Michael Pahl (10/06)

Blogger of the Month for October 2006

Brandon Wason Interviews Michael Pahl

Editorial Note: Michael Pahl is the author of the weblog the stuff of earth(http://michaelpahl.blogspot.com/).

BW: Michael, thank you for allowing us to interview you. I always enjoy reading your blog and I wanted to extend a congratulations for the new addition to your family.

MP: Thanks, Brandon. We are enjoying little Adalynn, and she seems to be enjoying us!

BW: First, do you mind telling us about yourself? Where you were born and raised?

MP: I am Canadian through and through, eh. I grew up in southern Alberta, a province on the western prairies filled with farmers, ranchers, and lots of oil and gas: the Texas of Canada, only slightly smaller (which a Texan could have told you) and more Canadian (which, as any Canadian knows, simply means “not American”). :-)

BW: What first got you interested in the New Testament as an academic pursuit?

MP: The first spark was a course I took in college in which the instructor read Paul in a thoroughly historical way. I had grown up in the neo-docetism all too typical of “fundagelicalism,” where we would acknowledge the historical origins of the Bible but in practice treat it as completely untouched by its historical context. So this thoroughly historical reading of Paul was somewhat of a shock for me. To my surprise, I found that, rather than deadening my reading of the Bible, this approach brought the text and the people behind the text to life. There were other sparks along the way, other instructors, fellow students, and many books, but the final spark that lit the flame was reading N. T. Wright’sThe New Testament and the People of God. I was captured by his convergence of history, literature, and theology in reading the New Testament.

BW: Where do you teach and how long have you been there?

MP: I teach at Prairie Bible College, a small (large by Canadian standards) Christian college in the evangelical tradition that focuses on church and parachurch ministry preparation. I’ve been here now for eight years.

BW: Describe your year in Birmingham, England. What was it like being a Canadian in England?

MP: We had a blast! Of course I was there to focus on my dissertation research through the University of Birmingham, which I did during the week. But as a family we spent most weekends roaming around the city and surrounding countryside, and even further afield: Coventry, Warwick, Stratford, Cambridge, Oxford, London, over to Wales, and even up to Edinburgh. Western Canada doesn’t have much “visible history”–Alberta was only established as a province in 1905–so we loved the history evident all around us in Britain. In broader cultural terms, the experience confirmed for us how much Canada is still connected to its British heritage. In terms of popular culture, Canada is heavily influenced by the U.S., but in almost every other way (socially, politically, etc.) Canada is closer to Britain than the U.S.

BW: Do you mind discussing your dissertation and current research?

MP: Not at all. My dissertation is focused on the knotty problem of the “word of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. Is this a prophetic revelation? Is it Jesus tradition? My conclusion in a nutshell is that the phrase itself refers to the gospel, the salvific message centred on Jesus’ death and resurrection. But the specific question has provided a nice window into all sorts of larger issues: the pre-Gospel Jesus tradition, the earliest Christian prophecy, Paul’s gospel, and so on.

BW: Outside of your dissertation, what areas of NT research appeal to you most?

MP: I’m a bit of a “generalist” in New Testament studies (if a NT person can truly be called a “generalist”!). I’m interested in almost anything in New Testament studies and Christian origins. But some specific current areas of interest include the Synoptic problem, the pre-Gospel Jesus tradition, the Thessalonian epistles, Paul’s gospel, and the historical and theological relationship between Jesus and Paul.

BW: What scholars, past or present, do find the most engaging?

MP: The “most engaging” scholars are not necessarily the ones I most agree with. I find Dominic Crossan’s work thoroughly engaging, for example, and I always learn much from his work even though I disagree with most of his conclusions. N. T. Wright is another thoroughly engaging speaker and writer, and I find my perspectives akin to his in general terms. Among the younger generation of scholars, Mark Goodacre is a great example of an engaging scholar both in his writing and his speaking, and his scholarship is first rate. As for past scholars, Albert Schweitzer and C. H. Dodd immediately spring to mind as outstanding scholars who were also engaging writers. But there are many, many others who have combined first-rate scholarship with engaging prose and speech.

BW: What drew you to blogging and what do you find most rewarding about it?

MP: My blog is almost two years old now, so it was started when there were only a handful of blogs that could be called “biblioblogs.” I was drawn to it originally as a way of expressing my faith, providing family updates for far-flung family, and to highlight New Testament-related internet resources and news items for my students and colleagues. These are still the basic reasons why I blog, but the focus has gradually shifted more toward the last of these. One of the initially unexpected rewards has been meeting people virtually through the medium of blogging and the internet, and then meeting many of them in person at various conferences. Blogging has given me a global network of like-minded people, with some relationships even developing into friendships.

BW: In what direction do you see biblical studies blogs going?

MP: In terms of delivery, I see team blogging continuing to expand. In my view, while there is much that is gained by team blogging, there is also something lost when a blog no longer has a distinctive “voice print,” a distinctive personality or character behind it. If Jim West’s blog, for example, moved to a team blog concept, I would probably be less inclined to frequent the blog, since Jim West’s online persona (and real-life personality) is part of the draw to his blog. In terms of content, I see fewer blogs merely highlighting internet resources and such and more blogs focusing on producing original content: publishing series on specific topics either for non-academics or for fellow scholars, or using the blog as a way of hashing out ideas in their near-publication stage, for example. There will always be a place for “links” blogs, especially when produced by scholars who can provide informed critique of the link they provide ( e.g. Jim Davila’sPaleoJudaica). But original content is becoming the staple of most biblioblogs, and that is certainly not a bad thing.

BW: In what direction, if any, would you like your own blog to go?

MP: Although I will continue the general focus noted above–personal and family notes, noting internet items for students and colleagues–I’ve begun working with a bit more of a focus on the Thessalonian epistles. I plan on continuing my blog commentary on 1 Thessalonians as well as my “Thessalonian Watch” feature which highlights news items and internet resources related to Thessaloniki and the Thessalonian epistles.

BW: What do you enjoy doing in your down time?

MP: These days, with a new baby and a full teaching load, I’m lucky if I can make it to the couch and turn on the TV at the end of the day! :-) I thoroughly enjoy what I do in my work, so my “down time” is often simply more of the same: reading and writing in my research interests. Apart from that, one of my favourite things to do is simply to hang out with my family. And with the new NHL season just starting up, I’ll soon be back into Calgary Flames fan mode after a two-year hiatus. (Go Flames!)

BW: Tell us something interesting about yourself that we otherwise might not know.

MP: I don’t know that there’s anything terribly interesting about me. I suppose someone might be interested to know that I trained as a classical violinist, and a career as a violin teacher and performer was a serious option for me. Now I’m lucky if I pull out my violin once a week and fiddle “The Devil’s Dream” or play a Bach Partita.

BW: Thanks again, Michael for this interview. We wish you the best.

MP: Thanks for doing these interviews!

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