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2020 Presidential Address

“The Hermeneutics of Chutzpah: A Disquisition on the Value/s of ‘Critical Investigation of the Bible’”
Adele Reinhartz, Université d'Ottawa / University of Ottawa



Reinhartz imageAdele Reinhartz is a second generation Canadian, born not long after her parents immigrated to Canada from postwar Europe. Adele was raised largely within the Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivor community in Toronto and, like many eighteen-year olds, started university with an unfocussed set of interests. Among her first-year choices were Introductory Modern Hebrew, and Introduction to Judaism, which she took in order to learn about Jewish religious texts and practices that she had not encountered in her prior secular Jewish education. After four years she graduated the University of Toronto with a BA in Religious Studies, with a specialization in Jewish Studies, and a letter of admission to the MA program in Religious Studies at McMaster University.

One of the attractions of McMaster’s graduate program was (and remains) the requirement that students studying early Christianity take courses in early Judaism, and vice-versa. And so it was that in September 1975 Adele found herself haltingly reading and translating Galatians in a small seminar taught by E.P. Sanders, who had just submitted the final manuscript of Paul and Palestinian Judaism to the publisher. Adele completed her MA in early Judaism, and stayed on at McMaster to complete a doctoral dissertation in New Testament. After graduation, she embarked on an academic career that took her to the University of Toronto, back to McMaster, and most recently to the University of Ottawa, with a decade-long detour into senior university administration. Over the years she has also been privileged to teach courses at the Harvard, Yale, and Brite Divinity Schools, and to hold research fellowships at the Israel Institute of Advanced Studies in Jerusalem (2000-2001), International Consortium for Research in the Humanities at Ruhr University Bochum, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2011-12). Adele also enjoyed two years as the Corcoran Visiting Chair in Christian-Jewish Relations at Boston College (2015-17).

Adele’s doctoral research focused on literary approaches to the Gospel of John. After completing her dissertation on the role of John’s statement of purpose (John 20:30-31) in Johannine narrative and discourse, she moved on to other projects. The first was a book, entitled The Word in the World: The Cosmological Tale in the Fourth Gospel (1992), in which she explored an idea that had been brewing since her doctoral days: that the “good shepherd” metaphor in John 10 alluded to the “harrowing of Hell” – the idea that in the days between his burial and the discovery of the empty tomb, Jesus descended to the netherworld to preach to the dead.

A second book on John, called Befriending the Beloved Disciple (2001) used Wayne Booth’s framework of frame of friendship, which posited that readers of any narrative inevitably enter into an relationship with the implied author. In espousing an “ethics of fiction,” Booth urges readers to consider the ethical quality of their relationships with the implied authors whose company they keep as they are reading. This approach to the Gospel left Adele in a quandary. From a 21st-century perspective, the Gospel’s implied author does not necessarily bring out the best in readers, especially when it comes to the stance towards the ioudaioi. As a scholar, she was able to situate this stance within the Gospel’s larger program. But as a Jew who is neither persuaded by nor receptive to John’s overall message, she found it difficult to be in friendship with an implied author who expressed such hostile comments about “the Jews” -- a group with which she herself identified.

Although Adele has stuck with John for many decades, she has also engaged in other projects: a study of anonymous characters in the Hebrew Bible (1998), and the history and reception history in art, literature, drama, and film, of the high priest Caiaphas (2011). Adele’s service teaching led to a lengthy, engrossing, and ongoing process of self-education in film studies, as well as several books on Bible and film, including Scripture on the Silver Screen (2003), Jesus of Hollywood (2007), and Bible and Cinema: An Introduction (2013). She is currently preparing a second edition of this introduction and working on a project about the tension between Catholicism and secularism in French-language Québécois film.

Adele returned to John, and the fraught question of anti-Judaism, in her most recent book, Cast Out of the Covenant: Jews and Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John (2018). In this book she argues that the Gospel constructs a rhetorical “parting of the ways” between Christ-confessors and the ioudaioi – Jews who, in John’s view, should have believed but did not. This is not to say that the historical processes that led to separation were already complete or even well under way by the late first century, but simply that a separation was already given rhetorical expression in what eventually became a canonical Christian text.

In addition to teaching, research, and academic administration, Adele has been involved extensively in the SBL, including six years on Council and seven years as General Editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature. She has also been active in the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, the Royal Society of Canada (elected 2005), and the American Association for Jewish Research (elected 2014).



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