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Monday, June 01, 2009

Special or General?

I refer of course to the SBL Forum piece Michael Bird with (q: what's the difference between 'with' and 'and' in a partnership?) Craig Keener and much discussed on blogs. I have nothing to add on what's best, who's wonderful etc but maybe I will add a different comment on, well, some concepts of 'general'.

The NT isn't very big really but it is made big, so to speak, by the sheer amount of scholarship and no doubt it will become increasingly difficult, or increasingly bigger, as more and more gets written. But is being an expert in Paul, Jesus, and something else in the NT very general in terms of primary source material studied? I just don't know and it will depend on definitions etc but it seems this debate could further place NT studies in a ghetto. I mean, couldn't we define a generalist as someone who could do interesting things beyond NT and couldn't a specialist be someone who could do things on Paul and Jesus. Well, it's all definition I suppose.

An analogy: Shakespeare studies. Are specialists those who focus on Hamlet while generalists can cover tragedies AND comedies AND poetry? No doubt there are plenty of experts on some very precise detail - there always are and I can appreciate that - but this analogy makes NT studies seem a little odd, at least to me. Though not having anything like enough experience of Shakespeare studies, I imagine there's loads written - there certainly was when I was when I was an undergraduate. But I have been at conferences where scholars can move from Shakespeare to Beckett to whatever without it at least seeming unusual.

Perhaps reception history could change these matters. If people want to look at themes and texts through the ages, then that would require something beyond mere specialism...right...?