This incredibly thoughtful guest contribution by Judy Yates Siker is part of an ongoing series I’m posting in honor of the tenth anniversary of the blog. All the guest posts in the series are by serious scholars who have provided us with us with guest posts before, over the years; one of the striking features of these posts, as a group, is just now different they are in perspective and insight.
I’ve known Judy well for thirty-three yeas, since she entered the UNC PhD program in New Testament Studies (in the field of Ancient Mediterranean Religions) 1989. While doing her degree and then afterwards Judy taught at an intriguing range of schools to very different groups of students: Meredith College; American Baptist Seminary of the West, Loyola Marymount University, and San Francisco Theological Seminary — where she eventually became Vice President.
All these years Judy has long been one of my closest and dearest friends. She is an ordained Presbyterian minister, active in church ministry now that she’s retired from teaching, and living in Raleigh with her husband Jeff (another contributor to the blog) — which means we see each other all the time and never enough.
Here is her new contribution.
To Conversations and Charity
The 10-year Blogiversary! Kudos and WOW! Ten years is a long time to keep any project going and the fact that this project has been going, and going strong, for 10 years is a testament (no pun intended) to the dedication, creativity, and tenacity of Bart Ehrman. Not only has this blog piqued the interest of thousands of readers, but it has also generated over one million dollars for charity. It is seriously difficult to take in what this blog has meant to so many in its 10-year span. I don’t know how Bart cranks out a post every day, much less post after post of scintillating, thought-provoking, challenging ideas designed to keep all the readers engaged and intellectually stimulated. Congratulations!
It has been my privilege to be a guest blogger several times and I have really enjoyed the exchange of ideas, questions, and comments from thoughtful readers. My blog posts have addressed the question of how one can be both a critical scholar of the Bible and a believing Christian. As I tried to explain in previous posts, it is not the insurmountable contradiction that some would believe it to be.
Church was a constant in my first seventeen years. My family and our moderate protestant church provided a safe space for asking questions, exploring the biblical stories, and observing the impact of church on everyday life. For reasons unknown to myself or my family I never rebelled. While I did stand firm in the tradition, I also left for college with lots of questions. There I had my first introduction to a serious scholarly approach to the Bible and, unlike many of my classmates who found this approach distressing and dismissive of their beliefs, I was delighted to engage the questions and push the boundaries. Fast forward a number of years and I found myself continuing to hunger for more and more exploration of these fascinating (and, for me, sacred) texts, completing two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. I enjoyed a fulfilling career as New Testament and Christian Origins professor and, as an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament in PC(USA), was able to serve both the academy and the church for many years. And to the surprise and wonderment of many, my scholarly pursuit of the text and my Christian belief were never mutually exclusive.
One of the things I so admire about the Ehrman blog and about Bart himself is the openness to approaches from a variety of perspectives. Although Bart and a number of his readers do not accept the Bible as sacred text, there is an invitation in the discussions to engage in civil and scholarly discourse regardless of your faith stance. As I wrote in one of my posts, I continue to be perplexed when people adamantly argue that one cannot have both a scholarly understanding of the Bible and a belief in the Bible as sacred text. I have both. In fact, rather than the scholarly approach destroying my faith, it has enriched it. I must say that one important aspect of this duality is the willingness (and necessity) to live in the questions.
Through all the years of my study every exegetical move, every dissection of the text made me more and more intrigued with this body of writings that has not only survived these many centuries but has also survived all our pushing and probing, our analyses and dissections. In this study, and in my life of faith, not only have I learned to live the questions, but I have developed a tolerance for ambiguity, and I have come to understand the Bible as an imperfect collection of reflections of people of faith who over time have struggled to understand that which is greater than themselves. This I find to be a fascinating and illuminating idea. Acknowledging the humanity and the diversity of those responsible for the composition and compilation of the Bible and the development of early Christianity allows me to see the depth and breadth, the variety and idiosyncrasy of the parts, much like a beautiful tapestry. The Ehrman Blog invites every reader into an engaging and scholarly analysis of these parts and provides a platform for the civil exchange of ideas. In the brief remainder of this post, I would like to view this idea from one additional perspective, that of a lover of tapestry. Gentle reader, indulge me if you will.
When I was a child I loved when my Nana Olson came for a visit. She lived far away in Minnesota and it was a special treat to have her with us in North Carolina. When she came she often stayed several months. She was a delight to have around and she taught me many things, needlework being high on the list. We always found a way to spend some time together with needle and thread. I loved then, and I love today, to get lost in the colors and textures and patterns of needlework.
If you’ve ever done needlework or taken time to really look at it, it is interesting to note how different it looks depending on your perspective. If you simply stand back and look at the front of a tapestry you may be captured by the intricate design, the impeccable detail. If you get very close to the work and look at one small section, you may be able to see the color and texture of the threads– but it is much more difficult to see the pattern. And if you turn it over—well, often it appears to be no more than a chaotic tangling of different colored threads with no apparent pattern at all.
This is not, I would argue, unlike our approach to the early Christian writings. Our perspective surely impacts what we see. Each reader approaches the blog’s topic of the day from his/her own perspective (and the readership represents great diversity). With each new entry Bart invites us into an analysis of some aspect of this world of early Christianity. As I note the comments and questions of readers it seems to me that as we approach each reading, we are often so busy with the process of weaving our own stories (defending our own views) and the focus can be so concentrated on making the outcome of the picture to our liking ― that we’re not paying attention to the details on the other side.
However we view this tapestry, this world of the text and lives of early Christians, it is fascinating to explore the back and Bart invites us to do just that, to turn it over, take a new look, to get lost in the colors and textures and patterns. He informs us of the knots, the imperfections, the bumps, the smears of color. At times it looks and feels random and chaotic. Yet every knot, every bump, every stitch plays an integral part in these aspects of our human history. And as if this weren’t enough, it is important to recognize that in post after post and lecture upon lecture Bart succeeds not only in expanding our vision beyond educated analyses of the past events but also calls us to live responsibly and generously in the present.
As the Ehrman blog celebrates its 10th Blogiversary, Bart and those who work tirelessly to keep it going are to be congratulated for providing an amazing intellectual space for the civil exchange of ideas that have been woven together with the threads of various hues, colored by different theological, political, and scholarly perspectives, woven in such a way to create a tapestry for the common good. Here’s to the next ten years of conversation and charity.