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Hi folks! In Spring 2020, I'll finish my MDiv at Yale. I'm in the ordination process for a mainline denomination and also hoping to pursue a PhD in New Testament. Something I'm confused about, because I have been advised variously: am I ready to apply to competitive NT programs that would start fall 2020? Or do I need to do an extra year with the STM at YDS before applying to PhD?

My assets:

  • Nearly perfect grades at YDS
  • GRE scores: 99th percentile Verbal, 85th percentile Analytical
  • Strong recommendation letters
  • Strong NT exegesis writing sample
  • Presenting at AAR 2019 this November
  • Research assistant experience this year
  • Maybe related: working on publishing a paper with the help of a respected faculty member, though this will likely not be published before applications are due.

Potential downfalls:

  • I have two years of Koine and will do a Greek exegesis course next year, so hopefully that will be enough. But I don't have any Hebrew yet and won't be able to do that this coming year (I could do that Summer 2020, though). I also haven't studied Classical Greek at all.
  • I don't have any modern languages yet, other than Spanish, which is not particularly relevant to my field of study.
  • The NT department has been in flux since I got to YDS, so I don't know faculty as well as I would after the STM.
  • My undergraduate grades are uneven due to personal issues I was having then (10 years ago). I'm hoping my grades at YDS show the high caliber of work I'm capable of now.

Language preparation is primary in NT, and I've gotten mixed messages about how much is "enough." I'm interested especially in studying the historical critical method and postmodern methods like feminist and postcolonial critique. Would love to stay at Yale if possible, and I'm trying to determine which other programs would be best for me. Hoping to become a professor and be an ordained minister on the side. Many of you have such great experience and wisdom in this area. Any thoughts for how to approach these questions?

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There will be other replies following mine that will be able to provide greater expertise pertaining directly to questions surrounding NT studies, but figured I would chime in as one YDS alum (MARc Theology 11') to another.

So when I was at YDS, grades generally seemed curved from an HP+ to an H- (B+ to A-), so near straight H's is no small feat (did you graduate with honors?). That and your GREs both clearly reflect that you are capable of doctoral work. Therefore I would not worry about your old undergraduate records; they will be a second or third order considerations at most.

But now to the central point, I admire and pity you Bible types for the amount of languages you end up with by the time you are fully qualified. While a strong command of Greek (which H grades and a strong exegesis paper should convey) is most important you've rightly guessed more-is-better for elite schools. With your YDS pedigree and strong Greek, I do not doubt you would get in somewhere, but you don't seem to want somewhere, you want someplace elite, or at least competitive as you described.

As such, I see three options for you:

1. Cast a really wide net and apply to as many NT programs as you can do justice to. I think you will get in somewhere. Do not be surprised if some places ding you for a Ph.D but offer you a spot in a Th.M or STM class.

2. Get your Th.M/STM first and then apply. You could realistically add two languages and a thesis to your resume doing this. However, if you go this route, I recommend doing your Th.M/STM at a different institution. As you said, NT is in flux right now at YDS. You may be better served completing your follow-on degree at an institution you want your Ph.D from. Ideally get the same person you would want for your Ph.D advisor to be your Th.M/STM advisor and let them mold you into what they want for the easiest possible admissions cycle.

3. Mix 1 & 2. Apply to Yale's Ph.D in the GSAS since you seem well connected at YDS already, maybe one or two other dream schools, and then 3 or 4 of the best Th.M/STM programs.

I tend to be averse to breaking the bank personally, so I prefer 1 & 3. But then again, this is not my field or my dream. Only you know what you need and who you need to work with to realize your research goals. Await further instruction from actual Bible specialists on how to maximize your experience if you go with 2. Best of luck!

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A couple things. First, don't worry about the publication for now. Most pre-Ph.D. program publications are looked upon with skepticism, and it can hurt you down the road if it does not represent the best of what you can do. 

Second, your lack of Hebrew will hurt you, there's really no way around it. While I am not familiar with the minimum/suggested requirements for every program, most expect some level of proficiency in both languages (e.g., Baylor prefers 12 hours of your primary ancient language and 6 hours of the other when you apply). Even if there is not set requirement, you will typically have to test at a high level in both ancient languages in any program, adding another thing for you to learn in addition to other program requirements. 

Third, I agree with @ChristoWitch87 that you need to cast your applications wide and far. There is no guarantee for anyone to get in. Program size is shrinking (though not as fast as the job market). Apply to some STM or Th.M programs as well. 

Fourth, take this summer and learn German (or Hebrew) if you can. Use April Wilson's German Quickly or another such resource, and go for it. 

Fifth, you GRE analytical score will not help you. You may want to take it again and get over the 90th percentile. 

None of this is to be nitpicky, but schools get dozens of applications for a handful (or less) of slots. Building strong relationships with POI, letters of recommendation, and a great writing sample can get you far. But every application committee will need to find reasons to say yes or no. Lack of Hebrew and a less than 90% GRE percentile for some schools may give them a reason to say no.  

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I mostly agree with what is said above. I would question how much Hebrew matters more than other languages. It really depends on the school/department, but my opinion is you are no worse off than not having studied Latin or even Coptic or Syriac, which, in my opinion, are more useful than (classical) Hebrew for NT. Again, where you study and what you hope to study is crucial in answering this question. I can't speak to the preparation expected for your interests, but my hunch is that many of the people whom you have asked these questions cannot really either. Keep in mind that whatever recommendations you may hear, they are very likely heavily influenced by the particular subfield of said people. The best avenue here, I think, is to find graduate students doing the kind of research you want to pursue and simply ask them what their background is and then adjust your academic plan of attack accordingly. 

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Lack of Hebrew may not matter in a state school "Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean" type program, but any school that still uses area titles like "New Testament" will expect you to have Hebrew. Some even specifically list Hebrew as a prerequisite and may pro forma reject your application when they realize you have not learned it. Frankly, it is silly as many NT people let their Hebrew get very rusty, but it is what it is. 

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I'm not in your field, but I have a couple friends in top tier NT programs and they needed their Greek and Hebrew from day one of the program (like needing to read texts in Hebrew for a seminar). They also had Latin and some German and/or French.

You're probably not excited about waiting a little longer to do your doctorate, but perhaps another no-debt option would be to work in the field of education for a few years, and add a language or two with evening and summer classes. It could improve your chances of getting into your dream program. 

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From the general theme of the comments, it sounds like the OP needs language prep more than a full Th.M/STM. Do the Bible types here believe he would be well served by simply taking a language boot camp over the Summer? I would be shocked if Yale didn't provide Hebrew and at least one pertinent modern language (German) over the Summer.

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18 minutes ago, ChristoWitch87 said:

From the general theme of the comments, it sounds like the OP needs language prep more than a full Th.M/STM. Do the Bible types here believe he would be well served by simply taking a language boot camp over the Summer? I would be shocked if Yale didn't provide Hebrew and at least one pertinent modern language (German) over the Summer.

They may not, honestly, at least in the Divinity School (I very much doubt 'German for reading' is offered there over the summer, but probably is in Yale's Graduate School). 

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YDS does offer summer language but while I was there it was only six credits in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. For OP's sake, that's sufficient. I think so anyway but I don't do biblical studies so 🤷‍♂️

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Posted (edited)

I was accepted into a number of NT Phd programs this last cycle. During the interview stage, at least half the schools asked me about my language background. Greek is obviously necessary: I had around 4 years total including Koine, Classical, Byzantine, Patristic, etc. The committees also asked about Hebrew: I had two years; that seemed to be enough. Many programs will eventually require a reading knowledge of German and French, so it's good to come in with at least one of those. I got the impression that Latin was the least important, but of course that might vary according to your interest. I had taken only one year. Hope this helps.

Edited by CartesianDemon

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Hi there,

 

If you want to do a PhD in New Testament, I think you should go for it this coming cycle. You come from a well-regarded divinity school, you have a good GRE verbal (analytical doesn’t tend to matter much even at top schools), and you seem to know what you’re doing within the discipline if faculty want to work with you. If things don’t work out,  you can always do a ThM or something similar and try again the following year. Here are some things to keep in mind:

 

At this point I can’t give very specific advice on which programs you should consider, mostly because your stated interests appear a bit vague. With some more specificity, we might be able to help you draft a list of schools or put you in contact with people doing similar work at other programs.

 

I’m not an advocate for the wide-net approach; I think there are between seven and ten NT programs worth a person’s time given the state of the market and the field, and those can be split (with some overlap, of course) between confessional-friendly programs, like Duke and Yale, and others which approach the field from an RS perspective (Chicago, Texas, Princeton, etc). If you’re looking for a place to do NT exegesis, constructive readings for Christian audiences, etc, then your list narrows somewhat. The same is true if you’d rather avoid theologically-minded faculty and colleagues. “Fit” is a slippery term, but faculty will be looking for that in addition to good stats and recommendations.

 

I think folks are mostly right about the need for more language prep. If you have one more year at the divinity school, why not take another couple of Greek classes? Swap out the exegesis course for one in Classics. It’ll push you, but you’ll be better prepared for doctoral programs. If you can do summer Hebrew this summer, that’d be good, as well (these classes are often happy for last-minute additions). Lots of PhD students tackle modern languages during their PhD coursework ( I had German but crammed for French on my own a couple of years ago), so I’m not sure you need that to happen right away.

 

I say apply to the schools where your interests fit with those of the faculty. If you end up doing another one-year program, that’s okay too, as long as you can stomach the costs (ThM’s are rarely funded).

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Posted (edited)

For what it’s worth, by the way, the language prep isn’t just hoop-jumping. It’s pretty reasonable to expect a beginning NT scholar with general historical-critical interests to be able either a) to read contemporary Greek and Latin literature with some ease or b) to read contemporary Jewish literature (in unpointed Hebrew and Aramaic) with (let’s be honest) not quite as much ease or c) both...depending on your exact interests. The recent YDS MAR grads I know who have gotten into good PhD programs had 3ish years of both Greek and Hebrew and at least a year of either Aramaic or Latin. 

That’s not to say you won’t be admitted somewhere but it’s best to invest in a lot of Greek and Hebrew up front. Take summer Hebrew this year, regular Hebrew next year, and a couple Greek seminars in Classics downtown and it will go a long way I think.

 

(edited to add: I’m a recent YDS MDiv grad who’s taken both these languages while at Yale; feel free to message me directly)

Edited by runningit

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