Baker Academic

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Interview with Adele Reinhartz

It is my great pleasure to interview Adele Reinhartz. I will be publishing this interview in two parts.

Adele Reinhartz is a Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa. She is the author of several articles and books. She was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2005 and presently serves as the General Editor for the Journal of Biblical Literature. I have admired her work for a long time.

I will also say this: she is among the kindest and most generous people I've ever met. She has earned whatever ego might come with her success, but I have never seen it on display. Would that all scholars could follow her model.

ALD: Adele, thank you for your time. Would you start by telling us a bit about your most recent book, Bible and Cinema: An Introduction; how would you say it compares to previous books on this topic?
AR: This most recent book is the first comprehensive study (that I’m aware of) of the use of the Bible in film. The first half focuses on Bible movies (understood broadly as including also “sword-and-sandal” films), with primary focus on the epic genre, and the second half concentrates on the use of the Bible in fictional feature films of a broad range of genres including apocalyptic movies. The book deals primarily with Hollywood films, because it explores the ways in which Hollywood (a shorthand term for American films whether made in Hollywood or not) uses the Bible to explore and express aspects of American identity and a range of issues in American society (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality). But some “foreign” films are discussed as well.
ALD: Given your expertise, do you feel excited when you hear about new films about the Bible? For example, are you looking forward to seeing films like Darren Aronofsky, "Noah" or Alister Grierson's "Mary”?
AR: I wouldn’t say I’m excited about seeing them, but I do plan to do so. I suppose I approach such new films (including also the Jesus movie remake of the Bible television series) with a bit of trepidation. This is not so much out of a concern that these movies will do a disservice to the stories themselves (though they always do — much as I adore the cinema, I have yet to see a film that truly captures the richness of the biblical narrative) but that they will do some damage. This is true particularly of Jesus movies, which inevitably have to decide how they will portray the Jews, especially in the Passion narrative.
ALD: When you finished your PhD at McMaster in 1983, it wasn't common for a Jewish student to enter the field as a New Testament specialist. Can you share a bit about this experience? Also what drew you to the Gospel of John?
AR: I entered the doctoral program at McMaster after completing a BA in Jewish studies (University of Toronto) and an MA in early Judaism (McMaster) and it was my full intention to continue to a PhD in early Judaism. But at McMaster it was, and still is, a requirement of all who major in early Judaism to also study early Christianity, and vice versa. In my MA program I took a full-year course on Galatians with E.P. Sanders, just at the point where he was reading the proofs for Paul and Palestinian Judaism. He was a very dynamic teacher who brought Paul to life for me, and I became intrigued by the idea of studying NT more intensively. It seemed to me that a) as someone with a strong background in early Judaism, I might have something to offer from a scholarly point of view, and b) as a Jewish teacher of the NT, I might be able to broaden the perspective of my students with regard to the complex relationships among Jews, Christ-believers, and “pagans” in the first and early second centuries. Although not all of my work addresses issues of anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism, I, like most other Jewish NT scholars, do see my work as an opportunity to raise the issues and contribute to better mutual understanding. I can say that Sanders did not particularly encourage this change of direction though he respected my decision. His concern was that I would have trouble finding a teaching position. With a doctorate in NT, he feared, I would not secure a position in Jewish studies, and as a Jew I would be at a disadvantage when competing for NT positions, the majority of which, he noted, were primarily in divinity schools or seminaries. I have been fortunate, however, in that a few short years later, my ability to teach Jewish studies and NT were precisely what led to my being hired first at the University of Toronto (non-tenure-track) and then at McMaster. I believe that Sanders’ own commitment to the importance of studying early Judaism and Christianity alongside each other (not Judaism as mere background to Christianity) contributed to a change of culture in which Jewish NT scholars and scholarship are welcomed.

I was not initially thinking about John, as I mostly studied Paul with Sanders. But I had done a reading course with Ben Meyer on John’s Prologue, and when casting around for a thesis topic I thought it best not to work on Paul so that I could cast out in my own direction. At that time John intrigued me more than the others for the same reasons that it still does now: its combination of the sublime and the hateful. I find the use of language and symbolism sublime, and the role in which the Jews are cast, to be hateful, and dangerous. Another important factor, however, was the second edition of Lou Martyn’s History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. I was captivated by this book, and the vivid picture it drew of a Johannine community, even though, subsequently, I found myself critiquing the expulsion theory and the methodology on which it is based. In a real way, Martyn’s book has set the agenda for much of my own work on John, including my current book project (for which see below).
In part two (coming soon) I ask Adele a bit more about her time studying with E.P. Sanders.


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