Selling your UK PhD to employers

I recently interviewed for an academic job (unsuccessfully!) and for the second time now the issue came up of uk phd students having too narrow expertise.  If you are only researching for your thesis and not taking courses, does that not make you incapable of teaching more broadly?  This is the kind of issue you may have to deal with if you do your phd in the UK.

Here are some ways to deal with this: Before your phd: choose a thesis topic that is multi-topical.  Obviously it has to be manageable for your research project, but think about gaining some expertise in two areas.  For example, I have a friend who compared Josephus and Paul on relationship and attitude to the Roman empire.  I have another colleague who is comparing Colossians and 1 Peter.  I think this is very wise.  These kinds of theses are often very interesting to read.

During your phd: audit courses in your university (post-grad courses).  At Durham, I audited Paul and His Interpreters  (John Barclay), the Septuagint with a focus on Tobit (Loren Stuckenbruck), Social-Scientific Criticism (Stephen Barton), and the Gospel of Mark (William Telford).  Also, try to do some teaching, even if only as an assistant.  I TA’d for undergrad courses: intro to NT and NT theology.  Even better, seek opportunities to teach.  Perhaps the university will let you teach Greek.  If the University has a theological hall or college, see if they have needs.  I taught Greek at Cranmer Hall, an Anglican ministerial training centre under the umbrella of Durham Univ.  Also, do book reviews and broaden your horizons with the books you review (I have done several posts on how to do book reviews; do a search on my blog to see them or look at the Guide for Researchers under the Pages above).

Other options: for your thesis, if it is narrowly focused on one thing (like Paul’s view of such and such), do one chapter on something related.  I had contemplated doing this, with one chapter on Philo and another on 1 Peter.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

During the interview for a job: If you get the ‘too narrow’ quest, inform or remind the interviewers (if you are interviewing outside the UK) about the New Testament seminar – a regularly scheduled event (almost weekly at Durham) where scholars come and test their ideas.  The topics are varied and sometimes very productive and significant conversations take place.  I wish this tradition made it across the pond!

In any case, keep in mind that many potential employers will be small liberal arts colleges and they care more about teaching and teaching experience in their candidates than their research potential (in my experience).  This takes forethought to get that experience and also some on-your-feet thinking during the interview.  You need to remember that, while finishing your thesis is a necessity, it is not the only thing you need to be doing during your phd.  If you want a job, especially in this economic climate, the bar has been significantly raised.

New Interpreter’s Dict of the Bible I-Ma (vol. 3): notes

I just received for review the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible I-Ma (Vol. 3) (Abingdon, 2008). I have the first two volumes and I have found the articles to be well-written and the contributors are highly respected scholars internationally. How does it compare with the Anchor Bible Dictionary? First, there are less volumes and less space given to any entry. Secondly, the NIDB is directed towards pastors and seminarians, rather than being a more critical-scholarly reference. Nevertheless, end-of-entry bibliographies are excellent and the scholarship represented in this series is current. On a more personal note, I like the font, size, layout, and colors of this series. It is very visually appealing and the font in quite large. In this third volume, I had wondered (just reading I-Ma): what kind of important entries are included in this volume? Flipping through it, I soon found out just how significant this volume is!

Here is a sampling of titles and authors.

‘Image of God’, T. Fretheim

‘Immortality’, Alan Segal

‘Incarnation’, James Dunn

‘Inspiration and Revelation’, Sandra Schneiders

‘Book of Isaiah’, Richard Clifford’

‘Israel, Origins of’, Norman Gottwald

‘James, Letter of’, John Painter

‘Jerusalem’, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor

‘Jesus Christ’, Dale C. Allison, Jr.

‘Jews in the NT’, Adele Reinhartz

‘Job, Book of’, S.E. Balentine

‘John’, R. Alan Culpepper

‘Judaism’, James Vanderkam

‘Judges, Book of’, Victor Matthews

‘Justice, NT’, Pheme Perkins

‘Justification’, Calvin Roetzel

‘Kingdom of God’, Bruce Chilton

‘Knowledge’, James Crenshaw

‘Law in Early Judaism’, ‘Law in the NT’, both by S. Westerholm

‘Leader, Leadership, NT’, R. Beaton

‘Leviticus, Book of’, Frank Gorman

‘Lord’s Supper’, I.H. Marshall

‘Love in the NT’, J.S. Koppenborg

‘Luke, Gospel of’, John T. Carroll

‘Marriage, NT’, M. MacDonald

Highly recommended!

Bookstore page added

Please note that I have added a bookstore page (see tabs at top of blog). I will continue to expand what is in there, but I thought it might be nice to highlight what I think are the best commentaries, survey books, textbooks, scholarship, etc…

The bookstore is still a work-in-progress, but I have added several titles under the ‘commentaries’ category along with my own annotations on why I like the particular volume. These will be short comments, but may be helpful tips on which commentary to purchase.

As choices in the bookstore are very personalized, I probably won’t be spending time defending my choices or responding to comments, though you may make your case!

NB: the bookstore does link to an Amazon store. If you purchase a book through my link, I will get a ‘cut’ of the sale or something like that. What will be done with the money? I would like most or all of it to go into giving honorariums to scholars for doing interviews with me, or guest posts, or for purchasing new books to review on the blog.

I will continue to announce when I have added new categories to the bookstore.

For convenience, you may simply click HERE.

Bibleworks 8 (Review Part 1): First Impressions

I installed the version 8 upgrade of Bibleworks yesterday. I am very excited to have this new version and I have already found many of the new features very useful. Here are some first impressions that are noteworthy.

- Many features seem streamlined without the kind of total-changeover that can be daunting to users familiar with the way BW works. Its the little things that make a difference. For instance, when you want to change the Bible version you are seeing displayed, before there was a drop-window that you had to scroll through. Now, when you click on the box with the versions, it brings up the various languages (‘English’, ‘French’, ‘Greek’, etc…), and then when you select English all of the versions are displayed at once for you to select one (i.e. no scrolling). This description may sound overly convoluted, but trust me – its easier!

-Databases. Perhaps the most attractive feature of the new version for me is the inclusion of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in Greek and English. Before, I had to use the user-created database (Charles edition) which did not have the Greek. When I needed the Greek, I had to ask my study-neighbor to search the Greek in his Accordance (Mac) program! Now, I am free to search all I want on my own! It is also nice to have the English of the Targums and Mishnah.

- Exporting text. In BW 7, I had trouble getting BW to export to Word using unicode. I know it was possible, but I couldn’t get it working. Now, in BW 8, I quickly set it up and it works marvelously.

- Additional Module – Moulton and Milligan now comes free (as an update) with BW8. This is a great resource.

More thoughts to come.

NB: I think that future versions should begin the think about what Greek and Latin classical resources are going to be most useful to researchers.  Here it will take a bit of predication as to what sources and authors are being given attention especially in NT studies.  I would like to see the Greek and Roman philosophers (Epictetus, Plutarch, Seneca) and some of the historians (Tacitus, Heroditus).

Bibleworks also needs to begin thinking about talking to Richard Bauckham and Jim Davila about getting in on the ground floor on More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.  Its never too early for collaboration if its makes the texts more accessible faster and cheaper…. :)

Need Help from Greco-Roman specialists…

I am doing some research on the history, habits, strategies, ethos, and organization of the Roman Army from its inception to the the end of the first century AD.  I can find books on the Roman army relatively well (though suggestions of highly respected authors and sources are welcome!).  I need to get to know the most respected journals in which to look.  Who can help me out?  What online resources are there for searching journals of classics and ancient Roman history and society?  I am pretty new to the Greco-Roman world research, so feel free to ‘dumb-it-down’ for me :)


NB: Some of the fruits of this research will be presented at the Tyndale Fellowship conference in July, so I can thank you in person if you are in attendence – please let me know if you are going!

Review of Dunn’ BFJ (Sources)

In our last post on Dunn’s Beginning from Jerusalem we noted his discussion of how a Jewish sect became a Gentile religion (i.e. Jesus to Paul). Dunn goes on (in ch. 20) to discussion various solutions to this issue including F.C. Baur’s approach, the history-of-religions approach, gnosticism theories, and sociological approaches. Dunn sees that a solution can only be found when one reckons with this question: ‘What was it that caused the first Christian evangelists to take the gospel to non-Jews?’ (50).

Before making the long and arduous journey through the primary resources in defense of his own perspective, Dunn discusses the ‘sources’ in ch. 21. He quickly mentions external sources such as Josephus, Epictetus, Tacitus, Suestonius, Pliny, and Cassius Dio. Then he concentrates on the most important source: Acts. The challenge here is that questions are raised as to the reliability of this document for making historical conclusions about the emergence of Christianity. Here are some key points he makes.

‘We’ passages. Dunn defends the fact that the ‘we’ passages reflect first-hand witness of the events described. Here is his defense: ‘the abruptness of the transitions from third person to first person and back again is more obviously explained in terms of personal presence and absence, and overall it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the narrator intended his readers to infer his personal involvement in the episodes described’ (p. 66).

Genre and historiography. According to ancient standards, Dunn argues that ‘it has to be accorded the title “history” in at least some sense’ (p. 68). The integration of theological (or ideological) interests in an attempt at recounting historical events was not unusual. Dunn refers to Acts as ‘tendentious history’ where Lukan distinctives are emphasized in the midst of his historical account. He generally concludes:

No doubt it is necessary to discount, or at least take account of, the “spin” which Luke puts on his narrative, but the twenty-first-century reader (or viewer) of historical studies and portrayals is well accustomed to doing so. It is of first importance in all this that we neither attribute to Luke an unrealistically idealistic quality as an ancient historian nor assume that his mistakes and Tendenzen show him to be unworthy of the title “historian” (87)

The Speeches in Acts. Dunn points out that there is great suspicion about the historical validity of the speeches in Acts. The speeches of Paul, for instance, are generally recognized as not ‘authentic’ (i.e. actually preached by Paul verbatim). Dunn does not try to defend a view that these speeches are historically accurate. However, he does think that Luke seems to have drawn on tradition that is ‘related to and….representative of the individual’s views and well suited to the occasion’ (p. 89). There is a creative mixture of the thought of the speaking character (e.g. Peter, Paul, etc..) and the mind of Luke; ‘it is history and theology seen through Luke’s eyes and reflecting also his own concerns’ (p. 89).

Other Sources

Beyond Acts, Dunn also discusses Paul’s letters as well as what we can learn from ‘Jesus tradition’. This brings us to page 132 and just before Dunn’s third new chapter (technically ch. 22). This will have to wait for the next post!

James Dunn and New Testament Theology

Ok.  It is purely coincidence that I have mentioned Dunn in most of my recent posts, but he is deserving of yet another one.  I just saw an announcement of a new New Testament Theology by Dunn (Abingdon, 2009).  It appears that it should be available in June or July.  See description below:

In this third volume in the Library of Biblical Theology series, James D.G. Dunn ranges widely across the literature of the New Testament to describe the essential elements of the early church’s belief and practice. Eschatology, grace, law and gospel, discipleship, Israel and the church, faith and works, and most especially incarnation, atonement, and resurrection; Dunn places these and other themes in conversation with the contemporary church’s work of understanding its faith and life in relation to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

In Defense of Academic Generalists

I have now seen several posts on Mike Bird and Craig Keener’s excellent little article in the SBL forum on being academic generalists (see HERE).  I very much resonated with what Bird and Keener had to say.  For one’s thesis research he or she will no doubt focus and learn much about one area (or perhaps two).  But, it pays to be appreciative of or attentive to other fields of research.  For me, the decision to be a generalists was based on two simple things: boredom and being a lemming. I am easily bored when spending hours researching for my thesis topic.  I need to ‘mix things up’ and read about something else.  Some people naturally turn to fiction.  I do book reviews!

Secondly, I am a lemming because I find the major debates and trends in scholarship interesting.  So, when there is a major debate at SBL (like the now famous Barclay-Wright one on Paul and Empire), I jump on board.

There is certainly some major advantages for this.  For instance, I am doing some research on Colossians/Ephesians.  There is some academic stirring about the ‘Paulinists’ being accomodationistic to the empire in these letters (which I don’t fully agree with).  There is the matter of how to interpret the household codes.  Now, there has been much discussion about the issue of accommodation vs. resistance in 1 Peter (the well-known Balch-Elliott debate), but not enough Pauline scholars seem to be up-to-date on this to learn from it.  Kudos to Jerry Sumney in his WJK commentary on Colossians because he has done his cross-NT homework!  It seems that too many Paul scholars are too snobby (or too busy?) to read up in other epistolary discussions.  This a serious problem.

Also, in my thesis, I made a comparison of the history of scholarship on Paul’s use of cultic metaphors with the development of the study of gospels.  It is thanks to a book review that I did that this idea came to mind.

I think being a generalist is, in fact, a major advantage for teaching in a seminary or undergraduate.  You are bound to teach on something other than your thesis topic.  You’ll probably get bored with that anyway.  It is a major criticism of students studying in the UK that they are too narrowly qualified academically.  They have no breadth of knowledge.  This is a legitimate concern.  My solution was to have a more general thesis topic (covering 1-2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, 1 Thess.) and utilize a range of methodological tools (social-scientific criticism, conceptual metaphor theory, rhetorical criticism, etc…).  Also, I do book reviews (about 2-3 a month).

HERE IS THE DANGER OF BEING A GENERALIST:  Simply put, you may not really know what you are talking about.  Your knowledge may be too superficial.  Just because you are able to write a general book and get it published, be careful not to become too confident that you have the solution to every problem out there.  I think it is best to be a moderate generalist.  I have said this before but try to start off with only two areas, but make them very different.  That way, you get diversity, but it is manageable.  I have chosen Paul’s early letters (a.k.a. the ‘hauptbriefe’) as well as the Gospel of John and 1 Peter.  I cover three areas of the NT, but only one representative from the Gospels and the Catholic Epistles.

I have also recommended that one does not just expect or try to be a scholar of early Judaism too early on.  There are too many people gliding over the literature in a haphazard way.  Pick one or two writers/books to get very familiar with (e.g. 1 Enoch and Josephus, or Philo and Wisdom of Solomon).  In the Greco-Roman world, try to narrow your interests as well (like Stoicism, or the rhetoricians).

I think that things like Bible software (logos, Bibleworks, Accordance, etc..) are necessary and amazing tools, but they lend themselves to ‘I want to do a quick search to find any verses or lines that refer to X or Y’.  OK, that’s good.  But, this can end up being a proof-texting exercise where one plunders Philo, Josephus, and the Pseudepigrapha for phrases and terms without having a good ‘working knowledge’ of how those authors or those genres really work and whether they are compatible for comparison on the word or phrase in question. (NB: My supervisors busted me on this on more than one occasion;also, I am pretty sure neither of my supervisors use Bible software).

So, to try to bring these thoughts together: I wholeheartedly affirm becoming a generalist and reading and researching on a wider scale.  However, if you are younger (like me), I propose progressing from one’s thesis research to more general areas progressively by only adding one or two subjects at a time and work in these areas for a few years.  I will confess that I have found a couple of generalists to be too general too quick.  Even if they feel they are capable of it (which is debatable), it comes across as unstable and faddish.  The truth of the matter is that there is a spectrum between generalism and specialism and the trick is finding where to start and stop.

By the way, my favorite generalist is Jimmy Dunn.  He clearly has done his homework and he has advanced scholarship in several major areas of research (most notably the New Perspective on Paul, and the matter of oral traditions and the synoptic problem in gospels research).

HT: Goodacre; McCullough.

Dunn’s BfJ (The Quest for the Historical Church)

This is the first installment of my review of James D.G. Dunn’s Beginning from Jerusalem (Eerdmans, 2009) where this master theologian and biblical historian treats the emergence of ‘Christianity’ in the period 30-70CE.

The first chapter (ch. 20, following the chapter numbering ending from Jesus Remembered) engages in the ‘quest for the historical church’.  ‘After Jesus, how did it all begin?’ (3).  Here Dunn picks up on a major issue.  What do we identity as the ‘it’?  Can we realistically call ‘it’ Christianity (p. 5)?  Dunn shows concern that this is ‘historically inaccurate’.  What other labels are possible? Dunn explores several.  Church?  This implies some unification which surely did not exist.  Better called ‘churches‘ (p. 7).

Synagogue (p. 8)?  Probably not sufficient.  Disciples? No.  Believers?  This is better (p. 10).  Saints?  Also on the right track but not distinctive enough.  Dunn offers several more, but they all seem to be inadequete as ‘there is no single term which served to designate or describe those who participated in the sequel to the death of Jesus and its immediate aftermath’ (p. 15).

Dunn observes, despite the diversity in this new movement, that a common factor is Jesus.  I think, then, though Dunn does not come out and say it, that ‘Christian’ is an acceptable term if it is understood that this refers primarily to one who worships Christ.  This raises, for Dunn, the important question of continuity with the ministry of Jesus.  How did the transition happen from following Christ as disciple to worshiping him as lord?

Also, how did this group go from primarily a Jewish sect to a ‘Gentile religion’ (see pp. 16-17)?  Dunn can ask it this way: ‘how [do you] bridge the gap (or gulf) between Jesus and Paul…how it was that Jesus’ message of the kingdom became Paul’s gospel of the crucified Jesus as Lord’ (17).

Dunn goes on to describe various scholarly answers to this question.  But a review of this very excellent summary of the history of the interpretation quest for the historical church will be forthcoming in the next part.

Evaluation: It is certainly true that we are benefiting from Dunn’s lifetime of study of Paul and early Christianity.  His diagnosis of historical and social quandries is incise.  Sometimes scholars, in their latter years, write off the top of their heads with little depth in research.  This is not the case with Dunn.  The footnotes demonstrate a thorough engagement with scholarship that is up-to-date.  We will see in the next part that he is an excellent reader of scholarship and finds trends and the ‘bigger picture’ in the trajectory of the study of Christian origins.

The weighty-ness of this volume can be demonstrated by the fact that I have brought you to page 20 of the book and we are yet less than 2% into the tome!