The Case for “Generalist” Scholars

This is a great article.

Such observations may invite some younger scholars to wonder how one can cultivate generalist sensitivities. Several suggestions are helpful, though most scholars will not follow all of these. (1) One obvious starting point is to develop competencies in as many of the ancient languages as possible. (2) To adapt I. Howard Marshall’s expression, one should endeavor to become the “master or mistress” of the primary sources and immerse oneself in the relevant literature of the ancient world.[3] That could mean placing a higher priority on reading the primary sources, even if it sometimes comes at the expense of reading all the secondary ones. (3) Hengel suggests that New Testament scholars (but the principle is equally applicable to other fields) should attempt to develop an expertise outside of the New Testament.[4] For instance, developing a side interest in certain writings from the Septuagint, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, or Apostolic Fathers would hone one’s scholarly skills. (4) Read book reviews and summaries of research over a breadth of areas. Journals like Review of Biblical Literature and Currents in Biblical Research can expand one’s horizons about the state of scholarship in other fields. Similarly, it could be beneficial to attend seminars, conferences, and papers on a wide variety of biblical studies and related topics. (5) In terms of research a generalist might stagger one’s research agenda over a number of areas as time progresses. (6) An additional strategy is to write works (books and articles) for both specialist and generalist readers. For instance, concerted study of the Aramaic of the book of Daniel might be accompanied by publication of a textbook on Jewish apocalyptic literature. Alternatively, study of the textual history of Romans might well be followed by a more general volume on the history of the reception of Romans in the first four centuries. One can stay in the preferred “zone” and still produce specialist and generalist works.

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