300 Words


Notes from a Davidson classroom.

pg16_300-Words-headerAt 12:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in Chambers 2068, open copies of the Harper Collins Study Bible outnumber open laptops.

It’s time for “God,” a course nudging its 30-person enrollment limit, co-taught by Associate Professor of Philosophy Paul Studtmann and Craig Family Distinguished Professor in Reformed Theology and Justice Ministry Doug Ottati.

Today, Ottati takes Genesis. The juxtaposition of this message and this professor is striking, all booming Old Testament and quirky critical analysis.

Ottati cites Genesis 2 and following. But first, let’s get one thing straight: Monotheism is not monolithic. You’ve got your Yahwists, who present God as a person, a tribal god. Then you’ve got your Elohists, who focus on the heavenly host. And you have Priestly sources often looking on God’s more abstract, well, personality traits, which brings us back to the Yahwists. Hmmm.

“God’s no dummy,” says Ottati.

He points out that God shows up in Eden for his big say about the apple, according to one translation, “at the time of cool breezes.” God as a cool breeze: an image to live by.

But first, God took Adam’s rib to create woman.

“You can count the ribs and all the other happy stuff people in the West have done because they’re such literalists,” says Ottati. “This is a Hebrew text. The serpent has a speaking part! If you’re looking for something that’s going to stay in the bounds of later Western decorum, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

Clearly, this iteration of “God” as an academic course channels generations of Davidson religion and philosophy professors’ insistence on shaking up preconceived notions, on making Davidson students think about deep meanings, and on opening young minds wider than either a Bible or a laptop.


About Author

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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