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The last few weeks have been interesting in the Biblical blogosphere.  What began as a question posed by April DeConick quickly became a heated debate with hurt feelings on both sides of the issue.  As a blog focusing on Paul, I have stayed out of the fray up to this point but thought I would provide my thoughts on the matter.

Put simply, I have never thought about the gender of the writers of the blogs I read.  In fact, for some of the blogs where the author’s name isn’t obvious I don’t know the gender of the author.  Thus, I never noticed the dearth of female bloggers in the blogosphere until this debate began.  With an infant and a dissertation, I don’t read many blogs regularly, but I do check out Mark Goodacre’s blog roll at least once a day. 

For me the outcome of the gender debate of 2009 has been positive.  I have been introduced to a few new blogs I had not read before.  I’m sure there are many other blogs written by both men and women that I have missed but I am grateful that this debate has introduced me to some new ones.  Additionally, April DeConick now includes a helpful new resource: a “Women and Religion Blogroll.”  Thus, I appreciate the questions and debate despite the hurt feelings.  If anyone is aware of any other academic blogs focusing on the New Testament please let me know so I can include them in my blogroll.  I will be adding some more this week from the recent debate.

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If anyone has ever wanted to ask me questions concerning the “Things I Wish I Knew about Doing a Ph.D.” now is your chance.  I will be on a four person panel at SBL this year fielding questions.  I am not entirely sure what to expect but it should be informative.  I hope to bring a somewhat unique perspective as one who is in a history department without a package. 

One topic I will certainly discuss, given the opportunity, is being fully aware of one’s funding opportunities.  I was told not to expect any funding at UCLA and was offered 8,000 per year by another university.  8,000 vs. 0 is a big difference!  What I did not realize is that while UCLA was not able to promise me a package, most Ph.D. students at UCLA receive TAships during their second year which pay about 15,000.  Additionally, in one’s fourth and fifth years many students are given the opportunity to design and teach their own course.  Thus, in the end it was not 8,000 vs. 0 but closer to 8,000 vs. 18,000.  My advice: make sure you thoroughly investigate funding options before making any decisions. 

Things I Wish I Knew about Doing a Ph.D.
11/23/2009
9:00 AM to 10:30 AM
Room:Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: Hosted by the SBL Student Advisory Group

Ryan Carhart, Claremont Graduate University, Presiding
Alicia Myers, Baylor University, Panelist
Ingrid Lilly, Emory University, Panelist
Kevin Scull, University of California-Los Angeles, Panelist

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Yesterday I received three books that I’m quite excited about which come from the library of the late, great, Krister Stendahl.  I’m not sure how many others share my fondness for acquiring important works from the libraries of important scholars but  I quite enjoy opening a book and seeing that it belonged to one of the greats who came before me.  The first book I received is Bultmann’s classic Das Evangelium des Johannes.   I did not own this important work in German until now.  I was hoping Stendahl had made some notes in the work, but alas it is clean as can be.  The second book is a somewhat mangled copy of Dibelius’ commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians and Philippians in German.  The cover, signed by Stendahl, is torn off the book.  Therefore, it may be time to contact the world famous book repairman Brandon Wason and rebind this work before I lose the cover or any other pages.  Finally, I acquired Ernst Fuchs, Zur Frage Nach Dem Historischen Jesus.  One of these books is for a friend and I sure hope he enjoys it as I would be thrilled to keep all three!  I’m curious if anyone else out there shares my affinity for acquiring books from the libraries of the pillars who came before us.

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Brandon Wason tagged me in his list of five influential books and it seems like an interesting idea so I have posted my list. Like Brandon this is the first of a two part list.  I have included the books that have most influenced the current directions in my research.  My next list will highlight the five primary sources which have most influenced my work.

1. E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing.  While I may disagree with Richards on a great number of topics, this work prompted me to take seriously the manner in which Paul wrote his letters.  Richards demonstrates that Paul used a secretary (amenuensis)  when he wrote his letters and provides a spectrum of the different types of secretaries available in antiquity.  Additionally, Richards emphasizes the importance of the various types of letter carriers and the possible influence on Paul’s letters from members of his team. 

2. The Romans Debate.  I discovered this work early in my graduate work and it alerted me to many of the issues surrounding Romans.  The amount of subjects covered in this work is staggering.  The Romans Debate started me thinking about topics such as manuscript studies, the importance of identifying the purpose for each letter, letter writing, rhetoric, and the New Perspective.  I have always found Dunn’s solution to Paul and the Law to be the most elegant and appealing solution.   It is unfortunate that I cannot agree with him and have my own solution which is far more complicated and unappealing.

3.  Bruce Malina, The New Testament World/ S. Scott Bartchy papers.  Malina’s work is an excellent starting point for coming to grips with the importance of understanding the social world in which the New Testament developed.  S. Scott Bartchy is my adviser and his works demonstrate how useful this information can be when combined with excellent exegesis.  I especially recommend the following papers by S. Scott Bartchy: “‘When I’m Weak, I’m Strong’: a Pauline paradox in cultural context”; “Who should be called father? Paul of Tarsus between the Jesus tradition and patria potestas”; “The historical Jesus and honor reversal at the table”; and “Undermining Ancient Patriarchy: The Apostle Paul’s Vision of a Society of Siblings.” 

4. Lauri Thuren, Derhetorizing Paul.  This was the first work that introduced me to rhetorical criticism.  Soon after I read Kennedy’s influential work New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism which furthered my interest in rhetorical criticism. 

5. Rhetoric and the New Testament: Essays from the 1992 Heidelberg Conference.  This is the book that really pushed and refined my interest in rhetoric and how it can and should be applied to the New Testament.  There are a vast array of articles but the two most influential on my work are those by Porter and Reed which stress the limitations of applying rhetoric to Paul’s letters.

I suppose I am supposed to tag some people so I will start with an old school move I learned on the playground and tagback Brandon Wason for part 2 of his list.  The other four are Pat McCullough, Nijay Gupta, Peter Head, and Michael Bird.

Well today my blog had its 1000th visitor.  Frankly this is a bit surprising to me, I did not realize there was so much interest in biblioblogs.  Of course that was before I saw posts which list the amount of visitors for the most popular biblioblogs .  My 1000 visitors in my first month pales in comparison to some who receive that many every few minutes!  That being said I am still surprised and pleased that so many have taken an interest in my blog.  I hope you all haved enjoyed reading my posts as much as I have enjoyed composing them.  

On a different note I received Ramsay MacMullen’s The Second Church today.  I am hoping to read and review it this week.  From a brief glance and reading of the preface it looks excellent.

Since Brandon Wason (Emory bound!) over at Biblioblogs has linked to my site I decided it was high time I included more information about myself. Thus, I have posted two new pages: CV and Kevin Scull. Both provide more information for anyone interested in how I approach Paul of Tarsus.

There are always a number of new books that come out every month which look interesting.  However, as one on a limited budget I rarely rush out and purchase them.  But two books have especially caught my attention and I will be purchasing them in the very near future (and hopefully finding the time to read and review them as well).  Fitzmyers’ 1 Corinthians commentary looks excellent and should be a nice compliment to Thiselton’s commentary.  The other book that has piqued my interest is Ramsay McMullen’s The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400.  I am eager to examine the non-literary evidence he has compiled and how it compares to the literary evidence that describes the period.  I also find the title interesting.  Are we still using A.D. in published works?  I thought we had officially changed to the B.C.E – C.E. system.

For all those interested in information on getting into a PhD program, Nijay Gupta has an excellent and comprehensive post that all should read.  However, my post focuses more on those (since the April 15th deadline just passed) that have been told they did not get into either the PhD program of their dreams or any program at all.  Put simply my advice is Don’t Give Up!  Actually, if you are the type of person who gives up easily, you probably should give up now as PhD programs are not easy and require intense amounts of hard work and resiliency.  However, if you are the type of person willing to work as hard as necessary, a rejection from some or even all PhD programs does not have to be the end of the line. 

Rather than giving up a better approach is to assess your particular situation and take the next year to improve yourself as a candidate.  Concentrate on your German, French, Greek, and Hebrew.  If those are not weaknesses improve your application in other ways such as:  improve your GRE score, complete a research project, beg a professor to let you assist him/her, or go to SBL and make contacts.  Simply put, do whatever it takes if this is what you really want to do!

For myself I know that while I may have been ready academically to do graduate work after my days at the University of Illinois ended, I was certainly not ready in many other ways.  I was not prepared for the intense amount of work graduate programs require.  Instead of going to graduate school immediately I improved myself as an individual doing both humiliating and stimulating jobs and careers.  As a side note, delivering pizza was not the most stimulating job I had.

Just because you have been rejected from a PhD program once, this is not an eternal condemnation of your chances to ever get into a program.  There may be at least three potential isssues.  First, you may not be as strong of a candidate as you thought you were.  As I stated above there are many ways to improve the strength of your application.  Second, and this is critical, get to know both the programs you are applying to and faculty members you are interested in working with.  Read their words and email/call/visit them.  I know I sat in on a number of Dr. Bartchy’s courses and had many conservations with him before I applied to UCLA.  A friend of mine took this one step further and made road trips around the country visiting potential schools and speaking with a large number of professors (by the way he was accepted into Emory!).  While this step may seem unneccesary, put yourself in the shoes of your potential professors.  They are committing to work with you for 5-10 years.  That is a massive commitment.  A third possibility is that you are indeed an amazing applicant with an M. Div from Harvard, two publications under your belt, and a few presentations at SBL, but in the particular year you applied there was just someone better.  Bear in mind that there are not many openings each year.  So while your rejection may indeed be disappointing, it does not have to be the end of your academic career.

I will leave you today with one final thought, Don’t Give Up.  If you want it, go get it.  The best things in life don’t always come easy.

This is a post intended to both provide advice to and to elicit advice from the commuting scholar.  I imagine there must be other people besides me who are interested in the NT, have insane commutes, and would like to use their time in their vehicle more productively.  I for one have an hour commute each way on a perfect day.  Residing in the Los Angeles area I am one of the many people insane enough to live far from school or work who cram their car next to the thousands of other cars on the jammed LA freeways. 

Since I spend so much time in the car I have adopted a number of methods to use my time more productively.  First, I have obtained the NT on CD.  There is nothing better than listening to Paul’s letters on a long drive.  Since it is most likely that Paul’s audience originally heard and did not read Paul’s letters it is an excellent method of attempting to put Paul in his historical context.  You will certainly understand some passages in a new way upon hearing rather than reading them.  Second, I use Zondervan’s New Testament Greek Vocabulary.  It never hurts to brush up on your Greek vocabulary especially during an especially bad traffic jam.   Now the third device I use is a little more dangerous and not recommended unless traffic is not moving.  I use German vocabulary notecards, but don’t worry I am not a danger to other drivers.  I only use them when my vehicle is stationary and in LA high traffic hours that is all too often.

Well those are my tips, now it’s your turn.  Hopefully somebody has some advice for me as after three years I need some variety to my routine.  Is anyone aware of any scholarly podcasts on the New Testament, especially on Paul?  Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

Well I think it’s appropriate to answer the question I am asked over 100 times at SBL every year.  It starts with someone looking at my ID badge. Then a look of shock appears on their face and they ask, “uhh, does UCLA even have an NT program?”  The answer is, why yes we do and a pretty good one if you ask me.  Now that world famous blogger Pat McCullough has joined the program this year I can only hope that UCLA becomes more well known for its program.  Since no one has heard of our program I will take the time today to tell you all about it. 

Like any program our NT program has its plusses and minuses.  First, we are in the History department which is among the top 10 in the nation.  This means when you take a class from any professor in the department you know they are world class.  We are given the option of tailoring our program to suit our interests and needs, while this is an amazing feature it can be overwhelming in one’s first quarter.  One can take classes in a wide variety of fields such as: Roman History, Greek History, Late Antiquity, Papyrology, Paleography, Hebrew, 2nd Temple Judaism, and many others.  Not only does UCLA have a remarkable History department but we are encouraged to take classes outside the department in Classics, NELC (Our excellent Near Eastern Languages department), and many other top ranked departments.  Do you want to learn a language well UCLA has it.  I’m not sure if Ugaritic or Akkadian will help your NT studies but if it will it is available. 

In addition to a wide variety of professors our students have a wide variety of interests such as: Anthropology, Magic, Manliness, Apocalytpicism, Paul of Tarsus, letter writing, and rhetoric.  Nothing is more interesting than talking to this group of students about a passage you find interesting, everyone has their own take on it.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time at UCLA has been the ample teaching experience I’ve had.  During one’s first year at UCLA normally one will not receive a TAship and thus, in order to receive a tution fee remission one normally is a grader.  I graded for the 186 series which includes: Christian Origins and the Historical Jesus.  During one’s second year at UCLA often one is awarded a TAship.  Now this is both a plus and a minus.  On the plus side it is excellent teaching experience.  However, there are no NT courses offered that qualify for a TAship which leaves choices which can be somewhat unnverving (I always cringed ranking courses like African history 4th on my list, though admittedly the course would have provided me a lot of useful information).  I have been a TA for Western Civ: Pre-History – 800 CE, World History 400 BCE – 400 CE, Western Civ: 800-1600, and Introduction to World Religions.  Being a TA for such a wide range of courses can be construed as either a positive or a negative.  On the negative side, it is a lot of work to prepare a discussion section for a field in which you have limited knowledge.  However, on the plus side your breadth of knowledge is expanded substantially.  Finally, if you are one of the lucky few (as I am this year) you will be awarded the opprotunity to design and teach your own class.  This year I designed and am teaching my own course titled: Paul, the New Testament, and Letter Writing.  This has been a tremendous experience!

In order to provide you with an example of what a NT program can look like at UCLA, here is a list of some of the courses I have taken.  Bear in mind this list varies substantially for each student in our program.

Christian Origins, Historical Jesus, Paul of Tarsus, Spirtuality and Sexuality in the New Testament, Epictetus, Apostolic Fathers, Greek Papyrology, Greek Paleography, Roman History: Caesar to Constantine andthe Dead Sea Scrolls (with a focus on the liturgical documents).

Finally it should be noted that our program only has one scholar who focuses on the New Testament but he is excellent.  Dr. S. Scott Bartchy is well versed in a wide variety of topics and in addition to being a top notch scholar, he is an amazing mentor.  I have never encountered a professor who cares so much for his students and is so generous with his time.

Well that about wraps up my take on the New Testament program at UCLA.  So this year when you see me at SBL perhaps you will be one of the few people who does not ask me the standard question, “What, UCLA has a New Testament Program?!?!??”  Instead you can ask the second question, “So how far are you on your dissertation?”

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