Monday, February 26, 2007

Today's Research, N. T. Wright

As I enter my final week of research and reading at Tyndale House I decided to give N. T. Wright's doctoral dissertation a closer read than my earlier rather cursory reading of it.

First here are the bibliographical data concerning the dissertation:
Wright, N. T. (1980). "The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans." Oxford University. Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation.
Many if not most of the views that Wright has expressed in his numerous publications are present within his dissertation in seed form at least. Some of his later published views are fairly developed in the dissertation, especially his view of the relationship between Israel and Christ, which is at the core of his thesis.

It seems evident to me that N. T. Wright has become a noticeably improved writer since his doctoral research days. The argument in his dissertation is cumbersome to track. It is quite scattered in its presentation. It is not well focused. Though his thesis is about Paul's letter to the Romans, Wright regularly follows trails that lead away from that letter into Paul's other letters, such as, Galatians, Philippians, the Corinthian letters, etc. One gets the distinct sense that Wright attempted to do too much. One also receives the sense that he could have used closer guidance to tighten his argument and to tie each portion into the core of his thesis much more closely than he did. Often his exegesis leaves one puzzled. Either his argument was too thinly demonstrated, too densely expressed or else my reading capacity is too dense to follow with approval.

The formatting of the dissertation leaves much to be desired. Given that it was typed on a typewriter and not compiled with a word processor, it is understandable why footnotes were eschewed in favor of endnotes. Flipping to the back of the copy to locate footnotes is annoying, but even more annoying is the compressed and packed format of the notes. Margins spill over any formatting regulations, such as found in Turabian, running almost to the paper's edge.

The dissertation copy that Wright gave to Tyndale House puzzles me. Elements of this copy prompt me to wonder if it is unique or if the wording and format is actually the same as the presentation copy Wright submitted to Merton College, Oxford University. I have never seen this phenomenon in any thesis or dissertation before. It contains several pages that have whole sections covered over with paper upon which different text has been typed. On one page, page 159, the lower half of the page is covered over with paper upon which different text is typed. One can read at least ten lines under the paper that have not been replaced with different text. This unusual feature gives Wright's dissertation the feel that portions of it are a palimpsest. If I ever get back to the Bodlein Library at Oxford University I will try to remember to access Wright's dissertation to compare it with the copy Tyndale House holds.