Elizabeth E. Shively is Lecturer of New Testament Studies at The University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland. She earned her B.A. from The University of the South (Sewanee), M.A. and Th.M. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. from Emory University. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did you decide to become a biblical scholar? Share your autobiographical journey.
I happened upon biblical studies by accident. I grew up in the Philadelphia area singing and playing the violin, and so it involved little thought for me to choose music as my college major. I wanted to serve God and his people through music and so after college I went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to pursue a church music degree. While there, I took advantage of the variety of courses on offer and got hooked on biblical studies. Specifically, it was summer Greek with Scott Hafemann (who is now my colleague!) that changed my life. I completed a M.Div. and Th.M. instead of a MA in church music, and, as a bonus, met and married my husband in the process. I planned to continue my pursuit of biblical studies at the doctoral level at that point, but God’s plans were different. An unexpected opportunity came my way to join the ministerial staff at Park Street Church, a large, urban congregation in the heart of Boston, and I couldn’t pass it up. There I developed a passion for preaching and for teaching in a church context.
I learned, as St Augustine writes at the beginning and end of On Christian Doctrine, that the task of interpretation includes both the process of discovery and the presentation of what one has discovered. It thrilled me to see other people discover for themselves the wonder, depth, and truth of God’s Word. And, as the first woman ever to preach and to have the designation “minister” in that historic church, I experienced first-hand what it was like to work through gender issues in ministry among a fantastic and mature ministerial staff, elder board, and congregation. Six years and two kids later, my husband sensed that I still had a deep longing to pursue PhD studies, and so he urged me to consider applying for doctoral programs, afraid that, “If you don’t do it now you never will.” With a great offer from Emory University and the strong support of my husband, who put his career on hold to stay home with our boys (ages 3 years and 3 months at that time), we moved to Atlanta so that I could study New Testament with a secondary concentration in homiletics (the art of preaching).
Tell us about your work (past and current). What are you most excited about right now? What do you hope your work will contribute?
During my doctoral studies, I focused on the synoptic Gospels (especially Mark with some dabbling in Luke) and developed specialization in hermeneutics, narrative criticism, intertextuality, and Jewish apocalypses and related texts for my dissertation. My dissertation was published as Apocalyptic Imagination in the Gospel of Mark: The Literary and Theological Role of Mark 3:22-30 (BZNW 189; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012). At the moment, I am continuing my research in Mark. I am excited about a number of projects, and it is hard to prioritize just one. First, I am looking at images of redemption in Mark in light of concepts of sin, impurity, and apocalyptic eschatology in Jewish tradition. I hope that this work will offer a fresh, multivalent view of redemption and serve as a contribution to biblical theology. Second, I am delving into cognitive narratology and neuro-hermeneutics and looking at how these shed light on how Mark’s narrative functions as a means of knowing. I hope that this work will explain how we experience narratives—especially the Gospel narratives—and how they form the moral imagination. Third, I am enthusiastic about my own and others’ growth in research-led teaching, and have a book of essays on the topic coming out later this year that I have co-edited with Geert Van Oyen, Communication, Pedagogy, and the Gospel of Mark, Society of Biblical Literature Resources for Biblical Studies (Atlanta: SBL Press, Forthcoming in 2015).
Who has most influenced you as a scholar? Tells us a bit about it.
There are so many influences that I can’t name just one. At Gordon-Conwell, Scott Hafemann and Greg Beale communicated an infectious, loving commitment to biblical languages and careful exegesis. They opened up the world of biblical studies to me, and demonstrated that the sheer hard work of biblical interpretation is a spiritual practice. At Emory, Gail O’Day took me aside to challenge certain evangelical assumptions and help me distinguish between what I could claim as a critical argument or an empirical category and what I could not. She did not ask me to change who I was, but challenged me to be a more careful thinker. Luke Timothy Johnson, my supervisor, maintained just the right balance between concrete direction and non-interference so that I learned how to make my research and writing my own. Moreover, his constant humor and humility taught me not to take myself too seriously as a biblical scholar. Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, whom I met at a conference while I was a doctoral student, invited me to write for a book she was editing. She gave me the most wonderful and thoroughgoing feedback, which helped me to articulate better my ideas for my dissertation. We have continued to stay in touch and have developed a mutually beneficial relationship regarding writing, conferences, publications, and networks of people. And, she has become a good friend. Finally, my husband Todd, an English teacher and writer extraordinaire, has taught me the joy of writing. He has me a better writer and, by means of writing, a better thinker and, I hope, a better scholar.
What are the most pressing issues or concerns you have related to the broader field of biblical studies?
First, I am concerned about the loss of the authority of the biblical text among biblical scholars. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways: hermeneutical shifts regarding the relationship among author-text-reader; changing views regarding the nature of the biblical text; recent views that see certain biblical texts (like the Gospels) as transcriptions of oral performances rather than as textual (i.e., fixed) in their original form. Second, I am concerned about the hostility and divisiveness that seems to mark a number of theological debates, and hope that biblical scholars find an irenic way to debate issues and model this for future generations of scholars.
Why study the scriptures/biblical text?
I study the biblical text because of its nature and purpose. It is not simply a document to be analysed and delineated, but is God’s Word to be heard and appropriated. The biblical text is a communicative act that bears witness to the redemption of the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the canonization of the scriptures authorizes the purpose of their use by setting apart these writings for the identity and maintenance of the Christian community. The purpose of the study of the biblical text, then, is not only historical inquiry, but also (and ultimately) the formation and transformation of the church.
What do you like to do for fun?
I run by myself, with my boys Evan (14) and Jack (11) and with a running club, and I like to enter races. My husband, boys, and I have taken up golf and enjoy going to the driving range or playing a round. When I need a break I cook (sometimes elaborately), read, or listen to music, from opera to progressive acoustic.
Do you have a website or blog?
I don’t have my own website or blog; but I am on the editorial board for the Bible Odyssey Project an interactive website intended to improve public understanding of the Bible and its contexts. Visit the site at www.bibleodyssey.org. And, I write for workingpreacher.org. My link is here.