How I Do Research – David A. deSilva (Gupta)

deSilvaI am pleased to continue our series on “How I Do Research” with this interview with Dr. David deSilva (Ashland Theological Seminary). deSilva is an impressive scholar, author of the highly-acclaimed textbook An Introduction to the New Testament (900+ pages), significant scholarship on Hebrews, and much research on the cultural world of the first century. His work on social-scientific study of the New Testament was very formative for me especially in my early years of New Testament study. He is currently writing the new edition of the NICNT commentary on Galatians.

  1. How do you approach research as a whole? Do you have a big-picture strategy? Do your research all at once, and then write? Do you do some sketching and reflecting on paper and then dig into research? Do you go back and forth?

My writing process is generally one of leavening.  I begin with an outline of an argument (“argument” broadly conceived) and keep working more material into the outline until it’s 500 pages long (+/- 300).  Writing becomes a matter of prosifying (hey, I just made up a word) the whole into a hopefully coherent presentation.

  1. What kind of notes do you take (ideas, quotes, etc.)? How do you organize them?

Quotations, positions, any useful data, and my interpretations of/reactions to them.  I spend a lot of time with primary sources first.

Organization is always a challenge, but I tend to try to decide within what subsection of a paper or book the particular observation, quotation, or whatever will be appropriately discussed and copy it into the emerging document.

  1. What kind of tools do you use for researching and collecting information? (software? Do you store notes in Endnote? Dropbox? Evernote? Filing cabinet?)

I’m a troglodyte in this regard.  I have gotten to the point where I can pull from my past bibliographies as I write new works, but I have no true information-collecting or bibliography-managing software.  I do everything and keep everything in MS Word documents stored in 1,000 files….

And yes, I still have real paper files in a bank of filing cabinets.

  1. What have you learned about doing research, collecting notes, and the process of writing throughout your career – put another way, if you could get into a time machine and go back twenty years (or ten years), what advice would you want to give to your younger self about the process of research and how you take notes and read scholarship?

Take notes and keep files based on a topical organization, not a per-product organization, from which you can draw and copy and cannibalize for individual projects.

John’s Use of Matthew, Part One (Skinner)

BarkerA few posts back I mentioned that I received in the mail, James Barker‘s revised dissertation, John’s Use of Matthew. I couldn’t wait to dig in and it has been a rewarding read so far. In fact, this is one of the most engagingly written academic books I have read in some time. Perhaps this judgement is due to my own interest in the subject, but much of it is also due to Barker’s careful argument and concise writing. Today I only want to consider the first two chapters, mainly because blogging through the book in sections rather than all at once holds me accountable to be precise in representing and evaluating Barker’s argument. Such arguments are intricate and deserve careful scrutiny. Before I begin discussing the book I should also self-disclose. When I first began my graduate studies in the gospels, I held the opinion that John was independent of the Synoptics. While in my doctoral program, I became persuaded (largely through arguments offered in commentaries by C.K. Barrett, Joel Marcus, and others) that John was, at the very least, familiar with Mark and possibly Luke. Of course, Matthew usually gets short shrift in that scenario and this is something Barker takes head on. He aims to demonstrate that John both knew and made use of Matthew’s written gospel.

After a brief introduction in which he lays out the argument of each chapter (xv-xix), Barker’s first chapter (pp. 1-14) provides an abbreviated though representative Forschungsbericht on the question of John’s knowledge of Matthew, beginning with the first seventeen hundred years of interpretation and ending with the various shifts that have occurred in the past two hundred years. It is worth noting that the shifts in scholarly opinion in the last two centuries alone include the “consensus” that John knew Mark and Luke but not Matthew, followed by the “consensus” of Johannine independence, followed by the present state in which various opinions hold sway among scholars. Barker’s book bounds into this present state of uncertainty with careful and judicious argumentation that begs to be taken seriously. The lack of a present consensus provides Barker with an opportunity to have his argument heard.

In chapter 2, Barker sets forth his redaction-critical methodology, which relies heavily upon Helmut Koester’s principle that when an interpreter observes words or phrases deriving from the author or redactor of a gospel writing, that interpreter must assume the existence of a written source. In other words, if elements of Matthean redaction can be located in John-Synoptic parallels, there is a strong likelihood that those parallels derive from a written form of Matthew’s gospel. Against this backdrop he examines three previously adduced John-Matthew parallels: John 12:25/Matt 10:39; John 4:46b-54/Matt 8:5-13; John 20:11-18/Matt 28:9-10. He notes that the first of these does not meet Koester’s redaction criterion, while the other two do. Throughout this chapter, Barker is particularly adept at both anticipating objections to his argument and clarifying the nuances of his own approach. Of particular importance to his argument is his insistence that while John used Matthew’s Gospel, he did not intend to supplant Matthew (a common argument given the vast differences between the two narratives). Instead he argues that a practice known as oppositio in imitando should inform our understanding of John’s use of Matthew; to demonstrate this approach, he discusses how later infancy gospels used and built upon the legacies of (what eventually became) canonical birth narratives while arguing that supplanting those gospels would have been an unrealistic goal. One can read, for instance, the Protoevangelium of James and recognize the author’s instructive and corrective instincts vis-a-vis the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. It is unlikely, however, that the Protoevangelium of James was meant to supplant or replace either Matthew or Luke. Instead, it was meant to stand alongside and complement the others. This is illustrative of how Barker views John’s intentions toward Matthew.

After these first two chapters, I am left with the impression that, at the very least, I have not given John’s use of Matthew enough serious consideration. I have finished chapter three and I’m looking forward to finishing the book this weekend and to having my views tested further. Stay tuned……

Ethics in the Johannine Literature, Part Four (Skinner)

apostlesIn our last post we looked at the view that ethics can be found in the Johannine Literature but they are, by and large, sectarian or exclusively inward-looking. I want to begin considering some of the more constructive and/or positive ways in which scholars have conceived of Johannine ethics in recent years. This will be the final approach covered in our survey, though I intend to discuss it in several different posts.

3) The ethics of the Johannine literature are broad, inclusive, or valuable for the construction of Christian ethics or moral theology

The South African scholar, Jan van der Watt, has been particularly important to this more constructive movement, as he has helped bring forth three different volumes in the series, Contexts and Norms of New Testament Ethics, a wider project on various ethical concerns in the NT (two of these have been co-edited with the German scholar, Ruben Zimmerman).[1] One of the three volumes in this series focuses primarily on Johannine ethics, exploring “how the narrated text reveals an underlying value system and ethical reflection sui generis, which can retrospectively be classified as ‘ethics’ or better as ‘implicit ethics.’”[2] Seeking to challenge the contention that the Johannine literature has no ethics, van der Watt notes that, “by means of narration, there is a coherent reflection on values and behavior” embedded within the Johannine literature.[3] Such an approach constitutes a step beyond traditional approaches that sought to identify ethical concerns apart from sustained exegetical treatments. In other words, more detailed engagement with the wider narrative of the gospel or underlying narrative of the epistles has the potential to offer new insights and provide a fuller understanding of John’s implicit ethics. Several contributions within these three volumes argue for a largely favorable understanding of the ethics implied in the Johannine writings.

For example, in his chapter from the second volume in the series, Kobus Kok argues for a “missional-incarnational ethos.” He uses Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4) as the basis upon which to describe the Gospel as a “narrative of moral language.”[4] He writes, “As Christians, the basis or motivation of our being is built on the basis of a particular understanding of God, the world and God’s story of the world.”[5] After a detailed exegesis of John 4, Kok wonders whether this particular story can be connected at the macro-level to the sending of the disciples and wider notion of “mission” in the narrative. He ultimately concludes in the affirmative:

[I]t could thus be argued that those who seek to speak of moral language in John (at least on the textual level) should probably also include the reality of a missional-incarnational ethos that will transcend all boundaries (cultural, social, economical, racial, etc.) to show love and be accepting of everyone. From the investigation above, it becomes clear that the narrative of Jesus and the Samaritan woman should be integrated not only with the sending motive and ethos of the Son, but also with the imperative of the missional ethos of the followers of Jesus (cf. John 20:21). Together these elements form an inclusive moral language or ethical paradigm of mission and give the reader a full and integrated picture of the essence of behavior in following the way of Jesus.[6]

The tone of Kok’s chapter is similar to others in these volumes. By and large there are two overarching ideas in many of the chapters in all three monographs: (1) there ARE ethics in the Johannine Literature, and (2) they are more inclusive than recent scholarship has led us to believe.  In our next post we will consider other constructive approaches that have emerged from within a “broadly evangelical” framework.

 ______________________________________

[1] See Jan G. van der Watt, ed., Identity, Ethics, and Ethos in the New Testament, BZNW 141 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006); Zimmerman, van der Watt, and Luther, eds., Moral Language in the New Testament: The Interrelatedness of Language and Ethics in Early Christian Writings; van der Watt and Zimmerman, eds., Rethinking the Ethics of John: Implicit Ethics in the Johannine Writings (2012).

[2] van der Watt, “Preface,” in Rethinking the Ethics of John, x.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Kok, “As the Father Has Sent Me, I Send You,” 169.

[5] Ibid., 171.

[6] Ibid., 193 (emphasis added).

 

How I Do Research: James D.G. Dunn (Gupta)

James DunnProf. James D.G. Dunn (Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, University of Durham) is undoubtedly my favorite New Testament theologian – brilliant, gracious, creative, and a wonderful friend and mentor to his students. It is an understatement to say that he is prolific – I am especially fond of his commentaries on Romans (WBC), Colossians (NIGTC), and Galatians (BNTC), but he has written many stimulating monographs including Christology in the MakingUnity and Diversity in the New Testament, Theology of Paul the Apostle, and the acclaimed three volumes in the “Christianity in the Making” series, the third volume having just been released, Neither Jew nor Gentile. I was deeply honored to have him answer questions about his way of doing research.

How do you approach research as a whole? Do you have a big-picture strategy? Do your research all at once, and then write? Do you do some sketching and reflecting on paper and then dig into research? Do you go back and forth?

My practice over the past 40 years or so has been to identify an issue or subject I want to write on, but to confine my reading to a few major works (to ensure I am alert to the main issues) and to work directly on the text(s) to draft out what seems to me to be the main concerns and arguments.   Only then, with a paper in first draft, do I go into intense study of as much of the main secondary literature as I can lay my hands on.   This may explain why in most of my writings most of the argument with other scholars comes in the endnotes.

  1. What kind of notes do you take (ideas, quotes, etc.)? How do you organize them?

 Since my preliminary draft will have identified most of the issues to be discussed, when I do the more extensive secondary reading the notes I take are of direct relevance to the issues identified.

  1. What kind of tools do you use for researching and collecting information? (software? Do you store notes in Endnote? Dropbox? Evernote? Filing cabinet?)

 This question comes too late for me.   I developed my own style well before Dropbox, etc. was available.   And in what I have been doing since these tools became available it wasn’t really necessary to change my practice.

  1. What have you learned about doing research, collecting notes, and the process of writing throughout your career – put another way, if you could get into a time machine and go back twenty years (or ten years), what advice would you want to give to your younger self about the process of research and how you take notes and read scholarship?

I would press the value of the practice I have followed, since it allows the texts to throw up the questions and enables me to order the results of my reading in accord with the text and the issues/questions raised thereby.   It would seem to me to be important that the texts being analyzed or discussed always have primacy and the secondary literature be treated as secondary.

Tim Gombis on Rom-Eph Commentaries (Gupta)

My buddy Tim Gombis gives his take on building your pastoral library for Pauline commentaries – Romans-Ephesians. This is a good list. I echo nearly all his recommendations – I would just add Stephen Fowl’s Ephesians commentary (NTL), and also he does not mention Ben Witherington and I particularly appreciate Witherington’s works on 1-2 Corinthians and Ephesians. In Witherington’s body of work, I believe his commentaries are my favorite contributions he has made to scholarship.

Also, I concur with Gombis that David Garland has written a spectacular 1 Corinthians commentary for BECNT (Baker), but I would also add that Garland’s 2 Corinthians commentary (NAC) is excellent (Gombis does not mention the 2 Cor volume).

Thanks, Tim!

YHWH’s “Return to Zion”

Read Prof. Hurtado’s Thoughts on NT Wright’s “YHWH’s Return to Zion” Theological Motif. I recall Dr. Richard Hays has questioned this as well.

Larry Hurtado's Blog

Yesterday, I received the PDF of my contribution to a multi-author volume examining features of N.T. Wright’s massive book on Paul’s theology.  My own piece is a critical study of Wright’s claim that the earthly ministry of Jesus was seen from the first as YHWH’s “return to Zion,” and that this conviction was the “key” to all of the rest of how Jesus came to feature so centrally in earliest devotional practice and beliefs in the young Jesus-movement.

I judge his claims faulty, unsupported by the evidence.  What I see is that the earliest use of the OT theme of YHWH’s return to Zion/Israel, in Paul’s letters (our earliest texts), posits that it is in Jesus’ “second coming” (parousia) that this is fulfilled.  See, e.g., the use of such imagery in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, where Jesus will come (again) “with all his holy ones” (μετά πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ)…

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