There are lots of great places to pursue graduate work in New Testament, early Judaism and early Christianity, and each programme has its distinctive strengths and limitations. I’ll leave it to others to offer comparative rankings among programmes of distinction, but I think Oxford has a number of strong selling points that recommend it as a scholarly destination. Let me mention only two here.
As far as I’m concerned, the crown of Oxford is its library system: the Bodleian is a UK copyright deposit library but also benefits from a long history of book and manuscript collecting, not to mention the significant regular donation of collections that enhance our holdings and the various College libraries (incidentally, personally I’d love to see grad applications from people who wish to straddle between the Faculties of Theology and Religion and of Classics to work on the Oxyrhynchus papyri, but that’s a matter for another day). But rivalling even the glories of our physical holdings is the remarkable investment in digital resources. It’s extremely rare to find a relevant journal that is available in electronic format to which we don’t have a subscription, and we have a robust collection of databases as well as access to several hundred thousand e-books. It seems that these days I rarely have to leave my office to do serious research.
Second, the world comes to or through Oxford. In part because our library collections draw people for sabbaticals, in part because of the ceaseless conference traffic, and in part because Oxford is, like some other university towns, a kind of Athens where people go to test their ideas, we have lots of wonderful speakers and events. The Faculty of Theology and Religion’s event booklet is always crammed full of attractive seminars with world-class figures, and for the student of antiquity, Oxford feasts the intellect with offerings from the Oriental Institute, the Classics Faculty and crossover ventures like the Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity. On any given day one is missing several excellent papers or speaking events from stimulating thinkers, and it’s not uncommon to hear people complain of the strain of trying to drink from the proverbial Oxonian firehose.
Of course, both those things are also true at other universities, mutatis mutandis, and I wouldn’t at all wish to say that Oxford is unique in these ways. But it’s also true that sometimes potential graduate students consider too narrowly their chosen programme of interest without broader consideration of the research environment. Naturally I think Oxford does well on the former as well as the latter scales of vision, but I won’t say more about that now.
All this is prompted by the season: potential graduate students are pondering their applications (my deepest condolences, poor souls). Markus Bockmuehl and I are always keen to hear from good potential applicants, and it so happens that the coming year would be a good one to apply for Oxford in terms of funding opportunities. A useful new website at www.oxfordscholarships.com is being hosted by one of the new external funders to provide information, including links to various funding schemes and application details. It’s also worth pointing out that Markus and I will be in San Diego and interested in meeting prospective applicants there; we’ve set up a doodle poll here with slots available, if anyone would like to avail themselves of a meeting.