Ask Ryan Higgins a question in English, and he can respond in an obscure ancient Semitic language. His talent for languages has led him to The Graduate School of The Jewish Theological Seminary, where he can now speak Akkadian and Aramaic, among others, with like-minded scholars and students.
Before arriving at 3080 Broadway, Ryan attended Nyack College, where he majored in Bible, graduating in 2006. While studying at Nyack, he also took Hebrew classes at the Alliance Theological Seminary, where he received an MA in Old Testament Studies. Ryan knew he wanted a deeper level of understanding than he could achieve through earning just one master's degree.
The Graduate School came highly recommended by some of Ryan's Alliance classmates who had attended, so he decided to get a sense of the program and the student body. After taking several courses in Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages, including Study in Chronicles with Dr. David Marcus and Historical Hebrew Grammar with Dr. Stephen Geller, Ryan was very impressed and excited to enroll as a full-time student.
"The Graduate School was the only choice for me. It is a very diverse program—in the same Bible class, you will have Christians, Jews, rabbinical students, and students from New York University and Union Theological Seminary. This allows me to learn not only from the faculty but also from the wide range of people in class," Ryan says. "Taking courses here also helps me to structure my studies within the context of the Bible as well as the framework of Jewish tradition."
The studies are obviously paying off—in the spring, Ryan was awarded the Edith and Stuart Marks Prize in Semitics, a JTS award given for excellence in that field. Befitting a polyglot, Ryan won a three-volume set of Wolfram Von Soden's Akkadisches Handworterbuch (A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian), written in German. While the books are too heavy to bring on the bus from Nyack, Ryan does get a chance to practice his Hebrew at the Art Café, an Israeli-owned coffee shop where he works part-time.
Ryan is continuing to achieve fluency in long-dormant languages and thinking about getting at least one PhD—perhaps at JTS—which is a plan for success in any language.
Ryan Higgins discusses being Christian at JTS: