.3 gpa. They probably go to more parties and have more time for friends and fun things, and still can get into medical school. Only then they need their theology teachers to write AMAZING letters of recommendation. My point is 4.0 students should get professors who had 3.3 gpa's to write them letters and students who have 3.3 gpa's should get professors who had 4.0 gpa's.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Student Evaluations Reduce Blog Wordcount

The most dominant theme of my evaluations for last semester was that 2000 words per week on the blog was too much. So I decided to reduce this number to 1000. Also I'm going to experiment with an oral examination instead of my standard comprehensive tests in an effort to go completely into paperless teaching.

The Bottom Line and Did Anarchy Sell Out?

Lately I've noticed the increased use of the phrase "The Bottom Line Is This is a Business." This especially bothers me when it is applied to altruistic things such as education. Teaching in the Theology Department, it would seem that we need to recruit more and more majors to avoid having our department cut. We need to prove to the administration that we are cost effective, and that we bring money into this institution. We want lower class sizes because we can be better teachers, the administration wants much larger class sizes because it would cost them less. This country's newest federal budget is increasing defense and homeland security spending and cutting funding for education across the board. Now when the president of our university tries to raise funds, more and more the people loaning the money want to know what exactly is in it for them. I believe that all aspects of education are vitally important to this country and the world. Increasingly when I ask Freshmen why they are here at a university they say they want to be a doctor or a Pharmacist so they can get rich. People often ask students majoring in the humanities "what are you going to do with a degree in that?" I believe that being an educated critical thinker has merit no matter what vocation someone might choose.

Then last night I was watching the FedEx Orange Bowl, which featured Aflek Trivia questions, air shots from the Goodyear Blimp, the ADT Championship trophy, and during the Pontiac High Performance Halftime show I watched some terrible band sing (I think it was lyp syncing Ashlee Simpson) with an anarchy A in the background. That seemed to me to represent that anarchy has sold out and went corporate. Will we soon see the trademark or copyright logo next to the anarchy A, and will Donald Trump soon be wearing Sex Pistols buttons? This society's role models seem to be chosen by wealth and greed. Could somebody please let me know when the revolution is coming? I want to rescue anarchy from the Pontiac High Performance Halftime show.

Monday, January 03, 2005

4 New Student Movies

My students made four new Quicktime movies which can be seen here. I recommend Rashomon Resurrection and 8 Cubit, though all are pretty good. The students had a great time making these movies, at least they preferred this activity to hearing my voice lecture. I also gave each section an exam to test their knowledge on this material, that is to say I wanted to document that they were learning something while they prepared for and made these movies. The results were excellent, and reaffirmed my belief that this is a great way to get the students to learn something, especially at the end of the semester when everyone is drained.

Improving the World Blog Now On Video

Last semester I had my Theology 1120 students pick a project to improve the world and post 2000 words per week about it to a blog, at the end of the semester I filmed the students summarizing their projects. This quicktime movie can be seen here. I'm pretty proud of the work that my students did last semester.

Back in 2000

Therese and I have been going through boxes of old photos. We came across this one taken just after I defended my dissertation at UCSD. Pictured from left to right are Bill Propp (co-director of my dissertation), Thomas Levy (co-director), Shawna Dolansky (kneeling), yours truly, Kat (kneeling), Adolfo in background (probably wearing cowboy boots), David Noel Freedman (committee member), Kim Catsup, Richard Friedman (committee member), Sarah Malena (sort of kneeling) and David Goodblatt (committee member).

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Very Sad Conclusion to the Walmart Fiasco

I’d been losing sleep over this whole Walmart gift card situation. We boycott Walmart, but my father gave my two children each a $25 gift certificate to the Satan of retail chains. The best comment on my earlier posting to this blog suggested that we buy 50 dollars worth of non-perishable food products and then give them to the local foodbank. I was sold. Great idea, at least the best way out of this dilemma. But I decided (on the advice of Therese) to present the options to our children, as after all technically the gift cards were for them. It didn’t take too long for the kids to decide that they would rather buy toys for themselves than food for hungry people, even though we’ve seen several homeless people sleeping lately on the sidewalks and my 9-year-old daughter has commented on how tragic that whole situation is. But anyway, we went to Walmart, and after two hours of hell they bought a video game and many action figures. There was still $17 dollars left over of the original 50, and I hoped they would choose to spend this on the foodbank, but they decided to get one last toy. In the end we had 23 cents left on the gift cards, which we threw away, and I am so glad to finally be over with the whole Christmas/Walmart situation. I didn’t like the end result, but I am so thankful that it is over. This mirrors (sort of) how I feel about the presidential election of 2004.