Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shift: Back to Square One

Isn’t it wonderful when, after doing some preliminary research and writing an introductory paper on a potential thesis topic, you discover you missed an important source that reveals massive additional bibliography on the subject and strongly suggests there’s nothing more to be said?

I am interested in the topic of creation in the Hebrew Bible and had begun exploring it especially through the aspect of Deutero-Isaiah’s use of the motif. I’ve presented a paper on the topic at a regional SBL and discussed the topic with potential dissertation committee members. Only one advisor cautioned me that there might be little new ground to explore on this motif, or at least, it would be a huge challenge to find because of the massive bibliography on the book of Isaiah and creation separately. I have finally realized how self-guided PhD research really is and how much it is on me alone to track down what’s been done and find my own avenue for original research.

Here is the opening to the chapter by Richard J. Clifford I read last night but should’ve read months ago:
Given the many verbs of creating in Second Isaiah . . . , it is remarkable that explicit scholarly discussion on the topic began only in the 1930s. Recent years have made up for previous neglect; there now exist over a dozen articles, three books, and numerous treatments within commentaries and monographs on creation in Second Isaiah. The first part reviews critically some of the scholarly contributions, for several questionable assumptions have crept into the consensus, viz., that the “problematic” is the relation between originally distinct concepts of redemption and creation; that the concept of creation is subordinated to redemption; and that a distinction between creation of the whole and of the individual is operative in Second Isaian hymns and individual laments.[1]
Now it is somewhat gratifying to discover one’s independently reached thoughts on a subject have been anticipated by a scholar of Clifford’s caliber, but that is little consolation when one is attempting to craft a thesis proposal.

So, I’m shifting gears to a different area of research, back to square one with my proposal. Well, not totally square one, I’m shifting to one of my other interests, probably Biblical Hebrew and Translation Studies.

[1] Richard J. Clifford, “Creation in Isaiah 40-55”, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (CBQ Monograph Series 26), 163-176.


  1. Hi Doug - is there anything new under the sun, as Dr Seuss would say. The unity of creation and redemption sounds like a great topic to me - but I am not looking for original research or a doctorate- my background is 45 years of information technology and application development - so lots to do with words and definitions for computers. What is 'new' in our field (my role is director of research - so finding a new niche is key) is equally hard to define. But what you do will be new because it is from you.

    Has anyone ever written on the one day of creation (Gen 2:4)? Please excuse the non-scholarly suggestion - George's Herbert's poem Easter - I got me flowers. The fourth verse is about that day

    Can there be any day but this,
    Though many suns to shine endeavour?
    We count three hundred, but we miss:
    There is but one, and that one ever.

    I think the perception of Herbert by the authors of Genesis and deutero-Isaiah might make an interesting thesis - proleptic time-travel. And throw in the 24 hours of John too. Maybe the field is more literature than Biblical Studies.

    I hope you find a good topic.

  2. I can't really comment on the thesis topic as I'm only just starting to get into Isaiah, though there is a lot written on creation is II Is, so you'd need a new "slant" on the topic...

    On PhD work being "self-guided": Likme so many other things it's "both and". In writing a PhD you are staking a claim to be a world class expert in a small field, your supervisor (advisor in the USA?) is probably not an expert in that field, but should be in the field of research in the discipline. So if your topic is creation in second Isaiah then they will probably not be experts and so thoroughly up with the literature on that, but they should be able to help orient you through the process and avoid some of the pitfalls... A bit like a counsellor not having to have had depression, but being a good counsellor ;)

  3. Tim, I know it's more of a "both and" experience. I'm frustrated with the fact that one practically has to become an expert on a topic just to see if it has any new slants available for a thesis.

  4. Hmm, I'm not sure I'd go that far, usually an afternoon in a good database and library would provide a strong indication. It's usually not necessary to actually read much except the titles, though a recent Noddy Guide can be really helpful, and may even suggest a topic.

    But having said that, there is usually quite a peroiod near the start when a candidate is looking around or exploring a bigger topic looking for their particular approach or slant...

  5. Doug, here's some consolation on the frustrating--and fruitful--endless task of digging: