PhD


Well, we have now made it to Durham and we are beginning to settle. I haven’t quite managed to get into a routine of research yet, but I think that I will really like it at Durham. It really is a fantastic place. For example, so far in my few weeks here I have had class with Francis Watson on Theological Hermeneutics, had lunch with and had class with Walter Moberly and have spent a morning with Jimmy Dunn helping him move and chatting about all things Bible and faith (for those of you who are up on theological or biblical studies at all, you know that what I’ve just done there is name dropping). So far so good.

As for this blog, obviously I haven’t posted in quite some time. However, we’ve made the move and life is beginning to settle in a routine so I hope to use this blog as a forum to discuss topics related to my research and interests. Thus, I hope to be blogging on things I’m reading and thinking about in the areas of: 1 Samuel, Septuagintal Research, narrative criticism and theological hermeneutics. Hopefully, this will become a good place to ‘host’ some of my thoughts.

Update: And I have now sat through a presentation from J. Cheryl Exum (Sheffield University) on the Song of Songs.

The next question that I must answer in my academic pursuits is why would a Christian get their PhD in the Old Testament? Wouldn’t you rather learn about Jesus? Isn’t Paul more edifying and instructive? Well the answers to those questions may be yes, for some. But I have always found the Old Testament (I do not say Hebrew Bible because I am thinking of both the MT and LXX, as I will be studying both) to be fascinating, edifying and immensely instructive. I have also found the OT incredibly difficult. Many of the most difficult issues in the Bible, especially those that repulse non-Christians, come from the OT. For this reason I feel the need to truly understand this greater half of the Christian Bible. 

 

The OT also has the uncanny ability to be inexhaustible (I do not mean that the NT does not, but the OT does in a different way, as we will see presently). As a boy, my Mom tried all the tricks to get me to read my Bible. The most successful ‘trick’ was to point me to all the warfare and violent passages of the OT. I remember vividly reading about Ehud the left-handed judge  and David’s mighty men. Nothing sounded more un-Biblical to me than these passages of testosterone filled heroism and unmitigated gore. They were fascinating to me as adventure stories on a very basic level and they got me asking questions about God and his dealings with people. I am now, however, going to study one of those stories (David and Goliath) on the most detailed level, a PhD dissertation, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that that text will not disappoint me on any level. My point is this, the OT narratives have the incredible ability of distilling their main messages to the most basic level where they are understandable to simple readers (not that there are not some significantly R-rated parts of the Bible that children should not read, there are), but on the other hand the OT was written with such literary sophistication and depth of meaning that a short passage can sustain a great deal of study and illumine a whole array of meaning. This is part of what draws me to the OT.

 

I am, however, a Christian and the NT is immensely important to me. I will always read the NT and I will always be a student of it. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us Christians read our Bibles in the wrong direction…back to front. I have heard it said numerous times that it is only in light of the NT that the OT can be understood. This seems fundamentally backwards to me. I am more of the opinion that only in light of the OT can the NT be understood! Try reading the Return of the King without having previously read the Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers. You have no idea what this great climax is about. I feel the same way about the NT. Now, that does not mean that knowing where the story ends (NT) does not illuminate more precisely what has gone before. Any good novel reveals new information on a multiple readings because you know where the story is going. But that doesn’t mean that you should read the end first. So in my desire to understand the NT I find it necessary to start with the OT. 

 

Furthermore, I have a suspicion that the OT is significantly under-appreciated within Christian circles. Aside from Psalms and Proverbs I don’t think the OT is widely read. I think this is incredibly unfortunate. Let me give you one anecdotal example of why this is so. When my dad told his friend Tony Campolo, that his son would be pursuing a PhD in the Old Testament, he said this: “That’s great. We need people to read the OT. You can know Jesus from the NT but YOU DON’T KNOW GOD, unless you read the OT!” I think he may have been intentionally overstating the issue, but I think he’s got a point. Thus, I will be studying the OT, as the greater half of the Christian Bible.

It has been quite a while since I’ve put my hand to the Septuagint. I’ve been rather busy, the last few months have been applications, working on papers, thesis, etc. However, in my reading I came across an article (Moberly, see below) that contains a very interesting discussion of the interpretive difference in this verse. Here is a brief discussion of a possible (probable?) reason for the main difference between the MT and LXX of Jonah 3:4. (more…)

There are several good, if less than encouraging, discussions of why or why not to do a PhD in Biblical Studies out in the blogosphere (e.g., see here and here). In light of such daunting realities someone, like me, who is beginning the process of a PhD in biblical studies must necessarily defend their decision to do so. I can’t really advise anyone on what they should do, all I can do is tell my story. So here it goes…

 

My story begins in college as an Undecided Major, tossing around majoring in English, Biblical Studies, Music and Business. At the advice of my father and my practical nature I decided on Business, but I reserved the right to do a biblical studies minor. The first class that really piqued my interest in biblical studies was a class on Israelite Religion. The professor was Craig C. Broyles, and it really planted the seed of excitement for studying the biblical texts. Years later, as a Senior, I was talked into being a mentor (read teaching assistant) for a freshman class on integrating Christian thinking into a holistic education. I hated the class when I took it, but I loved leading my once a week discussion groups. It was there that the first seeds of a desire to teach were planted.

 

From there I went to Seminary. I realized that much of what I believed was spoon fed to me, so I wanted to further my education regarding what I believed. It was there, writing my first real research papers that I began to realize that I loved the academic study of theology and biblical studies. At this point I had affirmed to myself 1) a desire to teach, and 2) a love of academic biblical studies. If this were all I had to go on, I would probably be looking for a job right now. But, add to these realizations the affirmations of the leadership of my church and several professors that this is a good fit for me, and that I would be able to contribute to knowledge and to the church, I began to seriously plan on partaking in doctoral studies.

 

I realize that my prospects for a job are not great. It is a tough market out there for PhD’s and with the economic environment it looks like it might get worse for a time. But I also realize that this is what I desire to do, it is what I have been confirmed by family and friends as what I would be good at. So I believe that this is, in some sense, my calling. I am not one of those who went to Seminary to become a pastor but then changed his mind to try teaching instead, thinking that if teaching doesn’t pan out I can always fall back on pastoring. For me, the teaching was always the point. Now, if I go this route and never land a tenure position in a University or college does that mean I was wrong about this being my calling? No. Right now, all I know is that my route is taking me to Durham to earn a PhD in biblical studies. I would love to teach at a university with that degree, but I am open to what comes my way. Ultimately I am being trained for whatever role life has for me. No matter what I do, I will be a servant of Christ and of the Church, so I don’t think my training will be wasted in any way. My wife and I are both ready to take on whatever comes, and we both realize that the future may not look anything like what we decide, but we’re going for it.   

 I have officially accepted an offer of a place in the PhD program in the Department of Theology at the University of Durham. I will be studying under the renowned scholar Professor Walter Moberly  (he is most known for his work in theological interpretation of scripture). My area of research will be the Hebrew and Greek versions of 1 Sam. 16-18 and its implication for understanding the Old Testament as Christian Scripture. 

Needless to say, Sarah and I are very excited and we will be moving to Durham, England sometime in the late summer or early fall. I will continue to post about our saga across the pond. All I can say at this point is that were it not for the Lord putting me here, this would not have happened.