Five Women Scholars

People in the biblio-blogosphere are listing their favorite women scholars. Here are mine. I’ve not read all of them, but stories about them have stuck with me. Plus, I’d like to read their works sometime.

1. Ellen Charry

I first heard of her in a Christianity Today article about evangelical scholars, which featured N.T. Wright, Richard B. Hays, Miroslav Volf, and Ellen Charry. I was a student at DePauw when I read this, so it was during the late 1990’s. The opening paragraph said it all: when the author of the article told the professors he was interviewing that Ellen Charry was on his list, all of them responded, “Oh, you’ll like Ellen!”

I never actually met her, but many of the Princeton Theological Seminary students I’ve met speak highly of her. According to them, she’s someone with a sense of humor, who’s able to laugh at herself.

When I was at Harvard, I came across her name a number of times. The evangelicals at Intervarsity always talked like she was “one of us.” Yet, a professor of mine who was a liberal Christian spoke as if she was a part of his group: the open-minded Christians. A friend of mine was taking a class with Sarah Coakley on feminist theology, and I suggested he read Ellen Charry. He usually didn’t take any of my recommendations seriously, perhaps because he thought I was an evangelical zealot (which, at the time, I was). But he became open to reading her works when Sarah Coakley recommended her. I guess I looked like I knew what I was talking about (for once)!

I took a class with William Abraham, and he told us some of Ellen Charry’s story. She was a liberal Jew and a feminist who converted to Christianity. He may have also said that she was drawn to the concept of God as a Father, something which is rare among feminists. She’s a good person with an interesting story, so I should read her sometime.

2. Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza

I never took a class with her, and she had a reputation as a dogmatic liberal, who put fear in the hearts of evangelicals. Conservatives thought she was “reductionist,” and one called her “hermeneutic of suspicion” a “hermeneutic of convenience.” Yet, one ultra-conservative fundamentalist I knew liked her because she was well-organized in her presentation. And I’ve heard stories about how she had to overcome sexism in academia.

I guess what sticks out to me from her scholarship are items in her book, In Memory of Her. She showed that the word translated “brothers” in the New Testament (adelphoi) could refer to men and women, so that made me charitable to gender-inclusive Bibles, such as the New Revised Standard Version. And, if I’m not mistaken, I think I first read about the apostle Junia in her book (Romans 16:7).

3. Paula Fredricksen

A student and I had tea with Paula Fredricksen when we were interviewing her for a video on Jewish interpretations of Jesus. We met her husband, and I got to pet her dog, who was really friendly. The reason we interviewed her was that she was a convert to Orthodox Judaism from Roman Catholicism. A friend of mine told me she was once a nun, but I don’t know if this is true.

I once heard her give a lecture about her book, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews. She said it was odd that Jesus was crucified but his disciples were not arrested as political threats. Just when I thought she was about to unravel the mystery of why, she told us that if we wanted the answer, read the book. A few years later, I did so, and I’m a little unclear about what her answer was: I think it was that, once the Romans eliminated Jesus, they didn’t see his followers as too much of a problem, so they left them alone. She was prominent during the Passion of the Christ debates, appearing on shows like the O’Reilly Factor. But, alas, I didn’t have a TV then. There’s still YouTube, though!

4. Phyllis Trible

She actually taught a class at Jewish Theological Seminary when I was there, but nobody I knew ever saw her. I remember professors saying, “Has anyone actually seen Phyllis Trible here?”

I liked her book, Texts of Terror, primarily because it was a form of feminist theology that made the Bible look non-sexist. At least that’s what I remember from the chapters that I read! Some point to her work in arguing against the Bible, so I hope I didn’t misread her.

5. Valarie Ziegler

She was my advisor at DePauw, and she’s written on Adam and Eve as well as the Christian peace movement during the Civil War. I loved her classes because she was funny, compassionate, and made complex theological concepts understandable and entertaining. She was also a woman of deep faith, though it wasn’t exactly my version of faith at the time, since I was a conservative evangelical. She was drawn to the Jesus who ministered to the poor and the sick, and she said she learned more about God through Jesus. She once told me that belief in Jesus made all the difference in a person’s life, since it involved commitment to a new vision, one that valued the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed. She had a solid Calvinist streak, but I don’t think this had anything to do with the “non-elect” going to hell. Rather, she liked the part of Calvinism that emphasized the glory of God, rather than “me, me, me”–“Will God bless me? Will I go to heaven or hell after I die?” I attribute much of my background in theology to her, for she was the one who made it possible for me to understand the great thinkers (e.g., Schleiermacher, Barth, Bultmann, etc.).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Five Women Scholars

  1. irishanglican says:

    The sad thing about today’s bloggers, both men & women, is that those that are in our past (with the Lord) cannot blog. One of my favorite Christian women was Evelyn Underhill, profound spiritual woman of God and always worth reading her material!
    Fr. Robert (Anglican)


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for commenting here, Fr. Robert! She appears to be a fascinating woman. I haven’t read too many mystics, but I may change that some time.


  3. irishanglican says:

    Yes James, she was much more than just a mystic soul. Her doctrine and theology are always conservative Anglican. Here is one of my favorite quotes of hers: “Love is a grave and ruthless passion, unlimited in selfgiving and unlimited in demand.” – Of course she connects real human love with the love and demands of God!
    Fr. R.


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