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Women and Biblical Scholarship and History

June 8, 2012


Today, as an aspect of the “Mutuality” or “Egalitarianism” synchroblog being run at, I am musing about one specific issue of women in scholarship. This is, one way or another, a “teaching” position.  Teaching adult male or mixed groups is often considered off-limits, at least formally so, by traditional churches — both Catholic and Protestant.  Even in the liberal churches, with many more women in ministry, this can be a problem.  We greatly need a better balance, and with it the balance of perspectives and priorities that men and women truly working side-by-side can bring. 

Now, a bit about the foundations of dogma and theologies in Christian churches, relative to women.  Some readers may not distinguish between biblical scholars/historians and theologians, but those in the respective fields DO distinguish, and for good reasons.  Though there is a lot of overlap, different tools (including ancient languages, etc.) and sources are often required or developed in depth. 

If you’ve read this blog much, you probably know that a lot of my education and ongoing interest and study involves the very early history of Christianity, and the interplay of religions, particularly ancient Judaism and Christianity, in its various early expressions.  I study it with a view to applying insights and accurate history to current-day issues and our individual belief systems and such. This happens to be the subject of the concluding point of a great woman scholar I am featuring today, with a summary and quote from the end of one of her popular books.  This is Paula Fredriksen, the book pictured above.

Back to women in scholarship: I have read very few females in the category of biblical scholarship and ancient Near East history, as opposed to theology — I have read a number of women theologians.  Now the paucity of the former is not from any personal bias of mine, but because women biblical scholars and historians seem much rarer than theologians.  Have you noticed and wondered about this also?

I’m not sure the reasons.  But I have just finished one book I want to mention and recommend by a strong woman historical scholar: “From Jesus to Christ” by Paula Fredriksen.  She, writing as a historian, keeps her personal views almost completely out of the book, which I’ve found very insightful and well-written.  I would say it is a VERY important book (and others like it) for pastors and lay people of all stripes, if they take their faith and church seriously. 

The most I recall her getting into personal opinion or her “positions” is right at the end, where she says “… bad history, for the church, results in bad theology….” She speaks here of a “fully human Jesus” and wraps the book up like this:

“If history, for the church, is important, then undistorted history is very important. Only by meeting this obligation with intellectual integrity can the church, with integrity, continue to witness to that message proclaimed by the first apostles, expounded by Paul, and reflected in the gospels: that the horizontal plane of the human and the vertical plane of the divine met at the cross of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Again, a highly recommened read by a NT historical scholar who happens to be female. 

Can you refer me and my readers to others? How has the perspective of a woman teacher (pastor, professor, etc.), based on her experience or biology as a woman, been instructive or helpful to you?

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