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A Helpful Glance Backwards: 20th-Century NT Studies

January 15, 2015

In participating yesterday in a session of the core course in our masters-degree in Biblical Studies (Edinburgh), and having been asked to highlight some major issues and questions current in NT studies, I remembered also briefly the need to look backwards, to the history of previous scholarship.  Certainly, anyone who aspires to become really conversant with a field of study needs to know something of the prior history of the field, and how we got to where we are.

From my own student days onward, I’ve been interested in this, and have found it not only interesting but also useful in critically assessing further and more recent developments.  It’s interesting (and sometimes surprising) to find that things announced as “new” often turn out to be re-treads of ideas and approaches of an earlier period in the field, the presenters of the idea often unaware of this.  I have also found that actually reading older work can highlight oversimplifications and even distortions of that older work as it is reported on in subsequent scholarship.

As well, to speak for myself, it’s often been a humbling experience to read older work and note how impressively well educated and knowledgeable the scholars of previous generations were.  Indeed, often, I’ve come upon some idea myself, and then discovered subsequently in reading older work that it wasn’t really a new idea at all, but had been mooted, sometimes decades or more earlier.  (But, I tell myself, at least my idea wasn’t completely bizarre or idiosyncratic!)

For those who might want some initial steer as to major figures, developments, projects, etc., of earlier years, I’ll mention my own survey of 20th-century NT studies:  “New Testament Studies in the Twentieth Century,” Religion 39 (2009): 43-57.  The pre-print version is available on this blog site here.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this reminder of the place for “older” scholarship!

  2. Denis Campbelk permalink

    Hi Larry, Many congraduatioations on the survey of 20th century scholarship. It is good to have all that information summarised concisely.
    Since graduating from New College in 1973 (Hugh Anderson & Douggie Templeton were inspirational.) I have tried to keep up with developments in NT studies despite the demands of a busy parish and have read some of the scholars you mention and some scholars who draw on their work. Right now a friend and I have become interested in the theme of Jesus and empire including books by Horsley and Carter. Can you comment on their work some time? Now retired I hope to have more time for scholarly reading and for my big interest as a preacher, Biblical Theology.
    Keep up the good work!
    Denis Campbell.

    • I’ve been thinking about the recent “anti-imperial” school of thought, esp. among Pauline scholars. I’ve some initial thoughts, but I think I’ll want to ponder things a bit further before commenting.

  3. Excellent post and advice!

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