Wednesday, January 24, 2024

"I Don't Remember" (Basel Flashback)

The one and only Bruce Metzger once gave a fascinating piece of advice to one of his doctoral candidates just prior to that student's oral dissertation defense at Princeton. Metzger was fond of telling his students to say "I don't remember" instead of "I don't know" if they didn't know the answer to a question. When I took my orals at the University of Basel in 1983, I remember having to admit on one occasion during the exam that "I don't remember." I had been asked by Prof. Martin Anton Schmidt to repeat Oscar Cullmann's famous couplet. The answer, of course, was "Schon erf├╝llt, noch nicht vollendet." I knew the answer but had a bad case of stage fright. For the life of me I couldn't spit out the answer. Here's the funny thing. They knew the answer. I knew the answer. They knew that I knew the answer. I knew that I knew the answer. Why everyone in the whole universe knew the answer to that simple question. It was probably the easiest question I had been asked during the entire 3-hour exam. So I admitted, in a sheepish voice, "Ich hab's vergessen." They mentioned the answer, we all got a big laugh, and on we went to the next question. 

Basel -- what pleasant memories.