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I'm not sure whether to pursue this path professionally.


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I've discovered that I really have a passion for biblical Hebrew. I'm a Protestant exploring Coptic Orthodox Christianity, and I'm increasingly fascinated by the early New Testament writings in Greek and Coptic. I was raised with KJV tapes of the Psalms and would fall asleep to them every night when I was young. The last five years, I've been wrestling with Catholicism, in both its more liberal and conservative forms, and I've finally realized that the Oriental Orthodox Church is where I would like to be. The Hebrew Bible was my bread and butter growing up and the stories are knit into my "nefesh". I've been to Israel twice and Egypt once. I love both places. It it's always been my desire to read the Hebrew texts in their original. I don't need to be a professor, although I'd like to teach, even in an informal, church setting. It's the path I would be going with this knowledge which would be more important than the "end goal" of being a professor. I somehow like the idea of teaching, catechesis, talking with others on a lay level, and exploring the Holy Land with others in a tour setting. I don't have a desire to be a community spiritual leader (priest) or a professor necessarily, though I would choose the latter If I had to. That answer likely means I am not fit for either, but something related, like a librarian or university administration position. 

The passion I have is centered around biblical Hebrew and making God's word known. I understand that the non-sectarian programs such as UW Madison, Princeton, Yale, etc are for anyone with the interest in biblical languages whether they are sectarian or not. I don't mind studying with non-believing people, but I am faith based and based on my interests, I'm not sure how useful a HDS type degree would be for me. I am looking for academic rigor in biblical studies, particularly OT and Hebrew, which may or may not apply directly to an academic career. 

Even if academia was not my bread and butter job, I would still love to be immersed in the world of biblical Hebrew, and even the related languages of the New Testament, such as Coptic, and somehow use this knowledge to help people whether it is paid or not. I attend a Coptic Orthodox Church near Washington DC and I have reached out to Catholic University of America's Theology Department. We are trying to flesh out ways to catch up to the level of language proficiency I would need to start the program. I don't know if it makes sense to go through the formal route of study if it's not going to make the bread and butter. However, I would consider being a researcher, librarian, museum worker, or do something related. Since I've been to the Holy Land and Egypt and have never felt more alive than I have doing that (except for when I am Divine Liturgy), I'd love to see if I can work abroad in Israel. I live near Museum of the Bible in Washington DC and I know there's tons of places to study in the Northeast Corridor. To be clear, this is not an academic interest that is separate from knowing God better and what he has said through the Bible, which can only be understood through the languages in which the Bible was written. I also know that my primary job is to rooted in serving people and being in the real world.

I know your "day job" accounts for a large portion of your life so I'd like to do something at least RELATED to academia and research so that I could be engaged with my mind. I've done maintenance, custodial, "hands on" sort of jobs and I hate it. My mind just goes to waste, rotting in my head. I was advised by a career coach recently about HVAC and auto mechanic jobs (I was working seasonally at the Smithsonian and now it's time to find something else) and my heart just sank in my chest. Although jobs are plentiful here, I'd really like to do something that stimulates my mind. Federal jobs are a great option. But with so many options, it's good to narrow my interest perhaps. It would be nice to have a job that is social, but not all of the time, and rewarding to the spirit and the intellect. I have no desire to lead others in worship or counsel them about their problems or the sacraments, so a priest job or M.Div is not something I feel led to do. If it would help lead others in a faith based environment, like catechesis or education for adults in a church setting, or museum work, I'd consider it, but not for ministry. 

I could just shelve the whole thing and become a plumber, but I think I would be very unhappy and have regrets. I feel pretty strongly I need this requisite knowledge to do any number of careers that are at least somewhat related to my primary interests of biblical Hebrew, the torah, Coptic Christianity, and travel to Israel and Egypt. I'm a bit concerned about possibly being less interested in these subjects if I "monetize" them or pursue a field which incorporates them as part of a career, but I'm much more concerned about being a plumber or blue collar worker and having my brain and my heart melt inside because I'm not doing anything interesting to me. I've been down that road and it's not nice. 

Any guidance based on life experience would be much appreciated. 

 

Edited by natzeret0708
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I'm not thinking of professor-ship as much as I am a support role and an informal teaching role for a church community. I have a bachelor degree in Geography with 3.5 GPA. I have Spanish language experience (a year in college) and went pretty far with it (also traveled in Latin America), but it was 10 years ago. I have a natural aptitude for this language but my real interest is in Hebrew. I don't have any experience related to formally studying Hebrew except for self study. I watch Israeli movies and I'm able to pick up more than I imagined I would. However I don't know how to prove knowledge to a department or further my study without academic preparation, the prerequisite of which is formal academic preparation. So I'm not quite sure what to do. Having worked low wage jobs requiring a lot of effort physically and socially, I'd like to get to a place where I'm earning a livable wage while utilizing, in some capacity, my main strengths, which are intellection, learning, and teaching. I've learned that doing work without using my mind is a dark road. 

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7 hours ago, natzeret0708 said:

I'm not thinking of professor-ship as much as I am a support role and an informal teaching role for a church community. 

I wonder if it might be helpful for your to pursue some level of seminary training to see how far your interests go (as opposed to a divinity or theology school, though these are good options as well, a seminary training might be more attentive to the spiritual formation-dimension of your congregation that your theological education can help with). There, you can get basic exposure under the guidance of professors who can help you think of career paths aligned with your interests. For some evangelical churches I've been to, they give paid-internships to folks to teach Sunday School (at both the youth, college, and adult-levels) and play an assistant-ship role to the pastor. 

As soon as you study at a seminary (or divinity/theology school), you will encounter opportunities to travel to places like the Holy Land with some professors. In addition, having ties to institutions like seminaries means that you will also have access to alumni resources for further education. I know some folks who end up working within the seminary in some administrative capacity, having access to the resources to learn on their own at their own pace but with proximity to professors and the lack of pressure from being a graduate student/professor in training. In short, there are a lot of benefits to becoming affiliated with an institution (assuming you can also afford it) that you would otherwise not have if you pursue it on your own. And it sounds like that might be the best place for you to start. 

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Your only real option is a masters, possibly an MDiv or MTS (or MAR). They simply do not teach classical Hebrew outside of these sort of programs (it should go without saying that a PhD program is out of the question given your language exp.) and you don't have the required coursework for basically all masters in related disciplines (e.g. Classics, Ancient Near Eastern studies, etc.). You said you don't want to 'lead' others and thus the MDiv is not of interest; perhaps then look at an MTS. But, given your stated goal, I'm not sure you even need this. Classical Hebrew is not a difficult language to teach oneself if you have little interest in the minutiae of philology. The Hebrew Bible is a tiny slice of the linguistic pie; and the modern resources (print and electronic) for the language allow one to navigate its text with relative ease. I'll also note that while modern Hebrew is in many cases very similar to classical, it is not at all the same (if it helps, I have studied both extensively). 

Edited by sacklunch
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If your goal is mainly to explore Hebrew and to see where that takes you, and if you want to do that in a religious context, you have a lot of options in DC. Look at Virginia Seminary, Wesley Seminary, Dominican House of Studies, or maybe CUA. Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond is another option. Each should be teaching at least introductory Hebrew and some exegesis classes, which you might want to audit if not enroll in a full degree program.

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I appreciate the advice. I agree there are many options out here now that I see them. Many of the best Orthodox Christian seminaries are also in the Northeast Corridor but that's a long way off since that's the Church I aspire to join but I am not a member of. I'm going to look into auditing classes for now while I earn money and hopefully build up enough language skills to do well in one of these programs. I agree that the academic path seems to be out of reach for me given the circumstances of no language training and dated degree. The seminary would serve me best, if anything at all. I like the idea of seminary if nothing else for the connections I would make and the access to people and resources that I would have moving forward in both a faith formation and a career resource, as a student and later as an alumnus. It seems you have to be a part of an institution, especially here in DC, to really get traction. Lone rangers come here and get involved or they get swept out by the current of DC ambition and COL. Thanks again, guys.

 

Edited by natzeret0708
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Just don't spend a lot of time auditing. While such courses are fine for personal enrichment, they don't carry any weight should you decide to apply to graduate school. After all, you don't credit for the courses, you're not paying anywhere near the same fee as other students, there's no expectation that you do any of the work outside of the reading, and generally when it comes to the pecking order of the prof's attention, you're dead last on the totem pole. Some profs are amazing, they want you to be active in conversation and be a full participant. Hell, some may even be willing to let you write a paper and they'll offer feedback! Yet, others will tell you to sit in the back and try not to draw attention to yourself - you're just a distraction to them. Also, most schools have limits when it comes to auditing - certain subjects are off limits (language and music are usual contenders for this restriction), limits to the # of credits, etc. Learning classical Hebrew, on your own, is not the right way to go, especially if you're only other real experience is one year of Spanish in college. You want an exceptionally strong foundation and that comes from having a teacher who spends the time with you to make that happen. If you came in and had three years of Greek and Hebrew, intermediate knowledge of Latin, and you wanted to pick up a novice level of Ugaritic - grab a primer and go at it.

Getting into an academic master's degree at a seminary or divinity school is not exceptionally competitive. We're talking 25-30% at competitive schools and by the time you get to "meh, ok" schools, north of 60%.

With a 3.5 GPA, year of Spanish, and international travel - you're ahead of a lot of the people that will be your cohort. Even in academic programs at a div school/seminary, they're interested in who you are as a person and what experiences you're bringing to the table. The academic path is not "off limits" but the PhD route is, for now.

Yes, independent scholars have an extremely rough go at it. We're a text and pedigree heavy field. If you're wanting to make a name for yourself in the RS field, people are going to want to know where you studied and that you have a PhD/DPhil after your name.

I don't know what to make of your references to DC, "Lone rangers come here...," etc. Are you wanting to stick around the DC area or are you just going full stream of consciousness?

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