Friday, December 21, 2012


I'm glad to report that I am now officially done with my first semester as a Ph.D. student here at Emory University. After a mountain of final folders to grade along with dozens of blue books, as well as two and a half research papers (I say half, because the third class is more of a quick survey type paper than a full-on research paper), I am now ready to begin my winter vacation. Quick thoughts about the program thus far:

1. I love my professors. They are all very knowledgeable in their respective fields of expertise and I have learned so much already from each of them. This semester I had the pleasure of learning under Carl Holladay, Walter Wilson, and Bill Gilders, and while they all have different styles in terms of how to lead a seminar, I thoroughly enjoyed learning from all three of them.
2. I love my classmates. I think one of our program's major strengths is the personality of the students; from my fellow first-year students all the way to fifth-years that I've interacted with thus far, all of them have been quick to lend a helping hand or provide much needed words of encouragement or advice throughout this semester. I don't know if this was an intentional move by the adcoms or not, but the overall "friendliness" of our program from top to bottom cannot be understated. The big plus about this is that, all of them are very sharp students, so I really think we have the best of both worlds: excellent students but also excellent people. 
3. Atlanta is great. Yes, it's a metro-area, so along with that comes crime, traffic, higher living costs, etc., but overall, it's so much better than Durham, NC which sometimes had a "backwoods"-type feel. Don't get me wrong, there are great people in Durham, but we also came across a good number of people whose kind I'd rather never meet again.

Overall, I think I did ok in terms of how to properly manage time and resources as a first-year PhD student thus far. I definitely think I could have done better to form my research topic earlier in the semester, but my professors were all gracious and helped to solidify my angles for each of the topics at hand. Also, I'd like to plan ahead next time and attend SBL next year as we have funding for that. Hopefully I can reconnect with some of my Duke professors and get to hear some good papers and maybe meet some new people. I'm excited to see what the next semester holds, but for now, I have to prepare for the Greek exam and am looking forward to this winter break which comes at a much needed time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

79 Years Ago

I recently borrowed from the library a newly published book, The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Isabel Best (she is part of the DBWE team, and herself involved in translations of volumes 8, 12, and 13 of Bonhoeffer's Works). One of the sermons was preached by Bonhoeffer in London on December 17, 1933, exactly 79 years ago. Especially in light of the recent tragedy at Newtown, CT, I thought an excerpt of this sermon would be fitting for this Christmas season.

Bonhoeffer preached on Luke 1:46-55:
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

"My Spirit Rejoices"

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is also the most passionate, the wildest, and one might almost say the most revolutionary Advent hymn that has ever been sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary as we often see her portrayed in paintings. The Mary who is speaking here is passionate, carried away, proud, enthusiastic. There is none of the sweet, wistful, or even playful tone of many of our Christmas carols, but instead a hard, strong, relentless hymn about the toppling of thrones and the humiliation of the lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. This is the sound of the prophetic women of the Old Testament - Deborah, Judith, Miriam - coming to life in the mouth of Mary. Mary, who was seized by the power of the Holy Spirit, who humbly and obediently lets it be done unto her as the Spirit commands her, who lets the Spirit blow where it wills [John 3:8] - she speaks, by the power of this Spirit, about God's coming into the world, about the Advent of Jesus Christ.

She, of course, knows better than anyone else what it means to wait for Christ's coming. Her waiting is different from that of any other human being. She expects him as his mother. He is closer to her than to anyone else. She knows the secret of his coming, knows about the Spirit, who has a part in it, about the Almighty God, who has performed this miracle. In her own body she is experiencing the wonderful ways of God with humankind: that God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe. God's path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.

There, where our understanding is outraged, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps its distance - that is exactly where God loves to be. There, though it confounds the understanding of sensible people, thought it irritates our nature and our piety, God wills to be, and none of us can forbid it. Only the humble believe and rejoice that God is so gloriously free, performing miracles where humanity despairs and glorifying that which is lowly and of no account. God "has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant." God in the midst of lowliness - that is the revolutionary, passionate word of Advent.

It begins with Mary herself, the carpenter's wife: as we would say, a poor working man's wife, unknown, not highly regarded by others; yet now, just as she is, unremarkable and lowly in the eyes of others, regarded by God and chosen to be mother of the Savior of the world. She was not chosen because of any human merit, not even for being, as she undoubtedly was, deeply devout, nor even for her humility or any other virtue, but entirely and uniquely because it is God's gracious will to love, to choose, to make great what is lowly, unremarkable, considered to be of little value. Mary, the tough, devout, ordinary working man's wife, living in her Old Testament faith and hoping in her Redeemer, becomes the mother of God. Christ, the poor son of a laborer from the East End of London, Christ is laid in a manger...

God is not ashamed of human lowliness but goes right into the middle of it, chooses someone as instrument, and performs the miracles right there where they are least expected. God draws near to the lowly, loving the lost, the unnoticed, the unremarkable, the excluded, the powerless, and the broken. What people say is lost, God says is found; what people say is "condemned," God says is "saved." What people say No! God says Yes! Where people turn their eyes away in indifference or arrogance, God gazes with a love that glows warmer there than anywhere else. Where people say something is despicable, God calls it blessed. When we come to a point in our lives where we are completely ashamed of ourselves and before God; when we believe that God especially now must be ashamed of us, and when we feel as far away from God as ever in all our lives - that is the moment in which God is closer to us than ever, wanting to break into our lives, wanting us to feel the presence of the holy and to grasp the miracle of God's love, God's nearness and grace...

When God chooses Mary as the instrument, when God decides to come in person into this world, in the manger in Bethlehem, this is not an idyllic family occasion but rather the beginning of a complete reversal, a new ordering of all things on this earth. If we want to be part of this event of Advent and Christmas, we cannot just sit there like a theater audience and enjoy all the lovely pictures. We ourselves will be caught up in this action, this reversal of all things; we will become actors on this stage. For this is a play in which each spectator has a part t o play, and we cannot hold back. What will our role be? Worshipful shepherds bending the knee, or kings bringing gifts? What story is being enacted when Mary becomes the mother of God, when God comes into the world in a lowly manger?

The judgment and redemption of the world - that is what is happening here. For it is the Christ Child in the manger himself who will bring that judgment and redemption. It is he who pushes away the great and mighty of this world, who topples the thrones of the powerful, who humbles the haughty, whose arm exercises power against all who are highly placed and strong, and whose mercy lifts up what was lowly and makes it great and glorious. So we cannot come to this manger in the same was as we would approach this cradle of any other child. Something will happen to each of us who decides to come to Christ's manger. Each of us will have been judged or redeemed before we go away. Each of us will either break down or come to know that God's mercy is turned toward us...

In eight days we will celebrate Christmas, for once really as the festival of Jesus Christ in our world. Before that, there is something we must clear up, something very important in our lives. We need to make clear to ourselves how, from now on, the light of the mangers, we are going to think about what is high and what is low in human life. Not that any of us are powerful persons, even if we would perhaps like to be and don't like to have that said to us. There are never more than a few very powerful people. But there are any more people with small amounts of power, petty power, who put it into play wherever they can and whose one thought is: keep climbing higher! God, however, thinks differently, namely, keep climbing down lower, down among the lowly and the inconspicuous, in self-forgetfulness, in not seeking to be looked at or well regarded or to be the highest. If we go this way, there we will meet God himself. Each of us lives among persons who are the so-called higher-ups and others who are the so-called lowly. Each of us knows someone who is lower in the order of things that we ourselves. Might this Christmas help us learn to see this point in a radically different way, to rethink it entirely, to know that if we want to find the way to God, we have to go, not up tot he heights, but really down tot he depths among the least of all, and that every life only wants to stay up high will come to a fearful end?...

Who among us will celebrate Christmas rightly? Who will finally lay down at the manger all power and honor, all high regard, vanity, arrogance, and self-will? Who will take their place among the lowly and let God alone be high? Who will see the glory of God in the lowliness of the child in the manger? Who will say with Mary: The Lord has looked with favor on my lowliness. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Amen.

Did Jesus Exist?

Over at Unbelievable?, this week's program features one of my teachers from Duke University, Mark Goodacre and a Columbia trained historian, Richard Carrier. The topic is "Did Jesus Exist?" Carrier espouses the "mythicist" view that claims that the historical Jesus never existed and Goodacre the opposite. Seems like an interesting debate and this radio program is usually well-moderated (by the host Justin Brierley), so go check it out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


When I first started thinking about the possibility of doing Ph.D. work, I had originally planned to apply to schools in the UK for various reasons. It was shorter, being in Europe seemed appealing, and at the time I was much more familiar with scholars from the UK. And in terms of history, how can you beat schools like Cambridge, Oxford, St. Andrews, and Durham, to name a few?

I mean, check out this picture:

Simply amazing. Though after further research and thinking about the viability of that road, I decided against it and haven't looked back since. We ended up in Atlanta and I've been very happy at Emory University, it's really been an amazing place to do work in NT studies.

But to go back, one main reason I did not pursue a UK PhD was a practical one: money. Funding seemed very scarce and I definitely did not want to put that kind of financial pressure on me and my family once I finished. 

But, for those of you out there still dreaming this dream, it appears that at least for one school (the one pictured above), there is some funding available. That school is the University of Durham, check out the info below:

My AHRC-funded project on “The Fourfold Gospel and its Rivals” has aPhD studentship attached that will provide three years worth of homefees (or equivalent) and living expenses in 2013-16. The double focusof the project is on early Christian gospels (canonical andnoncanonical) and on gospel reception in the patristic era, whichshould cater for applicants wishing to work primarily in the NewTestament field or in patristics – although some overlap would belikely. I’d be most grateful if colleagues would draw this opening tothe attention of current or recent students who may be interested inpursuing a PhD in this area. 

The following suggestions illustrate the kind of PhD topic that wouldfit the terms of the project, but many others are equally possible: 
(1) The Protevangelium of James in its relationship to Matthew andLuke, and its later historical and theological significance. 
(2) Patristic views on gospel origins, from Papias to Augustine. 
(3) The relationship between selected “gnostic” gospels (e.g. Mary,Judas, Philip, etc.) and the canonical ones. 
(4) The construction and purpose of either Marcion’s Luke or Tatian’sDiatessaron. 
(5) Revelatory discourse in John 14-16 and selected “gnostic” gospels. 
(6) The role of writing in the transmission of the early Jesustradition: how far back does it go? 
(7) Tradition, reception, and the “historical Jesus”. 
(8) Factors involved in the construction of the four-gospelcollection. 
(9) The hermeneutical significance of the four gospel collection. 
(10) Public responses to publication of newly discovered gospelliterature, c.1890-2012. 

Applicants should have a good first degree in theology/religiousstudies, a completed or a current MA, and experience in the study ofthe Greek New Testament. Applications will be submitted in the normalway (for which see the Durham Department of Theology and Religionwebsite), specifying the AHRC project studentship. A detailed researchproposal will not be essential, although it may be an advantage.Preliminary enquiries may be addressed to Prof Francis Watson( The closing date for applications for thisposition will be Monday, 25 February 2013, and the successfulapplicant will be notified in early March.

Seems like a good opportunity and as it's application season right now, give this a hard look for those of you out there that are interested and good luck!

HT: The Biblical World

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Beverly Gaventa to Baylor

Just saw that Gaventa has been named as the Distinguished Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Baylor University from her current post at Princeton Theological Seminary, joining other strong members of the NT faculty. See the Baylor news press here. Seems like there's been a bit of musical chairs (or at least talks of them) in the biblical studies job market; I wonder who will join the PTS faculty to fill that spot. Good for Baylor, not so good (at least for now) for PTS.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Probs. w/ abbrev.

[Context: I'm in the middle of finishing up two big research papers and staring at countless number of bibliographies brought this to my attention.]

If you're wondering what the title means, it's my way of saying "problems with abbreviations." It must be the careful attention to the little details that my professors here embody (for example, Carl Holladay is an amazingly careful and at the same time, a very charitable reader; he's been a great mentor thus far in many regards) which is affecting me, because I don't think I would have noticed this problem before. This is almost like an exercise in textual-criticism, so if you are into that kind of detail-oriented careful study, I hope you will find this somewhat interesting. Allow me to explain by way of showing you a screenshot of two bibliographies from recent works:

Do you see anything? I hope you do. It may not be a "big deal" I suppose, but I still think it's important to make sure you have the right references. If you still don't know what I'm talking about, I'm referring to how the two works refer to the same publishing house existing in two cities in the same year. So in 1977, Scholars Press existed (at least according to these two bibliographies) in both Missoula, Missouri and Missoula, Montana! Obviously Scholars Press did not exist at two places in the same year. So which one is right? Again, to go back to the analogy of textual-criticism, what is the "more difficult" reading? To put it another way, is it more likely that an author would mistakenly write "MO" for Montana or "MT" for Missouri? Without even having to search for the two cities, I chose the first option, which evidently seems to be the right choice (a search shows that a city called "Missoula" only exists in Montana).

I have not done a thorough search of the bibliographies of all the monographs, articles, etc., that are out there (I'm not even sure if this is possible), but a quick search yields a ton of secondary literature that cite "Missoula, MO: Scholars Press." While one might argue that this is all harmless, all of this is creating an entire tradition of "corruption" in terms of bibliographic integrity. My professors, when it comes to textual-criticism, preach an unyielding level of care and caution (rightly so), as not to introduce an error that further muddies the waters. In the same way, this is a message for anyone out there who is reading a book that is published by Scholars Press: Montana is abbreviated MT not MO.

[Postscript: I guess I could seriously be mistaken and that somehow Scholars Press existed also in Missoula, Missouri (simultaneously as Missoula, Montana), a city that no longer exists. I'm willing to be corrected, so if you know something, let me know.]

HELP: Syriac Font

Dear readers,

Does anyone know how to type Syriac fonts in Mac OSX?  I know Hebrew is easy enough and typing in Syriac was fairly easy to figure out for Windows but I have no idea how to do this on Macs.  Please help!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Issue of JSNT

I see that the new issue of JSNT is out and one article in particular seemed interesting:

"Whose Abraham, Which Promise? Genesis 15.6 in Philo’s De Virtutibus and Romans 4"

Here's the abstract: 

This article creates a dialogue between Philo’s and Paul the Apostle’s interpretations of Gen. 15.6 specifically, their understandings of Abraham’s faith. Both Philo and Paul see Abraham as functioning in a formally analogous way: for example, Abraham’s faith identifies him as a representative or paradigmatic figure for those who follow him. Yet Philo and Paul develop their interpretations in remarkably divergent fashions. Accordingly, this article will seek to discern the hermeneutical fault line that allows two near-contemporary readers of the same text to construe it so differently. As will be demonstrated, Philo reads Abraham’s story as the narrative of Abraham’s becoming virtuous, and thus how one attains virtue is the key to Philo’s hermeneutic; Paul, by contrast, interprets Abraham’s faith from the vantage point of the Christ-event, such that the focus is on the incongruity between God’s gift and the human recipient.

I haven't been reading much Paul scholarship lately (my coursework right now isn't dealing with any Pauline letters), but two of my classes (Acts and Greco-Roman Backgrounds) deals heavily with working with primary sources outside of the NT, so this seems like an interesting exercise in using a Greco-Roman source for NT exegesis. Also, in my Pauline theology seminar at Duke, we had to read some Alisdair MacIntyre, and I don't know if this author did it on purpose, but his title reminds me of a book by MacIntyre, so we'll see. I haven't read it yet, but for those that are interested, go check it out here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quote of the Day: Diogenes the Cynic

While reading through Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers, ran into this little piece from Diogenes of Sinope (6.42):

ἐνεκάλει τοῖς ἀνθρώποις περὶ τῆς εὐχῆς, αἰτεῖσθαι λέγων αὐτοὺς ἀγαθὰ τὰ αὐτοῖς δοκοῦντα καὶ ουʼ τὰ κατʼ ἀλήθειαν

"He criticized men about their prayers, saying that they asked for things which seemed good to them and not for the things which are actually good."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

New issue of Interpretation

The October issue of the journal, Interpretation, is out. Over the summer, I read a book titled, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, by Christian Smith, so this issue is especially interesting given Joel B. Green's review of the book. He recognizes that he is not an "expert" in the field by any means (he is a Harvard-trained sociologist) but at the same time tries to give his own account of how some of the fundamentalist reading of Scripture has become untenable. I thought it was a bit of fresh air to see how someone outside the biblical-studies guild would engage this issue, and though I haven't read Green's review (I will later today), it should be interesting to see how an "expert" in the field receives Smith's account. One interesting fact: Christian Smith was a professor of sociology at UNC prior to his appointment at Notre Dame, and apparently, he is a good friend of one of my former teachers at Duke, Douglas Campbell (at least it seems that way from Smith's Foreword in the book).  

If you haven't read Smith's book yet, I highly recommend you do so (it's a quick read), then jump over to Joel Green's review and see how he understands Smith's arguments.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Interested in Jesus research?

In a fairly recently started blog by Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith, they asked Helen Bond who she would recommend doing Jesus research with (UK and US). It was nice to see her vote of confidence in one of my former teachers at Duke, Mark Goodacre (he also has his own blog with a lot of interesting posts, check it out here). You can see the rest of her interview in the post above, but in her own words, she said she'd "go for Dale Allison or Mark Goodacre." So there you go! If you're interested in doing some Jesus research, you have two options, go to PTS to work with Allison (not Princeton, but Pittsburgh) or Duke University to work with Goodacre. He was gracious enough to  agree to serve as my MTS thesis advisor even though he's housed in the Religion Department and not the Div School, and both classes I took with him (Synoptic Gospels and Greek Non-Canonical Gospels) were very good. I might be biased, but if you're in the search for programs to apply to do PhD work in Jesus research, I would definitely tell you to put Duke at the top of your list!

Update (9.29.12): Just saw that Le Donne and Keith are also interviewing Mark on their blog. Check it out! (Part I, II, III, and IV). Also, he has a book coming out on the Gospel of Thomas, parts of which he showed us in class last semester, I recommend purchasing it when it's out next month!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New issue of JBL

Seems like the Emory folks (and grad) are represented well in the most recent issue of JBL:

On the Hebrew Bible side, we have a current student, Ryan Bonfiglio who has an article titled, "Archer Imagery in Zechariah 9:11-17 in Light of Achaemenid Iconography":

The last six chapters of the book of Zechariah (chs. 9-14) present numerous interpretive challenges. Though widely recognized as a product of a postexilic context, these chapters, known collectively as Second Zechariah, lack the clear chronological framework and explicit historical signposts that are so evident in First Zechariah (chs. 1-8). Therefore, when it comes to historical-critical approaches to Second Zechariah, there is considerable debate and disagreement in the scholarly literature. In view of this impasse, an increasing number of scholars have turned to alternative interpretive methods to advance the study of Second Zechariah.

On the New Testament side, we have a recent graduate, Joshua Jipp, who has an article titled, "Paul's Areopagus Speech of Acts 17:16-34 as Both Critique and Propaganda":

Interpretations of Paul's Areopagus discourse in Acts 17:16-34 are often radically incongruous. They range from seeing it as a placid pantheistic sermon on natural theology all the way to seeing it as a scathing demonization of Gentile religion. Interpreters who emphasize the speech's similarities to Greco-Roman philosophy incline toward the former view, while those attuned to the Jewish context incline toward the latter. Both types have a significant amount of supporting evidence and are able to provide strong readings for their argument, given that the speech does indeed utilize Hellenistic philosophical concepts and Jewish critiques of idolatry. I suggest, however, that matters are more complex than an either/or interpretation of the Areopagus discourse and that Luke's purposes are more subtle than either “accommodation” or “critique/resistance” would allow.

I'm glad to see Emory folks contributing in a productive way to the guild. Go check these articles out.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"The best book"

Some penetrating words from one of the giants in NT studies, Adolf von Harnack:

"No other book of the New Testament had to suffer so much as Acts, although despite its evident weaknesses, it is in more than one respect the weightiest (wichtigste) and best (beste) book in the New Testament. All the mistakes that have been made in NT criticism have come to a focus in the criticism of Acts. The book had to suffer above all because Paul and Paulinism have been understood in a one-sided way and simultaneously greatly overrated. It had to suffer because a false picture has been formed of the nature and relation of Jewish and Gentile Christianity. It had to suffer because (extraordinary survival of an unjustifiable reverence for the apostolic!) the most extreme demands have been made upon a companion of Paul--a sure understanding of Paul, congeniality, freedom from every independent tendency, absolutely trustworthiness, and an infallible memory."
--Lukas der Arzt, 87

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I'm officially starting the first semester of my doctoral program this week and though I'm pretty excited to be taking great classes, right now I'm struggling to fill that third seminar spot I need for my semester. So far, I know for sure I will be taking:

Acts of the Apostles (Carl Holladay)
Greco-Roman backgrounds (Walter Wilson)

But as for the third class, here are the options (with their class descriptions)

Questions of War (Ellen Ott Marshall):
Traditionally, ethicists refer to the debate over the moral justification of war as “the question of war.”  This course includes writings by Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Michael Walzer to discuss the moral justification.  Increasingly, however, ethicists find themselves addressing multiple questions of war.  For this reason, “Questions of War” in the fall of 2012 will also examine contemporary issues, such as the ethics of exit, the use of torture, drones, genocide and humanitarian intervention, and the reality of child soldiers.

The Book of Jubilees and Related Works (William Gilders):
In this course, we will read and interpret the book of Jubilees, a work composed in Hebrew sometime in the second century B.C.E., probably in the land of Israel.  In connection with our focused study of Jubilees, we will look at several other works, which appear to be related to the book (such as the Aramaic Levi document, the Genesis Apocryphon, and the Temple Scroll).  Through our study of Jubilees and the related texts, we will explore questions about the varieties of Second Temple Judaism(s) and their literary expressions; the meaning and utility of the designation “rewritten Bible”; methods, forms, and purposes of biblical interpretation in early Judaism; and theoretical issues in the study of the “reception” of biblical literature.

People of the Book and Critical Ethnography (Don Seeman):
Ethnography has come relatively late to the critical study of the world’s most highly textual religious traditions. This course investigates issues related to textuality and scriptural authority as well as media and lived experience in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We will ask whether there is something about these three broad traditions that justifies comparative analysis and we will explore the cultural politics of representation within both anthropology and the academic study of religion.  In particular, we will examine the possibilities and limitations of interdisciplinary research involving both textual and ethnographic research methods.

Special Topcs in History: Subalternity and Difference (Gyanendra Pandey/Bruce Knauft):
Focusing on concepts that have been central to writings on the history, society, and culture of marginalized, subordinated and disenfranchised populations, we set out in this course to investigate how notions of subalternity and difference intersect with, enable, or complicate one another in different times and places.  The seminar is centrally concerned with a question that critical theorists, feminists and other oppositional movements have raised, of how modern societies and states take account of, and manage, social, economic and cultural difference.  We shall examine at the same time how disadvantaged and subalternized groups -- women, blacks, dalits, ethnic minorities, conquered indigenous peoples, migrants and unsettled populations -- have in their turn deployed the category of difference to provoke a re-arrangement, if not an overturning, of prevailing structures of power.  The historical and ethnographic texts we read will explore the production of conditions of marginality and minority, subalternity and difference, across time and space.

It's always a struggle to pick a good class and now that these classes will likely contribute in some way to both my dissertation and my prelims, it's all the more difficult! Anyone have any thoughts on some of these classes?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Road to a NT PhD

I had always wanted to write a blog post about my own experience in applying to PhD programs, and now that another season of applications is rolling by, I thought this would be a good time to write this post.

When I first set out with the goal of getting into a PhD program, there was a blog post that was very helpful (see Nijay Gupta's post here). This was all the more important, as I did not personally know anyone pursuing the same goal: none of my friends nor acquaintances were in doctoral programs. One good friend eventually matriculated as a PhD student, but his experience of getting into a doctoral program in the sciences was very different than my own, and another friend eventually entered into a PhD program for the same field as mine, but he went over to the UK, which again is different than my experience of the US system. I've ran into other blog posts dealing with this issue of doing PhD work (see here, here, here, here, and here) and more recently, one blogger has described his own experience of applying to PhD programs in patristics and/or early Christianity. So, I thought I would talk about my own thoughts on this process (for discussions on US vs. UK systems, a helpful starting point is a blog post from one of my teachers at Duke, Mark Goodacre).

(1) GREs: One of the necessary evils of this whole process. An advice that I repeatedly heard from students and faculty was to make sure that my GRE scores were high. Given the very limited spots per school, the admissions committee would need something off-the-bat to whittle down the candidate-pool. See, for example, this very useful summary from Duke University regarding PhD applications to their Graduate Program in Religion. In the last 10 years, the acceptance rate has been anywhere from as low as 4% to a still fairly low 17%. In my opinion, the GRE scores won't make you (i.e. secure you immediate admission to the program) but it will certainly break you. I suppose this might not be as important for some programs out there, but I'm using as my point of reference, schools in the realm of Duke, Emory, Yale, et al. that will probably take your GRE scores seriously. Also, I know for a fact that certain schools nominate some of their best admittees (i.e., high GRE/GPA) for a competitive university-wide scholarship or fellowship that will be added on top of the general stipend for their PhD students.

(2) Money: Unfortunately, none of this is cost-free so be aware of the following things that cost money: GRE prep books, GRE tests, sending GRE scores (per school), transcripts (some schools are free; Duke, for instance), and PhD application fees. I know students who applied to over 15 schools and by my estimation, that should have cost at the minimum close to $2000(!). That leads me to...

(3) Schools: I did not want to spend that much money nor did I even have thousands of dollars to spend on just applying to schools even if I wanted, so I went the route of applying to six schools. Some might think that casting a wider net increases one's chances of getting into a PhD program, but I'm ambivalent to that strategy: these schools have a specific philosophy, culture, and interest(s) within their faculty/students and if you are not a very good fit, no amount of money or applications will increase the chances of getting in. Furthermore, I know there are various "rankings" out there on who has the best religion program, and while that might be irrelevant to some, I often found a correlation between "rank" and the availability of funding. In other words, most, if not all of the "first-tier" programs (I take this term from N. Gupta's blog post) have tons of funding while other schools on the fringe or lower had less (far less in some cases). For example, I'm pretty sure Yale has one of the highest base stipend payments at around $26-27k per year while I know of other students pursuing PhD work at Fuller in Pasadena who are paying their way through the program. Fiscally speaking, there is really no comparison. But, lest that discount another factor...

(4) Lifestyle: This may play a factor in where you apply for your PhD work. For example, you (and/or your family) might have tons of fun in Pasadena, Hollywood, and downtown LA, but that does not mean this comes without a price: I'd guess that a comparable-sized apartment in Pasadena will cost two to three times more than New Haven (not to mention the traffic). So, do not just look at the school but consider what life would be like at school X in city Y. You might be fine spending five years in the libraries, but what about your spouse or children? For example, would you prefer life in Waco, Texas and attend Baylor University or life in Chicago and attend University of Chicago?

(5) Interviews: A month or two after the applications are due, schools will come calling (be aware that some schools do not interview). If you are invited to interviews, it's safe to say that you've done good work, so just try to be yourself. I flew and Skyped for interview sessions and during those weeks, I tried to remind myself that I did not have to fabricate knowledge, provide some undiscovered thesis, or be overly fawning. Personally, I just tried to display genuine interest in the faculty and showed how my interests overlapped with theirs and how my own research could be molded by their program. I can honestly say that all the faculty members were very friendly and interested in getting to know a potential candidate. As far as I can tell, they were not out to "get you," so try not to stress out, just act professionally and be yourself.

(6) The Decision: In a couple weeks, you should have heard something from the admissions committee. If you got accepted to just the one school, then great, the decision is an easy one. However, if you have been accepted to multiple schools, you now probably feel like the LBJ of academia, wondering where you should take your talents. My advice: take your time but be professional in the way you approach this process. If you have been accepted to schools A, B, and C, and know that you are definitely not going to attend school C, there is really no reason to string them along. When you reject their offer, they will seek to fill that spot with another candidate (either for your specific track or across the entire department), but if you tell them 1 hour before the deadline, they will probably be unable to offer that spot to anyone. Professional courtesy calls for timely decision-making.

Anyway, these are my thoughts for now. Hope this will help someone in this process, and to those applying this year, good luck!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Just found out that one of my former teachers at Duke University, Professor Susan Keefe, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 58. I took a class with her last year titled, "Between Augustine to Anselm," a church history class where I was exposed to a time period that otherwise would have remained in my mind as the "Dark Ages." She was an amazingly knowledgeable teacher who, by her own enthusiasm for the subject, made this oft-forgotten time period of church history a fascinating topic of study. We read a ton of primary sources (this seemed to be her pedagogical focus in all her history classes, which was awesome) and all of us had a chance to share different ideas about our final paper. I presented on the topic of the dormition of Mary and how in some of the earliest documents where Marian theology began to take shape (esp. influenced, I think, by the Protoevangelium of James), Mary appears to be a cipher or entrance to discussions of orthodoxy which was undoubtedly important during the early centuries of Christianity. I think there were a lot more I could have said and done but Dr. Keefe was always very encouraging and provided helpful guidance for my dabbling in an area which I was not very familiar with. I hope her charitable spirit will continue to be remembered among the Duke community and that she will now forever rest in peace.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Quote of the Day

Some wise words from Bonhoeffer:

"...One should know as a true theologian that, even where our knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its truth and purity keeps us away from false doctrines, we stand beside our brethren who have wandered and been misled, sharing their guilt, interceding and praying for them, knowing that our own life depends, not on our better knowledge or being on the right side, but on forgiveness." -- Bonhoeffer Works vol. 12, 435.

Monday, July 2, 2012

German Dictionary?

Does anyone know what's a good German-English dictionary to buy for one working in the field of biblical studies? I know there's a bunch of different dictionaries out there, but if anyone has any suggestions or personal experiences with some, I'd really appreciate it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I'll be starting my very first class at Emory next week: German! Excited to begin my studies.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Conference Audio

If you are interested in Pauline theology, you'll probably know that one of the professors here at Duke, Douglas Campbell, has recently written a large tome on his own particular reading of Paul and the topic of "justification" (though he likes to use the term "deliverance" more than "justification"). From what I can tell, it's made quite a splash onto Pauline scholarship, and at the end of last year, Prof. Campbell attended a conference in London (at King's College), one that was entirely devoted to engaging The Deliverance of God. I'm glad to see that the conference audio files are now available online! Check out the lineup:
I'll be done with school in about two weeks, so looks like I'll have to dig into these audio files then. Go check it out here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where to?

For my faithful readers, I would like to give everyone the wonderful news regarding our next home after I finish up my time at Duke Divinity School:

Can you guess the skyline?

Atlanta, Georgia! Though, it will be more like the next picture:

If I'm not mistaken, that same skyline is in the background, and what you see in the foreground is the beautiful (well, at least #6 according to this article) campus of Emory University. I'm very excited to have been accepted into their PhD program in New Testament in the Graduate Division of Religion. All the faculty and students I have met there have been wonderful, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to study at one of the best schools in the nation. And on top of that, no more paying for school! It's been a long road and of course, none of this would have been possible had it not been the support and love of my wonderful wife (thank you!). I hope our new home (at least for the next few years) will yield greater and better things for the both of us as we make the transition from Durham, NC to North Decatur, GA. Cheers!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Four Views

I've always enjoyed the "Counterpoints" series from Zondervan, that contain volumes in its series such as Four Views on Christian Spirituality, Five Views on Sanctification, Two Views on Women in Ministry, Five Views on Law and Gospel, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, and Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, to name just a few (To see more, click on the first link "Counterpoints" above). It doesn't provide a monograph-like treatment of one particular stance on an issue, but I definitely think it's a helpful guide to understanding the issues at stake for any given topic. I'm excited about reading another volume to be added to this series titled, Four Views on the Apostle Paul, due out in June/July this year.

I'm glad to see four good scholars representing this subject:
Luke Timothy Johnson (Catholic View)
Tom Schreiner (Reformed View)
Mark Nanos (Jewish View)
Douglas Campbell (Post-New Perspective View)

An added bonus for me is the fact that I took Pauline theology with Professor Campbell last Spring which probably makes me a bit biased in favor of his view, but I'm curious to see how these other scholars will respond to each other's arguments.

Zondervan has also released a video promoting the book which gives a pretty good introduction to how each scholar will probably argue his case in the book. Check it out:

If you're interested in what Pauline scholars think Paul said in his letters, this is probably a good place to start!

HT: Euangelion

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New friend

Apologies to my faithful readers! It seems that all I do these days is pop in every now and then to apologize. Though I guess I'm not really that sorry because I've been swamped with finishing up my degree at Duke and moving on to pursue doctoral work. I will keep you posted with regard to where we'll end up in the Fall! Anyway, back to the topic at hand: technology. I went to the Duke Divinity library today to discover a new machine in place of an old scanner:

I guess it's some new amazing scanner that looked world's apart from the usual flatbed scanner that you see at libraries or your office where you just lay your books flat with a plastic flap on top to cover it. There are two really efficient aspects to the scanner: (1) you just keep the book laid out with pages facing up, so it moves rather quickly when you can just flip the page and continue to scan, and the more amazing part (2) the scanner comes with a pedal like a piano where you just step on it to scan! Today I probably scanned about 50 pages of material and what normally would have taken at least 15-20 minutes to do, I think I finished in less than 10. I don't know where we'll end up yet, but I do hope the next library will also have my new bestfriend, Bookeye 4.

Friday, March 2, 2012


It appears that the next few months has a number of books out on the Gospel of Thomas:

If Amazon's date is correct (Mar. 31, 2012), this book in the SNTS monograph series by Prof. Simon Gathercole is the first one to hit the shelves. It'll probably be a very good book that helps set the tone for how NT scholars understand the direction of influence between the Gospel of Thomas and the canonical Gospels. Unfortunately, unless you have a lot of cash or access to a library that carries this book, the price ($95) is quite prohibitive.
I'm not familiar with Prof. Christopher Skinner's work, but a quick scan in my library database shows that he's already done work in GThom, which is probably why he is a good person to write a book that provides an overview of recent discussions on this fascinating book. It's due out in May and the best part about this book so far is that it is quite affordable ($6.40 on Amazon!). I'll probably try to get my hands on this book esp. given its light footprint on my wallet.
Last, but definitely not least, is this book from one of my teachers at Duke, Prof. Mark Goodacre. As the title suggests, he will probably go at this by way of looking at the Synoptic Gospels and GThom closely. I always enjoy reading his work as they are very accessible but at the same time interesting and provocative, so I expect this should be a good read for those interested in this text. It's out in June and a tad over $25 on Amazon.

All three of these books sound interesting right now as I'm taking a class with Dr. Goodacre on the Non-Canonical Gospels. Keep a lookout for these books and borrow/purchase them when they become available.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Quote of the Day: K. Barth

"To the bold postulate, that if their word is to be the Word of God they must be inerrant in every word, we oppose the even bolder assertion, that according to the Scriptural witness about man, which applies to them too, they can be at fault in any word, and have been at fault in every word, and yet according to the same Scriptural witness, being justified and sanctified by grace alone, they have still spoken the Word of God in their fallible and erring human word. It is the fact that in the Bible we can take part in this real miracle, the miracle of the grace of God to sinners, and not in the idle miracle of human words which were not really human words at all, which is the foundation of the dignity and authority of the Bible."
Church Dogmatics, I/2, 529-30

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Straw Man

I've been seen on various social networking feeds of people posting up a particular video being hailed as one of the best videos regarding Christianity in recent months (years?). As of this morning (Jan. 13, 2012), it has over 6.2 million hits since being uploaded three days ago, titled "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." It's quite a polished performance and aesthetically speaking, well made (in my view anyway). See the video here:

However, there's been some pushback of course on this issue, in a form of blog post (e.g. here) and in another spoken word (though not quite as "polished" as the former):

The problem here lies in the fact that to set up "religion" against "Jesus" is something of a straw man argument. What I mean to say is, its portrayal of "religion" sets up a false relationship between Jesus and "religion" in order to prove its case. Now, I don't think this video proposes anything new with regard to discussions on secularization, Christianity, religion, etc., but just poses the question in a clever way that is meant to help people understand what Christianity is about. The term "religionless Christianity," as far as I know, originates from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and it is something of a popular catchword among some folks, who trumpet this phrase as if it's their personal motto of Christianity. Bonhoeffer wondered the following:

"You would be surprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts and the conclusions that they lead to: and this is where I miss you most of all, because I don’t know anyone else with whom I could so well discuss them to have my thinking clarified. What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience – and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.'
Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the ‘religious a priori’ of mankind. ‘Christianity’ has always been a form – perhaps the true form – of ‘religion’. But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless – and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any ‘religious’ – what does that mean for ‘Christianity’? It means that the foundation is taken away from the whole of what has up to now been our ‘Christianity’, and that there remain only a few ‘last survivors of the age of chivalry’, or a few intellectually dishonest people, on whom we can descend as ‘religious’. Are they to be the chosen few? Is it on this dubious group of people that we are to pounce in fervour, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them our goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them? If we don’t want to do all that, if our final judgment must be that the western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity – and even this garment has looked very different at times – then what is a religionless Christianity?

If I'm not mistaken, Bonhoeffer is writing this within the context of his own perception of the horrors of Nazi Germany that displayed the Church's callousness to the ordeals of the Jews, despite their Christian "religion" or "religiosity." Bonhoeffer is not advocating some type of Jesus vs. religion (i.e. if following the definition put forth by that popular video, "religion" is defined as something like = 'Following a set of do's and dont's a la the Jews'), and isn't this the same man who wrote Nachfolge (Discipleship)? This view of Judaism is overtly polemical and basically ignores what recent scholarship has revealed about its intricacies and diversities. Furthermore, in my view, Bonhoeffer's critique of "religion" seems to be a type of religion which is overly focused on the other-worldly, that does not translate to careful ethics and Christian discipleship on the ground in any given moment.
Additionally, the video does not seem to take seriously even the simplest commands found in the Scriptures and leaves me scratching my head on some of the following questions. What is the function of the OT for Christianity? What is the point of pursuing holiness? Should there even be a moral vision for the Christian community (to take a phrase out of one of my professors' books)? What is this video's implications for supersessionism? Granted the video is not some kind of systematic theology in spoken word form, it still falls far short of I think what the Scriptures portray as robust Christianity. I can understand its popularity (in the twenty some minutes to write this post, the video garnered an extra 500,000 some viewers!) and want to recognize its hope to explicate Christianity in a simple way, but also wished there was more depth in its rhetorical flourish and artistry.