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Monday, 10 September 2012

FF Bruce's skepticism about German doctorate programs

Over the past few years I've had the privilege of giving a few papers at German universities and having interesting discussions with German biblical scholars. I was recently struck after reading some of FF Bruce's thoughts concerning doctorate programs in Germany.
Tim Grass, in his 2011 "definitive biography" of Bruce states that the latter expressed a degree of wariness, even skepticism concerning German research doctorates. Apparently, in 1944, Bruce argued that German critical radicalism was due not to the national character in Germany, but to the doctoral dissertation system:

"As, generation after generation, German students submit dissertations for the doctorate of their faculty, they have the choice of confirming old views or presenting new ones. Naturally, more 'kudos' attaches to the publication of a new theory than to the re-establishment of an old one, and the most brilliant and ambitious students seek to put forth 'some new thing.' In some faculties the results of this tendency are wholly beneficial, but in such subjects as classical literature or biblical theology this is not always so. The number of probable hypotheses in these realms is limited, and these have long ago been exhausted, the chances are that improbable hypotheses will multiply" (p. 106).

Very interesting ...


7 comments:

Gerhard A said...

Sou graag die stuk oor Bruce wou lees, dankie Ferdie. Het die gevoel gekry tydens my studies dat so baie al gese is, wat kan mens werklik nog nuut se? Meestal maar her-interpretasie gegewe nuwe vraagstukke voortgebring deur nuwe vestaanshorisonne. Gelukkig het Riempies vir my beklemtoon "jy staan maar op die skouers van reuse ..."

Frederik Mulder said...

Goeie opmerkings Gerhard! Ons moet weer kuier....

Theo Groeneveld said...

Agreed! The problem with so much new scholarship is that it attempts to be revisionist. Why is it that we run after "new" ideas when there are rock-solid truths that have stood the test of nearly 2000 years? (And then we discover that the so-called "new truths" are actually distortions that have been addressed before!

Frederik Mulder said...

The remarks R.V.G Tasker, Professor of New Testament exegesis at King's College, London, made about FF Bruce's famous commentaries on Acts means something here: "When we remember how much the Book of Acts has suffered at the hands of subversive radical scholars, it is certainly most refreshing to find this historicity of the book vindicated on grounds of scholarship as well as of faith".

Matt O'Reilly said...

What about Bruce's comment is unique to the German PhD? We all feel the pressure to make to make an original contribution. I don't take "original" or "new" to mean necessarily revisionist. It might be an fresh angle or approach that complements earlier work.

Matt O'Reilly said...
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Frederik Mulder said...

Matt, sure. I think Bruce would agree with you. Look at the new insights produced by the likes of Donald Hagner, Morna Hooker, Robert Gundry to name but a few of Bruce's PhD students. I think one has to understand Bruce's mention of "improbable hypotheses" that multiply in the German PhD system (in the early 20th century)in its historical context.