“No man is equipped for modern thinking until he has understood the anecdote of Agassiz and the fish:
A post-graduate student equipped with honors and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.
Post-Graduate Student: ‘That’s only a sunfish.’
Agassiz: ‘I know that. Write a description of it.’
After a few minutes the student returned with the description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject. Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish. The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.”
(An excerpt from ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound, 1934)
Louis Agassiz was a notable 19th century Swiss born biology professor at Harvard University. He was known for encouraging his students to carefully examine the biology specimens they studied, and on occasion allegedly locking them in laboratories until they “obtained all the truth that an object contained.” Ezra Pound recalled this semi-mythological story in his essay ABC of Reading suggesting that this type of rigorous examination should be applied to the study of poetry.
I’ve heard Bible scholars suggest the same thing about the study of the Bible. This spring at St. C’s we are going to continue our study of the Bible with a six week course focusing on introducing the Old Testament. Starting this Sunday, let’s gather together and take a good long ‘look’ at the Old Testament. This course is the second volume in the Massachusetts Bible Societies new series Exploring the Bible. Hope to see you there!