"Well, how did I get here?"
Midway through my Berkeley years, I encountered the 'Deutsch Elm Disease.' She was a young German scholar with a surname that sounded like "elm" who had completed her graduate studies at Cambridge or Oxford, if I recall -- so let's call it Oxbridge -- and was teaching the History of Christianity for the Religious Studies Department with a half-position in History.
As a textbook, she used Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, of all books! She would sometimes sit in front of class and -- eyes fixed upon that text -- read aloud passages from Russell's 'learned' views on such things as Gnosticism or the Arian heresy. Other times, she would 'lecture' on the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, drawing superficial distinctions or making strained analogies.
Once, she was uttering something about the apostle Peter and noted that he was also called "Kēphas," which she explained was short for the Greek term "kephalē," meaning "head" and thereby implying, she explained, that Peter was "head" of the Church.
Astonished at such ignorance from a Berkeley professor, I raised my hand and informed her that "Kēphas" was Aramaic, not Greek, and that it meant not "head" but "rock," i.e., "petra," and was thus a wordplay between the Aramaic "Kēphas" and the Greek "Petros", i.e., "Peter," and therefore implied that Peter signified the rock of faith upon which the church was to be built.
The 'Deutsch Elm Disease' grudgingly expressed something that resembled 'thanks' . . . but then went on to offer the same false etymology a week or two later in a course on the New Testament. Speechless at such incompetence, I said nothing that time. But other times, I raised more points and asked more questions, ever politely I thought, though she grew ever more annoyed. After one such question, she confronted me at the end of the class as I was about to step out the door:
"You are 'Jeff Hodges'?" she demanded.That didn't set right by me. At the age of 32, I wasn't about to let myself be ordered to anybody's office. We had an argument, and I informed her that if I wasn't cowed by the crack dealers gunning down their rivals in front of my place on Alcatraz Avenue, then I wasn't about to be intimidated by the likes of her.
"Yes," I replied.
"You will come to my office!"
"I'm not coming to your office," I said. And I didn't.But I found myself thinking, "If someone as incompetent as this 'Deutsch Elm Disease' can obtain a tenure-track position at U.C. Berkeley, then I will surely encounter no obstacles on my path to academic success.
How wrong I was . . .