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University Professor of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity Michael Holmes Retires

University Professor of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity Michael Holmes

Michael Holmes began teaching in Bethel’s Biblical and Theological Studies department in the College of Arts & Sciences in 1982. During his tenure, he received several accolades from Bethel, including receiving the Faculty Excellence Award for Scholarship in 1992 and University Professor status in 2008. Holmes, along with two faculty colleagues, created one of Bethel’s core general education courses, “Christianity in Western Culture” (CWC), which remains a significant part of the student experience. A world-renowned scholar in the biblical studies field, Holmes has been a researcher through the Green Scholars Initiative of the Museum of the Bible and in 2015 was named the director of the initiative. Holmes reflects on his 35 years at Bethel and shares what comes next.

What led you to Bethel and why did you stay?

At a time when jobs were relatively scarce, Bethel offered me a full-time job! It seemed like a good opportunity, so I accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history. Bethel proved to be a good fit. I found here a strong department, great colleagues across the College of Arts & Sciences, and an administration willing to support my scholarly activities. As time passed, the situation only improved.

What have been some of your best memories in your time at Bethel?

Three of the most satisfying moments include, first, working with three colleagues to create and then pilot test “Christianity in Western Culture” (CWC) during Interim and Spring 1985.That course (and its spin-off, “Western Humanities”) touches nearly every undergraduate student who passes through Bethel, and it has been very rewarding to continue to teach the course throughout my career and to see the impact it has had on the students. Second, creating and then co-shepherding through to approval and implementation the faculty salary structure and the grievance and arbitration policies under which Bethel continues to operate. Third, broadening the faculty diversity in the Biblical and Theological Studies department.

How has your field changed in the past 30+ years?

The impact of technology has been mind-boggling. When I submitted my dissertation in 1984, it was typed on an IBM Selectric typewriter with interchangeable typing elements, so I could type out all the Hebrew and Greek fonts. This was cutting-edge technology—many fellow students were still writing out the foreign languages by hand. Within five years, I was doing multi-language edition on screen, and when in 2010 I published an edition of the Greek New Testament, the entire 13-month project, involving hundreds of files and more than 1800 emails, was done on-screen. To view manuscripts when I started, I had to order microfilm images (often low-quality images) via interlibrary loan, wait for them to arrive, and then view them on an awkward microfilm reader in the library. Today high-definition color photographs of nearly all important NT manuscripts are available online wherever one has an internet connection.

Then there is the impact of cell phones and email, and the way faculty and students communicate has changed in profound ways. One thing, however, that has not changed is the impact of meeting face-to-face with individual students, especially in the office—that is an experience that cannot (yet!) be duplicated electronically.

What have been some more challenging times in the last few decades?

As I look back, the most challenging and heartbreaking times have one theme in common: racism. Bethel today is a far more welcoming and affirming place than it was when I started, but even so, it exists within a larger American culture in which not-insignificant numbers of people, in thought, word, and deed, continue to demean, devalue, and threaten the well-being and lives of fellow citizens of color. As events of the past year have reminded us, the campus borders are no barrier to racist attitudes and actions that cause pain and injury to our fellow colleagues, staff, and students of color. The most challenging and painful experiences of my time at Bethel all seem to have this one theme in common.

What will you miss the most?

The daily interaction with my faculty colleagues across campus and the classroom interaction with an ever-changing mix of students. What will I miss least? Grading and committee meetings—in that order.

What comes next?

After two and a half years on a part-time basis, I am now the Director of the Scholars Initiative of the Museum of the Bible on a full-time basis. I’m basically the research director for the Museum, which will open this November in Washington, D.C., in a 430,000-square-foot building, two blocks from the Capitol, and two blocks from the Washington Mall. It will tell the story in the Bible as it has been written and passed along through the centuries.

In addition, I have some major research projects of my own that I am working on.

Do you see yourself staying connected to Bethel down the road? How so?

Yes, definitely. I will continue to have an office on campus and will be working on a volunteer basis mentoring my faculty colleagues in their research and scholarship.

Watch a video of the on-campus retirement party for Holmes.

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