Joseph S. Khalil, a Ph.D. student in the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology, has won the 2011-12 Word & World essay prize for doctoral candidates. The prize is sponsored by Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, a quarterly journal published by Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minn. Khalil’s essay, “Qoheleth and the Overconfident Preacher,” will be published in the journal’s summer 2012 issue.
In the essay, Khalil focuses on Ecclesiastes 8:1-3, a passage he argues critiques human ability to understand God’s ways. In his view, the author of Ecclesiastes has in mind “overconfident preachers” who fail to recognize human limitation to understand. According to Khalil, the passage is meant to caution everyone, but especially preachers, about attributing contemporary events to either divine will or punishment, because God’s will is inscrutable.
“When I was going through the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes, I came across the passage, and it seemed confusing; it just did not make sense,” Khalil says. “Then it occurred to me that the author was just being very clever; he was parodying proud and overconfident preachers in such a way that when they hear him, they would miss the jab altogether and take the words as compliments.”
Originally from Cairo, Egypt, Khalil holds a B.A. in history from Rutgers University, an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and an M.A. in Early Christian Studies from Notre Dame, and is an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In the fall of 2010, he entered Notre Dame’s Ph.D. program in theology where he studies Old Testament history and interpretation.
“I’ve loved the Old Testament for as long as I can remember,” he says. “When I was young, I was particularly attracted to the stories, which I thought were exciting and dramatic. I also liked how the authors wrote candidly about personal and communal difficulties, as well as struggles in their faith in God.”
He says he feels called “to pursue scholarship that serves the church,” and chose to do so at Notre Dame’s Department of Theology because of its strong faculty. “Not only is the faculty highly knowledgeable and world renowned,” Khalil says, “they want students to benefit from a work environment that fosters professional growth and creativity.”