Letter from Dr. Athalya Brenner in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Athalya Brenner, which I am posting below.


Dr. Athalya Brenner

Dr. Athalya Brenner

Dear Dean Holland, dear President Sweeney:

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve been following for a couple of weeks the unfolding story of Dr. Rollston’s troubles at ECS. This is your institution; as an outsider, I thought I had no right of interference in your institution’s internal matters. My mind changed, however, when I read tonight an article by Dr. Paul Blowers, Professor of Church History at ECS, as published online in Bible and Interpretation.

Dr. Blowers made it known, publicly, that his objection to Rollston’s article in Huffington Post about attitudes to women in the Bible was wrong on the following points: it was imbalanced; it shouldn’t have been published to lay readers; and it ran counter to confessional responsibilities, such as are practiced in Emmanuel.

I’d like to relate to this claims, first by introducing my credentials, then by assessing the claims. I am a Hebrew Bible scholar. My main fields of interest are feminist criticism of the Bible and Semitic Philology. I have published over 25 books, edited and authored, on feminist and gender issues in the Bible, including the New Testament. I have taught in Israel, The Netherlands, The States and Hong Kong. In the latter two places, although I am Jewish, I taught in confessional frameworks (Anglican in Hong Kong, Disciples of Christ in Texas). Details of my extensive teaching experience and publications on matters pertaining to women in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and to a lesser extent in the New Testament are to be found in my webpages, URL’s below.

Writing from my experience, as delineated here, I would like to completely refute Dr. Blowers’ contentions. Rollston’s article, against my background of undisputed  expertise in the field, is balanced and mild. In the Bible, regrettably, women are second-class, and much more so than Rollston sketched. There are positive female roles in it, as he himself indicated, but those are too few to offset the general picture. This is regrettable since the Bible is for many of us and including Rollston and me, regardless of creed, a source of fascination and a Book of Life; exposing less savoury elements in it is painful to say the least, albeit necessary in order to continue the ages-honored process of its interpretation, reinterpretation, updating and usage for current believing and cultural communities. I believe this is what Rollston did: he exposed a biblical bias, in a balanced and responsible fashion, as to say: This is our heritage. We do NOT discard this foundational heritage; but, looking at it critically, in the footsteps of Jewish Sages, Church Fathers and readers and believers over millennia, it is up to us to update, reinterpret, and continue to use the Bible as our life companion. In doing that Rollston in effect displayed the same concerns for the public of both genders as Dr. Blowers displays for Emmanuel students and future pastors, extending the good work and bringing it to the surface.

In short: if the Huffington Post article is at the root of this upheaval, it seems to me wrong on scholarly as well as pedagogical grounds to fault Dr. Rollston in any way. He is a rarity: a first-rate scholar who is well-respected and respectful and humanistic in his approach, a person who cares deeply about people and their beliefs, always cautious to nurture—even when he critiques—and to find positive angles. To claim otherwise is simply not borne out by the facts of the matter.

Please excuse me if my words constitute an interference in Emmanuel internal matters. Rollston is a colleague, not a friend of mine. My education and interests simply prevent me from keeping silent on this matter.

Respectfully and Shalom,

Dr. Athalya Brenner
Professor Emerita of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Chair, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Professor in Biblical Studies, Department of Hebrew Culture, Tel Aviv University, Israel

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4 Responses

  1. [...] here Dr. Athalya Brenner (Tel Aviv University/Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands) here Dr. Robert Cargill (University of Iowa) here, here, here Steve Caruso (Rutgers University and The [...]

  2. what a marvellous letter

  3. i totally support prof.brenner and her wise comments.

  4. Well written, especially the last paragraph where she states that Rollston is ‘a colleague, not a friend of mine’. When I decided to address this earlier in a letter to Dr. Blowers, I also wrote it not as a friend of Chris, having only met him briefly in a Duke conference, but as someone who has like many of us know Chris on the basis of his research. On these grounds, he stands tall in the academic world, respected by everyone, to lose Chris and not to support him in this hour of need is something we, as a community need to do some serious soul searching over, as tomorrow it could be you…get moving.

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