Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How I Chose a Topic for My Book

I mentioned last week that my book is now officially published. Amazon still has it available for pre-order only, but you can go ahead and order it from Brill. I'm sure you'll want your own copy, and at only $171, what a steal! At least I know that someone is looking forward to reading it.

So, where did the idea for the book come from? That's the subject of this and the following posts. I plan on giving a general introduction here, and then doing individual posts on the three words in the subtitle of the book (canon, language, text), exploring how my thoughts on these three topics developed in the course of my research, and what contribution I think my book makes in these areas. And then I might have a final post with some concluding reflections on the publication process.

The first thing to know is that the book was originally my dissertation completed in 2010 at Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati) under Adam Kamesar and Richard Sarason. So, the original thought was geared toward completing a PhD and not really for publication. Here's how my experience went.

At HUC, the doctoral program requires three years of course work, then comprehensive exams, then dissertation proposal, then dissertation. Students usually take a year to study for the exams, so there's usually four years in which the student must be in residence. Also, that's how long the graduate stipend lasts. At the end of four years in Cincinnati (in 2006), I had completed my comps and had a job offer from Heritage Christian University, so I brought my wife and 2-year-old daughter to Florence, Alabama, so I could begin teaching. At that point, I really had no clue what to write a dissertation on, though I knew it would be something in the "Kamesar" area--Greco-Latin biblical interpretation.

I decided during the Fall of 2006 (while I was beginning my teaching duties) that I would pick a Greek text and start reading and see if something occurred to me. And it worked! The first text I chose was the correspondence between Julius Africanus and Origen (text of Africanus' letter and of Origen's reply). Why did I choose this text? Because I owned a copy--I had bought the Source chrétienne edition (by Nicholas de Lange) in 2003 when I took a class on Origen under Dr. Kamesar. As soon as I got to the tenth paragraph (according to de Lange's divisions; the sixth paragraph in the link above) of Origen's letter, something struck me as interesting. Origen seemed to be agreeing with Africanus that composition in the Hebrew language was a valid criterion by which to judge the canonicity of an OT document. I had not expected Origen to say that. Moreover, I saw that de Lange was interpreting Origen's comments differently from the way I read them, and I was pretty sure I was right. That was the spark.

I outlined some thoughts for Dr. Kamesar in an email, and we talked on the phone about them. I went through several drafts of a dissertation proposal, which was finally accepted in April 2008. By that time I had already written probably 70 pages of the text. I was more-or-less finished with the whole thing by early Fall 2009, but final tweaks took me into Spring 2010, when I graduated.

In the next post, I'll talk about the issue of the OT canon in the early church, the approach my book takes to the issue, and what contribution it makes to the discussion.

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