Blogger of the Month for January 2008
Jim West Interviews Christian Brady
Editorial Note: Christian Brady authors the Targuman blog athttp://targuman.org/blog/.
JW: The first question that comes to mind is- why “Targuman”?
CB: When I got my first non-university email account in Apple’s eWorld (which AOL would eventually buy out) I had “OTMan” as my user name. Just something mildly reflecting my research and a bit superhero-ish. I saw my undergraduate advisor Gary Rendsburg at an SBL and he commented that since I work on the targumim (Aramaic versions of the Hebrew Bible) why not “Targuman” since “Meturgeman” is the term for one who reads/renders the biblical text into Aramaic. (The term means “translator.”) So Gary gets the credit for coining the user name that I have now had for 12 years or so.
JW: What made you interested in blogging?
CB: I have always been fairly interested in tech and gadgets. My father was an engineer for NASA (my first computer was a TI-99 4/A) and so we were regularly tinkering with things. I have tended to keep up on internet and technology phenomena and when blogging came into vogue I gave it some serious thought.
I initially had an anonymous blog, testing the waters as it were, but I just didn’t have enough to say or couldn’t figure out what was appropriate for the medium. I also decided that attempting to do anything anonymously on the web is just asking for someone to out you, so why not simply do it in the open? But I still wasn’t sure what, if anything, I have to say. (Truth is, I still feel that way. My blog barely, if at all, qualifies as a biblioblog since so much is taken up with tech talk, comics, and just general silliness.)
So I began a blog for the Honors Program at Tulane. I could see that prospective students were trolling the web for information about schools so I thought I might begin there and then see if I found my “voice.”
(As an aside, the blog became an important link during and after Katrina when TU’s services went down. Blogger was still up and I was able to communicate to students and faculty. Eventually a number of other colleagues and students began blogs as well to get through that time.)
Later I dropped the pretense of an anonymous blog and the concern with keeping it “on a topic.” Doing so probably costs me regular readers, since they never know what their going to get (unlike, for example, Jim Davila or Mark Goodacre’s NTGateway) but it is more “me.” Of particular interest to me, in a very self-centered way, is to look back and see what sort of self-portrait I have painted of myself through my blog. Not very deep, that is for sure! ;-)
JW: For the past several years you’ve organized the “blogger get together” at the SBL Annual Meeting. How do you think that’s gone?
CB: It has only been two years and very informal, but it has been great! In 2006 we were just a few folks and I had my big mics so we were able to set at a table and do a real conversation and make it into a podcast. This year we had 24 or so folks on a long table, so the best I could do was get introductions. I think this is an important social time, particularly for so many who share interests that are not necessarily the undisputed Pauline epistles’ views on cross-dressing Anglicans (or other such narrow niched seminars as we are wont to create at SBL). I am grateful for your efforts to try and get sponsorship for a proper reception next year. My goal next year is to wander around and so some interviews for the “bibliopodcast.”
JW: How did you come to an academic interest in the Bible?
CB: I was initially going to be “a real doctor,” but I was sick of labs. I grew up in an evangelical Presbyterian home where the study of Scripture was a primary focus so the interpretation and application of the Bible was of great interest to me. I was debating about going into the ministry or graduate work and took all the Bible courses that Cornell had to offer. At the time, that meant a double major in History (Medieval Church history as my focus) and Near Eastern Studies (ancient Judaism as my focus).
When I arrived in Oxford and was searching for a doctoral thesis topic I told my advisor, Philip Alexander, that I was interested in ancient exegesis, but I did not want to be pigeon-holed into a seminary job. I wanted to teach in a secular context. Philip suggested that I consider the works of the rabbis, particularly the targumim, since they are obviously very engaged in exegesis, but Jewish studies is still a very popular field in secular universities in the States. He was correct. So all of my publication has been in this area of targumic studies, but I am really very interested in all types of biblical exegesis and that is why I love election time. There is simply so much bad exegesis in political speeches.
JW: Tell us about your educational background.
CB: I just gave a pretty good outline above. I did my BA at Cornell in History and NES. I also helped to start the Religious Studies program and was their first minor to graduate. I did a short MA in Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College Graduate School, where I met my wife who was also working on an MA (is in Comm). I did a one-year graduate diploma (now an MSt) in Jewish Studies at Oxford before entering the DPhil programme in Oriental Studies.
JW: Many may not know that you were formerly at Tulane in New Orleans, tell us about your experience there (with particular attention to the events of 2005).
CB: Tulane was both a great and challenging time for us. We arrived in 1997 for a visiting position expecting our first child and with my doctoral thesis incomplete. It took a while to feel “at home” there. I did eventually get the tenure track job, which included being Director of Jewish Studies and the Classics department, which was my home, was a great community. The most frequent question I heard was “What is a nice Jewish boy like you doing with a name like ‘Christian’?” I quite liked that. I don’t think there have been very many Directors of Jewish Studies who were not Jewish.
In 2003 I received tenure and was named Asst. Director of the Honors Program and became Director in 2004. This has been a great change for me and one that I did not look for. The Provost of Tulane (now president of Kent State) asked me to take this one and I absolutely love the job. It is what led to my being offered the position of Dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. This job is, without a doubt, the best gig I have ever had. Wonderful people, fantastic place, great university, and I get to work with the most amazing students and alumni, from all disciplines, that you could ever imagine.
As for Katrina, We were fine and were just pleased to be able return quickly and help others. My wife continues to help as a crisis communications consultant for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. I think I will now cheat a bit and direct you to one of my blog posts from the January following Katrina. In that post I offer some reflections, including theological ones, on what happened.
JW: You have wide ranging interests- what interest is your most beloved?
CB: Most beloved or most blogged? I read far more comics than I should, not to mention spending/wasting time on YouTube and following Apple news, so that tends to be the majority of my blogging. (It is easy to throw up a link or an image with a word or too. No real deep reflection.) If I think about it a bit, I would have to say that helping form students to be positive contributors to our society, helping them to succeed and be whole and healthy and ethical people is probably my greatest passion right now.
I do love my research, I just don’t have much time for it. And yes, I have calculated it and if I would only write during those times I read 100+ comics per day I would be very productive. But it actually takes a fair amount of sustained time, not a few minutes here or there, for me to concentrate and do real research and writing. If I am away from it for a while, it takes that much longer just to spool back up before I can even begin to write.
JW: Your blog includes a good bit of mention about school activities. Would you describe yourself as a person with “school spirit”?
CB: Absolutely! I am not a blind loyalist, any institution will have its problems that need serious consideration. But I thoroughly enjoying being a part of the university community, going to basketball and football games (not to mention hockey!) and so on.
JW: You also have a great sense of humor. Do you think humor is an important attribute for a biblical scholar?
CB: You flatter me. Most of my family would not describe my sense of humor as “great.” My wife just said that isn’t completely true. She would describe my sense of humor as “average.” Thank you dear. I certainly think it helps for a teacher or preacher! I think humor helps immensely when trying to communicate difficult or challenging concepts. I also think folks who deal with such important and divisive texts to be able to laugh at ourselves and our texts.
JW: You recently experienced ordination. Tell us about that.
CB: Two years ago I was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church and just recently ordained as a priest. I tried to reassure our provost and president (who were incredibly supportive, btw) by letting them know that I would be doing mostly the same things I have always done on Sundays, except now I get to wear a pretty dress. They seem satisfied with that answer.
The ordination itself was interesting. I come from a very “low church” evangelical protestant background and I think that the high church service was a bit of a challenge for some of my family. But they were there and very supportive. I now not only preach but also celebrate 1-2 Sundays per month sometimes (like during the holiday season) more. Of course, it is the Episcopal Church and I have at times felt like a new cabin boy signing on to the Titanic just before her maiden voyage.
JW: Would you describe yourself as on the conservative end of the spectrum or the liberal or somewhere in the middle?
CB: I am an academic administrator now, so my response should be, “Yes. So, tell me more about yourself.”
It really depends upon which spectrum we are talking about. My theological views are fairly orthodox, my political views lean towards a tension between liberal and libertarian. My scholarly views are probably best described as moderate; I think that we can can say with some certainty that various biblical events happened historically and that asking such questions is not unreasonable, however, I do think there are serious limitations as to what we can know. (The same is true, of course, with regards to other historical figures and events outside of the biblical world.)
JW: Turning back to blogging, what do you think is the most valuable aspect of that phenomeon?
CB: The conversation and collegiality. I used to work, more or less, in my own world with little communication aside from conferences. Now we have a whole network and we can share (ideally) our thoughts and ideas as we are working on them.
JW: Which blogs do you read most regularly?
CB: I actually have to go look. I use a news aggregator, NetNewsWire, and I tend to loose track. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are Kevin Wilson’s Blue Cord, Mark Goodacre’s NTGateway, Christopher Heard’s Higgaion, and for amusement, Dr. Jim West.
JW: What are your interests outside of biblical studies and blogging?
CB: Professionally I follow some academic blogs and keep up on the doings in the world of Honors education. I am a big fan of Apple products, so I do some beta testing for certain companies and follow their news (MacWorld coming up!). Of course my family takes a lot of my time and recently I have been able to marry another of my long dormant passions, photography, with being with the fam. It has been so much fun to play with them and take candid shots to remember them.
JW: We always ask this- but do you have any secret expertise or hidden talent or interesting hobby that you would like to disclose to our readers?
CB: Well… I was the Maryland 4-H State Champion Poultry Judge in 1983. It basically involves feeling chickens. I think I will leave it at that.
JW: What one thing about yourself would you like readers to know?
CB: I am open to any conversation and any viewpoint, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have one of my own.
JW: What one thing about yourself would you like to keep secret from readers, but are going to go ahead and divulge anyway just to make us smile?
CB: I now have to trim the hair on my ears and I am thinking of combing my eyebrows like Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. [see picture]
JW: Thank you so much, Chris, first for your fine work, second, for your annual organization of the Blogger get together at the SBL, and finally for your collegiality.
CB: Your words and your invitation are very humbling. I cannot say that I feel my work is always fine, but I do try. I certainly enjoy the collegiality that blogging has helped to foster and I look forward to its growth!