Paul Keim, professor of Bible and Religion, has an office filled with books on languages, books on the bible and one rabbit that he thinks might belong to the Biology department.
Keim has been working at Goshen College since 1997, although he did not become a professor until 2001. He attended Goshen College as a student before going to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, or AMBS, and then Harvard. At Harvard, Keim earned a degree in ancient Near Eastern languages and civilizations, which Keim says is “what you do when you study the Old Testament.”
Keim has traveled the world, visiting countries like Germany, Israel, Haiti, Switzerland and more. He served with Mennonite Central Committee in Poland in the 1980s as part of a program that was working to build bridges between the East and West in Europe.
“[MCC] had people go as university students and study in former Soviet Bloc countries, then get together and compare notes,” said Keim.
Out of all the countries Keim has visited, he cannot bring himself to name a favorite. Well-versed and well-traveled, Keim said that his stays in other nations have broadened relationships and languages.
“They’ve all been great. I’ve been to Germany the most, but I’ve loved all the places,” he said. “I prefer to have done language study before going to a country. I don’t like to travel as a tourist.”
There are countries that Keim would like to visit, given the opportunity. “I’ve never been to Russia and Central and South America, but would like to go,” he said. “I’ve been to a number of Middle Eastern countries but I haven’t been to Iran. I would also like to go back to Syria, but I’m not sure if it would be possible.”
Part of traveling frequently is learning new languages, and this is something in which Keim has a lot of practice. He speaks German and Polish well, along with a little bit of Spanish, French and Arabic.
However, Keim has a stronger focus on classical and dead languages. He’s studied all of the Semitic languages—Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He has also studied many ancient dialects like Acadian, Ugaritic, Classical Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac and others.
“There is something about themystery [of a language],” said Keim. “The allure [to learning new languages] is that there are these sounds and signs that remain a secret way of communicating. And it opens up a whole world, a culture and history, a different way of thinking. The way words sound and their histories, I find it very interesting.”
Keim mentioned that when walking around Petra, Jordan, he saw inscriptions on the walls that were 2000 years old. Because Keim had been studying the language, he could read them. “It was like time travel,” he said. “It was a great feeling.”
As for languages he hasn’t learned yet but would like to, Keim has a list. “I know Polish so I can read Russian, but I would like to speak Russian too,” he said.
The other languages he has in mind to learn include ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, Farsi or Persian, Amharic, and a Native American language. “I have the grammar ready to go for some of the languages, but others, not yet,” said Keim.
Over the years, Keim has taught a variety of languages to students. He teaches Hebrew and Greek, and in the past has taught Arabic to SST units. He has taught German as well, and currently teaches Hebrew courses as an adjunct professor at AMBS in Elkhart. He also teaches German, Latin, Syriac and French on a demand basis for graduate students.
When Keim is not busy learning languages or traveling, he enjoys playing basketball. “I played through high school at Concord High School in Elkhart, and I played at Goshen,” he said. “I played informally wherever I went.”
He continues to play basketball a few times a week at noon here at GC. When living in Boston, Keim arranged a trip with some basketball friends to play in Poland on teams there. Because he acted as a translator he wasn’t able to play as much, but still enjoyed the experience.
Keim also enjoys biking althoug he’s “not as serious as Joe Liechty.” Last summer, Keim and his son went to New Jersey for a Syriac seminar, and they took their bikes with them to ride around the area.
After learning about Keim’s travel and Biblical experience, the books in his office make sense. As for the rabbit, Keim would like to return it to whomever it belongs, although he isn’t sure whom that would be.