My School of the Prophets

schoolprophets3

A long time ago I was called to be my stake’s “institute teacher.”[1] I had taught lots of Gospel Doctrine classes in the stake, and I have always endeavored to make my classes interesting and on the level of a good BYU Religious Education course, and apparently someone had noticed that effort and decided to let me teach on a stake-wide basis. I took the call as quite an honor and of course accepted.

I taught for eight years, at the end of which I was thoroughly burned out and grateful to cede the role to others. I was given complete freedom as to what to teach. This is  what I ended up doing over the eight-year period:[2]

Year 1. BoM.

Year 2. BoM (continued).

Year 3. Early Mormon History.

Year 4. Biblical Hebrew.

Year 5. Biblical Hebrew (repeated).

Year 6. New Testament Greek.

Year 7. Early Mormon History.

Year 8. Old Testament.

The SP and his wife came to my very first BoM class, and I remember thinking that if they attended the class that would probably be a draw for other students. But they never returned, and I realized that they had come just to vet me and make sure they were comfortable with my teaching the class. I must have passed the test, because I was given free reign from that point on.

The BoM class was not two courses; it was a single class that lasted for two freakin’ years(!) I kid you not. Since I could do whatever I wanted, that is what I decided I wanted to do. And I must admit, it was glorious. That way we were able to roll up our sleeves and get into the nitty gritty in much more detail than is possible in a GD class. It was more along the  lines of a Torah study.

The Early Mormon History course, which I taught in two separate years, was basically just something I made up. Most of the class was New York, and then we did about half (or less) of Ohio, and that was the end because that was just how far we could get in a year. Basically I followed Bushman’s JS and the Beginnings of Mormonism (with a fair amount of color from Lucy’s book) and Backman’s Heaven’s Resound for Ohio. (Rough Stone Rolling did not yet exist at that time.) At that time there wasn’t a decent ready made resource for all the different First Vision accounts, so I made my own, spiral bound version, with all of the accounts derived from various scholarly sources (such as the early Jessee JSP volumes).

I forget what my inspiration was for the Hebrew class,[3] but I figured if they could study Hebrew at the Kirtland School of the Prophets, we could do the same. I had learned Hebrew at BYU using Thomas Lambdin’s Introduction, but that book was insanely expensive (I don’t recall now how much; I want to say like $90). Also it was pretty linguistically sophisticated. I called Eisenbrauns to get a recommendation, and they suggested I use Page Kelley’s Introduction, which was paper back, more straightforward linguistically for beginners and much more reasonably priced. So that is what I did, and it worked great. We met in the high council room, and for the first class there were 25 or so students, which was a huge turnout for a class like this. That number pretty quickly diminished to more like a dozen though, which did not surprise me. The idea of learning a language is often more appealing than the reality.[4] In many ways the class was frustrating to me, because I was teaching busy adults, not college students. We met once a week without appreciable homework (I don’t recall whether I assigned any, but if I did few actually did it), and so it was hard to make as much progress as I wanted. But we did make progress given the limitations of the format.

At the end of the class, one of the class members (who was on the high council), said that one of the best classes he ever had was a trigonometry class, where he took the same class twice in a row, and the second time through the material began to slow down in his mind and he started to really grasp it. So at that suggestion we basically taught the same class over again, which I think was indeed helpful to many of the class members. Now, over the course of a year we did not get as far as a university course would in a semester, but we did learn some of the basics and it was a great experience for the students.[5]

The NT Greek class was a natural complement to the Biblical Hebrew course. Quite honestly that class was a bit disappointing to me, as there were fewer students who signed up for it and the passion for the subject seemed to be less. Whereas most Christians would prioritize learning Greek over Hebrew, for Mormons my impression was that it was the other way around (perhaps because that was the language Joseph spent a semester learning academically, or perhaps because the Hebrew is more exotic, or perhaps for other reasons altogether, I don’t know). Still, we had a good core group learn the basics of NT Greek. At the conclusion of the class we held a class party at a class member’s (gorgeous) cabin by a lake up in Wisconsin, so the class was worth it for that alone if nothing else.

The Old Testament class was an actual Institute of Religion course. The neighboring stake wanted such a course for their Northwestern University students, but didn’t have anyone to teach it, so my stake loaned me to them for the purpose (plus a player to be named later [grin]). I taught this class at Northwestern’s downtown campus in the City of Chicago just off Michigan Avenue (in what was I believe the Dental School that was then in the process of closing or recently had closed.) We had a good group of students for that class. Staying late in the City to teach it was tough on me due to my long commute to the suburbs, but I was willing to make the sacrifice for a semester, at least.

Looking back on the experience, I had a fantastic time. The Stake rolled the ball out on the court for me, then got out of the way and trusted me to do my thing. I don’t recall any interference whatsoever, but only a lot of appreciation for my efforts. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I daresay it was as well for many of the stake members who took the trouble to attend. I will always remember those classes fondly.

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[1] That is what it was called at the time, but it was a stake calling, not actually part of the then Church Education System. A more accurate title would be stake adult continung education teacher.

[2] I might have the order somewhat scrambled in my memory, so this listing is only approximate.

[3] I just did my taxes this morning, and my tax guy was a student in my Hebrew class (in fact by far my best student). We talked about that class a bit, which is what inspired me to write this post.

[4] I was not shaken by the quick decrease in attendance. While at BYU I took a noncredit course to learn Coptic (the Christian era form of Egyptian) from S. Kent Brown in the Richards building. Same thing happened there; big turnout for the first class, but once we got into the actual weeds only a stalwart core remained.

[5] The student I mentioned in note 3 above told me that he sometimes attends Jewish services at various synagogues and that he can still follow along in the Hebrew.

Comments

  1. Every stake needs a Kevin Barney to teach. Vet them, and then let’em do their thing.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Actually Ben, when I wrote that line I was thinking of you and the misguided push back you have received.

  3. Kevin, I envy your environment there. On a recent home teaching visit, my (adult) companion gave the message. He spent the entire time on a single sentence in Pres. Monson’s gathering. That sentence? Don’t use anything beyond the manual in church teaching. At least that was the interpretation. There was a palpable fear in the room, not only of what Sunday teaching should be bounded by, but any gospel study.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    It is to be hoped that Elder Ballard’s recent discourse on this subject will begin to walk back such views. The Church is paying a steep price now for the inadequate teaching that results from such edicts, especially among its young people.

  5. Jason K. says:

    So great, Kevin. Torah study gives me serious holy envy. I’m glad they gave you the room to do something like that.

  6. What a wonderful thing. I’d love to attend such classes. Or teach them, although the Hebrew and Greek would be more than a stretch.

  7. “Free rein.” Not “free reign.” The allusion is to horseback riding, not the divine right of kings. :

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Oops! Of course you’re right, Mark B. I’ll leave it as is so the comment will continue to make sense.

  9. Kevin, can you provide a link for the recent discourse by Elder Ballard you mentioned above? It sounds like something I need as I attempt to provide guideance to Relief Society teachers.

  10. Kevin Barney says:
  11. WVS, that’s terribly frustrating. Elder Ballard’s discourse needs wider distribution.

  12. Kevin, do you have any recommendations for a beginner wanting to study NT Greek? Something like Page Kelley’s Introduction?

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Sorry, Chris W, I just now saw this. If you are going to teach yourself, I would recommend Parsons Greek Tutor:

    http://www.amazon.com/Greek-Tutor-Biblical-Personal-Interactive/dp/1572641584

    and the book we used in the class, William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek:

    http://www.amazon.com/Basics-Biblical-Grammar-William-Mounce/dp/0310287685/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460206990&sr=1-1&keywords=william+mounce+basics+of+biblical+greek