“Navigating questions within a framework of faith”

03.03.2015 | Guest

In this guest post, Alan Taylor Farnes discusses his study of ancient scribal habits. Farnes is a recipient of a Nibley Fellowship award from the Maxwell Institute. See other recent “Nibley Fellow Reflections” here.—Kristian Heal

Alan Taylor Farnes

I am grateful that my current job is to study the scriptures every single day and learn as much about them as I can. Pursuing any vocation other than an academic study of the New Testament never seemed to be an option for me. Since first reading the New Testament when I was in high school I knew I wanted to know everything there is to know about it. I was encouraged by professors on documentaries who seemed to know everything about the Bible and hoped to someday contribute to our understanding of this important text. So I embarked on this journey. I did so naively at first not knowing of the difficulties included in such an adventure but I’m pressing on and doing my best.

My PhD dissertation revolves around New Testament scribal habits. My hope is to contribute to the discussion on scribal habits, especially concerning whether New Testament scribes generally added text or removed text and during which time periods. Such a project requires hands on analysis of ancient and rare manuscripts which I love.

I am extremely grateful to have been lucky enough to attend world-class institutions and to be taught by world-class professors. Brigham Young University prepared me for graduate training particularly with regards to language skills. I then attended Duke University where I also had access to take classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and now I’m studying at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Along the way I have benefited from learning from the best professors in the world. I have also been pleasantly surprised at the amount of time and care these professors are willing to give to their students. Before attending these schools I assumed that professors would be too busy to meet with a student or they would do so cursorily or as an obligation. I have been amazed to see world-class professors be more than willing to give of themselves in order to help younger scholars.

I have been inspired by many of these same professors. While studying at Duke I took classes from Bart Ehrman at UNC-CH. He has always inspired me to become well rounded and deeply rooted. Mark Goodacre at Duke inspires me to be fair and balanced in my academic arguments. While Mark holds a strong position on a certain issue, he gives equal ground for other positions and thinks through them. Mark taught me to be a little less brash and bold and to slow down in order to consider the other side of an argument. William Johnson at Duke taught me to be exhaustive in my research and to meticulously examine every possibility.

I feel that it is the responsibility of LDS scholars to help bridge the gap between academia and the general LDS congregation. I hope to tackle the difficult questions in the scriptures such as contradictions and gospel harmonies and find a way to navigate these questions within a framework of faith.

I am so grateful to have been a Nibley Fellow for the past couple of years. Such funding is vital to my education. Specifically, I would not have been able to attend the 2014 conference of the Society of Biblical Literature without a Nibley Conference grant and therefore would not have been able to present my paper. Most graduate students like me have accrued debt from student loans and are often self-funded. Many are providing for a family. We are immeasurably grateful for funding that we receive as Nibley scholars.

Alan Taylor Farnes is a first-year PhD student at the University of Birmingham in the UK studying New Testament scribal habits. He earned his MA at Duke University in Religion (New Testament) and his BA at Brigham Young University in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (Greek option) with a Classical Studies (Greek) minor.