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Guidelines for Qualifying Exams in New Testament

by Daniel Patte

  1. MINOR: Choice of Minor is most important; (a) for teaching, (b) but, in the spirit of the GDR, should be a secondary field contributing to your research (which then become multi-disciplinary). How to fulfill requirements: In consultation with your "Minor Adviser," can be (a) preparation of a course (to be completed before taking the QE's): (b) A significant research project (ideally, related to/supporting your dissertation research), including a history of research on this topic (to be completed before taking the QEs); (c) an 4-6 hour examination during the QEs (in which case, you need to prepare a proposal, as below).
  2. SPECIAL AREA: Purpose: Doing the basic research for your dissertation, so that after exams you might be ready to proceed to writing it. The expected outcome is a "dissertation proposal" which should be ready in first draft form at the time of the written QE's. EXAM Proposal should include:
    • (A) A delimitation of the "area " in which you expect to develop your dissertation? At the stage of QE proposal, I expect the definition of a "topic" specifying the NT text(s), the theme(s), your interests/concerns about those, and why the field of NT Studies needs a new scholarly contribution on this topic. A tentative "thesis" might already be formulated, but at this stage I do not expect a full-fledged thesis. It would be appropriate to have alternate formulations of a thesis. (The preparation of exams is precisely the time to test out alternative theses, and to formulate your thesis)
    • (B) History of the Interpretations of this text arid this theme.
      It is essential to consider a far ranging history of interpretations of your text and theme which in my view should include both the history of scholarly interpretations and history of the receptions in various cultural settings (through the centuries and today). If you limit your study to the interpretations which are like yours (same methodological approach, same conceptualization of the theme, same interests and concerns), you cannot hope to have a truly critical perspective (i.e., a perception of the distinctive interpretive choices involved in your proposed interpretation), indeed, you cannot hope to explain/justify the need for a new study on this topic, to formulate your thesis and to define your methodology. Yet encyclopedic knowledge of the history of interpretations is not expected. The scope of your study of this history of interpretations should be limited by selecting interpretations which represent a plurality of distinct types of interpretations.
    • (C) Methodology to be used for this research.
      History of this method(ology); its relationship with other methodologies; the theoretical basis for it. Defining the kind of evidence which will appropriately warrant your conclusions. The procedures to ascertain this evidence. etc. At stake here: When will you knew you have finished? What are appropriate warrants for the argument demonstrating your thesis?
  3. THEOLOGY AND HERMENEUTICS. Purpose: Demonstrating competence in NT scholarship beyond the special area. As you delimit the scope of your T&H QE keep in mind its essential role in job hunting. If your resume and our letters of recommendation can point to a broad range of competence in NT studies, the scope of your teaching competence increase. . . Proposal: This QE can be defined in very different ways. The idea is to probe the history of interpretations (as defined above) of NT texts and themes other than those of the special area. (If the dissertation is focused e.g., on a synoptic Gospel, then minimally the T&H QE should deal both with the Johannine and the Pauline corpora.), In order to make this exam manageable, you are expected to focus your review of the history of interpretations on a theme (often theological) or on a hermeneutical issue particularly significant (for you) of these corpora. Note: This examination is often the place to emphasize the relation of the NT texts with its environment (Jewish, Hellenistic, early church history and patristics).
  4. EXEGESIS: Purpose: Demonstrating your readiness to write your dissertation, by using a similar approach for the study of a different text (chosen by the faculty, because it raises similar issue that the text you plan to focus upon) with the use of the library for a full week. Preparation: No special preparation. No proposal.
    • Exam Proposals--including in each case the formulations of a series of issues and/or set of questions and corresponding bibliographies must be accepted by the student's committee one semester prior to taking the QEs (in November for QE's in April, or in April for QE's in November). Individual faculty members (or the committee as a whole) might make suggestions for improvements, raise questions and/or require adjustments of these proposals before accepting them (so: do not wait until the last minute).
    • Revised exam proposals (showing refinements in the formulations of the questions/issues as well as adjustment/annotation of the bibliographies resulting from the preparation) are usually given to the faculty one month before QE's.
  5. ORALS (normally 2-3 weeks after written QE's): Purpose: Discussion of any issues arising from the written exams; but primarily, discussion/defense of a first drain of the Dissertation Proposal. Proposal: Dissertation proposal, ideally given to the committee at the time of written exams, or soon thereafter (see 2. above).

NOTE: This description of requirements supplements The Bulletin of Vanderbilt University Graduate School and "The Guidelines of the Graduate Department of Religion." Students are expected to meet all of the common requirements of the graduate program as described in those publications.