July 9, 2007
Trail-blazing biblical scholar Galambush to speak at Emory
by carol clark
After she was ordained a Baptist minister, Julie Galambush spent a few years serving a small church in her native Ohio before finding her true calling: academia.
She left the ministry to enter Emory in 1985 as a Ph.D. candidate in Old Testament Studies.
“I’ve always found the Old Testament more fascinating than the New Testament,” Galambush said. “The stories are so much richer. In Judges, for instance, you have Ehud the left-handed man who stabs the enemy king. The king is so fat that the dagger goes in over the hilt. And then Jael invites the enemy commander into her tent, and, as he sleeps, goes ‘softly’ over to him and drives a tent peg through his head and into the ground. The book of Judges is filled with a mixture of bizarre and violent stories and lofty ideals. Throughout the Hebrew Bible you see an interplay between mysterious, gripping stories and sublime proclamations of faith. It just grabs me. It always did.”
Her Emory Ph.D. project examined the metaphor of Jerusalem as God’s wife, described in Ezekiel 16.
“God is so angry over his wife’s adultery that he calls in an army to have her chopped up to pieces. I wanted to look at the emotional and sexual dynamics of that extended metaphor, and particularly its attitude toward violence against women,” she said. “If the reader is supposed to see God as a model husband, what do you do if he’s abusing his wife?”
She noted that prior to her dissertation, commentaries on Ezekiel 16 tended to “clean up” the story, concluding that “God loves his wife and it pains him to have to discipline her.” To Galambush, this didn’t make sense. “God tells his wife that after she has been hacked to pieces, then he will be calm and his rage will subside. How could scholars read this as the model of a loving husband — or a loving God?”
Blazing new trails through ancient texts is just another day’s work for Galambush, who is now Distinguished Associate Professor of Religious Studies at The College of William and Mary. “In biblical studies, scholars have spent hundreds of years studying each volume,” she said. “If you don’t cut it open in a new way, you’re just replicating what’s already been done. I don’t have any interest in doing that.”
Even as a child, growing up in a liberal American Baptist church, Galambush enjoyed getting into intense theological discussions with the minister. The barrier between Judaism and Christianity seemed especially debatable to her. “So what if God raised Jesus from the dead?” she posited. “That just means God kept his promise to the Jews. Why would you start a new religion over that?”
In Hebrews 5 “it says that Jesus learned obedience and became perfect through what he suffered. To me this is a stunning line,” Galambush said. “It suggests that Jesus did not start out perfect, and that his will was different from God’s. In short, he was human. Although the church went in one direction and made him divine, the stubborn Baptist in me always said that I could believe in a lower Christology and still be Christian.”
In 1994, a few years after marrying a Jew, Galambush converted. “It was an easy and joyful transition,” she said.
Her ability to embrace, and even revel, in such paradoxes, launched Galambush into a whole new specialty: explaining Christianity to Jews and Judaism to Christians. “I was surprised at how much the two groups didn’t know about each other and I began to see myself as a resource,” she said.
To help bridge the gap, she wrote “The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers created a Christian Book,” which was published by HarperSanFrancisco in 2005. The book makes the case that, among other things, the New Testament writers are “engaged in a defensive task proving, ironically enough, that they’re still Jewish,” she said. “Of course, as sectarians they’re saying that they’re the part of the Jewish community that’s gotten it right.”
Jews and Christians alike have expressed gratitude for the book. “People are so eager to understand the connections between the two traditions,” Galambush said. “Seeing the authors’ Jewish identity reflected in every page of the New Testament allows a reader to befriend the authors as Jews without suggesting that the reader should now become a Christian.”
Recognition of the strong Jewish identity that persisted in the first centuries of Christianity “is a relatively new insight,” she said. “It’s only been fully articulated in the last generation. Scholars continue to place the ‘parting of the ways’ at a later and later date.”
The Holocaust was one impetus for the two religions to search for common ground, Galambush said, while the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered between 1947 and 1956, provided critical tools for further exploring the connections. “The Dead Sea Scrolls not only told us a lot of fascinating things about how Jews thought in the period when Christianity was forming; they were also powerful enough to get us to reconsider other data,” she explained.
The “Cradle of Christianity” exhibition currently at the Carlos Museum is one example of this gradual transformation in the understanding of the two religions.
“I think the exhibition, in an understated way, is quite daring,” Galambush said. “After all, a cradle is a place where you do some nurturing. So the name implies that not only did Christianity originate in Judaism; Judaism nurtured it. This was an intimate
relationship. In many ways, that potential for gracious co-existence is still there in the two religions.”