Dominick Hernández, assistant professor of Old Testament and director of the Online Hispanic Program, is one of the newest faculty members at Southern Seminary. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he has an extensive education background in the Old Testament and the languages of the Ancient Near East. Hernández discusses Hebrew, the value of Bible background study, and the opportunity represented by online education in a conversation with Southern Seminary Magazine.
Why is it so important for students to learn the Old Testament?
What affected me the most when I first started learning the languages of the Bible was that I took two years of Greek and only one year of Hebrew. But the languages of Hebrew and Aramaic make up more than 80 percent of the Bible! I started to think to myself: Why do so many Christian institutions do this? That is what originally got me into Hebrew and Semitic languages, and ultimately the Old Testament itself. The truth is, the Book of Leviticus is just as important as the Book of Romans, and Leviticus should be preached with the same vigor — despite the fact that it is more difficult in many ways. But it should be preached and worked through as much as any New Testament book. That’s what began my passion for the Semitic languages — the desire to teach and preach the Old Testament.
Why were you drawn to the Old Testament and its historical background?
My interest in the Old Testament was precipitated by the simple recognition that Christians tend to be very New Testament-oriented, even though we believe in the inspiration of the entire canon. There is tremendous value in all fields of study, but from a pragmatic perspective, if I am trained in the Ancient Near East and Semitic philology, and I focus on the Old Testament world, it becomes much easier to move into the New Testament once you understand its ancient context. It’s easier to work from the beginning and go forward than to start at the end and move backward. It makes sense to study the Old Testament in its context first, and the move chronologically from there.
How do you build relationships with students, even at a large school with numerous online courses?
Even in traditionally residential schools, the number of online students have increased significantly over the last five-to-10 years. At Southern Seminary in particular, in the Spanish language program, three years ago we had 26 students. Now, we have more than 300. When you talk about building relationships with students in online education, the number one thing is to realize that this profession has changed significantly. If a student sends me an email about the Hispanic Program, which I am the director of, I could easily forward it to someone else and have them answer it. But I would never do that if a student saw me in the hallway.
So, I respond to all my correspondence from online students as immediately as I possibly can. If a student wants to call me or meet me when they’re on campus, I make time for them. I do everything I can to let them know they are a part of the student body here at Southern.