Funny Stories About Famous Scholars?

I have a few stories about some scholars that I think are mildly entertaining, perhaps even humorous in some way.  Nothing incriminating or damaging.  Just . . . unique.  For the sake of bringing a bit of levity (as I continue to write the trusty dissertation), I thought I would share a few with you all and also invite you to share yours. 

To begin, I have two brief stories involving E.P. Sanders.  
1) Sanders retired at the end of my first year at Duke, so I unfortunately had no opportunity to take a course with him.  I, however, as a huge fan of his work on the historical Jesus and in deep appreciation for his Paul and Palestinian Judaism, I asked to stop by his office and chat for a bit.  He complied (even entrusting me with his home email).  We had a nice, short meeting.  Two of the humorous highlights were, for me, his comment when I asked him to sign my copy of Paul and Palestinian Judaism; he simply said, “yeah, I have absolutely no idea what I was thinking when I wrote this!”  Given the resoundingly seminal, paradigm shifting nature of this work, I found this statement funny.  Second, we spoke briefly about other scholar’s readings of Romans, and I mentioned a certain someone (I won’t name who), and he responded quickly by saying, “it’s just a shame he has no idea how to read Romans.”  Now, this may be taken as a simple scholarly quip, but given that this particular person under discussion was familiar to both Sanders and I personally, and that this person has used Sanders and discussed his work thoroughly, it was quite humorous.

2) The second Sanders story comes some three years later at this past year’s SBL in Boston.  It was at the Duke reception and this was the moment during which Sanders was presented officially with a copy of his new Festschrift signed by all the contributors.  In response, Sanders launched into a speech narrating how he always said he never, ever wanted a Festschrift because he, and I quote, “dislikes the genre.”  He then noted how the various people behind the Festschrift apparently went to great pains to put the idea in the heads of the students, who in pushing for the volume, succeeded; Sanders said this was a sneaky way to get it done, using the students.  I just found it funny that his response to receiving a Festschrift was to note his dislike of the genre and state his lack of desire for having one dedicated to him.

One other story comes to mind (and I will update this post when/if more do), this time involving James Crenshaw, one of the foremost scholars on wisdom literature.  It was in a course on Isaiah and Jeremiah I was taking with him.  Dr. Crenshaw would often share quite humorous stories, sometimes which had no bearing on the class material at all!  I recall one such story, though not the context.  Apparently near his home there was a lake that he liked to go boating on.  One time he came upon a very large turtle–huge, he described–and for some reason he decided to shoot it with his gun.  So here is kind, old Dr. Crenshaw describing how he has chanced upon this giant turtle and decides to shoot it (and just for the record, if I remember correctly, I think he said it got away; no animals were harmed in the telling of this story!).

I have another, but I don’t know that it is “fit to print.”  We shall see.

I invite your contributions!  Looking forward to reading them!



4 thoughts on “Funny Stories About Famous Scholars?

  1. Michael says:

    Hilarious! I can only imagine hearing Sanders say, “I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote [Paul and Palestinians Judaism…”

    Yes, Dr. Sanders, and neither do we… because you’re a flipping genius.

    • Michael says:

      Actually, now that you mention it…

      Last year at SBL in Boston, I had a meeting scheduled with Adela Collins to discuss the PhD program at Yale. So I arrived at the Boston Sheraton lobby promptly at 5:15PM. However, she wasn’t there. So I waited…. and waited. Then I noticed none other than Simon Gathercole pacing around the lobby as well. (We were both stranded.) Eventually, after about 15 minutes, Gathercole approaches me and says, “You’re not Andrew, are you?” To which I replied, “I’m afraid not. You’re not Adela, are you?” He looked at me confusedly; then we both had a laugh. About 10 minutes later, Andrew showed up. But Adela never did.

      Later that weekend she emailed me graciously apologizing and explaining that she had become ill and hadn’t been able to contact me. As it turned out, this time I was the one who was late. I had unfortunately booked meetings back to back without knowing that the offices for the two professors where on opposites sides of New Haven. Fortunately, Adela was once again gracious. She was a delight to talk to. I was going to bring my copy of her commentary on Mark for her to sign, but I chickened out at the last moment. Perhaps, I’ll find myself in New Haven in a year or so. If that happens, I’ll have plenty of time to get her to sign my book!

  2. John Anderson says:


    Another story. It may not be funny reading it, but in context it was quite humorous–and affirming.

    At SBL 2008 in Boston, I was at the Hendrickson reception and approached one of the great heroes of the faith, Walter Brueggemann. Readers of this blog will know my deep appreciation for Brueggemann and his work. Well, I went up to him, and we basically had to shout at each other because the room was so loud. I thanked him for his work on Genesis, telling him it was among the only treatments that takes the texts of deception seriously in any meaningful, theological way. I then told him briefly about my dissertation topic, summing it up more or less by saying “it seems to me in Genesis, God is just as much–if not more–the trickster as is Jacob.” He immediately leaned back, got a huge smile on his face, pointed his finger at me and literally shouted “HA, WONDERFUL.” It was a great, affirming moment for me, but I also can’t help but find it amusing. I’m looking forward to getting together with him at SBL this year.

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