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Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: Beginning the PhD Program

HIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS ON MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR.

When I entered the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, my relationship with Bruce Metzger deepened significantly. At the time, the New Testament program at PTS was one of the best in the country. The faculty teaching the PhD students were all brilliant scholars; all of them except Metzger were principally known for their work in exegesis (the interpretation of the New Testament) and biblical theology (trying to explain the meaning and significance of the text for the individual Christian and the life of the church). None of them, apart from Metzger, was widely published and known outside of scholarly circles; but within scholarly circles they had a very high profile indeed.

My main professors in the program were, in addition to Metzger, Chris Beker (a somewhat wild but truly genius interpreter of the writings of Paul), Paul Meyer (one of the deepest readers of texts I’ve ever known), and David Adams (a junior faculty person who had a brilliantly logical mind, and who was our idol, for all of us in the program – a scholar we wanted to be like).

In a PhD program, the normal “system” (in America; it is different in Europe) involves taking graduate seminars for two years, then taking PhD exams, and then writing a dissertation.  In total it normally takes five years of full time intense work, if you are diligent and able to keep up with the course load.  I would say that the majority of people (maybe even the great majority?) take longer than five years.   And all this is after already having completed a two or, more commonly three-year Masters program.  It’s a lot.

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Autobiographical: Metzger and Me. The Seminar on the Canon
Autobiographical: Metzger and Me. My First Work on the Text

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Adam  July 10, 2012

    Generally speaking, is the way a course on the canon or NT book taught at a secular university quite different than how a course taught at a mainline seminary like PTS, Yale Divinity, etc.? I found when I took courses at mainline seminaries many weren’t that different in approach than at the religious studies departments at secular universities (they were very historical and critical). In fact, one course in theology I took at a mainline seminary was taught by a former Christian turned atheist (he had tenure!). In evangelical seminaries I found them to be very exegetical and the interpretations driven by the theological belief or assumption that the Bible is inerrant or basically inerrant –so that interpretations of the text were guided by this assumption.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 10, 2012

      A lot of this historical study is the same. The difference is that at a seminary or div school, theological issues tend to get addressed as well: for example, what *should* we consider to be canonical? Is it legitimate to have a “canon within the canon?” How do we deal with canonical texts that are theologically problematic (the castigation of women in 1 Timothy, e.g.,)? Etc.

  2. Avatar
    dallaswolf  July 10, 2012

    This string is great and really needs to be recorded and preserved. I’m glad you are taking the time to do it.

  3. Avatar
    gregmonette  July 10, 2012

    This is great stuff. Keep it coming!

  4. Avatar
    Scott F  July 10, 2012

    Teaching yourself Latin in a week based on BAD GRAMMAR? I bet that was fun!

  5. Avatar
    whatnow  July 10, 2012

    Bart,
    This series of posts is what I’ve been waiting for. Thanks so much for drawing back the curtain…

  6. Avatar
    jasha  July 10, 2012

    Dr Ehrman,

    Thanks for sharing this; I narrowly avoided going to graduate school (in Ancient History) myself and often wonder what that might have been like. In my case the head of the graduate school (which was a very good one) explained to me that their graduates were having terrible trouble securing academic jobs, and that was enough to dissuade me. Was the PhD program at PTS targeted towards training people for academia, or did its graduates tend to get jobs in the clergy? This is a really interesting series, I can’t wait for the next one!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 10, 2012

      The PhD students were all aiming for the academy, but almost all of them were thinking in terms of teaching at seminaries, divinity shcools, or Christias colleges (myself included at the time! How things have changed; I should write a post on this at some point).

  7. Avatar
    Dennis Steenbergen  July 11, 2012

    You mentioned Dr. Metzger as a pious man but was he a believer? And how did he take your personal de-conversion?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 11, 2012

      Absolutely he was a believer. A heart-felt deep believer. As to what he thought — that was the questoin that started this series of posts. I’ll eventually get there!

  8. Avatar
    Sharif  July 11, 2012

    Dear Dr. Ehrman,

    I am a big fan of your work! Thank you for breaking down the methods and results of biblical scholarship to us non-scholars. I have two questions:

    Could you tell us more about the experience of becoming proficient in the various languages – Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, German, French – required for a student of Biblical studies? How did you go about it? As a new student interested in a related field, I will probably have to meet with similar expectations, but I must admit it sounds a little intimidating (though I am up to the challenge)!

    In your book How Jesus Became God, will you be addressing Christian apologetic arguments for why Jesus understood himself to be divine? e.g. William Lane Craig in ch. 7 of Reasonable Faith. I am really looking forward to reading about such an important and gripping topic.

    Thanks!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 13, 2012

      Languages: well, typically students take classes to learn them. sometimes students will teach themselves. I’ve done that with several of my languages, and I definitely do NOT advise it….

      In my book, I’m not planning on dealing with modern-day apologists, since they aren’t really biblical scholars (including WLC, who seems to like to accuse me of not being lots of things, but has no difficulty himself putting on lots of hats….); but I’ll certainly think about it.

      In my view, there is absolutely NO way Jesus thought of himself as divine.

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