Final Exam: A Few Questions for David L. Petersen

In this online Candler Connection exclusive, David L. Petersen reflects on his career, his editing style, and—of course—fishing.

Tell us about a particularly meaningful experience from your time at Candler.
The most meaningful piece of my story at Candler was probably teaching the introductory Old Testament course. Students often enter Candler presuming that the Old Testament is either boring or theologically irrelevant. My favorite comments on Candler’s teaching evaluation form were of this sort: “I thought I would hate OT, but now love it,” or “Honestly, I used to be bored by the Hebrew Bible, but I have such an appreciation for it now.” (And, yes, Moses was a fly fisherman just as Jeremiah was a bullfrog.) At the other end of the pedagogical spectrum, it has been gratifying to advise a number of Old Testament dissertations in Emory’s PhD program.

Looking back over your 40-year career, what do you consider your most significant accomplishment?
My most significant professional accomplishment is having been elected president of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), an honor I share with two other Candler Old Testament faculty members: Gene Tucker [emeritus] and Carol Newsom. Other noteworthy accomplishments include publishing commentaries in the Old Testament Library series and helping the SBL develop its publication program when I served as chair of its Research and Publication Committee.

What are you most looking forward to in retirement?
I am looking forward to scheduling my own life (Robyn Pollette, the administrative assistant to the academic dean, has run my life for the last two years), spending more time outdoors (e.g., fly-fishing, hiking, and skiing), and being closer to family. Our two children and three grandchildren live in or near Fort Collins, Colo., which is where my wife, Sara, and I will reside much of the time in retirement.

You’ve described yourself as an “intrusive editor.” What motivates you to take such care and time in editing?
I have been described, both by myself and others, as an “intrusive” or “invasive” editor. To explain that phrase I need to explain why I have invested so much time in editorial work (e.g., Common English Bible, New Interpreter’s Bible, and Access Bible). Everyone needs an editor. Good editors, like good voice coaches, help what is already a strong talent become even better. Assisting graduate students or one’s professional colleagues express themselves in optimal ways is really a form of teaching. And in that vein, everyone, including me, continues to need to learn.

The Old Testament Fishing Society

David Petersen fishing in TexasDavid Petersen claims that the “second most significant accomplishment” in his illustrious career is being a charter member of the Old Testament Fishing Society (OTFS). Membership is quite exclusive, so there’s no sense in seeking application or a nomination. Founded in 1988 by a small group of scholars who enjoyed the Old Testament and piscatorial pursuits in equal measure, the OTFS continues to meet at least once a year to discuss academic matters while engaging in their favorite recreational activity, fishing. 

The OTFS maintains a rigorous research agenda. Petersen reports: “Everyone knows that God created the universe in six days. Less well known is the fact that God created six symbolic fish, one for each of those six days (this information is reported in an obscure Coptic manuscript). God did this so God could go fishing while resting on the seventh day.” 

The society has made it a mission to discover which species was designated for which day. “We have reached no definitive conclusions, though it seems clear that the redfish was created on Day 4, since, as this photo of the redfish demonstrates, one must have sunlight to fish successfully for redfish,” says Petersen.

May you only encounter streams teeming with fish, Dr. Petersen. Congratulations on your retirement!