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Professor Emerita Phyllis A. Bird Named Inaugural McCarthy Chair in Biblical Studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome

September 29, 2015

Dr. Phyllis A. Bird, Professor Emerita of Old Testament Interpretation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, will inaugurate the newly established McCarthy Chair in Biblical Studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (PBI) in Rome, beginning October 2015. The McCarthy Chair has been designated for a woman scholar on a rotating basis as a one-semester teaching and research position. This inaugural chair is believed to be the first chair at PBI to be held by a woman.

Founded by Pope Pius X with an Apostolic Letter Vinea electa dated May 7, 1909, the Pontifical Biblical Institute seeks to serve as "a center of higher studies for Sacred Scripture in the city of Rome and of all related studies according to the spirit of the Catholic Church.” Since its founding, it has been administered by members of the Society of Jesus, and Bird will be among a handful of women to teach at PBI. In an email correspondence written to Bird, Peter Dubovsky, dean of the biblical faculty at PBI, said, “I am excited that you will be the first to occupy this inaugural chair. I am certain that it will be a great experience for both our faculty members and our students.”

Bird will begin teaching her course, The Faith of Israel's Daughters, on October 5. In addition, she will deliver her lectio magistralis (keynote address) titled, Sacred Prostitution in Ancient Israel? A New Look at the Sources, on October 16. While in Rome, Bird will be staying in a Jesuit compound within walking distance of the Trevi fountain. “Having never been to Rome or Italy, I'm looking forward to all the new experiences it will bring with great anticipation,” said Bird.

For more than 35 years, Bird has explored the roles and traditions of women in the ancient Near East and has provided ground-breaking feminist interpretations. Her book, Missing Persons and Mistaken Identities: Women and Gender in Ancient Isreal (Fortress Press 1991), remains a staple in theological and religious studies in institutions around the world. Her most recent publication is a collection of her major articles entitled Faith, Feminism, and the Forum of Scripture: Essays on Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics (Wipf and Stock 2015). This volume explores the theology of the Hebrew Bible as testimony to the faith of ancient Israel and as a source for Christian theology and ethics. Each chapter approaches the Bible as a site of theological reflection in which multiple voices are heard (in chorus and debate), in a forum that invites readers to join the conversation and extend it.

Long recognized as a pioneer in feminist biblical hermeneutics, Bird is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church who has worked tirelessly to inform the faith through a historical-critical perspective of biblical studies. She served as Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Garrett-Evangelical from 1985 to 2004 when the Board of Trustees named her professor emerita.  

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