As regular readers know, I've been helping lead a weekly bible class at a local prison. I've shared a few stories from the study, the most popular being this one.
One of the things that I've tried to downplay in the study is my status and title of "college professor" and "Dr. Beck." I just want to be Richard. But the guys in the study keep calling me "Professor" and "Dr. Beck."
I was recently lamenting about this with Jana. But she said something that really helped me. "You know," she said, "a lot of those guys never got a chance to go to college. You going out there, I bet, makes them feel a little like they are getting to take a college class." Jana's wise in this way. Her words made me realize that I didn't have to feel embarrassed by my title. In fact, it could be a location of grace.
Not that I play this up (and it helps that I don't really look like a professor). I just feel more comfortable if the guys want to call me "Professor" or "Doctor."
But here's the best thing about being a professor in prison: I've become a sort of answer engine. I'm their Google. At the end of every study a bunch of the guys will come up to me and ask questions. Mostly about the bible. If I can't answer right away I go off to find an answer and return with it next week. And the questions they ask are all over the place. Here's a recent one that was great fun to look into:
With the study over, one of the guys comes up to me after class and asks: "Professor, I have a question for you."I'd never thought about that. And by the way, these are the sort of questions I get a lot. The guys don't often ask about huge theological questions like the problem of evil or predestination and free will. They ask these midrash-like questions about small textual details and anomalies. Questions about why, if David was trusting in God, he took five rather than one stone into battle.
"Great. What is it?"
"Why did David, when he went out to fight Goliath, take five stones from the stream?"
"Why did David take five stones?"
"Yes. Why five stones? If David trusted God wouldn't he have taken only one stone into battle?"
Well, I didn't have an answer. So I did a little research. You'll be surprised to know that there has been a bit of discussion on this subject. Who knew? One of the more interesting answers is based on this text:
2 Samuel 21.18-22As we read here, there seem to have been five giants from Gath. Goliath and these four (one of whom, it seems, had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot). The four giants from Gath read about in 2 Samuel 21 are all "descendants of Rapha." And one of them was "the brother of Goliath." If we speculate a bit--And who doesn't like some good midrash speculation?--we might weave all this together to come up with an answer as to why David picked up five rather than one stone. Specifically, he might have picked up five stones because Goliath had four giant brothers. Or, at the very least, one giant brother and three giant cousins.
In the course of time, there was another battle with the Philistines, at Gob. At that time Sibbekai the Hushathite killed Saph, one of the descendants of Rapha.
In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.
In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of Shimeah, David’s brother, killed him.
These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.
David went down to battle with five stones prepared to whip the whole lot of them. Five stones for five related Philistine giants.
Such are the things I research being a professor in prison.