Interview: Caryn A. Reeder

Reeder-CarynDr. Caryn A. Reeder is Associate Professor of New Testament at Westmont College. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and Religious Studies from Augustana College, M.A. in Biblical Studies from Wheaton College, M.Phil. in Old Testament and Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. Reeder has been teaching at Westmont since 2007.

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

As an undergrad at Augustana College, I had to take two religious studies classes. I enjoyed the first one so much that I ended up with a double major in psychology (because I thought it was practical) and religious studies (because it was fun). I’d planned to have a practical career in psychology – but luckily, my first job after graduation took me to Jerusalem for two years, where I had the opportunity to drink lots of tea, read the Bible with different sets of cultural lenses than my own, and also engage with some of the hard questions of ‘biblical interpretation’ and the continuing significance of the biblical story for the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. I realized I’d much rather have the fun of studying the Bible in its different historical, geographical, social, cultural, and literary contexts than continue with my plan of a career in psychology. 

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 research so far has circled around questions of violence in the Bible and biblical worlds. My first book, The Enemy in the Household (Baker Academic, 2012), examined the problem of family violence in Deuteronomy’s laws. I traced the rewriting and interpretation of these laws in the Second Temple period and early Christianity as a model for our own interpretation of problematic texts. I’m now working on a new book on women, children, and war in the Gospel of Luke. I address the gendering of warfare in the biblical and the Graeco-Roman worlds, the potential experiences of siege warfare for women and children (and men, too), and the imagery of pregnancy, infancy, and childbirth in connection with warfare.

I lived in Jerusalem during the first year of the Al Aqsa intifada, and at the end of my year as a Fulbright Scholar at Bethlehem University, the violence that preceded the war in Gaza was beginning (and of course violence is a daily, lived experience for Palestinians in the West Bank even when there is not an official war). I’ve never been in (mortal) danger, but I’ve seen the effects of violence on societies and individuals. These experiences have helped me recognize the threads of violence in the Bible not just as a a topic for research, but a reality of life for so many people in history and around the world today. Stoning women for perceived sexual misbehavior, wartime rape, domestic violence, war in the streets and houses of a city — I would argue that we ignore the violence in the Bible to our detriment and peril.

That said, I’m also looking for a more cheerful topic for my next project . . .

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

I don’t know if I would be a biblical scholar today if it weren’t for the encouragement and support of John Walton at Wheaton College. I’ve also appreciated Lynn Cohick’s advice about career development and research plans over the years.

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

Coming back to the classroom after my sabbatical, I was repeatedly surprised by how little my students in Introduction to New Testament knew about the New Testament — content, contexts, people, stories, ideas. And I teach at a confessional institution; most of my students have spent years in church, Sunday School, bible study, and youth group. If they don’t know much, how much less do people without their experience know?

I worry that my students are missing out on the joy of recognizing biblical allusions in everything from Shakespeare to Monty Python and the Simpsons; I worry that they are ill equipped for understanding the place of the Bible in the major discussions, debates, and challenges in the Church today (from racism to human trafficking to gender and sexuality). Without a basic knowledge of what’s in the Bible, how can we dig into the complexities and contradictions and competing hermeneutics that surround the interpretation of the Bible in its contexts and ours? The references to biblical texts in American politics, media, and society as a whole barely scratch the surface of the content and contexts of the Bible. How can we communicate our complex, detailed understanding of these ancient texts in a way that’s understandable and significant for audiences outside the guild?

Why study the scriptures/biblical text?

Because it’s fun, interesting, intriguing, difficult, and challenging!

Biblical studies can seem rather irrelevant to the world outside the guild. But I have found that studying biblical texts helps me see this world better, and engaging with the thoughts and questions and concerns of the people of God in the past gives me new questions today.

What do you like to do for fun?

I hike, bake bread, and devour mysteries and detective stories. Much to my surprise (as a farm girl from central Illinois), I’ve found that I really like living in California–the beach, the mountains, the wine, the fresh local strawberries in January. I also like leaving California to explore new places, and to revisit old haunts from Beit Sahur to Cambridge.

Do you have a website or blog?

I did during my sabbatical, though I haven’t been maintaining it since: http://creederblog.wordpress.com/

 

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