Archive for the ‘academic theology’ Category
1. Know what you have got to say
This is a huge one for me and I really ought to have learned it by now. More often than not, when the thesis stalls and I stop working on it, it’s because I don’t really know what I’m doing, not because I’m being lazy or bored or any of the other reasons I think. When I work out what I’m doing, it’s easy to make progress.
2. Have the research done
For me this means checking the secondary literature, making notes and so on. This not only helps with knowing what I want to say but also gives me something to hang what I’m saying on. Footnotes, references and quotes contribute significantly to wordcount but require minimal brain power to put in.
3. Sleep well at night
Not always easy to control but makes a huge difference to productivity. I have more or less cut caffeine out of my diet at the moment, which is helping me.
4. Eat well during the day
I have started buying ready-made sandwich fillers. I hate that I am buying them, but it does mean that I can make a sandwich in 30 seconds, almost as easily as opening a packet of crisps or eating a chocolate biscuit and pretending that’s lunch. Real food = real productivity.
It’s not that I haven’t knitted at all in the last few months, but what I have knitted has been stressful gift knitting or competition knitting and so on. I’m now knitting a jumper which involves miles of mindless stocking stitch which is perfect to pick up for ten minutes or more when I need a break.
6. Take long breaks
I used to feel guilty about this before this week. But my pattern in the last four days has been one hour of writing, one hour break. I can write 500-1000 words in an hour, so if I do that two or three times a day I’m well within the target for 10,000 words in a week. And I don’t feel dead at the end of it.
7. Watch tennis
I admit, this is not always possible or desirable. But I find that tennis is the kind of thing that doesn’t require constant attention and is quite soothing in the background. Sometimes music works, but I tend to prefer words or silence. Tennis gives quite a lot of silence without being totally dead. Queens is on BBC2 this week, then a week on Monday Wimbledon starts. I’m hoping for a very productive two weeks then.
8. Don’t try and do ten other things as well as the thesis
This is really, really hard for me in general and especially at the moment. I feel like I could be using all the non-thesis hours of the day for other work and especially writing. I’ve got three editors waiting to hear from me with stories and I haven’t worked on a single one all week. That’s tough. Partly because I like writing and I love the stories I’m working on. And partly because there is a nagging fear that these opportunities won’t last forever. But I honestly believe that the reason I’ve got so much thesis written is because I have had my mind on it all the time. It’s what I’m thinking about in the bath or in the car or when I’m in bed going to sleep. Normally, those are the times I’m thinking about my stories. My mind can’t make progress on both at once. I am not superwoman. This is hard to acknowledge.
So, okay, I have not written 10,000 words of my thesis this week and I probably won’t because I have a friend coming to stay for the next two days. But I have written over 8,000 words in four days and I know I can write the rest when I have the chance. And then I will have the final chapter done and the thesis almost complete.
When I first started telling people I was thinking of doing a PhD, I got mixed responses. Lots of encouragement but also quite a lot of warnings. I remember one friend in particular, who had done a PhD years earlier in a different field, telling me to be really, really sure I wanted it because it was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, but despite all the warnings, I vastly underestimated how hard it would be. Not academically. I knew, and still know in my saner moments, that I’m intellectually up to the task. It’s all the other stuff.
It’s five years since I started on this path and I’m not done yet. Here’s what it’s already cost me:
I eat badly when I’m stressed and when I’m working to a deadline. For most of the last five years, it’s been one or other or both of those. Consequently, I now weigh four stone more than I did when I started. Spending days tied to a desk, staring at a computer, also means that I am even more unfit that when I began.
Also my teeth are in really bad condition because I haven’t been able to afford the dental treatment I’ve needed. I’ve been to an emergency dentist a couple of times, but that’s it. I don’t qualify for any of the categories that would entitle me to free treatment and for at least half the time, I’ve lived in places where it’s been virtually impossible to find an NHS dentist.
For the first two years of the PhD, I was unhappy. That was because I was living overseas and was homesick.
For the last three years, due to a combination of factors all connected in some way to the PhD, I have been depressed. I’m taking medication and I’ve had counselling, which all helps. But still, I would say that this is a direct consequence of being a PhD student. The loneliness, the fear, the burden of a long-term deadline – every PhD student goes through this, even if they don’t have all the other stuff I’ve had to deal with.
To be fair, this has been minimal. I began the PhD with no money and I am ending it with no debt. People have been generous and funding has always appeared when I have most needed it. Mostly, I have learned not to worry about money, but there have been a few occasions when I’ve not known how I was going to pay bills.
I have lost friends over the last five years. I have been a very bad friend to a number of people in that time. I’ve had to prioritise work over people in a way that I wish I hadn’t. It’s hard for people to get what it’s like being a PhD student and it’s frustrating to have to keep trying to explain. Sometimes it’s easier just to let the friendship drift.
If I had known five years ago what it was going to cost me, I would never have begun. As it is, I don’t know whether I will finish.
Friday, 3.30-5.30pm, Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar
This was a discussion of Ellen Davis’s ‘Scripture, Culture and Agriculture’. Craig Bartholomew and David Moessner responded to the book, then Ellen Davis responded to them, and then there was general discussion. The focus of the book is an agrarian reading of the Old Testament, drawing attention to various models of land care. She notes, for example, the importance of the term ‘seed’ in Genesis 1, with respect to the plants given for food. She observes the fragility but also the extraordinary richness of the land which the Israelites were given to farm. She points out that in iron-age Israel, the division between rural and urban was not nearly so sharp as it is today, and that most people were more-or-less directly dependent on their land. Both respondents raised the question of the effect of the new covenant on this issue and there was some discussion about this. It was an interesting and stimulating session and I think the seminar is doing some really good work.
Saturday, 1-3.30pm, Ancient Hebrew Poetry: Linguistics and Literary Approaches
Christo van der Merwe: Explaining Word Order in the Book of Joel
I think Christo’s point was that although there are more examples of non-standard word order in poetic texts such as Joel, the reasons why the word order varies are the same as in non-poetic texts.
Randall Buth: Multiple Frontings in Poetry
Um, it happens sometimes? One thing is fronted for contextualisation and the other for focus. I don’t know that I have any more to say about that.
Eep Talstra: Word Order, Clausal Hierarchy and Syntactic Function
Eep is producing a syntactic database of the OT. I am sure it will be very useful.
Pierre van Hecke: Word Order in Clauses with Haya
Sometimes these are copular (a is b) and sometimes existential (there is X). One of these has a particular word order, but I would need to check my notes to tell you which it is and what the word order is.
Saturday 4-5pm, Recovering Female Interpreters of the Bible
Michael Graves: Marcella of Rome – Technical Exegesis as an Expression of Piety
We know about Marcella from her correspondence with Jerome. She apparently asked him lots of searching and insightful questions, for which he valued her.
Al Wolters: Ann Francis (1738-1800) on the Song of Songs
Ann Francis was the wife of a Norfolk clergyman who wrote several volumes of poetry, including a Poetical Translation of the Song of Songs, published in the eighteenth century and read by several eminent OT scholars of the day. She included notes on her translation based on her understanding of the Israelite landscape, flora and fauna. Interestingly, she discerned three voices in the Song: one male, one Jewish female and one Gentile female, and she did not interpret the Song allegorically. I’d like to track down her translation one day.
That’s it for now. Will report on Sunday and Monday, and my paper, later.
I think I want to teach here. Shame it doesn’t exist.
There has been lots of hoo-ha recently in the biblioblog world (I was trying to type biblioblogosphere but my fingers just wouldn’t let me use such an awful word) about the lack of women who blog biblical studies. Some people have compiled lists of female bibliobloggers, some of which include me.
Um, okay. On the biblioblog list, this blog appears as a ‘related blog’ under the category of ‘Christian Spiritual, Theological, Homiletic, Patristics’. That is to say, I sometimes blog about biblical studies, but that is not the primary focus of the blog. That sounds about right to me. I blog about all kinds of things, and occasionally that includes my studies, though usually only when I come across something that I think might have wider interest for, say, pastors or other Christians. But if other people want to define things differently and include this as a biblioblog, that’s fine too. The more links, the merrier. Feel free to stick around if you find things you like. And if you can’t bear the pink and green, well that’s what the Lord gave us feed readers for.
Anyway, here’s some biblical studies. ;)
This is from Gerald Sheppard’s Wisdom as a Hermeneutical Construct in a section where he is examining Sirach 24:3-9 and observing some links to the Song of Songs:
It is possible that the choice of imagery in Sir. 24 is influenced by Song of Songs 3:6-11. The difficulty in dating the Song of Songs naturally complicates this hypothesis. However, early in the history of interpretation, the Song of Songs passage attracted exposition in terms of the ark of the covenant moving through the wilderness to Zion.
If one identifies Solomon with Wisdom, some interesting correspondences to the Sirach Song emerge. Solomon (the bridegroom?) comes up “from the wilderness” in procession that appears like a “column of smoke” (כתימדות עשׂנ, cf. Joel 3:3). Wearing his royal crown (v. 11), he rides a majestic litter (v. 6) or palanquin (v. 9) which is equipped with silver posts, a gold back, and a purple seat. Observers from Jerusalem watch enthusiastically. The daughters of Zion rush forward to greet him on what seems to be his royal wedding day.
In Sirach 24, instead of Solomon, the alleged author of the wisdom books, it is Wisdom who comes “circling” (v.5a) and “walking” (v.5b) through the cosmos in search of a resting place and an inheritance, as did Israel and the tabernacle in the wilderness. Just as Solomon’s royal litter appears as a “column of smoke,” her throne is in a “pillar of cloud.” Both are destined for the elect city of Zion. While Solomon rides on a portable throne, Wisdom is, likewise, carried on her throne in the transient pillar of cloud. With Solomon, the smoke is fragrant with “myrhh (sic) and frankincense,” two of the elements which compose the sanctuary’s perfumed holy incense with which Wisdom is intimately related in Sir. 24:15. (Sheppard:33 n.42)
I have previously noted various links between this passage in the Song and temple/sanctuary imagery, and also with NT passages about the coming of the bridegroom (most notably Mt 2:11). I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly connected it with the arrival of the ark in Zion after its journey through the wilderness before.
I’m working at the moment on the links between the Song and the wisdom literature, I don’t think the Song is wisdom literature, per se, but I do think that when you read the Song with the wisdom literature, it raises some very interesting possibilities indeed.
Anyone who’s anyone in the world of blogging and biblical studies appears on the Complete List of Biblioblogs. My blog, as you may have noticed, is not really dedicated to biblical studies, though there are occasional posts which would fit into that category. I am pleased to note, however, that Conversational Theology has just been included in the list of Related Blogs which “have a different primary focus (e.g. theology, ancient Near Eastern archaeology, devotional and homiletic approaches to the Bible) or are commercial rather than personal blogs – yet which contain some biblical studies material.” Mine appears in the list of Christian Spiritual, Theological or Homiletic blogs.
If you have any interest in biblical studies, it’s really worth checking out the whole list. Biblioblogging is a thriving business. David Stark (another WTS exile) has some interesting thoughts about it by way of N. T. Wright and Thomas Kuhn. I especially like the quote from Tom Wright about the need for ethics in blogging – and not hiding behind online pseudonyms.
Among other things, the PhD student lives in dread of discovering, too late in the day, that someone else has already written their thesis. This service should help to alleviate that. It’s an international register of dissertations in progress. You can search to see who’s working on subjects related to yours and how far along they are. Then you can send a message to anyone who looks like they’re in the same field. At least that way, there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises.
If you’re a PhD student, go and register your thesis now! You don’t have to have a fixed title and your summary can be altered if the work changes later in the process.
At the moment I am working on the section of my thesis which tries to explain what a canonical approach to interpretation actually is. This is a harder question than I first thought. Here’s a summary of my thinking so far:
1. The canon is a cohesive, ordered collection of texts.
2. Choosing to read one of these texts canonically involves privileging the intra-canonical intertext above extra-canonical intertexts.
3. This involves a choice (whether conscious or not) on the part of the reader and does not deny the possibility of other interpretations, merely the right of other interpretations to be called canonical.
4. This intertextual interpretation must be governed by those canonical texts which describe the nature of the whole canonical intertext. That is to say, the canon’s own statements about its origin, purpose, content and audience need to be considered in a canonical interpretation of any part of the canon.
5. One of the things the canon tells us about itself is that it is divine discourse: God speaks through the canon.
6. Which means that the reader’s choice of a canonical interpretation in fact leads to an emphasis on the (implied) divine author’s communicative intent.
7. The divine author’s communicative intent is by no means limited to the passing on of information. The canon tells us that God’s purposes for the canon include things like making promises; giving warnings; making people wise for salvation; establishing covenant and so on. A helpful model for clarifying these kinds of things is Austin’s speech act theory. Locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts describe what is said, what is done by saying, and what results from what is said. All of these (and a fourth kind of speech act identified by Vanhoozer, the interlocutionary act) are part of the communicative intent of the divine author implied in the canonical text. Thus all of these should inform a canonical interpretation.
8. Canonical interpretation will thus make demands on the reader. A canonical interpretation will implicate the reader in the illocutionary, perlocutionary and interlocutionary acts. The effects of an interpretation will thus form one means of evaluating it: not simply ‘Is it right?’ but ‘Does it work?’
At coffee today, Peter Head jokingly suggested that I may be something of a jinx for theological institutions. He didn’t look too nervous about it but it’s true that in the last year, there have been a significant number of staff changes at places with which I have strong links. The most recent to be announced include:
In the same story, new visiting lecturers at Oak Hill for the academic year 2009-2010 were announced: Carl Trueman and Peter O’Brien.
The appointment of Greg Beale as Visiting Professor of NT at WTS for 2009-2012. I notice that the first module he is scheduled to teach is on the NT use of the OT.
I have already noted the departure of David Field from Oak Hill.
I’m not sure that I have mentioned that Andrew McGowan ended his time as Principal of HTC in late January and the process of appointing his successor is underway.
I am in Scotland and there is a rainbow. This is a good thing since it reminds me that God’s love is faithful and sure.
This morning I had an email to say that my paper proposal for this year’s SBL conference in November has been accepted. I was very excited to hear this. Then I got an email listing all the other presenters in that section. Now I am very afraid indeed.
It is a joint session between the Hebrew Poetry section and the Hebrew Linguistics section which means that there are a lot of VERY good Hebraists presenting. I am no more than a mediocre Hebraist on a good day.
More than that, the person whose methodology I have adapted and used in my paper will also be presenting. This is a good thing since I don’t yet know how to pronounce his name, but it is clearly also a very frightening thing since he will immediately be able to spot the flaws in my paper.
Still, it does mean that I can apply for funding from UHI to pay for the costs of going to the conference. And most excitingly, since I have to have a layover somewhere, I am planning to go via Philadelphia and spend a few days visiting all my friends in Glenside.