I think I'm on to something about students of the Bible: They seem just as crafty as any other kind of student when it comes to passing their examinations.
You remember last January, when I recounted a campus legend that two readers had sent me? One came from Utah, the other from North Carolina. Both described a Bible class in which every year the professor gave the same topic on the final exam: "Discuss the journeys of St. Paul."One year, however, the professor substituted a different topic: "Discuss the Sermon on the Mount." Only one student could handle it. This student began his essay by saying, "Who am I to criticize the Master? I would rather discuss the journeys of St. Paul."
This legend, which I had never heard before, rang a bell for the Rev. Dr. Jeremy H. Knowles, who reads this column in Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover, N.H. "I heard a similar story while in seminary in Cambridge, Mass., in the 1950s," the Rev. Dr. Knowles remembers.
"A certain Old Testament professor always included on his final exam the question, `List the kings of Israel and Judah in parallel columns.' One year, however, he substituted the question, `List the names of the major and minor prophets in parallel columns.'
"One student alone passed the course. He began his answer by writing, `Far be it for me to discriminate among such worthy men, but the kings of Israel and Judah in parallel columns are ..."'
Thank you, Rev. Dr. Knowles, for sending me this version (urely not the last) of what is shaping up to be a classic seminary legend.
While I'm on the topic of campus folklore, here's a beauty of a story sent to me recently by Brenna E. Lorenz of Conesus, N.Y. Her father, a university professor, told her the story was true.
While a college student, Lorenz's father says, he took a psychology course that included a unit on behaviorism. After learning the essential points of the theory, the class decided to put their new knowledge to work by training the professor to lecture while standing on an overturned wastebasket.
The students would begin to fidget, yawn, shuffle papers and the like whenever the prof paced away from a wastebasket in the corner of the classroom. Whenever he moved near the basket, they would nod, take copious notes and generally look interested.
Continuing this reinforcement of the desired behavior, they gradually got the professor to lecture while standing in place next to the basket. Then they turned the basket over before class began and rewarded the prof with attentiveness whenever he put one foot, and then both feet, on top of it.
Eventually, Lorenz's father claims, the class succeeded in modifying the professor's behavior to the point where each day he would enter the classroom, pick up the wastebasket, carry it to the same spot at the front of the room, turn it over, climb on top of it - and then begin his lecture.
What a wonderful story! But is it true? Probably not, I suspect - but then, it's my job to distrust such charming anecdotes.