My work, done for me.

I wrote earlier that my Bible as Literature professor is a whole blog entry unto himself. (Actually, I think the course is called the Bible in English. What-evuh.) I started going with a small group of fellow Fellows, tipped that the professor’s lectures are a show unto themselves, edutainment in the best sense of the word. Whoa. No kidding. Ralph Williams is a local legend at the U of M, and his courses seem to work this way — he lectures to giant, packed halls, while grad students handle the smaller discussion sections. As indolent KWFs, I and my fFs are choosing to attend lectures only, since they are so satisfying, part tent revival, part Shakespeare.

If I had to sum up Williams’ presentation, I’d say one-third Mick Jagger, one-third Jesse Jackson, one-third Laurence Olivier. He starts each lecture with a few handshakes with the crowd, then a recitation the hour’s “rubrics.” Today’s, on the Garden of Eden, were “The song for a woman,” “A man, a woman and a serpent,” “A blessing and a cursing,” “Silent spots in the text: How do you read,” “I don’t know” and “The uncreating word.” (Some of these were obvious, but I still have no idea what “silent spots in the text” were, unless it’s the extended riff he did on the actual meaning of the ancient Hebrew word — “ezer” — used to describe Eve.) His most obvious vocal signature is occasional pauses to exclaim, “Are you following?! Yea/nay?!?”

He dashes around the lecture hall, his enormous hands waving in the air, voice filling every corner, demanding the attention of every pair of eyes. He stands still to demonstrate God blowing the first breath into man, taking Adam’s first respirations with him, and you can hear that, too. It’s all quite riveting. My first thought, five minutes into the first lecture I attended, was, “This guy must be boffo on the Book of Job.” I borrowed my neighbor’s syllabus, and sure enough, there was a special note that the Job lecture would be delivered in two parts on special dates, rooms TBA, with “parents, friends and special guests warmly welcomed to think with us.” When he finishes, I don’t know whether to pack up my notebook or stand up with a lit match.

So you get the idea — academic living legend, very popular, never a dull moment. Now, perhaps, you can get the joke behind the humor paper’s story: Ralph Williams named UM basketball coach.

Posted at 8:04 pm in Uncategorized |

5 responses to “My work, done for me.”

  1. beth said on January 22, 2004 at 12:59 am

    Wow! Your Bible as Literature class sounds a lot more dramatic than the one I took about 8 years ago. As a recovering Catholic, I loved the approach to the Bible as a learning tool as opposed to being the “Gospel”. My class was an undergrad one, where our prof detailed other creation/fratricide/flood/etc. stories from other cultures that parallel Christian ones, with proof from authentic lit that would’ve scared the habit off of a nun! The best lesson that I learned from the class was that no matter how original you may believe your theory/belief to be, someone else had that same idea thousands of years ago.


    PS- Did your professor point out that Genesis actually contains TWO creation stories, and that only one blames Eve?

    THAT was the highlight of the class for me!

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  2. ashley said on January 22, 2004 at 12:30 pm

    I always wanted to teach a class where I could get all theatrical and shit. This quarter, I’m teaching “Relational Database Design” and “Spatial Databases”. Dat shit don’ play with this material…sigh. Hell, even Feynman had better material than I do.

    Although, I’m always proud when students tell others that my class made them like databases. If that is truly the case, that I can convert the heathen with this dry material, then I must be doing something right.

    That year of starving as a stand-up is finally paying off.

    Do give us a detailed report on Job, Noah, and the crucifixion.

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  3. Eric Zorn said on January 22, 2004 at 3:20 pm


    I took Ralph Williams for Great Books nearly 30 years ago now and it’s great to read that he apparently hasn’t slowed down even a bit. It was the only class in which I never saw anyone sleep…what a performer, and what a genius as well.

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  4. mtk said on January 22, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    I took a U-M Bible as Literature course about 15 years ago. Great course, less dramatic professor. First time I ever considered the idea that Protestants might know more about the Bible than Catholics (grew up Catholic). A year later, I was Lutheran, though I didn’t get around to reading the whole Bible until about 5 years ago with an Audio Book version that pulled me through the less interesting parts.

    I was taught in that course that the Bible contains as many as 5 creation accounts, although they all can be considered facets of one as they take different hypotactic/paratactic perspectives on the event. (Learnt them 75 cent words at U-M too.) Weeeee hoooo.

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  5. Nance said on January 22, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    What I like most about courses like these is to see the common roots of creation stories, etc. It makes the whole collective-unconscious theory more interesting.

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