In 1 Samuel, the title character is a little boy in the temple whom God calls on to prophesy to the priest, which the child does. In 2 Kings, an enslaved Israelite girl speaks up to save her owner from leprosy. The Bible is filled with relatively unsung stories of children, says the Rev. Julie Parker ’83.
“Once we take these stories and we lift them up, they have a life in our minds and in the world,” she says. She has dedicated her scholarship to “raising up” those stories.
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Parker, associate professor of biblical studies at the General Theology Seminary of the Episcopal Church, pioneered the field of “childist” biblical scholarship. As she explains it, the field examines biblical children to reassess their roles and importance. Scholars also look at the construction of child characters and ask whose interests are at stake in the portrayals of the text.
“Childist interpretation is analogous to second- and third-wave feminism in terms of how we look at women and children in the Bible. Scholars ask how the understandings of characters have influenced us today and how we can question traditional interpretations,” Parker says.
Working as an ordained United Methodist minister during her first years after College, Parker earned a doctorate in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible from Yale University in 2009. “I realized that there was this huge gap in biblical studies. No one was looking at the children in the Bible. I began to develop a biblical field, which has since burgeoned,” she says.
In 2008, she founded, within the Society of Biblical Literature, a section for the study of children, and in the last decade publications in the field have proliferated. “Like a healthy child, the field of childist studies is growing strong. Like a happy parent, I am grateful for its development,” Parker says.