What is biblical research, anyway? The answer might surprise you


This is the first part of a two part series; next week we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of biblical research, but for now we’re focusing on what biblical research is and why it matters.

Image courtesy of Duke Divinity School

For the uninitiated, “biblical research” might not conjure up images of dancing, film analysis, or engineering studies. But meet Maximillion Whelan. An M.Div. of third year. a student at Duke, Whelan runs a website for movie buffs focused on analyzing movie scenes and was recently featured in Film and Video Quarterly Review for an article on theology and cinema. He notes, “Biblical research sheds light on how daily activities actually shape history and are also shaped by history. By “zooming in,” delving into details and contexts, biblical research allows us to “zoom in” simultaneously – to see what we take for granted, where our readings have taken us, and how we are taking our readings to others. spheres. of life.”

Image courtesy of Nicole Kallson (as part of her Introduction to Theology and Arts course).)

Or take Divinity School student Nicole Kallson. She is pursuing a master’s degree in theological studies with a certificate in theology and arts.

“As a theologian and dancer, I use my dance training to help me understand the Bible.” Kalson explains. “I tend to focus on ideas of embodiment, beauty, and inter- and intra-personal relationships.”

The two students, along with countless other Blue Devils and other mascot identities, use their studies as a lens through which to examine themselves and their passions. And isn’t that what we emphasize so clearly at Duke – the interdisciplinary, interpersonal, interreligious, international and intertwined identities of people, places and things? Isn’t that the purpose of research in the end? Perhaps the purpose of biblical research is not as alien to us as one might first think.

Candidates for a degree may come from an expertise in literature, classical studies, practical faith, or other fields that can easily come to mind. But they also come from the natural sciences, physical sciences, political science, art and media studies, creative writing, engineering, medicine, sociology, public policy, economy and more. And each of these students applies their research and understanding of the Bible to their understanding of the world at large, seeking to become better, more intentional scholars in the process.

The new dean of Duke Divinity School was born and raised in Puerto Rico; he prayed with Pope Francis and presented him with writings on interreligious dialogues. He also holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Dean Edgardo Colon-Emeric hosted a Bible symposium on Friday, October 11, 2022 through the Karsh Alumni Center Forever Learning Institute (part of the Font Pages series, which Jakaiyah Franklin also blogged about!).

“It might seem strange to have a series focusing on the Bible as a forbidden book, given that it’s the most polished book in history,” he opened. He gave an example later; for some time in Guatemala’s recent history, possession of the Bible was persecuted as a means of targeting perceived communist sympathizers. Even within Christian communities, he explains, there has been talk among followers of certain translations and versions – not all of them acceptable.

The event also brought together Brent Strawn from Duke Divinity School and Jennifer Knust from Trinity College of Arts & Sciences Department of Religious Studies.

Jennifer Knust at the Forever Learning Institute Font Pages Bible talk

“The survival of the New Testament as text and collection is a theological and practical achievement,” Knust noted. “It is repeatedly refreshed in response to new circumstances, even as remnants of past approaches continue to shape what may happen next.”

It is because of the differing opinions of so many people over such a long period of time that we have different religions, and biblical research uses the prism of Christianity to assess this phenomenon.

Knust continues, “Today we know that there are over 5,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament, none of which are identical in every way.

She herself was a board member of the updated edition of the New Revised Standard Version – the most recent scholarly translation of the Bible, published in 2021. She expanded on her feelings about the dynamics and fluidity of the text, describing constant pushing and pulling. desire and tradition. Perhaps scholars in the present, past, or future may desire to change the words, meanings, or usages of the Bible, but they are contradicted by a tradition dictated by the people.

Biblical research seeks to answer questions about the Bible and, by extension, about the fruitfulness of mankind. The durability of religious texts of all kinds is a testament (pun intended) to the success of human minds accumulated over thousands of years.

A 1611 copy of the authorized Knust version uses different Protestant translations as an example.

During this PeopleMover-style Bible research tour, I hope we picked up a few key takeaways:

First, the work of many biblical scholars is deeply personal. We discovered through this that the work of any researcher in any field has the potential to be deeply personal.

Moreover, we have learned that the interdisciplinary scope of biblical studies works in reverse; students can turn to biblical research from other subjects to enhance their work, or they can even turn to other subjects to enhance their biblical research work.

And finally, we arrive at our destination; next week we’ll talk in more depth about what biblical research entails and meet some key players in those conversations.

Message from Olivia Ares, Class of 2025

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