NT Research Languages: Encore
I don’t monitor other blogs regularly at all, but I’ve noticed that the topic of requiring competence in key research languages for PhD work in NT continues to elicit some interest, including a posting and comments on this site:
Curiously, the posting seems to argue that for PhD students in NT/Christian Origins to be required to have the language competence in question (good Koine Greek, adequate Hebrew, German and French, at a minimum) would work some kind of hardship on UK students who didn’t attend a British “public” (i.e., private) school. So, it would reflect class-privilege. The posting proposes that before we could require these language comptences we’d have to change the whole British school system, or at least undergraduate education. Seems a bit extreme to me.
What we really need is for PhD-granting institutions to make clear that language competence is required, and should be worked up before commencing PhD work (as we do in Edinburgh). Moreover, I find it bizarre that a masters-level programme specifically in biblical studies would treat the biblical languages as electives/options. In Edinburgh, we require a basic ability in at least Greek or Hebrew for admission to our masters programme in biblical studies, and we further require 40 of the 120 course-credits to be taken in language courses (the dissertation counts for another 60 credits). So, e.g., if an applicant has some Koine Greek, she would be directed to take Hebrew, and vice versa. If an applicant has some basic Greek and Hebrew, she would still be required to take 40 credits work in languages, simply at more advanced level(s). I find it simply dubious to think that one can do postgraduate degree work in a subject without being able to engage the original language of that subject and its key texts.
And it’s simply a red-herring to suggest that class or what sort of secondary school people attend is the issue, or that requiring languages privileges the wealthy or upper classes. I’m a truck-driver’s kid from Missouri, American public schools all the way. I’d never have been able even to take an undergraduate degree without scholarships funding, let alone PhD studies. I was raised in a mono-lingual home, and every language competence I’ve acquired has been by dint of time-consuming effort. I’m not defending privilege, but simply asserting that it is delusory to suggest that one can do a PhD in NT/Christian Origins without competence in these languages.
So, we don’t need to remould the UK school systems (and there are several, actually), but, instead, we simply need UK universities to face up to the proper demands of the discipline and do potential applicants the favour of providing clear advice on what is involved in a PhD in this field.