Letter from Dr. P. Kyle McCarter in Support of Chris Rollston

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter, the William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, has written a lengthy letter in support of Dr. Chris Rollston regarding the present scandalous efforts at Emmanuel Christian Seminary to terminate Dr. Rollston from his tenured, endowed chair.

The letter can be read on Dr. McCarter’s site here.

I’ve included the conclusion of the letter below, calling academics into action, as this affects us all:

I’ve written this public letter because I’ve watched the treatment of Chris Rollston by Emmanuel Christian Seminary closely, and what I’ve seen so far has me deeply troubled both professionally and personally, as I’ve explained.  My sense is that events are now beginning to move rapidly, so that declarations of concern at this point will be very timely.  I’ve expressed the hope that we will be vigilant and attentive to the process, and I believe that it might help if we directly notify the institution of our general concern and our intention to play a watchdog role.  We can do this by contacting the chief academic officers of the Seminary.  The President is Michael Sweeney (msweeney@ecs.edu) and the Academic Dean is Jack Holland (jholland@ecs.edu).  Even brief messages to President Sweeney and Dean Holland will demonstrate the sincerity of our interest.  Those of you (and there are many) who have knowledge of specific issues and events (things I’ve deliberately omitted from this letter for reasons already explained) may wish to address those things at some length, but (to repeat) short messages will help too.  Many of you will have already written, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t write again.  You might also consider writing to Emmanuel’s accrediting boards, mentioned above.  The representative at SACS is Steven Sheeley (ssheeley@sacscoc.org), and the representative at ATS is Tisa Lewis (lewis@ats.edu). Some of you, moreover, may have special knowledge that could be particularly useful.  If, for example, you have worked in any capacity with either of Emmanuel’s accrediting boards (SACS or ATS, see above), you may know a more direct way to call their attention to this issue — I feel confident they will want to investigate, but I don’t know if they are yet involved.  If by chance any of you knows one or more trustees of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, you might be able to play a particularly valuable role.  As I said above, considering the inevitably positivistic character of Chris’s epigraphic work, it’s surprising to me that he hasn’t found support within even the conservative spectrum of Emmanuel’s constituencies, and I wonder if all the trustees have been told the whole story.

In sum, all of us who hold academic positions, whether in secular or religious or confessional institutions, have a stake in what’s happening in Johnson City, Tennessee.  Many of you don’t know Chris personally, but even some of you who don’t know him personally have already taken bold positions on his behalf, and you have and deserve the special respect of us all.  For those of us who do know Chris, who know the quality and integrity of his work, and who know the quality and integrity of the man, we can’t help but ask ourselves:  Is this a man whose job performance is such that he should be threatened with dismissal for cause?  This man?  Chris Rollston?  The notion is so absurd that it stops all thought processes, leaving only confusion.  How did things get to this point?

Respectfully yours,
P. Kyle McCarter
William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
The Johns Hopkins University

Please take the time to read Dr. McCarter’s excellent letter.

Also, please write a letter of your own in support of Chris. If you send them to me (robert-cargill@uiowa.edu), I shall post them here on my blog and add your name and letter to this fast-growing list of supporters who have written publicly in support of Dr. Rollston.

Letter from Dr. Bruce Wells in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Bruce Wells, which I am posting below. You may read the PDF version of the letter here.

Dr. Bruce Wells

Dr. Bruce Wells

November 12, 2012

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing this letter to support Dr. Christopher A. Rollston, the Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee. I first met Chris in 1997, when I entered the Ph.D. program in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Chris was several years ahead of me in the program and much more than that ahead of me in terms of his skill and expertise. The department had him teach the year-long seminar on textual criticism, in which I was a student. And he taught the second semester of Ugaritic that I took. He and I also had extensive conversations about religion, the Bible, the academy, and society in general.

During my years at Hopkins, Chris was a genuine friend who gave in unbelievably generous ways of his time, his resources, and his knowledge. He was never one to keep ideas or insights or “inside information” (e.g., about some university process) that he had learned to himself for the sake of his own advantage. Because of his readiness to help and his personable style of relating, I often turned to him for advice.

I can vouch for the fact that Chris is an outstanding scholar with an outstanding reputation in the field of Hebrew Bible studies and, more specifically, in the subfield of epigraphy. He worked harder than just about any student I knew at Hopkins, and he served a small church as its pastor during most of his time in Baltimore. I envied his breadth of knowledge in the field and his skills with ancient languages, but he was not the kind of person that I could be envious of. His kindness to me was such that I could hardly wish for anything but success and happiness for him and his family.

I do not know a great deal about the current controversy at Emmanuel. I understand that an article (or blog post) of his in the Huffington Post about the marginalization of women in the Bible is playing a significant role. For the most part, I agree with what Rollston had to say in the article. On the other hand, I can understand how it could have rankled some members of the Emmanuel community. I come from a very conservative evangelical background, although not linked with the Stone-Campbell movement, and I know of many people who would have been upset by an article like this. While I basically agree with Rollston’s position in the article, it is not terribly surprising, at least to me, that a controversy has resulted.

What I would like to stress, though, is that I do not see why the controversy can be resolved only by means of removing or threatening to remove Chris from his position at Emmanuel. If the article is the only reason or even the main reason for seeking to terminate Chris, I find that very problematic. I identify myself as Christian, and, as I look back over the history of my tradition, it is not hard to find all manner of issues that Christian thinkers and writers (and many others) disagreed about. It seems to me that a way forward could be found that allows Chris to remain in his position. Issues such as this deserve to be discussed and argued over, but Protestants (again, my tradition) have probably been too hasty over the years (and centuries) to part ways with other Protestants because of similar disagreements. This situation presents an opportunity, I would think, for a Christian institution to demonstrate to itself and to other observers how controversy can be handled with kindness, grace, and even, in the end perhaps, with the parties involved agreeing to disagree. Therefore, I earnestly hope that Chris can stay on in an endowed chair that, as far as I can tell, he has done more than enough to deserve. From an academic perspective, having Chris on its faculty is a genuine feather in the cap of the Emmanuel School of Religion.

I admit that there may be a host of issues of which I am not aware. But, if this is the case, I think that it would behoove Emmanuel to explain what those issues are publicly. Doing so may not convince its critics that it has made or will make the right decision. Probably not. At the very least, though, it will be able to claim that it was not hiding anything relevant to the controversy form the public.

Respectfully yours,

Bruce Wells, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
Saint Joseph’s University
Philadelphia, PA 19131

Letter from Mychal Nemetchek in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Mychal Nemetchek, which I am posting below.

I am a young woman struggling with my christian faith. There are so many troubling issues portrayed in the Bible such as God commanding the Israelites of the Old Testament to murder entire nations, the harsh punishments called for for disobeying such laws as a married couple not being allowed to have sex while she is menstruating, and most definitely the blatant inequality of the sexes. For me, finding answers to these questions have been a matter of keeping or losing my faith. I have found it very difficult to reconcile my ideas of a loving god with these issues.

I am encouraged that religious thinkers like Rollston are coming out as supporters of gender equality (while some stay back in the dark ages and hold to the greatly offensive position the Bible portrays of women and their value). I also find it comforting that these thinkers are able to reconcile their 21st century belief in gender equality with their christianity. If they can do it, perhaps there is a way.

So many christians sweep these issues under the rug. And honestly, if I hadn’t been able to find people who were willing to face up to these difficult topics and discuss them openly without trying to gloss them over (as I encountered with my pastors and teachers) I would likely not be able to call myself a christian right now.

So I want to say thank-you to Rollston, along with many other open, open-minded, non-defensive christian thinkers. Thank-you for finding a way to understand God and the Bible that provides a way for progressives to accept Christ, accept God, without having to give up their progressive values.

Thank you so much.


Letter from Dr. Hector Avalos in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Hector Avalos, which I am posting below. You may view a PDF of the letter here.

Dr. Hector Avalos

Dr. Hector Avalos

November 12, 2012
Dr. Michael Sweeney
Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Dear Dr. Sweeney,

I write in support of Dr. Christopher Rollston, one of the most distinguished Hebrew epigraphists working today. As I understand it, his principal transgression was to state in an essay in The Huffington Post what is non-controversial among many biblical scholars.

I write also as a faculty member who also was once the target of a wealthy donor who threatened to withdraw a promised donation of over $100,000 because he did not like the idea of a non-Christian teaching biblical studies in a public university. This donor wanted me fired from a tenured position because he thought I was a detriment to our university and our society.

The president of my university was wise enough to see that academic freedom means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to reach conclusions that may be the opposite of what your institution or the broader society holds. The president of my university not only refused to listen to the threats of this donor, but he later approved my
promotion to full professor.

So, I hope you also have the wisdom and courage to repudiate any action against Dr. Rollston, and fulfill the obligations that institutions of higher learning have in protecting the academic freedom of their faculty members.


Dr. Hector Avalos
Professor of Religious Studies
402 Catt Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
(o) 515-294-0051

Letter form Dr. Robert Kerr in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Robert Kerr, which I am posting below.

Dr. Robert Kerr

Dr. Robert Kerr

Waterloo, le 16.x.MMXII

Professor Michael L. Sweeney
Emmanuel Christian Seminary
One Walker Drive,
Johnson City, Tennessee

Cher confrère,

Recently I was made aware of a reprimand (I believe that this is the appropriate English word) by you as president of Emmanuel Christian Seminary against our colleague Professor Rollston as he was in your opinion having a detrimental effect on students and on potential donations noting that he should find a job elsewhere. I find your actions reprehensible and and unbecoming of a scholar. I take exception to your behaviour as a Christian, an Academic and a human being.

Any academic institution should be proud to have among its faculty a professor with the talents and standing of our learned friend, an internationally renowned Hebrew Bible scholar, semiticist and fellow epigraphist. The fact that you choose to ignore this and blatantly disregard academic liberty and integrity in favour of the ideology of your potential donors and students is a sheer and utter disgrace to the core concept of (higher) education. By your actions, you seem to imply that it is not the task of an academic institution to challenge the preconceived notions of its students and broaden their horizons. I ask you therefore in all sincerity, in which manner you differ from the Taliban?

Professor Rollston’s contribution to the Huffington Post, to which you took offence, was a timely and relevant piece. Irrespective of your views with regard to the origins of the Bible, it is clear that it has come down from a different era in which the rôle of women was different to that of this day and age. Does this imply that the Bible is no longer relevant? Certainly not! All that this article inferred was that biblical exegesis must take diachronic depth and cultural change into account, or would you also wish to reintroduce slavery based on ‘sound’ biblical teaching? I hope that you as a missionary appreciate cultural difference, and the need to adopt the Gospel to cultures rather than destroying cultures to suit a narrow an tendentious interpretation of the Bible – a sin which continues to heavily burden Christianity. You do our religion a great disservice with your actions and, may point I out, by employing your logic, the Reformation would never have happened.

Interestingly enough, based on the informations at my disposal, I did not see that you criticized Professor Rollston’s article for factual or biblical error, but rather that his views have a corrupting influence on students and allegedly inhibit benefactors from donating monies to your institution. You seemingly have chosen to serve Mammon above your faith and academic integrity. As academics, we search for the facts, the truth – which Professor Rollston presented in his article – and debate the interpretations and/or implications, something he did not do. By censuring Professor Rollston not for factual error, academic misrepresentation or scientific dishonesty but for presenting truths uncomfortable for some, especially those upon whom you apparently have made yourself dependent, you have severely compromised your integrity. It is the truth after all which shall set us free – and the biblically inspired historical strive for equality, whether it be social, racial, gender, sexual or whatever is one of the proud legacies of Christianity: we are all God’s children and equal before him. Your censure implies that discrimination against half of humanity is to not just be condoned, but mandated by biblical teaching. I again ask how you differ from the Taliban. Has history not taught us whither such ignorant proclamations lead?

I ask you as a Christian and academic to rescind your reprimand of Professor Rollston. I nonetheless shall until then continue to publicize your deplorable actions and let it be known among the broader public and scholarly community that you and your institution publicly advocate biblically inspired sexual discrimination whilst putting ideology ahead of academic freedom and truth. Our world needs education and not indoctrination.

Yours most sincerely,

Robert M. Kerr
BA, BPhil, MA, MA, Dphil.

P.S. I will also send a paper copy and furthermore reserve the right to publish this letter should I deem it necessary.

Letter from Dr. Edward L. Greenstein in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Edward L. Greenstein of Bar-Ilan University, which I have posted below.

You may read a .pdf copy of the letter here.

Dr. Edward L. Greenstein

Dr. Edward L. Greenstein

10 November 2012

To Whom It May Concern:

I am exceedingly distressed to learn that Emmanuel Christian Seminary is planning to terminate the tenure of Professor Christopher Rollston.  Such a move strikes me as truly unbelievable.

Prof. Christopher Rollston is an extremely accomplished and highly regarded scholar, one of the world’s leading scholars of ancient Hebrew and West Semitic writing, scribal practice, and literature.  His work on paleography is of the first rank, and in many respects he is the most learned and perspicacious scholar in this area in the world today.  His writing on the transmission of culture and literature deals with both substantive and methodological matters on the highest levels.  I have heard Prof. Rollston make presentations in academic conferences, and he is an excellent lecturer.  His expertise has been acknowledged both by his appointment as editor of the leading journal Maarav and by the awards his book has received.

No academic institution should countenance the departure of a scholar of Professor Rollston’s caliber.  He brings great honor and prestige to the Emmanuel Seminary, and the Seminary is incredibly fortunate to have him.

I trust that any idea of dismissing Prof. Christopher Rollston will be reconsidered.


EL Greenstein

Edward L. Greenstein
Professor of Biblical Studies
Head of the Institute for Jewish Biblical Interpretation
Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Distinguished Scholar

Letter from Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper, the W.W. Spence Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Johns Hopkins University, which I have posted below.

You may read a .pdf copy of the letter here.

Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper

Dr. Jerrold S. Cooper

November 12, 2012

RE Prof. Christopher Rollston:

Prof. Christopher Rollston is the leading Semitic epigrapher of his generation. He has established this reputation through numerous scholarly publications of the highest quality. Prof. Rollston, whom I have known for over a decade, is a person of the highest moral integrity and sincere Christian faith. There is absolutely no reason, academic or moral, for Emmanuel to revoke his tenure.

The action that Emmanuel Christian Seminary has initiated against Prof. Rollston is unworthy of that institution, indeed, of any academic institution. It is apparent, in fact, that Emmanuelʼs behavior has been entirely meretricious, an attempt to mollify a wealthy donor of narrow mind and slight tolerance. I would urge Emmanuel to cease and desist immediately, if it is at all concerned with preserving its good name and conforming to the norms of academic respectability.


Jerrold S. Cooper
W. W. Spence Professor of Semitic Languages emeritus

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