Friday, February 2, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt two)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

In his first semester at Crozer, in the fall of 1948, King took a class called Introduction to the Old Testament, taught by James B. Pritchard, who challenged students with his historical-critical take on the Bible, saying many of its stories were not to be taken as reliable history. Pritchard had found that Black students from the Deep South were particularly literal about their approach to the Bible, and he strived to shake them of their old ideas, as Patrick Parr wrote in The Seminarian, his important book on King’s Crozer years. That approach appealed to King, who had long bristled at his father’s fundamentalism. Yet for all his enthusiasm and determination, when in his first semester he was assigned by Pritchard to write a paper about the prophet Jeremiah, King fell back on a bad habit: he plagiarized—and this time in an academic setting where the consequences might have been severe.

“Religion, in a sense, through men like Jeremiah, provides for its own advancement, and carries with it the promise of progress and renewed power,” he wrote. The line came from a 1932 book titled The Rebel Prophet, by T. Crouther Gordon. Elsewhere in the same paper he copied all but one word of a passage from Prophecy and Religion, first published in 1922 by the renowned Old Testament scholar John Skinner.

With only nine students in the class, Pritchard should have had ample time to scrutinize his students’ papers. He might have noticed that King’s writing was far smoother in some passages than others. But he didn’t. He later hired King to babysit his children, paying him thirty-five cents an hour and giving the young student one of his first and most intimate views of white middle-class home life.

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