Mentoring Memories: my first big TA assignment for Dr. Craig Evans

A while back I was listening to a podcast about mentors by Michael Hyatt (one of my favorite podcasts) and it had me reflecting on people that have had an influence on me. One of the things Hyatt talked about was finding mentors and learning from people you don’t necessarily even know - learning through podcasts, books, etc. There are a number of people I would point to as being mentors in my life: people I try to continue learning from. From time to time on this blog I want to take time to reflect on some things I’ve learned from my mentors.

I have been privileged to have as one of my main mentors New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Evans. Being mentored by Craig was no accident. Near the end of my undergrad studies, I knew that I wanted to pursue graduate and PhD studies in New Testament. I also knew that I wanted to try and stay in Canada; I wanted to find a top-notch scholar; and I wanted a believer. Dr. Evans fits all of those criteria - and in my opinion he is a cut above top-notch. I originally planned to head to Trinity Western University, but after talking to Dr. Evans via email I learned he was moving to Acadia Divinity College, so I came here instead, and haven’t left!

Once I was here, I was very methodical. Not only did I want to learn from Craig, but I wanted to understand his work ethic and tricks of the trade. If you know NT studies at all, you know the name Craig Evans and you know that he is prolific. I’ll share about some other things I’ve learned from him, but today I want to focus on one thing in particular.

So, as soon as I arrived, I asked if I could be his TA. The spot was taken, so I TA’d for another professor for a year (which was great, as I was TAing for Greek). The following year I jumped into the TA spot for Craig. Two months into this new position, my baptism by fire came.

I remember it very clearly because it was so comical. I was sitting in one of our small classrooms with a few students, having just finished Greek class with Craig. Craig left the class and then swiftly came back. He had in his hand a 576 page manuscript for a book he had edited with Bruce Chilton called The Missions of James, Peter, and Paul (great collection of essays by the way). This behemoth paper stack was tied together with some string. He dropped it in front of me (almost cracking the table), and said: “Danny, here’s the manuscript we talked about. Brill really wants to have it ready for SBL. They would like the index to be done quickly. You have 72 hours."

After a bit of a chuckle, the reality sunk in that the next 72 hours of my life would be just this manuscript. I was shocked at the timetable (that was news to me), but fortunately I had mentally prepared – in particular I had figured out a way to do the indexing a little more quickly using a spreadsheet (I’ve since worked out an even quicker way - check out my guide, Scripture Indexing on a Mac).

I set to work immediately. Fortunately this didn’t set me back homework wise, as I generally worked ahead (check out my homework tips in Surviving and Thriving in Seminary). I worked on this non-stop. The first night, I went to bed pretty late. The next day I felt I was really behind and not going to make it - but I kept pushing. At home I sat at my desk and got to it. While I sat at my desk working on this, Craig was in his home office working as well. We were emailing back and forth every half hour or so. He encouraged me along. By 4am he decided to get a few hours of sleep. At 7:30am, I finished the index. I felt pasted to my desk chair. I got up, took a shower, and headed to class. As I sent it to Craig, I got an email back from Craig. He said that I was a mensch, in German a “real man."

I learned something about myself and Craig that day. First, I learned that sometimes you just have to burn the midnight oil. There are times when you just need to keep working. Craig knows how to work hard and long hours - that’s part of the reason why he is so prolific. And I also learned that when I’m focused and under the gun, I can work very fast. I know I have the fortitude to get stuff done when I need to. Craig really taught me the value of hard work.

From that assignment, I also learned the value of utilizing technology. I had talked to some previous students who had done similar work. They talked about days and weeks of doing these indexes. I got it done by myself in 72 hours. It wasn’t because I necessarily worked harder, but because, as soon as I learned I had to do this, I thought to myself “there’s got to be a better way beyond copying and pasting into a Word document.” A little bit of planning went a LONG way.

One other thing I learned is that it is good to “pay your dues.” No one likes to do indexing, but it is part of the publishing business. It builds character to “start at the bottom” so to speak. I did more indexes after that - I taught others how, and now I edit books and write them. Scripture indexing a book is a huge labor with little reward - but somebody’s got to do it. It makes the book much more usable for users.

So there you have it. My first assignment taught me 1) the value of hard work, 2) the value of utilizing technology, and 3) that it builds character when you “start at the bottom." 

Posted by Danny Zacharias.