An interview with Dr Paul Joyce - May 2012
Dr Paul Joyce will join the Department of Theology & Religious Studies at King's College London from September 2012, taking up the Samuel Davidson Chair of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible Studies.
In May 2012, Paul took the time to answer some questions about his background, what he hopes to bring to the role, and to offer some reflections on the continuing influence of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible in society today.
What undergraduate/postgraduate degrees do you have and from where?
I studied Theology as an undergraduate at Oxford, and after graduation moved on to doctoral work there, writing a DPhil thesis on the book of Ezekiel.
What previous academic positions have you held?
My first post was as Lecturer and subsequently Director of Studies at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, a Theological College of the Church of England. I then moved to the University of Birmingham as a Lecturer and subsequently to Oxford University, where I was University Lecturer in Old Testament and a Fellow of St Peter’s College. I served as Chair of the Oxford Theology Faculty Board 2008-2011.
What were your immediate thoughts on getting the job?
I was thrilled to be moving to a Chair that has been held by a sequence of distinguished scholars, several of whom have exercised a particular influence on my own work. And excited by the opportunities involved in pursuing research and teaching in the heart of one of the world’s great cities.
What do you hope to achieve in the role?
I hope, with others, to establish King’s as an international centre of excellence in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, building upon its strong tradition in the subject but also diversifying and innovating. Among other things, I hope to see a growing body of Masters and doctoral students coming to King’s to do their graduate work, both from the UK and from the wider world.
Your area of expertise is quite specific and, in an increasingly secular society, does your field still attract new scholars to it?
Old Testament/Hebrew Bibles Studies are in a dynamic and vibrant state today, and are attracting many students. It is important that I bring specific areas of expertise to the post, notably the study of the books of Ezekiel and Lamentations. I find that students are excited by the opportunity to read and understand these texts within their ancient contexts. But the wider range of my work (including the reception of the Bible in Judaism and Christianity; psychological interpretation of the Bible; and reading the Bible in an inter-faith context) reflects the many respects in which Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies are also fully engaged with the agenda presented by today’s world.
The Hebrew Bible and Old Testament are ancient texts but, for obvious reasons, they have lasted the test of time. What influences do you think they have in society today?
The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is a foundational text for both Judaism and Christianity, and moreover holds a place of honour for Muslims. Beyond these faith traditions, it is a classic of world literature, and in secular society today both law and ethics remain profoundly influenced by the legacy of this text. In both religious and secular contexts, of course, the influence of a text from a very different cultural context needs to be assessed and filtered intelligently and critically.
What attracted you to the books of Ezekiel and Lamentations as your specialist areas of study?
Both Ezekiel and Lamentations are texts that developed in response to a traumatic rupture in the life of ancient Israel, when in the sixth century BCE the Babylonians conquered the land, destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and brought an end to Monarchy. These two texts in their very different modes wrestle with the impact and aftermath of this crisis in fascinating ways, asking questions about whether the God of Israel remained in control of events, and if so whether he was behaving justly, and about the responsibility of Israel in these events. Both Ezekiel and Lamentations are books that confront the bleakest aspects of human existence and I have always been intrigued by their exploration of strategies for coping with the radical breakdown of a framework of meaning – and also the analogies this has offered for confronting comparable crises in the modern world, such as the Holocaust/Shoah.