Monday, August 28, 2006

Where to do a PhD

There has been some lively and interesting discussion on the subject of where to do a PhD on Wieland Willker’s TC list. The message that started it all was one from someone at the Moody Bible Institute (here).

I describe my own view of the British situtation (here) and Bart Ehrman explains for us the ethos at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, initially responding to the suggestion of Malcolm Robertson that “I would not recommend any state/secular university esp and particularly the University of Chicago or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina USA.”

The whole correspondence is worth perusing, but I think that Ehrman’s exchange with Tommy Wasserman perhaps highlights an area where approaches to TC are diverging most significantly. The messages are: Ehrman, Wasserman, Ehrman’s reponse.

The messages particularly raise the question as to what are the most important skills and competencies for a textual critic to have.

In addition to the issues raised in that thread I want to raise a few more questions that are relevant to choice of a venue for a PhD:

(1) To what extent is it important to study in a confessional environment? The ideal learning environment may vary from person to person and may vary through the stages of life. All education models are imperfect and we are often looking for the least bad one. Confessional environments can sometimes create people who want to escape—they think the grass is greener elsewhere. If you’ve been trained in a non-confessional environment you are aware that it often isn’t.

(2) To what extent is the supervisor the person who should be helping an evangelical student think through matters in an evangelical way? In some settings it might be that an non/anti-evangelical supervisor alongside strong personal intellectual support from a local evangelical thinker might be a better route than simply to rely on an evangelical supervisor to get it right for you.

(3) People need to assess the relative importance of the institution and the supervisor since supervisors may move (or die or get ill or even get promoted into administration). If you go to an institution just for the supervisor, what would your experience be like if that supervisor were no longer available? If they only have one specialist in NT or OT then you may be in a difficult situation.


  1. One suggestion, drawn from my own experience: don't put all your eggs in one basket and assume you will be accepted by any school on your first or only attempt.

    Doctoral research programs fluctuate in regard to the number of students admitted in any given year, as well as professorial supervisory availability; also, many programs often have highly competitive entrance requirements.

    Apply to more than one possible program simultaneously to better your chances.

  2. All of the comments on the list concern NT TC. Any suggestions for us highly neglected OT folk?

  3. FWIW I am not studying NT TC, nor would I recommend my school for that (though I would highly recommend it for OT TC). But I attend the University of Notre Dame. It is a major research university (which is something Ehrman apparently considers an important lithmus test - though I don't). It is also confessional, in this case Roman Catholic. I am a conservative, evangelical, dispensationalist, and I certainly feel more welcome here than I would expect to at a state university, which would typically go to great lengths to frame any biblical studies in purely secular fashions. And frankly, I have a distinct impression of most mainline protestant universities that I would experience more direct opposition at one of them than I do here.

    All that being said, I do agree with a point Dr. Ehrman made that a really good degree in early Christianity and its literature (including the NT) ought to involve exposure to a breadth of Christian, heretical, pagan, and Jewish literatures that a research university may be more prepared to offer than an evangelical seminary at the doctoral level.

    I also earned my ThM at a conservative school (Capital Bible Seminary) before coming to Notre Dame. And I don't regret that. But if my sole goal of going to seminary was to prepare me for this doctoral program, I would have to admit that I could have gotten more directly relevant preparation in less time. Like Dallas, my ThM was heavy on Greek and Hebrew exegesis, English Bible (or Bible Exposition at Dallas), and theology. On paper all of the credits in exegesis look like a pretty hefty dose of Greek and Hebrew. But they really aren't. My exegesis classes (and freinds of mine from DTS and Regent College in Vancouver have said the same) often spent a great deal of time carefully studying brief passages, which is very imporant to us inerrantists, without my developing the fluency that comes from reading larger volumes of text that I now have to do.

    I think that if you're already sure that academia is for you, and particularly in NT TC, a Dallas ThM is only the right next step if you are aware that alot of the requirements there won't be directly applicable to that goal and you know you want those things as well for other reasons (such as church ministry). If you want to get on with your doctorate, you should look into MA options that will help you further develop your languages. An MA in classics or early Christianity may be a great way to further develop your Greek (you'll find it's probably not as stellar as you think it is) and learn Latin and maybe Syriac. A focused development of rapid reading ability is the most important thing you can get from a masters degree at this point if you just want to get on with your academic career.

    I should note, too, that while my current studies don't directly incorporate alot of the theological issues that I personally bring to biblical studies, I expect to end up teaching in an evangelical setting where the classroom will integrate theology with exegesis and NT introduction very deliberately. So at that point, all my ThM work that is lying dormant for now will probably crop back up.

  4. Sounds like Eric has taken an excellent route.

    I, too, began with OT textual criticism. In fact it wasn't until 4 years after my doctorate (Studies in the Syntax of the Peshitta of 1 Kings) that I began to dabble in the NT. Five of our bloggers are probably more active in OT than in NT.

    So, where should one study OT TC? Leiden offers distance learning OT TC (announcement here), though I'm not a fan of distance learning.

    I think the basic decision in OT is whether to study in a Semitic or a Classical environment, though at some stage you will need training in both areas.

    I think that the collection of Biblical manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah kept in Cambridge University Library is virtually unstudied. There is also apparently masses of unstudied Masoretic material in St Petersburg. Doing some serious work on Masoretic material could be very rewarding.

    A place to consider very seriously would be Jerusalem (if you're not the nervous type).

    The Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome with Stephen Pisano (my preferred candidate for Pope :-) could offer a sound philological training combined with textual criticism.

    Ideally Christians study in community and I'm sure that in each case the experience of study would be enhanced if you had other evangelicals round you who could help you think through things.

    A number of top US Universities (Harvard, Yale, Chicago) would give you a thorough grounding in languages. I imagine that they could be unsupportive environments for someone seeking to develop a mature evangelical outlook on your subject. You'd probably have to spend too much time defending your views to be able to develop them. However, I will be delighted when someone writes in and tells me of the flourishing group of evangelical textual critics meeting before dawn to pray in these institutions.

  5. ETC Blog Home Page:
    "Preference will currently be given to those with expertise in Old Testament."

    "Five of our bloggers are probably more active in OT than in NT."

    Six more to reach parity! But the addition of Amy Anderson to the blog has only set things back.

    Affirmative Action at work?

  6. Daniel,
    If this is humour then it doesn't really work over the web, esp. with people who have not met each other. It comes across as insulting someone's credentials.

  7. I didn't bring up the subject the first nor the second time it arose, but since it's in the discussion I'll discuss it.

    Really it seems a shame that female talent would be directed toward Greek textual studies rather than Semitic. Mount Athos still being off-limits to humans of the female persuation, it does cut down on the original research a textual scholar of the Greek scriptures can accomplish.

    Are there any similar limits to Semitic research, especially now that the Cairo Genizah has been evacuated?

  8. 'Tis probably a distraction to focus on the gender of scholars. The issue is the work that is to be done.

  9. Daniel Buck:

    "Mount Athos still being off-limits to humans of the female persuation, it does cut down on the original research a textual scholar of the Greek scriptures can accomplish."

    Well, Amy somehow managed to get manuscript photos from Mt Athos, since there are four coloured and 27 high-quality black and white plates in her dissertation—apparently the "female persuation" was successful, I don't think many of us colleagues would be able to achieve something of the like. We are only to be grateful for her fine work. Welcome to the blog Amy!

    1. Amy Anderson10/25/2016 9:12 pm

      I hadn't seen this until today - only ten years later. :-) Thanks for the kind words, Tommy. I wish I had more time to be active on this blog.

    2. Amy, this is funny - a reply after 10 years!

  10. "'Tis probably a distraction to focus on the gender of scholars. The issue is the work that is to be done. "

    I agree. That's why I ignored this issue the first two times it came up, but it soon became obvious that it wasn't going to go away.

    I've yet to read a report on the discovery of the Sinai Palimpset that went into any detail without focusing as much on on the gender and marital status of the discoveress as on what she discovered.

    On the other hand, we know that Westcott & Hort had sons (their biographers), but when do we see any mention of their wives or daughters?

    I for one do not intend to even try pretending that there is no elephant in the room.

  11. Aided also by the fact that they left such vivid autobiographical journals.

  12. Lewis, Agnes Smith (1843-1926). Eastern Pilgrims: The Travels of Three Ladies. London: Hurst and Blackett. 1870. 328p.

    ----. In the Shadow of Sinai: A Story of Travel and Research From 1895-1897. Cambridge, England: Macmillan and Bowes. 1898. 261p.

    ----. How the CODEX Was Found: A Narrative of Two Visits to Sinai From Mrs. Lewis's Journal, 1892-1893. Cambridge, Great Britain:
    Macmillan and Bowes. 1893. 141p. (Edited by Margaret Dunlop Gibson)

  13. Very interesting site. I have an MAR in Biblical Studies from a conservative US seminary, and I am currently working on a PhD in NELC at the University of Chicago. Obviously then, what follows pertains more to Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages than to NT, however: Off of the top of my head, there must be at least a dozen current students with real, living faith commitments in this department. Do we meet to pray together before classes? No. Do we go out for lunch and pray with one another over our pizza? Sure. Certainly, degree programs such as Northwest Semitic Philology," and "Ancient Near Eastern Judaica" are not secular university code-speak for "Biblical Studies," but neither are the faculty at Chicago inclined to discourage anyone from taking whatever view of Scripture they may choose. (Or at least, not as far as I have ever been aware.) In my own experience, Norman Golb and Dennis Pardee are particularly admirable in this regard. Neither gives any indication that he is an evangelical (Dr. Golb is Jewish), but -- judging from their past and present lists of advisees -- both appear to be perfectly happy to have evangelicals as their students, provided those students are interested in conducting serious academic research. Obviously, I can't claim to speak for either man. All I can say about either is that -- like their tenured colleagues throughout our department -- they are first-rate minds and gifted teachers, who have made decades-long commitments to training new generations of scholars. Short of insisting that your dissertation adviser also be your small-group Bible study leader, I can't think of anything else that any student could possibly ask for. No place is perfect, but reconsider Chicago.

  14. Dear anon,
    I'm delighted to hear about Chicago. May the tribe flourish.

  15. Before a PhD, make sure that you become fluent in Hebrew and Greek. PhD programs will not require that, and it is quite rare for that to happen after a PhD.
    I would budget one-two years in Israel, depending on your ability to get outside of English. See the Greek parable on this blog, and

  16. Please may I add that, subsequent to the initial conversation, we now do a distance learning PhD from Birmingham (UK), which enables students to study NTTC full-time or part-time while not resident at the university? I would be happy to put anyone seriously considering this route in touch with past or present students in order to get a sense of the course and its requirements.
    See further