June 2008

I went to a dinner tonight for PhD students and heard a few good quotes that sum up aspects of the PhD student’s life…

Oliver Wendel Holmes – ‘Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprung up.’

The PhD is really a ‘doctorate in photocopying.’

The PhD is a nonlinear process where there are really productive times but also really not productive times.

Niels Bohr – ‘An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.’


For those wanting to learn a little theological German, I’ve pulled together several German lists and created a master list of 4,334 words that you can put in a flash card program.  The words are in these columns: German, English, Difficulty, Chapter, Other, Part of Speech.  The words are listed roughly in this order:

  1. Chapters 1-17 (I think): Manton’s Theological German textbook, in order of chapter appearance and then all the rest from the dictionary in the back, with a few others mixed in.
  2. Chapters 18-57 (or so): A list from a Goethe book that has around 2000 of the most frequent words in academic journals (not just humanities). 
  3. Chapters 58-64: Additional words that I’ve accumulated from reading theological works.
  4. Chapters 65-75: Words from a generic list of modern conversational German.

Files to Download*:
German-English Vocabulary (txt) (comma delimited text file)
German-English Vocabulary (xls) (excel)
*Wordpress won’t let me upload .txt and .xls files, so I’ve added a .doc extension to each. When you go to save them, just take off the .doc ending and put back in the .txt or .xls extension.

For German-English definition help, LEO is the best online site.
Also, here’s a free German training course online. It’s a little dated, but I did a similar one for French many moons ago and found it helpful: FSI German

At CK Barrett’s 90th birthday last year, someone mentioned that they were sad that Charles (aka C.E.B.) Cranfield wasn’t able to make it.  He’s just a year or so older than Kingsley, but can’t make it around as well.  John Barclay mentioned that Professor Cranfield does like to have students over, so I finally got around to asking for his info to have coffee.  He was kind enough to invite me over, and we had a nice chat about my studies and his thoughts on theology, plus I asked a few questions offered up by readers here.  He is quite candid about his opinions both theological and political, especially on points of disagreement.

As to his background, he mentioned that he originally studied classics and later did theology at Cambridge.  (His language ability is hard to believe…from memory he quoted John Chrysostom in Greek and later Aquinas in Latin.)  He spent the summer of 1939 in Basel, Switzerland but had to leave because of the beginning of WW2.  He was later an army chaplain and worked with the German Confessing movement after the war as well as with the World Council of Churches.  He came to Durham in 1950.  He was raised Methodist but noted switching to the reformed church because, among other things, of their reading of Rom 7 as applying to a Christian, which is no surprise if you’ve read his commentary.

For being 92 (almost 93–so that puts his birthday in 1915, Mike) and failing eyesight, he’s quite sharp and still well read, for instance he mentioned going through Watson’s Hermeneutics of Faith and Jewett’s Romans commentary.  Speaking of Romans commentaries, he noted several recent ones but seemed to have a critique for each one in some way or other.  I think Käsemann’s came off the highest.  He commented in particular that he wasn’t a fan of the New Perspective, so he thought Dunn’s commentary was off target in those areas.  He didn’t go into it in any detail but it didn’t seem like he thought there was a need to find a way forward.  (Regarding his own commentary, he mentioned that he would have made some changes but unfortunately didn’t elaborate further.  Though, on the ‘too reformed’ aspect in the questions, he noted he’s a good Calvinist, but with the ‘necessary’ revision of election offered by Barth.)  He noted particularly the commentaries of John Chrysostom and Aquinas as excellent but often overlooked, and that Pelagius’ commentary is quite helpful at times.

I asked him what 5 books or so a theologian would need to read in order to not be ‘uneducated’.  He offered these: 1) Barth’s original commentary on Romans because of its historical importance,  2) Shakespeare and John Milton, and 3) Greek writers: Homer, Sophocles, Thucydides, Aeschylus, and Euripides, and 4) the commentaries of Calvin and Luther. 

It was a nice couple of hours, and I intend to take him up on his invitation to stop by again. 

I’ve got coffee tomorrow with Charles Cranfield, the giant of NT studies here at Durham from the last generation.  I thought I’d ask the blogging world what people would they would want to ask him.  What are your thoughts?

Another great job by Phil on the Patristics Carnival XII.

A common stereotype of UK libraries is that they aren’t anything near as good as one in the US. So, implicitly, you shouldn’t go there.  (This excludes Oxbridge and Edinburgh since their libraries buy everything, literally.)  It is true that the aren’t as good as the major seminaries/univesities because the size of the student population at a university program here doesn’t even compare to the those in the US.  At Durham there are about 300 undergrads and 150 postgrads in theology versus 1k, 2k, or 3k+ at some in the US.  But it is not a dire situation, nor anyway near as bad as US people make out.  There are a handful of books that I was surprised Durham didn’t have but on the whole, it’s pretty decent.  (The journal holdings are not as good.)  Two things mitigate the problem.  1) If you need a book, just ask your supervisor and they’ll buy a copy for the library.  2) They also give an £80 research stipend each year for interlibrary loan and photocopying.  (It’s £2.50 per book or article, and most come in about a 1 week.) 

This year they had better recruiting in the arts and humanities faculty (~school of), so each department got a one-time chunk of extra money.  The theology department split it up into different things, but most went to bursaries (~scholarships) and library purchases.  For the library they just asked postgrads what we wanted.  I sent off a list of about 25 books, maybe 5-10 are ones I will need and the rest were ones that just looked promising.  Practically all the books put in by all of us were purchased, and a big chunk of them arrived today, which made me think about this post. 

So, is the library what I would hope it would be?  Nope.  But it’s workable (with purchases like this and purchase requests you put through your supervisor).  Also, the Cathedral and St John’s college also have theological libraries that are pretty decent for major monographs and commentaries.  Between the three you can find most things, and then you just interlibrary and photocopy the rest.  Plus, if it was perfect, you wouldn’t have a good excuse to tell your wife that you “need” to go visit other libraries like Tyndale House.

I recently watched Michael Moore’s ‘SiCKO‘.  Though his presentation is clearly one sided (e.g., he doesn’t show some of the proplems with the UK system), it’s almost too hard to comprehend what the US allows to happen.  I didn’t have a strong opinion one way or another living in the states, but after living here and seeing universal healthcare first-hand, I think it is appalling the way that the poor and uninsurable get treated in the states.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m fairly libertarian in my political views with a strong desire for limited government, but healthcare is one area that shouldn’t be managed as a for-profit business.  It seems to me that health care is as basic, if not more, than education, and we have no problem providing–even requiring–universal education.  Just as the two-tier system allows for the rich to opt out of the universal education system (i.e., private schools), the same option can and should be available for health care (that’s what they have here).  This wouldn’t be a problem-free system.  No system is–I can give annecdotes of good and poor help on both sides of the pond, but these don’t outweigh the way the poor are treated in the US.  But shouldn’t we opt for higher taxes to allow the poorest and sickest in our society to live without worries from health insurers or fear for the health of their family?

I’ve gone through and updated my list of the NT doctoral programmes (or programs, if you like) and the Lecturers at each here in the UK (plus tuition fees for each).  There’s been a little bit of turnover, but not too much that I found–theology departments don’t seem to be that quick for updating websites.  Please let me know if I’ve got somebody in the wrong place.  I may be biased, but I’d say that Durham and Cambridge have the best two line-ups.  Anybody want to venture their ranking?

After my chat with Richard Hays about Duke’s program, I’ve come to see the value in a critical mass of students and lecturers.  For instance, since they only accept 1 NT phd student per year at Duke, there’s not a huge amount of NT community.  (Don’t get me wrong the faculty there definitely makes up for it.)  But, the fact that I get to rub shoulders daily with 5 other NT students plus the other 10 or so that I see regularly at the weekly seminar, etc. is quite handy for bouncing ideas off one another, learning about areas I’m not personally researching, etc.  I’d still rank your supervisor as the top criteria for selecting a school, but size of the research community is definitely a strong plus for those that can find it.

With Andrew Louth retiring in a couple of years, the direction of patristics in Durham is at a cross roads.  With Carol Harrison, his wife, strongly representing Augustinian studies, the loss of Father Andrew will be a great hole to fill.  Durham recently hired three people that will be a great step towards filling the hole.  The first to be hired was Mark McIntosh (from Loyola in Chicago), as I mentioned earlier, who was hired for systematic theology but has a fair about of experience with patristic thought.  Then they hired Father Andrew’s expected direct replacement: Krastu Banev, who finished his PhD at Cambridge in the past two or three years.  And most recently, they hired Lewis Ayres (from Emory) as the Bede Chair in Catholic Theology.  McIntosh and Ayres won’t be here until 2009, but Durham patristic studies will definitely be in good hands with these three.