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Dr. David Watson's BLOG

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 Biblical scholarship can be a wild and crazy world.

January 15
I'm moving my blog
September 17
Writing, writing, and more writing

It’s really the only thing I can think about when I’m sitting in meetings. December 1st: that’s my deadline with Fortress, and as I’m writing this chapter on secrecy in the ancient Mediterranean context, I’m more and more aware of the complexity of the topic. Secrecy has different functions in different societies. In the ancient Mediterranean context, it had a variety of functions, and a variety of Greek words are used to refer to secrecy. Here’s the kicker: most secrets in the ancient world weren’t really all that secret. Their function wasn’t usually to keep information hidden, but to create social exclusivity. In this way, the ancients were very different than we modern folks, though we can see similar uses of secrecy in some modern organizations that in theory allow only initiates access to certain information.


I have a really good research assistant. I hope I don’t work him to death.

August 13
Clearly, I'm back from Alaska.

Got back some time ago… just didn’t blog. Alaska was a great trip, but it took some recovery time. Spending some time back in Texas for a while was good, but it was great to get back in the office. I really missed it. Is that a sickness or something?


Over the summer, I did manage to get some work done on the book that I’m writing for Fortress Press, Honor Among Christians. I have a deadline of December 1. What I’m really doing is turning my dissertation into a work that people actually might like to read (at least, a few people). Dissertations generally do not make enjoyable reading. They are written for a committee of scholars who may or may not be on the same wavelength with one another. The intent of the dissertation is to show that the writer has explored the topic in exhaustive detail, formed an exhaustingly tight thesis, and argued for that thesis with exhaustive and exhausting clarity. Really, dissertations are very tiring.  


Revising is not easy work. Revising often means rewriting. And my experience is that the revision process is one in which every so often I say to myself, “Self, did I really write that?”


So, if you’re reading this blog, what I want you to know is that I am currently in the process of developing a book so very interesting that no one will be able to resist buying, reading it from cover to cover, and buying copies for all of his or her friends.

July 12
Alaska, Day 8
Teller Lutheran Church


We visited the village of Teller today, which is about 70 miles from Nome. Most of the road to Teller is unpaved, so it took us a couple of hours to get there. On the way we saw muskoxen and moose.




While there we met with missionary Brian Crockett. He’s been there and at Brevig Mission for twenty years. He has about fifteen people in worship on a good week. Brian is an extremely intelligent and dedicated individual, but he is working in what is surely an exceedingly difficult context. The standard of living in Teller is much lower than in Nome. Most houses don’t have electricity or running water. Subsistence hunting and fishing are important, especially since Nome is at such a considerable distance. Apparently, however, these skills are being lost among the younger generations of Alaskan Natives.


Brian’s talk raised a number of important theological issues for discussion that evening. Most importantly, the issue came up of how a white, Christian from the Midwest can speak to Alaskan Natives, who have very different cultural values. We had a very good debriefing afterward.

July 11
Alaska, Day 7

Gold pan

The other half of our group had lunch at the XYZ center with local seniors today. Most of the people who eat there are Alaskan Native elders, so it was great to get the opportunity to visit with them.


The seniors were going fishing after lunch, so we were able to join them. We fished in the Nome River, but we didn’t catch very much. A couple of folks caught flounder. Myself… I caught a few sticks and some seaweed.


After dinner we went on a tour of Front Street, an area along the waterfront with a number of bars. Alcoholism is a huge problem in this community. We were told that the sale of alcohol in Nome, a town of about 3,500 people, is a $5 million a year business. Another problem is gambling in the form of “pull tabs.” These are cards that work basically like slot machines, but rather than pull a lever, you simply pull back a cardboard tab. In one bar, the floor was littered with these. The used cards on the floor were piled up at least a foot high by the bar. This must have represented thousands of dollars in money spent on pull tabs.


There are formidable problems in this community, but there are also some extraordinary people doing incredible work here in service to Christ. It’s quite a place.


After the Front Street tour, a few of us went fishing again. I still didn’t catch anything. I was almost carried off by mosquitoes, though.


July 10
Alaska, Day 6



Quite a day today. Some of our students helped to host Care Force, a radio show hosted weekly by Julie Elmore on KICY. The show was mostly about prayer requests from people in the community and surrounding areas. All of the students did a great job.


After the radio show was over we met with Wilfred Anowlic, an Alaskan Native who is originally from King Island, a very small island about 87 miles from Nome. The King Island community was forced to move to Nome some years ago, but the members of this community have remained a tightly knit group. Wilfred has a very interesting story, including a life of subsistence hunting on the Bering Sea, a stint in Vietnam, homelessness, a journey out of alcoholism, and appearance in a couple of movies, such as Steven Seagal’s movie, “On Deadly Ground.”


Half of our group had lunch with Alaskan Native elders at a retirement center in Nome. The students were able during this time to interact with people who have seen the considerable changes that have taken place for Alaskan Natives over the last century.


We had dinner with the Nome Ministerial Association in a cabin by the Bering Sea. It was pretty darn cold until someone lit the heater inside, and then it was pretty darn hot. Nevertheless, it gave us the opportunity to hear various perspectives on what ministry is like in this isolated and unique context.


Oh, and I saw a reindeer riding in the back of a pickup truck, which seems a little more normal the longer I’m here.

July 09
Alaska, Day 5

It’s cold here. Not by Alaska standards, of course, but I am from Texas originally, so 40 degree July weather is not something I’m used to. Nome residents seem not to be bothered by this, however, as many of them are walking around in shorts and flip flops.


We toured two radio stations in town, one operated by the Covenant Church, and one by the Roman Catholic Church. Great work happening there. Both broadcast into Russia. The Covenant Church station, KICY (seriously), broadcasts directionally into Russia. They had to get the Geneva Convention to sign off on this, and apparently were able to do so.


We had lunch at Airport Pizza with the Nome Rotary Club. The presenter was a young man named Jesse Zink, who has been a missionary to South Africa. His story was really incredible…. massive challenges dealing with HIV and TB. Now he’s off to Yale Div. because he wants to study Christianity in the southern hemisphere.


In the afternoon we engaged in different service projects. I spent most of the time with kids from the children’s home on the church playground. They were a lot of fun.


Dinner was crab legs and halibut. Can’t complain about that.

July 08
Alaska, Day 4: Nome

I had a hard time getting online yesterday, so I’m a little late in posting this. We flew into Nome yesterday. Nome is an extremely isolated community. It is not at all what I expected. Community UMC here and the Nome Community Center are doing some incredible work here, but the going is tough because the problems are manifold. The most significant seem to be poverty, alcoholism, and gambling (pull tabs). Nevertheless, the folks who are doing the hard work of ministry here seem to be making headway, despite the uphill battle that they face.


We talked with Barb Amorak yesterday, an Alaskan Native who spoke to us about the perspectives of Alaskan Natives who have been affected in extremely negative ways by ANCSA, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. It was hard to hear, but important. The students I’m with were good listeners, not argumentative or defensive, but inquisitive. In many ways it was a good conversation.


The only laundry facility in Nome is in a bar, and it cost me ten dollars to wash and dry a load of laundry. Milk is $8 a gallon. Gas is about $4.50. Pretty much everything is incredibly expensive, in part because everything has to be shipped in by barge or plane, but I suspect that another reason is that customers don’t have much choice. The isolation of this place means that many stores have virtual monopolies.


The good folks of Community UMC have treated us very well. We’re enjoying their fine hospitality.

July 07
Alaska, Day 3

We drove south to Seward today and took a five-hour cruise. We stopped at Fox Island and saw wildlife around Resurrection Bay. We saw probably eight to ten humpback whales during the trip.


We also met with Rev. Peter Perry at Seward UMC, and we had a very interesting conversation with him about life in a small Alaskan parish. To be an effective pastor in this area seems to take not only calling and dedication, but adaptability and commitment to being in ministry in contexts that are often very isolated. I think that Alaska would be fascinating place to be a minister, but it would be challenging.


Tomorrow we’re off to Nome. We’re flying because there are no roads into Nome. As the saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome; no roads lead to Nome.”

July 06
Alaska, Day 2
Totem Pole

We had a great day today. We worshipped at Anchor Park UMC at 11:00 a.m., and at St. John UMC at 6:30 p.m. Students participated in both services. After morning worship we had lunch with folks at Anchor Park at Moose’s Tooth, a very fine pizza joint, even if they did stick thirteen of us at a table for ten.


Then we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center ( There were some demonstrations of Alaskan Native games and dancing, along with a number of artifacts and replications of Alaskan Native buildings.


After 6:30 worship, we met with Rev. David Fison, who has created two magnificent Christian totem poles. Many people think that totem poles represent idol worship, but at least among Alaskan Natives their purpose is to tell stories. Rev. Fison has carved totem poles that tell both the Christmas and Easter stories, but which do so in Tsimshian idiom. Carved by hand, these totem poles took him years to create. You can read more about them here.


We debriefed over dinner. Folks are still a bit jetlagged, as it’s four hours earlier here than in Ohio. The day’s events, and especially the totem poles, provoked some very good discussion.


Still, I can’t get used to daylight at 11:00 p.m. Just doesn't seem right.

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