Saturday, August 28, 2010

New semester and me

I feel like I am in the right place. I started my third semester at Carnegie Mellon this week, after an amazing summer back home in Norway. I thought it would be terrible to leave home. But it was not. It actually feels really good to be here in Pittsburgh right now. I have a mission here, and I feel good about working towards my degree here. I also have a deep conviction that going home is not far away. I will go home. Soon. And it will be wonderful. But right now, my world is here, it is beautiful, and I am at peace.

I am taking four classes this semester. That is not an awful lot, and the classes neither have a reputation of being awfully difficult. That said, three of my classes are required for my major, so I am not falling far behind by this. The four classes I am taking are:

15-123 Effective Programming in C and UNIX
18-240 Structure and Design of Digital Systems
21-127 Concepts of Mathematics
79-350 Early Christianity

The three first classes are all having a pretty slow start, and I expect them to speed up in the coming weeks. They are also classes that are not very interesting to discuss unless the audience is educated in software, logic or mathematics. Hence, the class material I will discuss here on the blog is mostly limited to Early Christianity. So let me tell you about that course:

We are about twenty students taking the class. I don’t know the various flavours of belief we represent, but a fair guess is that most of us are Christians in some sense or another. I know a few of them from before, but they are mostly strangers to me.

Professor Miller is an historian, and the course is teaching us how to look at the Bible from an historian’s perspective. Miller does not, however, impose on us that the historical perspective is the only correct way to read the Bible, though he certainly would argue that it is a valid way to read the Bible; Jesus may or may not be the Christ, but regardless of your answer to that he is also an undeniable historical figure, and the Jesus movement was also a very true and historical movement. And it is this historical aspect of Jesus and the early church that is under the scope of this course.

As for Miller’s own belief, it is hard to tell exactly what it is. I certainly do not think he is not holding the Bible as infallible, as opposed to what many evangelicals do. However, he has a great respect for Jesus, so either he considers him the one and only Christ, or he considers Jesus as one of many “Christ’s”, or he may also just consider him as a great human being.

You see, historians do not take for granted that what is recorded in the gospels is always a true record. A historian is considering the views and belief of the writer as well. So whenever Jesus claims that he is the Messiah, a historian can opt to believe that those claims were written into Jesus’ words later. Written, of course, in the belief that he actually did say those words, but as any historian would tell you: Human memory is closer to what the brain can make sense of than what actually happened.

To accept this premise does not, however, imply that you cannot believe the gospels are inspired, and that what they tell is mostly true. For what I know, Miller himself may very well believe the gospels are inspired and true. If so, he is just more aware of his own beliefs than most of us are.

Anyways, I think this will be an interesting semester, and I am looking forward to all of it. Oh, and I am also hired by the University as a course assistant in 15-110, which is an introductory programming course in Python. Funny thing, though, I have never used Python before! When I took that course, it was taught in Java (see one of the assignments here). Wish me luck :-)

Joseph H. Lynch: Early Christianity: A Brief History