Over the weekend I finished the initial formatting of Weathering the Psalms, my long-suffering book on the weather terminology in the Psalter. While I’ll have to give it another going over, a strange cocktail of feelings has come over me in the process. Scholars age quickly. The time between putting that last period on that last sentence and the book showing up in a few dozen hands is generally over a year. You feel outdated. Not only that, but this book was finished, for all practical purposes, a dozen years ago. In this world of endless, indeed, almost insane academic publishing, many books and even more articles have appeared that I should have read, pondered deeply, and incorporated into my work. That, however, is a luxury reserved for those society deems fit to place in colleges, universities, and seminaries. The predominant feeling, apart from relief, was a kind of melancholy, however. The book represents a world that no longer exists. Indeed, a young scholar who no longer exists.
From the day I started teaching at Nashotah House in 1992 (or even before), I knew it would be a limited-time engagement. The then dean, interviewing me, knew that I was too liberal to fit the medieval theology then current (and still current) at the school. As a teacher of the “Old Testament,” however, the damage I might do was deemed minimal. I wrote several articles on my beloved Ugaritic, but no job interviews came. Those who’d sussed the system suggested I try publishing biblical material—after all, that’s where the jobs are. (Ha!) So I began. Weathering the Psalms took several years to research and write in scholarly isolation. I began rising at 4 a.m. to find the time to do the writing. Most of the book was written between four and six in the morning. Yes, it’s rough. And tentative. A young scholar unsure of himself. Now I’m an old man even more unsure of himself. Still, there are insights in that outdated tome that I hope some will find worth their time.
I have a photograph of myself that my daughter took at the time. I was putting on my boots to go shovel some snow. The face in the photograph is young. Optimistic, even. I was facing the weather. I’ve come to realize that all photographs are lies. They capture an instant of time that has already vanished. In my case, a livelihood. A dream that was shredded on the plains of some theologian’s ideological Somme. Winters seem to have become much harsher since then. Colleagues who’ve found jobs prosper while the rest of us fight against nightmares and that sense that all we ever tried to do was, in the end, vanity. One of the questions in the study, The Bible in American Life is, which is your favorite book of the Bible? Mine has always been Ecclesiastes. And even as I make final preparations to ship my manuscript to Wipf and Stock, I know that the preacher is right: there is nothing new under the sun.