Towards becoming a more well-rounded biblical theologian

The more advanced you get in your own research area, it seems, the further away you get from being able to have simple and mutually beneficial dialogues with scholars from other disciplines, let alone the average bible college student or informed layperson.  AS I think about teaching in a seminary one day, I am trying to be more well-rounded and striving to reflect on issues and questions beyond the Pauline scholarly circle.  If you are like me, this is hard because you want to have a specific focus.  But, I have tried to broaden my horizons in a few areas.  Thus, I have set a goal for myself that I would have one primary interest (Pauline theology), but also several secondary interests and a few tertiary interests.  The goal I set for myself was to have

1. One OT book I try to learn more about and have a secondary interest in (provisionally I have chosen Exodus; also Isaiah).

2. One person or book from early Judaism to have a secondary interest in (provisionally Philo; perhaps also Dead Sea Scrolls and maybe Testament of Levi)

3. One moral philosopher from the Greco-Roman world to get to know better (I haven’t decided yet, but probably Plutarch)

4. One Patristic writer to get to know (as a tertiary interest; probably John Chrysostom)

5. One modern theologian to learn from (as a tertiary interest; right now I am reading through the Hauerwas reader)

6. One other NT book outside of Paul to interact with (right now I have done some work in 1 Peter and Gospel of John; perhaps I may like to dabble in Hebrews and Revelation).

What does it mean to have a secondary interest in these things?  Well, when I see books available for review on these, I try to snatch them up if I can.  When I write articles, I try to see if there are resonances in any of these.  It is an intentional way of broadening my circle of theological conversation without it being overwhelming.  In  my thesis research I came to really enjoy reading Philo and I have provisionally included a chapter on Philo’s use of cultic language.  When I finish my thesis, I may add in a brief section on how John Chrysostom interpret’s cultic language (in a “looking forward” section of my conclusion).

Lately, I have noticed that some of the most interesting articles and essays out there are attempts to let two worlds collide and see what happens, whether the gap is historical, theological, or in terms of previously separated disciplines.
Are others trying to do something similar?  How has it worked?


10 thoughts on “Towards becoming a more well-rounded biblical theologian

  1. Nijay,

    I came across your blog recently, while I don’t share the same research interests, I have really benefited from your insights.

    I am thinking I need to develop a similar strategy in becoming more well rounded.

    Thanks for the post,

  2. I am all for interdisciplinary academic endeavours. My own thesis research — on the nexus between eschatology and politics, in both Paul’s day and ours — has led me down many, many different rabbit trails and I have found that this bears much fruit.

    Reading Paul with Virgil and other classical authors, with the OT Pseudepigrapha, with contemporary theologians, and with ‘post-Marxist’ cultural theorists and political economists has been a huge challenge… but I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

  3. Nijay,

    I have wrestled with the same issue. Let me offer a few words on my experience. I have this year taken a job as lecturer in New Testament at Luther Seminary (I am still in the middle of my dissertation, too). In preparation for teaching (Matthew; 1 Cor and Gal), I have found that I MUST engage with material outside of not only my primary focus (Paul’s Letter/Spirit antithesis in Romans), but outside of the immediate focus of the classes. Thus, in my Matthew class we will be dipping into Dietrich Bonhoeffer and of course wrestling with the issue of the use of the OT in the NT, the Pharisees and temple cult, etc. For the Galatians class, we will be dealing with Martin Luther, for sure. In addition, in all classes we will occasionally try to read Matthew or Galatians or 1 Cor in conversation with modern culture. I think that when you get to the teaching stage–especially if it is a seminary–the students will probably expect and want some integration with material outside “NT Studies.”

    I like your plan of action. It looks like it will be helpful. May I suggest Dio Chrysostom instead of Plutarch? Both are good avenues into the world of Greco-Roman moral philosophy. However, I have found that Dio, because he is a wandering philosopher sort, speaks more at the same level as Paul (or at least that is the assumption!) than Plutarch who was a bit more upper class. In addition, while both were ‘eclectic’, I think Dio is a bit harder to pin down than Plutarch who seems to resonate quite strongly with Middle Platonism. In the same way, Paul, if he had some understanding of philosophical thought and language (which I think he did), is more along the lines of Dio–a sort of ‘street-corner’ understanding and use of philosophy. (I know–or I think–Barclay would disagree with this assessment of Paul. I respectfully disagree with him here! Don’t tell, though).

    Have you read any Diaspora Jewish ‘philosophical’ writings–other than Philo?

    That’s all I got! Thanks for your consistent and helpful blogging. I enjoy keeping up. E-mail me if you wish to discuss more. It would be great to share some thoughts on Paul, etc…

    Kyle Fever

    Kyle Fever

  4. By the way, Michael J. Gorman, in his little book: “Reading Pau,” reads Paul along the same lines with Martin Luther King Jr. and Bonhoeffer. Integrating disciplinary study will be necessary if the NT as a discipline is going to survive in the 21st century.

  5. Nijay, another great post along lines that I constantly struggle with concerning my focus on James. Most recently, I let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, and I had a current reading list in about 20 different areas. Needless to say, that backfired. I like your idea of selectively choosing a smaller number of secondary and tertiary subject areas.

  6. I think for me the most important and useful things has been to talk to my friends and colleagues working in other areas. Conversations over coffee or lunch go even further than reading in helping me to understand the way that other things relate to my work and vice versa. Its the serendipity of this method that I like, as well as the relationships that I think are so important.

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