Dr. Nyasha Junior is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. She earned her B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, M.P.A. from Princeton University, M.Div. from Pacific School of Religion, and Ph.D. in Old Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Formerly a professor at Howard University, she is now Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Temple University. Dr. Junior can also be found on her website, blog No Extra Credit, and Twitter @NyashaJunior.
How did you decide to become a biblical scholar? Share your autobiographical journey.
My grandmother died, I had a quarter life crisis, and I wasn’t enjoying my job in public policy. So I decided to make a switch and become an early second career person. I grew up in a very religious family, and the stories of the Bible were fascinating to me. Since I was going to start over, I wanted to find something that I was really interested in studying. When I started the M.Div. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was or what I wanted to do with it. I didn’t think that I had the temperament to be a pastor. My first class at Pacific School of Religion was Introduction to Old Testament with Jeffrey Kuan, and I was hooked immediately. I asked him to be my advisor. He shepherded me through my M.Div. and the process of applying for doctoral programs in biblical studies. He continues to serve as one of my mentors. I decided to start the Ph.D. based on my interest in biblical studies even though I didn’t fully understand what the life of an academic was. But now I am grateful I can make a living doing 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?
I enjoy teaching, being in the classroom, and helping students make connections. I hope to help them become better readers, not only of the biblical texts but other texts as well. My students work a lot on reading carefully, re-reading, and asking questions.
My first book was An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation. I hope that it will be useful especially for graduate students who looking for an introduction to key issues relating to feminism and womanism and to feminist and womanist approaches within biblical studies. I am not a womanist scholar, but I wrote the book because it needed to be written. At the time there wasn’t an introduction to how womanist approaches had developed within biblical studies. I decided that was what I wanted to write about.
Now, I’m working on a reception history of Hagar for Oxford University Press. I am looking at Hagar and blackness and how she became a character who is often associated with blackness. Most biblical characters are thought of as European as we see from the recent controversy with the casting of Exodus: Gods and Kings. I started the Hagar project because I was showing my students images and paintings of various biblical characters in class, and they absolutely insisted that Hagar should be a dark-skinned woman. But they did not have the same reaction to other biblical characters.
Who has most influenced you as a scholar? Tells us a bit about it.
When I was a teenager, I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It was amazing to me because it was my first time reading a book written by a Black woman. I think that I knew that Black women wrote, but having the book in front of me helped me realize that it was really possible for Black women to be authors.
What are the most pressing issues or concerns you have related to the broader field of biblical studies?
I am concerned that I am still meeting graduate students who are not well-informed regarding the current state of academia. I encourage students to read publications such as Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and academic blogs. It is important to have a clear-eyed view of the academy as an industry and key issues within the industry such as adjunctification, corporatization, and detenurization.
Why study the biblical text/scriptures?
The Hebrew Bible has great stories! They were a part of my childhood. I was always interested in the narratives. I tell my students that it’s like an ancient reality show. Mystery, intrigue, money, sex, scandal—it’s all in there.
What do you like to do for fun?
I practice yoga, the struggle yoga variety. When my eyes aren’t too tired from work reading, I read novels. I loved The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, and recently, I finished The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.
Anything else you would like to share?
I am frequently on Twitter. Follow me @NyashaJunior and say hello in person at the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting in San Antonio.