A Series of Announcements; or, Be Excited, Be Very Excited

Forgive the personal indulgence. I realized that I had been participating in the online LDS world for 10 years, and I had some things to say of a personal and public nature.

Back in 2003, I’d seen The Metaphysical Elders (not literally, of course, as no man can see The Metaphysical Elders and live), and  started commenting here at Times&Seasons. Around that time, I also sent in some rather sharp criticism of a FAIR article to FAIR, and ended up joining their internal email list. Thus my early LDS entanglements on the internet.

leningrad codex smallThose very few of you who have followed me from that beginning, through commenting, guesting, and various blogging homes at millennialstar in its early days, faithpromotingrumor, Patheos, and then here, know that my professional trajectory in these 10 years has changed drastically. I had just received my MA in 2003, and was on to my PhD coursework. 2003 was also the year I started teaching volunteer Institute, and 2004 the first of my summers teaching at BYU. The sudden end of my academic training in Semitics in late 2006 curtailed what would undoubtedly have been staggeringly pedantic works of inaccessible academic brilliance….Of course, I exaggerate greatly. Even had I completed my PhD elsewhere (and I made attempts), such grandiose things were unlikely.  I suspect I would have ended up at BYU, happily encouraging LDS students in good directions through faith, critical thinking, and thought-provoking exams (NT and BoM). One upside to no longer trying to get hired at BYU is that I’m much less guarded about opinions and speaking my mind. For whatever such labels are worth, my mind is fairly moderate and largely orthodox, but it doesn’t take much for moderates to be branded as radicals in certain settings.

The loss of career direction and velocity proved quite a blow to my identity and self-esteem. It took several years to pick up the pieces, especially given the collapse of the economy right about the time my arcane skillset and I were job hunting. To be highly educated and underemployed is no fun, and what’s more, it creates an odd schizophrenia of superiority and inferiority complexes. I did have various things here and there along the way, some more fun and lucrative than others, like the time I got paid four figures to fly to the French countryside in a private jet and take regularly scheduled naps, testing a jet-lag drug. No matter how pleasant the medical experiments you’re getting paid for, one must eventually find a more stable livelihood than lab rat.

Mayo ID

And so, for the last two years, I’ve been taking one college course at a time while working part-time. After our European sojourn earlier this year for my wife’s PhD research, I am now in school full time. Come summer, Announcement #1, I will take the MCAT and apply to medical school. We’ve not made this decision lightly, and it’s not a quick path (I’ve lost count of well-meaning but ill-informed people who ask why I don’t just go to law school),  but it’s a decision we feel good about. I’ve said that if a job came along that fit, I’d deviate and take it, but none has ever come to fruition. I spent August as a medical research trainee, looking at the effects of respiratory tidal volume in coronary artery bypass graft surgery. In the next few months, I’ll be reaching out to all my doctor friends and acquaintances about schools, contacts, and applications. And if any readers are medical, and want to contact me, feel free to leave a comment with your email.

My semester is heavy with Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and related labs. It is somewhat ironic then, with increasing time away from academia and deep into hard science and more practical pursuits, that I am contributing more than ever to our in-house academic discussions of faith.

  • I participated in the Mormon Theology Seminar on Genesis 2-3 over the summer, writing about translation, etymology, and the lack of Adam as a proper name in the garden account.
  • I’ll be in Provo in late October for SMPT, giving a paper on Israelite background(s) of LDS atonement terminology. Between the conference and back-to-back ochem/bio exams the day after I return, it will be a busy weekend, but all you Provo people I haven’t met/seen for ages, let’s do lunch! Or join me on an early morning run up the Provo Canyon River trail!
  • A refined, expanded, and heavily footnoted version of my series of posts here on Why Bible Translations Differ will appear in January in The Religious Educator, a BYU journal aimed at S&I/CES teachers, and anyone else with a semi-academic/pastoral interest. I’m quite proud of this paper, and glad the editors have encouraged its publication in spite of some edgy content (which did not appear on the blog), length, and heavy footnotes. I’ll post a link when it becomes available.
  • I’d love to participate in this seminar looking at 1 Nephi 1, though the timing would be tricky. In spite of 1 Nephi 1 being at the beginning of the book, well-known, frequently read, and assumed to be fairly straightforward, I think much remains to be unpacked and understood there. It’s a good bit like Genesis 1 that way.
  • Speaking of which, Announcement #2. I have signed a contract with the Maxwell Institute (né FARMS) to write an LDS book on how to make sense of Genesis 1. If Genesis 1 is not about the age of the earth, science, and evolution (spoiler, it’s not), then what did it mean to the Israelites and what should it mean to us? The book will include a good bit of necessary  groundwork on the nature of revelation, prophets, and scripture (e.g. revelation doesn’t dictate form or content; revelation often updates, recontextualizes, reuses, or adapts preexisting material; revelation is encultured), chapters on Abraham, Moses, the Temple, the significance of reading Genesis against other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts, and of course, translation and commentary.If this project is news to you, I have a lot of previous posts on Genesis 1 and on what such a book would require. Given my schedule, I fit in what research and writing I can. The idea is to finish it during the gap year between medical application and entrance, which implies a publication date no earlier than 2015. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this, but I have to remember to under-promise and over-deliver.

At this point, my career models have shifted towards the Kevin Barney/Blake Ostler/Nate Oman type; I’ll enjoy my totally unrelated day job (or at very least, it will reliably pay the bills more than adjuncting), and will be a semi-trained participant in LDS intellectual life, trying to make my own small mark in blogging, publishing, and teaching Institute when possible.  Alas, right now it’s not possible. Institute is a great outlet for me; I get to practice my material and teach, and I think the NYC YSA find it a useful place to grow and learn, and safe space to ask questions.

It may appear I’ve neglected my blogging here, because I’ve been putting whatever time and energy I find into prepping for Old Testament in January. This bring me to Announcement #3. I will make available as screencasts the lectures I’ve given elsewhere, “How to Read the Bible and Like It,” “The Rediscovery of the World of the Old Testament” (and perhaps others if I can), posting the first one on the first Monday of December. That means you’ll get all the slides and audio commentary prior to our Old Testament year. I’ve worked up some other Old Testament Gospel Doctrine posts as well to get ahead of schedule. I regret not being able to complete my Old Testament podcast series, but I will make them available here at T&S with some minor updates to the written material. (Sample the Ruth podcast, here.) I can’t promise to get something up every week, but I’ll try. With so much in the pipeline, it’s going to be a very busy, stressful, rewarding year.

34 comments for “A Series of Announcements; or, Be Excited, Be Very Excited

  1. Christopher
    October 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    A hearty congratulations, Ben! All of this good news is well-deserved and I look forward to reading your scholarship.

  2. October 13, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Awesome! Congrats, and still very excited about the Gernesis book. Awesome that it’s getting presented by the NAMI! Exciting!

  3. October 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Excited about the book and the online material. It’s nice to get good information on the OT with a Mormon and historical lens.

    Also, I heartily recommend Mental Case for flash carding when it comes to the MCAT and Ochem in general. Good cloud sync and auto study scheduling.

  4. Jax
    October 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Ben, as a family we’re getting close to finishing the BoM again and plan on giving the OT a try. 6 kids are 11 and under. Can you give me any advice (or links, etc) on reading the OT with kids that young?

  5. Julie M. Smith
    October 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Very exciting. Congrats all around.

  6. October 13, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    “I’ve lost count of well-meaning but ill-informed people who ask why I don’t just go to law school”

    Clearly people who have no idea of the stunning collapse of the job market for law school grads.

    Your plan is exciting and I wish you well. With any luck you’ll stay here in the NYC region for med school!!!!

  7. Matt Evans
    October 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Wow, Ben, way to keep a full plate and add second and third helpings — and of all things, med school!

  8. Ben S.
    October 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    JAX, take a look at Peter Enns’ Telling God’s Story: A Parents Guide to Teaching the Bible. I know part of it used to be legally available on scribd.com

    I believe there is both a teaching introduction for parents, and then several books for study, e.g. year 1, year 2, etc.


    Enns is evangelical, but trained at Harvard and I like a lot of his scholarship. Plus, a lot of the fundamentalist home-schooling crowd really dislike this work of his, and that also speaks favorably of it, in my view.

  9. Ben S.
    October 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Ah, looks like it’s not all Old Testament, though.

  10. J. Stapley
    October 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    Great news, Ben. Congrats all around.

  11. Jax
    October 13, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Thanks Ben! Congratulations as well!!

  12. Howard
    October 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Congratulations Ben!

  13. Neylan
    October 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    I’m so happy to hear this news Ben. Best of luck to you and Christy.

  14. October 14, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Can’t wait to see that manuscript, Ben!

  15. Steve
    October 14, 2013 at 1:57 am

    Ben, thanks so much for posting this. You’re an inspiration!

  16. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    October 14, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Good luck with medical school!

    Law school has long been the refuge of humanities and social science grad students who can’t find a teaching position. People loan them money to live on for three years, and when they finish their JDs they are in prime position to land a teaching job at a law school because law school doesn’t typically train people to produce publishable writing. But the lack of legal jobs has led law schools to cut back on students, which means fewer teaching positions.

    Even if you don’t go all the way to an MD, there are Physician Assistant/ Nurse practitioner jobs as a default alternative, not to mention hospital and clinical administrative positions. Even if you find you don’t like medical practice, you can always go to law school then, and use your combibed MD/JD in productive ways.

  17. Brian
    October 14, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Congratulations and best wishes on your venture into the field of medicine! Someone in my previous ward made a similar decision, choosing to attend medical school. He has flourished and appears to be much happier than his previous venture as a business owner. I am hopeful that you will find similar success and happiness.

    Glad to hear of your other successes as well! Wonderful news!!

  18. Kevin Barney
    October 14, 2013 at 9:57 am

    That you are going to medical school instead of law school simply shows how wise you are! These are exciting developments all around; congratulations and good luck!

  19. Dave K
    October 14, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Congrat on everything Ben. I’m very happy to hear some good news for you and Christy.

  20. Christian J
    October 14, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Ben, you’re using your talents well. I don’t know many Ancient Near East scholar/Institute volunteer/future MD/Ultimate frisbee semi-professional people. FWIW – I think the Institute contribution will later be seen as highly underrated.

  21. Clay Cook
    October 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I am very interested in your work on Genesis. Since you are research this topic I am sure you are familiar with Dr. John Walton’s work on Genesis 1 “The Lost World of Genesis One” which I just finished. Now I am tackling “Genesis” by Robert Alter. I look forward to reading your book. Being new to the LDS blogosphere I appreciate the new work being shared by so many. Having taught Anatomy for 20 years I am amazed at how a med student can find time to research ancient scripture course this might change a bit one you are in med school. If you have time could you share a few titles on ancient scripture that you find most compelling. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your many worthwhile endeavors.

  22. Ben S.
    October 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Clay, if you’re interested in the intersection of science and religion in Genesis, see my intro list here, which includes Walton.

    I make some suggestions about reference works to supplement the Bible Dictionary here.

    A good general intro from an LDS perspective is Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament, which I reviewed here. That’s the best sole volume I can recommend out of Deseret Book.

    As for other books, I’ll be putting up a detailed post of recommendations around Nov. 1 mid-NOvember, so check back! Alter is a great one to start with.

    Thanks for the comments and support, all!

  23. WVS
    October 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Fantastic news, Ben. Best of luck on this many-pronged attack on life.

  24. October 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Ben: All the best as you move forward. There are a lot worse things that can happen than finding a job where you can really do a lot of good, make enough money to support the socialists who think you owe it to them and avoid departmental politics.

  25. Steve
    October 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    “make enough money to support the socialists who think you owe it to them”

    Wow, I didn’t know that congratulating someone about going to medical school could be politicized. But anyhow, congrats once again Ben. I’m sure you’ll do fantastic.

  26. October 15, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Congratulations! So happy for you and Christy! And I might even make an attempt at reading your book, hoping I’m smart enough to understand and enjoy it all! ;) You are doing some great things!

  27. October 15, 2013 at 10:36 am

    It’s great to hear an update on your life, and all my best wishes as you go forward. One of the things that has stuck with me the most from Terryl and Fiona Givens’ book is that the more things we can love the more opportunities for happiness we have, and I predict that developing your life in these diverse ways is going to bring you a lot of satisfaction.

  28. Rachel E O
    October 15, 2013 at 10:47 am

    As someone who benefited immensely from the honors New Testament class you taught at BYU in summer 2006, I love everything about this, especially that you have found a path that you feel is right for you, and that will enable you to continue contributing to the education of young Mormons in how to approach and understand scripture from a scholarly, faithful perspective. And your Genesis 1 book sounds fascinating. Congrats, Ben!

  29. Rosalynde
    October 15, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Congratulations, Ben! I celebrate with you.

    Come to WashU med school!! St Louis will be good to you. :)

  30. October 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Congrats, Ben. I hope medical school comes quickly to you, and at an awesome place. If you come to Indiana University, we’ll have to get together and maybe have Kevin Barney swing down from Chicago.

    Finding a quality job that you enjoy and that can pay the taxes is not an easy thing. To do this and have a hobby you love, such as ancient scripture, is pure bliss.

  31. Tom Weber
    October 16, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Congratulations, Ben. Very cool stuff.

  32. Tom H
    October 19, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    “I’ve said that if a job came along that fit, I’d deviate and take it, but none has ever come to fruition.”


    I won’t go into why I read your post or even visited this web site, but you seem way too bright for medical school and unless you think you will love it, it is a hard slog for diminishing rewards. No offense to MDs, but I would never change jobs with one

    Hope you have considered something like this as well. Seems like it would suit someone who enjoys pouring over cryptic ancient languages. The country needs good people to defend it against some incredible digital threats a lot more than it needs another doctor or lawyer IMO.

    Either way, your competition will be digital, but you will make more money than a doctor

  33. Megan
    November 19, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Just want to echo what Raymond said above and suggest the physician assistant option. PAs do a lot of what physicians do, but the training is much shorter. It’s a 2-3 year Masters program with no residency required. And once you graduate (with less debt than an MD would), you can move laterally between specialties.

    (I’m currently a PA student (i.e., totally biased); feel free to email me if you have any questions about the field.)

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    November 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I have been adjuncting while I work full time as an attorney, and the pay is better than McDonald’s, but the schools I taught for are getting a tremendous bargain compared to full time faculty salaries and benefits. My guess is that there is a huge part of university net income that is centered in the classes taught by adjunct instructors. Best of luck with your new career path. There is a long tradition of philosophy written by physicians. The realities of life dealt with by a doctor can intensify thinking about life.

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