Fields of Study
New Testament and Early Christianity

The New Testament program at Vanderbilt University has two distinctive emphases. On the one hand, it is concerned with and committed to studying the literary, social, and historical milieu of Christian origins. On the other hand, it seeks to develop a critical understanding of the various ways in which the documents of the earliest churches are and have been interpreted in a range of contexts and through a variety of perspectives. Our approaches include the more traditional types of analysis as well as various literary, sociological, and anthropological methods. Through continual work with the ancient texts students gain familiarity with methodological tools and learn to appraise their limitations critically.

The Qualifying Examinations include five components: a special area examination on the history of interpretation of the topic or text to be treated in the dissertation and on appropriate methodologies; a theology and hermeneutics examination on the history of scholarship on texts of the New Testament other than that of the dissertation topic, usually focused upon theological and/or hermeneutical issues; an exegesis examination to demonstrate readiness to write the dissertation by using a similar approach for developing an original critical study of a text other than that for the dissertation; a minor area examination; and an oral examination dealing with the first draft of a dissertation proposal and addressing any questions raised by the written examinations.

Each faculty member in the program focuses in teaching, research, and publication on the interpretations of specific texts and social movements from one or another critical stance. Professor Amy-Jill Levine employs literary, sociohistorical, and feminist approaches to address the figure of Jesus in both his cultural particularity (i.e., the “historical Jesus”) and his appropriation by various early Christian communities and the gospels of Matthew and Luke, especially in light of Hellenistic Judaism (with an emphasis on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha) and the processes by which Judaism and Christianity came to define themselves in relation to each other and to their wider social contexts. Professor Daniel Patte deals with the history of the reception (including contemporary scholarly interpretations) of the Pauline corpus and of the gospels of Matthew and Mark from a critical stance (“scriptural criticism”) developed out of his methodological research and his concerns as a male European-American for a responsible, de-centered practice of critical biblical studies. Professor Fernando Segovia applies a variety of methods to study the formalist, rhetorical, and ideological dimensions of texts, with concentration on the Johannine tradition and the Synoptic Gospels.

These research interests are complemented by the studies of colleagues in related fields: Professor Douglas Knight's research areas are social history and ethics in the Hebrew Bible; Professor Jack Sasson is interested in Hebrew narratives and in old Babylonian Mesopotamia; Professor Renita Weems studies the Hebrew Bible in light of rhetorical analysis and womanist studies; and Professor J. Patout Burns works with patristic texts and the formation of Catholic doctrine. A colleague specializing on rabbinic literature and society expected to be appointed.

Thus, the New Testament program aims primarily at preparing scholars of Christian origins to master the tools necessary for critical and sensitive work. The area’s emphasis on diversified methodological training stems from the conviction that only such a balanced approach will allow scholars to perform rigorous analyses, resulting in significant hermeneutical possibilities in an increasingly diversified world.

Qualifiying Examinations in New Testament
Language Requirements

NOTE: This description of requirements supplements The Bulletin of Vanderbilt University Graduate School and "The Guidelines of the Graduate Department of Religion." Students are expected to meet all of the common requirements of the graduate program as described in those publications.

Students in New Testament and Early Christianity are eligible for fellowships in Theology and Practice.



 

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