Defending My MA Thesis
Recently I defended my thesis, Reading Genesis 1-35 in Persian Yehud. Generally it was well received. In fact, I think it was evaluated better than I could have hoped for as my initial worries were that it would be judged quite harshly.
At the end of the process I was given an A- for my efforts. (Though I believe the work may have been graded more favorably by different scholars).
However, this is probably the best I could have hoped for, as when I first began down the methodological path I chose in deconstructing Genesis I expressed to my wife and several friends that I didn’t think the particular scholars I was writing for were going to like my work much, or the particular method I chose.
In a nutshell: it was basically expressed in the defense that there were serious concerns with the methods I applied in deconstructing Genesis and the particular scholars with whom I associated, so they were uncomfortable giving me an A; however, the work was so well written and argued that they couldn’t give me a B. Therefore, they settled in the middle and gave me an A-.
First the good: I generally do not consider myself a very good writer. I can get my ideas out on a page, but I have spent many years reading fantastic writers, and I came at the game of academic writing as a mature student after an athletic career, so I have my self-doubts. However, it was expressed to me by various scholars whom I respect that they were extremely impressed by the technical writing skill in the thesis. This praise surprised me, but also made me feel quite good! I also received high grades for originality and argumentation.
In the oral thesis defense you give a 20 to 25 minute presentation of your work, then you are questioned by your first and second reader, and then by the rest of the faculty. The process takes around two hours.
There were two main issues for my examiners: what do I mean by ‘history’ and ‘myth’, i.e., what is my understanding of the terms and how do I differentiate them; and how do I justify referring to all of Genesis as a myth written/redacted in the fifth century as a collective representation of the past that favours the social elite in Yehud.
There was also significant discussion as to diachronic/synchronic understandings in methodology. This concerned the development of texts, and when a prior text can be considered a “new text” in a certain socio-historical setting because of ideological shaping, even though it may have gone through a process of other ideological shaping(s) and development in earlier periods.
All in all, I think I answered the questions and concerns well enough that they didn’t fail me!
Anyways, it was an interesting and unique experience defending my thesis in a reasonable manner to scholars who significantly disagreed with me, but still evaluated the written work and oral defense of my method as viable and rigorous enough to merit a high grade.