Interview: Sara M. Koenig

sara koenigDr. Sara M. Koenig is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University. She earned a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. She has been teaching at SPU since 2003.

How did you decide to become a biblical scholar? Share your autobiographical journey.

I applied to seminary with every intention of working as a youth pastor, though a year-long internship in youth ministry before I matriculated had me reconsidering that career! My first semester of seminary, Phyllis Trible was a visiting scholar at Princeton Seminary, and offered an elective course in Old Testament studies: I was hooked. Trible’s method of rhetorical criticism helped me see things in the text that I hadn’t before; it was almost like Dorothy waking up in the land of Oz and seeing things in color, From that point on, I took as many elective courses as I could in Old Testament. In my final year of my M.Div., my husband and I had a conversation about what we would do after graduation, and we decided I would apply to Ph.D. programs—in Old Testament, of course—to see if doors would open for me. When I was accepted into the program at Princeton Seminary, I gratefully walked through that door. When I was in the Ph.D. program, people would ask me what I wanted to do with my degree. My answer was always that I would like to teach at an undergraduate university like the one I attended, never thinking that I would be hired at THE school I attended. There are days when I feel weighed down by grading, or a schedule strained with meetings, but most days I am so glad to be able to do what I do.

Tell us about your work (past and current). What are you most excited about right now? What do you hope your work will contribute?

My dissertation, published as a monograph, was on the biblical character of Bathsheba, and I am currently working on a book on Bathsheba’s reception history. I was drawn to Bathsheba because the text of 2 Sam 11-12 is so lacking in details about her motives and feelings that people characterize her on the spectrum from passive victim to active seductress. In my current work, I am tracing the various and varying ways that she has been interpreted over time, through the centuries. It has been particularly fun to consider how texts are (re)interpreted in different genres like art, music, and film. I am excited about the liveliness of the text and its afterlives in the hands of people who read it over the centuries. I am also fascinated by how the text can and has meant different things to different people over time. Though I’m using Bathsheba as my lens, my work has more broad implications and applications, particularly for those who think that there is only one “right”  meaning for the biblical text. It’s simply not true!

Who has most influenced you as a scholar? Tells us a bit about it.

Obviously, Phyllis Trible was a big influence for me. In particular, I appreciate how the method of rhetorical criticism can be used by anyone who reads, by slowing down and paying attention to details in the text. My professors (especially Dennis Olson, Patrick Miller, Jimmy Jack Roberts, Jacqueline Lapsley and Chip Dobbs-Allsopp) were significant influences on me while I was a student, and now I find myself influenced by my colleagues G. Brooke Lester, Amy Erickson, Antonios Finistis and Ehud Ben Zvi, who are always generous in reading and commenting on my work. Barbara Green’s work with Bakhtin and biblical studies has been very helpful to me: while I have not done much formal work with Bakhtin, his philosophy undergirds my assumptions about the nature of the text.

What are the most pressing issues or concerns you have related to the broader field of biblical studies?

One is the relationship biblical studies has with other methodologies: I find that we’re often decades, if not years behind, in areas like Continental Philosophy, or Literary Criticism. But I also, recently, heard a good critique of how we in biblical studies are often tempted to rush to apply theory when we interpret. Perhaps we would do well to sit with the theory even when it doesn’t “directly apply” to our interpretations. The second is the ways in which interpretations of the text have been (mis)appropriated and abused.

Why study the scriptures/biblical text?

It is endlessly re-readable. Moreover, it is artfully composed, in such a way that it invites its readers to participate in making meaning. It tells a big, often complex and messy story about God, about God’s people, about ways of living and being in the world.

What do you like to do for fun?

Because my work—writing and reading—is often slow and intangible, I like those things that have physical and tangible results such as cooking, or doing small art projects. Cooking also allows me to eat, something else I very much enjoy. Additionally, I run multiple times a week, mostly for stress-relief, but it also has become fun.

Anything else you would like to share?

I’ve found that the academy can sometimes be a place with a lot of ego, but I also have found a lot of support and encouragement. Look for those places, and be a good colleague to others.

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