That’s “childist” biblical scholar — not “childish.”
But childist biblical scholar Julie Faith Parker does think adult readers have a lot to learn from the children in the Bible as well as the children around them.
Parker, associate professor of biblical studies at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City, is one of the pioneering scholars in the field of childist biblical interpretation — a term she helped introduce in biblical studies in the last decade. She defines it as “interpretation that places a child, children, youth or concerns related to young people at the center” — more analogous to “feminist” or “womanist” than to “racist” or “sexist.”
“It’s a new field, and it’s really gaining steam quickly,” she said.
Parker talked to Religion News Service about what childist biblical interpretation is, where it came from and why it can change not only the way people read the Bible, but also how they engage issues impacting children.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is childist biblical interpretation?
It’s pretty new. The term “childist” itself really was introduced to the field in 2013, and work has been pouring off the presses since then.
Scholars are starting to look at children of the Bible the way feminist scholars have been looking at the women of the Bible. Before the 1970s, there were really almost no academic books on women in the Bible, and now there are hundreds, if not thousands.
People used to not see the women in the texts, and when scholars started lifting up these stories in new ways, people started noticing them a lot more. We’re doing the same thing with children, and people are discovering them throughout the text because they’re there.
How did you become interested in the stories of children in the Bible?
I’m ordained in the United Methodist Church. I worked full time in ministry until I had a dream on June 2, 1996, in which I believe God called me to teach the Bible.
Long story short, I got my Ph.D. in 2009 from Yale. The entire time I was doing my Ph.D. research, I knew that I wanted to look at children in the Bible. It really came from an academic interest, realizing that there was a huge lacuna in the field. I love kids, but it wasn’t like I was always a camp counselor or I was a youth pastor. It was very exciting because, throughout my coursework, children cut across the entire Hebrew Bible, which is my field.
Another great hope with this work is that I will call attention to struggles that children face within the Bible that are really struggles that children face around the world. For example, this past July I gave a paper in Rome at the international Society of Biblical Literature meeting, and that paper was called “Hardly Happily Ever After: Trafficking of Girls in the Hebrew Bible.” Though those stories are short, they are all there. And my hope is that it will call attention to some of these struggles that millions of girls are dealing with today. A lot of people care about the Bible, and to use the text as a way to show them how we need to care about children in the world, too — I’m hoping (it) can be a powerful vehicle.
What are some stories about children in the Bible that people are most familiar with?
I think some of the familiar stories are what I would call your “Bible child stars” — you know, Moses in the bulrushes in Exodus Chapter 2. I’m looking at the rest of that chapter: His sister Miriam is also young, and Pharaoh’s daughter is young. There’s a lot of girls that work in the story. We tend not to see them that way because that’s not how they’re often portrayed in various presentations — movies and things — but they really would be girls, teenagers, youth certainly by our standards.
So we’re suggesting this really helps to undergird the message of that story because the whole point is the underdogs win. If your main actors are girls, they’re real underdogs in that society. Kids are the ones who are changing everything here.
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Source: Religion News Service