Archive for October, 2013

The Importance of F. C. Baur

I’ve been fascinated by F. C. Baur for some time, and find his work simultaneously deeply problematic and hugely captivating. In that judgment I’m not alone. There are lots of inaccurate caricatures of Baur on offer, and these should be resisted even when one wants rightly to disagree with and criticise him. But as some inducement to reading the great man himself, here are two wonderful passages about the importance of the Tübinger:

“Despite these weaknesses, Baur’s greatness cannot be denied. The discipline of New Testament studies owes him more than any of those who came before him. On the wall in Käsemann’s living room study hangs a copy of the University of Tübingen’s portrait of Baur, a gift to the New Testament scholar upon his retirement. Once outside Baur’s direct influence, the one-time pupil of Bultmann finally came to write of Baur as the true ‘progenitor’ of a criticism at the root, a criticism conceived not merely as scientific method but as a presupposition for the life of the spirit. One summer day he pointed to that portrait on his study wall and said, ‘greater even than Bultmann'” ( Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Käsemann [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 130).

“But we can, by contrast, see Baur’s work in a broader light. Such a presentation would involve emphasizing the fact that Baur’s is the first thorough-going historical account of early Christianity, whose presuppositions were to influence many of those who followed him, whether in agreement or disagreement; and that his views about the relationship between John and the Synoptics, the question of the authenticity of many New Testament books, the theological tendency of individual New Testament writings, and the role of conflict in the creation of early Christian ideas, while disputed, continue to be standard topics of discussion in any account of New Testament and later history. If we accept these points, then Baur will appear as the central and most influential figure in the history of the study of Christian origins. Indeed, seen against this broader canvas, it may only be a slight exaggeration, here adapting the words of A. N. Whitehead on Plato, to state that the study of Christian origins after Baur is no more than a series of corrective footnotes” (James Carleton Paget, in an extremely learned forthcoming essay on ‘The Reception of Baur in Britain’ in Ferdinand Christian Baur und die Geschichte des Urchristentums [WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014]).

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Interested in postgraduate NT study at Oxford?

It’s that time of year when potential students start thinking about applications to graduate programmes in New Testament. There are lots of excellent programmes around the world, but I am (unsurprisingly) partial to what we offer in Oxford. We have a range of opportunities, including the nine-month MSt in New Testament (but note that recent government regulations mean that the UKBA will not give dependent visas to spouses or children of students on courses less than a year – so overseas students beware), the two-year MPhil in New Testament, the DPhil in New Testament, and the two-year MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman World. All our programmes are distinctive and we do our best to offer students opportunities to draw on Oxford’s strengths in ancillary disciplines like classics, papyrology, Jewish studies, early Christian studies and reception history, as well as of course New Testament study more classically conceived. The MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman World is jointly administered by the Oriental Institute (under Prof. Martin Goodman) and is a challenging but rewarding consideration of the fruitful period from 200 BCE-200 CE.

Oxford consistently ranks in the top 10 universities in the world, and was recently ranked second (jointly with Harvard) in the Times Higher Education ranking. There is an unbelievable number of external speakers and opportunities to meet leading intellectuals in all disciplines. The Bodleian Library has always been one of the best libraries in the world, but with the recent purchase of a license to ebrary, we now additionally have an electronic holding of over 84,000 books (plus the millions of hard copy books), not to mention wonderful electronic journals. The world comes to Oxford for conferences, sabbaticals, and research visits, and postgraduate study offers the unique opportunity to soak in the intellectual culture here for an extended period of time.

One myth about UK study is that there is no funding available. It’s true that our graduate degrees are not as heavily subsidised as some programmes in the US, but we have an increasing number of funded places. And it’s also true that collegiate universities like Oxford and Cambridge offer multiple sources of funding through colleges as well as faculties and universities, so even if one does not secure full-funding up front, it’s often possible to piece together substantial funding as one proceeds.

I’m always happy to discuss possibilities for study with potential students. And my colleague, Markus Bockmuehl, and I will be in Baltimore at the SBL meeting, and would welcome the chance to sit down for brief, focused meetings with serious applicants to discuss their projects and prospects. If you’d be at all interested, please do drop me a line.

And potential applicants and friends of Oxford are always welcome to join us at the Oxford Reception, on Sunday night of SBL from 7pm-8.30pm (full details in the SBL program book).

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