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Shively SmithBrief Reflections on the “Head, Heart, and Hand” Legacy of Dr. Clarice J. Martin through the Social-Conscious Literary Voice of Anna Julia Cooper

The only sane education, therefore, is that which conserves the very lowest stratum, the best and most economical is that which gives to each individual, according to his [her] capacity, that training of ‘head, heart, and hand,’ or, more literally, of mind, spirit and body which converts him [her] into a beneficent force in the service of the world. This is the business of schools and this the true cause of the deep and vital interest of all the people in Educational Programs.[1]

Anna Julia Cooper’s Legacy for African American Women’s Biblical Scholarship[2]

The 1993 first volume of Searching the Scriptures, edited by Dr. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Anna Julia Cooper as an Afri­can American foremother of feminist biblical studies.[3] Born into slavery in 1858, Cooper refused to accept gender and race were barriers to education, training, accomplishment, and global citizenship. She received her doctorate in history from the Sorbonne in 1924, becoming the fourth African American woman to earn a doctoral degree.[4] Before receiving her doctorate, however, Cooper was already busy thinking, writing, and speaking about the inequities, oppressions, and violence facing those living at the intersections of race, gender, and class. She persisted in arguing that caring about the world is most decisive and effectual if those rendered most neglected, exploited, disenfranchised, invisible, and silenced by our Western-contrived societies were attended to first.[5]

Cooper viewed education as a pathway for righting racial and gender inequities that can affirm the full humanity and gifts of African Americans. In an essay called “On Education,” written sometime in the early 1900s, Anna Julia Cooper penned the words above as a declaration about the state of the American educational system. She was particularly keen on narrating the challenges and opportunities newly emancipated African Americans faced as they struggled to carve out a livelihood and community in a country, whose investment in their enfranchisement was short lived. Lasting less than 15 years after the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), Reconstruction was the period when the United States (US) “intended to institutionalize for its black citizens what President Lincoln had called ‘a new birth of freedom.’”[6] These national efforts came to a grinding halt in 1877 as the result of state-by-state politics, “the power and persistence of white Southern resistance to black empowerment,” and waning “Northern concern for the free people’s well-being.”[7] Consequently, African Americans were left without systematic and federal power to enforce their rights as full, voting citizens and human beings in the American system. Thus, they were forced to establish alternative community systems, employment opportunities and businesses, and educational institutions while facing the rise of racial violence and disenfranchisement and the looming realities of white supremacist backlash.

Cooper privileged head, heart, and hand language as a mechanism for affirming the agency and gifts of African Americans and women. In addition to the opening epigraph from Cooper’s works, this language occurs in several other places across her writings. For instance, in an 1886 essay titled, “Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” Cooper describes the yearly enrichment gained by the US and global world from the quality education and training made available to former enslaved and disenfranchised African Americans, especially African American women. She says it creates “a fresh infusion of vigorous young hearts, cultivated heads, and helpful hands…”[8] According to one scholar, “For Cooper, ‘head, heart, and hand’ (45) must be thought of and enacted together: emotion and spirit are epistemologically significant and also politically and ethically important, for it is ‘faith’ and the ‘spirit’ that propel us to act (286–304).”[9]

In considering the challenges and opportunities facing the study of New Testament in the Society of Biblical Literature – past and future – recalling the work and commitments of women pioneers provide insights into potential ways forward in the Society’s efforts to include a more diverse and representative global membership. Cooper designated women’s heads, hearts, and hands a necessity and asset in the work of changing the world through access to higher education for all. She characterized global diversity and realities as resources to be embraced and used in cultivating human minds, spirits, and bodies, no matter their identities, locations, and histories. Such acts are what Cooper called, “the Gospel of intelligence” in service to the “moral and material uplift” of a people as well as all peoples across the global world.[10]

Cooper’s head-heart-hand priority seems to be echoed in the pioneering efforts of many women who have worked and are working in the field of New Testament studies. One, in particular, has journeyed with me in the library and embodied the spirit of Cooper’s work in her own way nearly 100 years after Cooper named head-heart-hand as a requisite for people teaching, thinking, and acting on behalf of those living at the intersections of race, gender, and class. Dr. Clarice J. Martin, the first African American woman degreed in New Testament in SBL in 1985, has modeled and extended Cooper’s head-heart-hand imperative in the field with courageous and critical erudition.

My First Encounter with Cooper and Martin: The Head

It is quite natural for me to talk about Cooper’s head-heart-hand priority and Martin’s pioneering scholarship and presence in the field of New Testament Studies a century later because I was introduced to them at the same time. As an undergraduate enrolled in a university based in the United States (US), I studied theology for a short period abroad in the United Kingdom (UK) as an English-Speaking Union Luard Scholar. During that time, I learned Greek, translated and studied the history of interpretation for the Gospel of Mark, and explored early Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian with much curiosity and zeal. Captivated by my studies in biblical history and literature and early Christian history, I contemplated pursuing doctoral studies in bible and patristics. Yet, as an African American woman student, I wondered: “Do people who look like me pursue and earn doctoral degrees in biblical studies and early church history?” From my young and limited undergraduate vantage point, it did not appear doctoral studies in biblical studies was achievable for females of the African Diaspora, neither inside nor outside the US.

Fortunately, my undergraduate mentors from the US were unmoved by my disappointment and observations abroad. They instructed me to continue my studies in the UK and to read two books they sent me through international mail, which were: Anna Julia Cooper’s A Voice from the South from The Schaumburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers, and the 1991 edited volume of Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. In the latter, my mentors earmarked Clarice Martin’s essay, “The Haustafeln (Household Codes) in African American Biblical Interpretation: ‘Free Slaves’ and ‘Subordinate Women,’” with a note that said, “African American Women are New Testament Scholars, too.”[11]

In her essay on the haustafeln, Martin reframes the task of critical biblical scholarship and its endeavors to “challenge, probe, affirm, critique, and recover” the meanings, histories, and significance of New writings – or as Martin refers to it – “Christian Testament Studies.”[12] Martin says, “…It is appropriate to note that African American women, with women in the Western culture in general, have often tasted the pungent fruit of androcentric, hierarchal domination. Black women are no strangers to arguments that the Bible sanctions their submission as wives and women in the domestic and socio-political spheres. They, too, have challenged literalists interpretations of women’s subordination in the haustafeln and similar narratives.”[13] Martin’s insistence that “they, too, have challenged,” functioned as a critical intervention in the field at a time when she – along with her Hebrew Bible contemporary, Renita Weems – were the only two African American women of record holding terminal degrees in biblical studies from PhD-granting universities in the United States. In the early 1990s, less than 100 years after Ann Ely Rhoads became the first female member of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis (as it was called at the time) and only a few years before Schüssler Fiorenza published the first volume of Searching the Scriptures with its dedication to Anna Julia Cooper, Martin situated biblical interpretation as work that occurred at the intersections of race, gender, and class. The multidimensional identity markers of people historically on the underside of American history had yet to be theorized expansively in the field of biblical studies and outside it.[14] As such, Martin was a pioneer in biblical studies in her hermeneutical decision to position the historical realities of African American womanhood as a site of critical interpretative engagement in New Testament Studies.

Like Cooper, Martin has in no way been the proverbial “shrinking flower” in our field. In addition to being the first African American woman with a doctorate degree specializing in New Testament from Duke University in 1985; she has served as a teacher-scholar of biblical studies at leading institutions of religious and theological education in the United States, including: Princeton Theological Seminary (1985–1992), Colgate Rochester Divinity School (1985–1992), and currently at Colgate University (1997–present) as Jean Picker Chair and Professor of Philosophy and Religion. She has had visiting professor appointments at Graduate Theological Union, New College Berkeley, United Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and New York Theological Seminary.

Moreover, Martin’s publications are extensive. Indeed, many titles of her scholarly contributions reflect the unique mixture and manifestation of Cooper head-heart-hand that is sometimes difficult to find in a field not practiced in making space for contextually-informed interpretative approaches and perspectives produced by interpreters of biblical writings – canonical and noncanonical – who leverage intersectional lenses and histories. The following are some examples of Martin’s scholarship that represent the nature of her work and its innovative imprint in the field: (1) a 1990 essay called, “Womanist Interpretations of the New Testament: The Quest for Holistic and Inclusive Translation and Interpretation;”[15] (2) an essay called, “Somebody Done Hoodoo’d the Hoodoo Man: Language, Power, Resistance, and the Effective History of Pauline Texts in American Slavery,” published in the Fall 2000 Semeia volume titled Slavery in Text and Interpretation;[16] and, (3) an essay called, “Normative Biblical Motifs in African American Women’s Moral Discourse: Maria Stewart’s Autobiography as a Resource for Nurturing Leadership From the Black Church Tradition,” published in The Stones That the Builders Rejected. The Development of Leadership from the Black Church Tradition.[17] These writings capture Martin’s scholarly voice and legacy, but they also represent scholarship that is useful for classroom instruction. Many of Martin’s scholarly articles and essays are standard assigned readings in my introductory courses to the New Testament and womanist/feminist biblical hermeneutics. They provide students with a sense of how multiple dimensions of biblical history and reconstruction can interact with the interpretative histories of particular communities.

In addition to these writings, Martin produced commentary readings for projects such as the 2007, True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. She wrote the First and Second Timothy and Titus commentary essays while also serving as one of the associate editors for the project.[18] She has written commentary and interpreter’s notes for The HarperCollins Study Bible produced by SBL and she wrote “The Acts of the Apostles” commentary essay in Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary.

Furthermore, she contributed to encyclopedic entries defining womanist biblical interpretation. She characterized womanist biblical interpretation as developing from the Black Theology movement of the 1960s and 1970s, informed by the scholarly works of such figures as James Cone, Jacquelyn Grant, J. Deotis Roberts, Gayraud Wilmore, and Delores Williams.[19] Martin noted that these scholars “and other African American Christian theologians in major divinity schools and seminaries throughout the United States for the first time attempted to construct systematic theologies from the Black perspective.” According to her description, such endeavors repositioned “the African American experience, with its legacy of struggle arising from slavery, oppression, resistance, and survival in the New World” as a “starting point for doing theology.”

Furthermore, according to Martin, black theology and its emergence created the space for the particular development of African American women’s approaches to the bible, known as womanist biblical interpretation.[20] One key characteristic of the “richly diverse and eclectically wide-ranging” approaches in womanist biblical discourse that Martin delineates is its blend of traditional approaches with the contextual realities and histories of African Americans, particularly women. She says womanist biblical interpretation is informed as much by “the standard and traditionalist methodologies and practices of biblical criticism in the academic guild” as it is “by the discourses, values, and sociopolitical and religious experiences and cosmological worldview of African American culture.[21]

The Tasks of Heart and Hand in Martin’s Work

Like Cooper’s triad imperative suggests, Martin has also worked with heart and hand, supporting emerging women scholars of the New Testament, especially African American women. She has read and endorsed scholarly works such as Mitzi J. Smith’s book, Toward Decentering the New Testament, Shanell T. Smith’s book, The Woman Babylon and the Marks of Empire, and Angela N. Parker’s essay, “One Womanist’s View of Racial Reconciliation in Galatians.”

She has also made herself available in an advisory role, sharing stories about her career trajectory and her perspectives about the future of the field. When asked about the challenges she faced while pioneering the way for other African diaspora women, women of color, and women in general, Martin emphasized the importance of leveraging the particularities of her contextual markers in the work of biblical scholarship.

“I have always viewed myself and my work within the larger context of a global, diasporic community of people of African descent, where spirituality and theism were integral to the psyche of Black peoples. Within the North American context of enslavement and white supremacy, I have always known that I stand on the shoulders of Black women and men with a long history of engagement with the Bible—the extant literature on this subject is voluminous. In those “early years” of my academic journey, my deliberate search for African American scholars in Christian Testament Studies and Early Christian Origins yielded few results. I learned of Dr. Carl Marbury and Dr. Cain Felder, and a precious few others. Knowledge of their scholarly careers was profoundly encouraging—but my search for Black women scholars in that diminutive number—dispiriting. Like those Black male colleagues before me, I was sometimes met with initial curiosity and skepticism about my competence as an African American Christian Testament graduate student and scholar (“Do you really know Greek?” “Don’t you really want to study Christian Education?”). But none of these sometimes derisive quips could uproot the deep intellectual roots that defined my love for the “life of the mind” my parents had tended and nurtured in the soil of my being all of my life.”[22]

Martin’s reflections function as a cipher to her interpretative contributions to the field. In particular, it signifies the way her work uniquely blends traditional methodologies in historical and literary criticisms with attention to the existential realities of black life in the US. Moreover, her story demonstrates the resilience and tenacity many scholars from underrepresented groups had to muster to succeed in a field unaccustomed to their bodies, voices, and perspectives. Describing the role of persistence in her scholastic journey, Martin said, “The countervailing winds of white supremacy were powerless to “sink this ship”– so I pressed delightfully and determinedly forward thankful to be in a position many in that “great cloud of African American witnesses” labored and prayed for, endured for, fought for, for their progeny – to avail themselves of the opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams.”

Clarice J. Martin’s work on the haustafeln in New Testament writings and her larger portfolio of scholarship provided an intellectual companion and interlocutor for my work on 1 Peter, the general letters, and household codes. She was the starting point through whom I, and others in the field, encountered different voices and perspectives not easily visible in scholarship. For example, Martin’s scholarship introduced me to the work of Ann Holmes Redding, another womanist biblical scholar less known, who also extended Cooper’s legacy of head-heart-hand in critical ways. Holmes Redding, a 1999 PhD in New Testament from Union Theological Seminary, wrote a dissertation titled, “Together, Not Equal: The Rhetoric of Unity and Headship in the Letter of Ephesians.”[23] She also wrote several essays about the household codes, arguing they represent Christian Testament creations that postponed addressing slave and gender inequities with the intention of returning to those issues at a later moment. As Holmes Redding notes, that intended “return” did not occur in early Christian history; thus fixing these literary creations as static prescriptions, rather than social and cultural constructions under negotiation and review by different early Christian communities.[24] In her career as a New Testament scholar and priest, Holmes Redding eventually embraced a radical interfaith identity, which was informed by her intertextual studies of different sacred religious canons.

Conclusion: Final Questions and Perspectives for Consideration

Commemorating the pioneering careers and scholarship of Clarice J. Martin and others like Ann Holmes Redding in light of Anna Julia Cooper’s head-heart-hand criteria, raises questions about the prospects for biblical studies in the future. Thus, I conclude my brief reflections of appreciation by posing three questions for further consideration about the future of the field in light of these scholarly trajectories with the hopes it encourages us to continue the work of extending their legacies.

  1. What assets and fresh ideas of the head, heart, and hand have we yet to engage and resource as necessities of the research, scholarship, and teaching of our Learned Society as women and allies of SBL, striving to extend this 125-year legacy of Rhoads, Cooper, Martin, Schüssler Fiorenza (and others)?
  2. When we look around our field, what contexts, texts, and voices are missing in critical numbers among the ranks of our Society—from undergraduate to graduate students, professorships and chairs, to institutional leaders?
  3. What steps have we yet to take to ensure radical inclusion that challenges exclusion, erasure, and invisibility in our scholarship and teaching as well as in our academic discourses and public platforms?

This panel of women biblical scholars reflects the way the field has made strides toward inclusion and diversity, but it also represents the necessity to endeavor collectively to extend that history. The work of widening the guild space and revisiting the ancient texts and worlds that diverse global communities have historically held dear, requires approaching familiar source material from new angles with new eyes, perspectives, and commitments historically underrepresented (if represented at all). Martin’s final expressions of hope articulate the potential for the field: “My hope for women in the field, in particular, and for women in SBL, in general, in the present and future, is their continued intellectual expansion, critique, and transformation of the discipline and the conference itself—across—and within--every thematic subject area—and within the administrative hierarchy of the broad domain of the academic study of religion—regionally, nationally, and globally.”


[1] Italics font is my own. Anna J. Cooper, Charles C. Lemert, and Esme Bhan, The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper: Including A Voice from the South and Other Important Essays, Papers, and Letters. Legacies of Social Thought (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998), 250. Cooper uses the language of head, heart, and hand elsewhere in an 1886 essay titled, “Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race” saying: “Will not the aid of the Church be given to prepare our girls in head, heart, and hand for the duties and responsibilities that await the intelligent [woman] wife…” See Anna Julia Cooper and Janet Neary. A Voice from the South. Dover Thrift Editions (New York: Dover Publications, 2016), 18; Cooper, Lemert, Bhan, The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper, 70.

[2] This essay is a lightly revised version of the original paper presentation offered at the 2019 Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Annual Meeting in San Diego, California called, “Recovering Female Interpreters of the Bible.” The purpose of the session was to honor the 125th Anniversary of the first woman invited to become a member of SBL, Anna Ely Rhoads. The panel was charged to offer personal stories and reflections on women scholars and mentors in the field that have impacted the invited panelists and extended the legacy of Rhoads in SBL. This essay upholds the spirit of that task in its storytelling and narration of Drs. Anna Julia Cooper and Clarice J. Martin.

[3] “However, it must be noted that the first volume of Searching the Scriptures (Schüssler Fiorenza 1993) is not dedicated to Stanton but to the memory of Anna Julia Cooper, an Afri­can American foremother of feminist biblical studies. The contributors to the volume were not primarily Society of Biblical Literature members but feminist contributors located in different areas of religious studies. The second commentary volume of Searching the Scriptures (Schüssler Fio­renza 1994) sought to honor The Woman’s Bible project of Stanton but did not adopt its title because of the problematic confessional and racist underpinnings of this historic work.” Quoted in, Marion Ann Taylor, Celebrating 125 Years of Women in the Society of Biblical Literature (1894-2019) (Atlanta: SBLPress, 2019), 51. Also see, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Introduction, vol. 1 (New York: Crossroad, 1993); Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary, vol. 2 (New York: Crossroad, 1994).

[4] Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis, Gates, Jr., eds., The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers (New York: Penguin, 2017), 414.

[5] A similar claim is echoed centuries later in the famous 1949 monograph by Howard Thurman called, Jesus and the Disinherited (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1996 [1949]).

[6] Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2019), 6.

[7] Mia Bay, To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009), 15-16. Bay narrates the brief period of Reconstruction in the United States as the historical context for another African American woman literary writer and contemporary of Cooper, Ida B. Wells.

[8] Cooper, Lemert, Bhan, The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper, 69.

[9] Vivian M. May, "Thinking from the Margins, Acting at the Intersections: Anna Julia Cooper's A Voice from the South." Hypatia 19, no. 2 (2004): 87.

[10] Cooper, Lemer, and Bhan, The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper, 250.

[11] Clarice J. Martin, “The Haustafeln (Household Codes) in African American Biblical Interpretation: ‘Free Slaves’ and ‘Subordinate Women,” in Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation, edited by Cain Hope Felder (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 206–231.

[12] Some of the quotations from Clarice J. Martin are taken from an email correspondence and interview that occurred in preparation for this panel and paper reflections. Clarice J. Martin, interviewed by Shively T. J. Smith, San Diego, CA, November 21, 2019.

[13] Martin, “The Haustafeln,” 222.

[14] The concept of “intersectionality” was originally deployed and defined by legal scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 essay titled, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” to characterize the multidimensionality of African American women’s lived experience. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine,” University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989): 139–168; “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43.6 (1991): 1245–46; Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality. Key Concepts (Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016), 7. In biblical studies, the concept has been deployed in recent conversations about biblical approaches in new textbooks and was the framing interpretive lens for the Gale Yee’s 2019 SBL Presidential Address in San Diego, California at the SBL Annual Meeting called, “Thinking Intersectionally: Gender, Race, Class, and the etceteras of the Discipline.” At the time of this paper revision, the address was not yet published in the guild’s peer-reviewed journal called, Journal for Biblical Literature. Also see, Mitzi J. Smith and Yung Suk Kim, Toward Decentering the New Testament: A Reintroduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018), 52-53.

[15] Clarice J. Martin, “Womanist Interpretations of the New Testament: The Quest for Holistic and Inclusive Translation and Interpretation,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 6, no. 2 (1990): 41-61. The essay was reprinted in Mitzi J. Smith, I Found God in Me: A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015), 19–41.

[16] Clarice J. Martin, “‘Somebody Done Hoodoo’d the Hoodoo Man’: Language, Power, Resistance, and the Effective History of Pauline Texts in American Slavery,” Semeia, no. 83/84 (1998): 203. This article engages the complicated reception history of Pauline texts and American’s history of slavocracy. It is also exceptionally generative for classroom conversation about the intersections and differences between the world of the Paul and the world of American social and geopolitical histories.

[17] This work informs my current emerging work on 19th century African American women literary writers and their bibles. Walter E. Fluker, The Stones That the Builders Rejected: The Development of Ethical Leadership from the Black Church Tradition (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press, 1998), 47–72.

[18] Brian K. Blount, Cain Hope Felder, Clarice J. Martin, and Emerson B. Powery, True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007).

[19] James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, An Original Seabury Paperback (SP 59; New York: Seabury Press, 1969); James H. Cone and G. S. Wilmore, Black Theology: A Documentary History, 2 volumes (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1979/1993); Jacquelyn Grant, White Women's Christ and Black Women's Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response (American Academy of Religion Academy Series No. 64; Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1989); J. Deotis Roberts, Black Theology Today: Liberation and Contextualization (Toronto Studies in Theology, v. 12; New York: E. Mellen Press, 1983); Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-talk (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1993).

[20] Clarice J. Martin, “Womanist Biblical Interpretation,” in Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, John H. Hayes, gen. ed., vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 655–658.

[21] Martin, “Womanist Biblical Interpretation,” 2:657.

[22] Excerpt from written interview with Clarice J. Martin. See note 10.

[23] Ann Holmes Redding, “Together, Not Equal: The Rhetoric of Unity and Headship in the Letter to Ephesians.” Order No. 9930857, Union Theological Seminary, 1999.

[24] Ann Holmes Redding, “The Christian Family and the Household Codes,” The Living Pulpit 8.3 (1999): 36–37.


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Rev. Dr. Shively T. J. Smith,

is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology (Boston, MA). She completed her PhD in New Testament Studies at Emory University, publishing her first book called, Strangers to Family: Diaspora and First Peter’s Invention of God’s Household with Baylor University Press. She is completing a commentary on Second Peter for SBL Press and several articles on Diaspora in the New Testament.

© Shively T. J. Smith, 2020,, ISSN 1661-3317