Re: What NT scholars need to know

From: Brent Hudson (
Date: Sun Jun 30 1996 - 13:30:28 EDT

The original question on B-Greek was from Greg Carey who wrote:
> I'm a PhD candidate in New Testament at Vanderbilt
> who teaches religious studies in a liberal arts
> college. Today I ran a survey of Web pages from
> various PhD programs, and I have a question: What
> should a NT scholar know?

Carl Conrad responds:

> I have read the question and the responses,
> particularly those of Edgar Krentz and Edward
> Hobbs, with fascination and awe. I don't disagree
> with any of what's been said, but it does seem to
> me that the question has been phrased originally
> by Greg Carey in a minimalist/maximalist form:
> what should a good PhD program require of its
> candidates is a minimalist question, but what
> should a NT scholar know is maximalist.
> It seems to me that in some respects the question
> has nothing to do with NT scholarship
> specifically but concerns that larger question of
> what it is to be educated in any real sense. And
> the approaches to this question fall, it seems to
> me, into classical Platonist and Aristotelian
> perspectives: (a) Platonist: one cannot really
> know anything without knowing everything; (b)
> Aristotelian: one must know everything that falls
> within that natural realm of science (we're
> talking about Wissenschaft rather than
> experimental/mathetmatical science) that one is
> making one's professional focus. Personally, I
> take the Platonist perspective, and ultimately I
> think Aristotle did also: he may have sought to
> divide and conquer what is knowable, but the
> "maestro di colui chi sanno" was well aware, like
> Socrates, of the vast reaches of what he didn't
> know, and he knew, better than his pupil
> Alexander, that what the scholar must conquer is
> nothing less than the whole world. Or, as
> Aristotle himself put it, the fulfilment of that
> mental faculty which is the most truly human part
> of a human being comes in the limited
> participation possible for humanity in the mental
> activity of God.
>The original question is compounded thus to include
> the practical and the ideal scope, and I think
> that responses thus far reveal both that the ideal
> is impractical and that the practical is not
> ideal. The more we know, the better scholars we
> are, but we can never know enough to be altogether
> "good" scholars: what we still don't know marks
> off the limits of our capacity to make sense of
> some of the questions and areas of research that
> we may someday confront. So the "know-it-all"
> turns out to be a "know-nothing." What else is
> obvious?
> The question then becomes, perhaps--and this
> certainly was evident in the answers posted by Ed
> and Ed (Editori illustrissimi--our most
> distinguished real NT scholars--the rest of us are
> mere dilettantes and dabblers in Greek and NT)--
> what are the practical and achievable boundaries
> of solid NT expertise? As I remarked offline to
> someone a couple days ago, Edward Hobbs has
> retired from more scholarly posts than I shall
> ever occupy, and I don't think he has offered us
> more than a theoretical outline of the fields that
> he has mastered THUS FAR. Greg Carey hits the nail
> on the head in contrasting the value of literary
> theory and the value of knowing Spanish (as a NT
> Scholar!). Well, I think one had better not shut
> the door on any kind of knowledge, be it computer
> science or nuclear physics or Sanskrit literature.
> If humanity is created in the image of God, then
> the image of God to be explored has boundless
> horizons, and no one human being is ever likely to
> explore them all.
> Then, of course, there's the matter of experience,
> a matter of inestimable importance and surely a
> SINE QUA NON. My son, who was then working on a
> Ph.D. in history at Johns Hopkins wrote to my
> daughter, a freshman at Washington University
> having trouble with Western Civilization, that
> "there really isn't any possibility of making
> sense of history until one has lived a lot longer
> and experienced a lot more than a college freshman
> is likely to have lived or experienced." I might
> add that my son is not teaching or researching
> history with that Ph.D., but writing briefs as a
> paralegal.

> So them's my meditations on NT scholarship;
> perhaps Ecclesiastes expressed them more
> eloquently. I certainly do think that humility is
> another SINE QUA NON for the potential NT scholar
> but I am not really cynical about the limitations
> of what we can learn and know about the NT so much
> as I am awestruck at the vastness of what there is
> left to discover and learn while life lasts.

Prof. Conrad asked me to also forward the following two
qualifications to his original post

>(1) my comment on what it means to be really
> educated doesn't have any specific application to
> NT studies or to a NT doctoral program; (2) I
> regret the implication in my glib statement about
> all other posters to B-Greek apart from Edward
> Hobbs and Edgar Krentz being "dilettantes and
> dabblers;" that is precisely what I am personally
>(my own professional training is in Classics, not
> New Testament), but there are numerous highly
> qualified and wise participants in B-Greek in
> addition to Hobbs and Krentz, and I hear my glib
> comment may appear to have maligned them, as was
> by no means my intent.

As a student who is almost $60K in debt due to education, Prof.
Hobbs did nothing more than discourage me from the whole
process; for while I agree with the content of his posts, they
made me wonder why I even bother pursuing NT studies. I think
Prof. Conrad's comments need to read in conjunction with the
'maximalist' so that we who are engaged in the 'minimalist'
Ph.D. programs do not become more discouraged than we already
are. After all, the current employment opportunities for Ph.D.
grad's is dismal enough without hearing that we will be 60
before we have anything valuable to contribute; although maybe
there will be a teaching position available in 2026.

 Brent Hudson

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