Prior to her delivering the 2015 Runcie Lecture on May 7 and receiving the 2015 Krister Stendahl Medal in Biblical Studies on May 8, Dr. Gale Yee of the Episcopal Divinity School provided us with an interview on her current research and professional activities. A video of Dr. Yee’s lecture will be available on our YouTube Channel and blog in the coming weeks.
Dr. Gale Yee serves as Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, editor of the Texts@Contexts Series for
Fortress Press, and author of widely lauded, Poor Banished Children of Eve: Woman as Evil in the Hebrew Bible (Fortress Press).
GTF: Your Runcie Lecture at the GTF is entitled, “From the Bottom Up: Poverty and Inequality in Ancient Israel and Today,” a very topical theme but one that you say also affected ancient Israel. How do you think linking ancient issues with contemporary ones helps us in our understanding of inequality?
Dr. Gale Yee: I believe that it is very important to understand the systemic structures that create poverty, whether it is in ancient Israel or in the contemporary US. These structures are radically different in both, and one cannot simply assume that the ancient responses to poverty in the Bible, such as the jubilee year, for example, can be applied to our own situation. In my lecture, I hope to provide a glimpse of the structures that created poverty in Israel to encourage the audience to learn more about and contend realistically with the systemic causes of poverty in our own day and in our own First World technological context.
GTF: How do you think drawing from various methodologies in your scholarship benefits the overall field of Biblical Studies? What are some of the approaches you employ?
GY: I regard the different exegetical methods as tools to help me interpret and understand the complex historical, literary and sociological world of the biblical text. This interdisciplinary approach to the Bible offers fresh and new ways to appreciate this very ancient set of books. I use a variety of approaches. The sociological and historical criticisms are basic for me because the biblical world is so alien from my own. As a former English major, literary criticism of the Bible comes naturally to me. Because of my own social location as a feminist Asian American biblical scholar, I also appropriate the ideological criticisms that analyze the text from the perspectives of gender, race, class, colonial status, and so forth.
GTF: Your book, Poor Banished Children of Eve: Woman as Evil in the Hebrew Bible (Fortress Press), has been widely acclaimed. What do you find so compelling about this subject?
GY: Like most women, I have experienced the prejudices, discriminations, hostilities directed toward me just because of my female gender. My initial impetus for writing this book was to try and understand why these gender conflicts arise, particularly when the source seemed to be from the foundational text of my faith, the Bible. However, my research brought me to a different place.
Here is what I wrote for the book’s final paragraph: “Writing this book was not simply an intellectual, academic enterprise for me. I found in the biblical text what I had already experienced in real life: that there are insidiously complex interconnections among religion—based on the biblical text—and the ‘isms’: sexism, racism, classism, colonialism, heterosexism, fundamentalism, and so forth. The Bible continues to be used to legitimate sinful realities. As biblical scholars, we are obligated ethically to challenge and confront social, economic, and religious systems that make it impossible for the majority of families, congregations, and nations to experience the shalom that the Scriptures promise.”
GTF: Could you briefly discuss your roles within the Society of Biblical Literature and the organization Pacific, Asian and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM)?
GY: I first became involved in the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) as the co-chair and eventually chair of the Women in the Biblical World section of the SBL during the 1980s. During the 1990s, I was invited to be a member of the first SBL committee on Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the Profession. I later became chair of that committee. During the 2000s, I was a member of the editorial board of the SBL journal, Semeia, and then became its General Editor. I am currently a member of the SBL Research and Publications Committee. I have also served as an at-large member of the SBL Council, and on Asian and Asian-American Biblical Studies Consultation and the Bible and Visual Arts Section. On Pacific, Asian and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM), I served as organizer of several of their annual meetings, as a member of their steering committee, and as a faculty advisor.