Search SBL

SBL Forum Archive
<< Return to SBL Forum Archive A Reflection on Brevard Childs

For the record, I am Brevard Childs' last student. The late Gerald Shepherd and Chris Seitz have had a special relationship with Professor Childs. But on a similar note, he also took me under his wings. He was my teacher, thesis advisor (STM 1997-1999), and my mentor. Whenever we ran into each other, be it in the hallways of the Divinity School, the library, or the Religious Studies Department receptions, he faithfully began by asking about the well being of my wife and children. Then, it was asking about how I was doing in the program (first Asian/Korean-American in Yale's HB/OT PhD program). I remember one particular conversation during my first year. I relayed how amazing Bill Hallo, Ben Foster, Harvey Weiss, and especially Bob Wilson were. He smiled and said, "John, I'm so glad to hear that things are going well for you." But when I added, "But you know, I do miss taking classes with you," he broke out into a short laugh and smiled. I can still picture that smile. Last April (2006), when I told him we were headed to Austin, TX, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, his genuine congratulations and encouraging words were just the assurance that we needed. When I told my wife that I ran into Professor Childs and he said "That's a fine institution and you'll excel there for the guild and the church," those words were enough for my wife to say, "Honey, we can leave here." You see, we never lived outside of NY, NJ, and CT. West was the Pocono's in Pennsylvania, and I was 26 when I crossed the Mississippi, and never did it cross my mind that we would live outside the Tri-State. Truthfully, I didn't want my children to experience what I encountered in the 1970s in the Bronx and Brooklyn. But the call and those words helped.

One of my favorite memories of Professor Childs was knowing that he was just here. It was a lightly snowcovered day in January, and I had come to the library to do some copying while compiling a bibliography for my comprehensive exam. When I asked for the copy card at the circulation desk, I quickly glanced at the list of hand written sign-out names who previously issued the card. To my pleasant surprise, the card had been just issued to Brevard Childs. His curvy, scholarly signature was there. I had just missed him. I signed below his name and remember feeling that it was really good day, seeing that he was just here. But my prized memory of Professor Childs actually sits on my bookshelf. It's W. Baumgartner's 1951 edition of Hollenberg-Budde Hebräisches Schulbuch. Childs had apparently bought the book in 1952. He used the book extensively. His markings in pencil are on every other page— a check here, an underline there, a line marking a paragraph. The book somehow wound up in Marvin Pope's library — it has Marvin Pope's Hall of Graduate Studies stamp above Child's signature. I've been told that after Pope's passing, all of his books were donated to the Divinity School Library. And when the library was going through its renovations, all overstocked books were being sold for $1, without knowing who the previous holders of the book were, I opened to the first page and saw the signature and the stamp. With a jaw-dropping smile, I bought the book, took it home, and I signed my name John Ahn 1999 under Brevard Childs' 1952 signature.

What I am most grateful for is our every other week lunch over theological and biblical discussions prior to talking about my submitted work. For a period of two years, at the School of Management's (former Berkley Divinity School campus) refractory, Professor Childs provided guidance and taught me how to become a scholar and teacher. I never realized till now why we were always having lunch and conversations at the SOM when the DIV School had its own refractory. Yale's SOM has been about producing leaders. And with my fellow colleagues Jill, Nate, Mark, and Martien, we're on the verge of starting a new SBL section on "Exile (Forced Migrations) in Biblical Literature" in 2008. And just recently, I received a wonderful comment on an article that I submitted to the JBL-"I LOVED IT, OLD SCHOOL with SOCIOLOGICAL NOTES." That old school is none other than Professor Childs's influence (and of course the sociological side, Robert Wilson).

On a personal note, there are interesting parallels between Professor Child's teenage years and mine. Professor Childs grew up as a PK in Flushing, Queens (one of the five boroughs that make up New York City). His father was a Presbyterian minister. Brevard used to bike up and down Northern Blvd, ice skate at Bowne Park (the one near 32nd St.), learned how to swim at the Flushing YMCA, went to Bayside High School, and before going to Basel, received his BD at Princeton Theological Seminary. I also spent my formative adolescent years in Flushing. My father is also a Presbyterian minister and his church (162nd Street) is actually in walking distance of Professor Child's father's former congregation on 153rd Street. I also biked up and down Northern, and then took the Q28 and Q13 to get to long stretches, before finally taking long drives up and down Northern Blvd. My first swimming lessons were also at the Flushing Y. I played handball and basketball at Bowne Park, but did wonder, if the lake could hold persons for ice-skating. And although I though about going to Bayside High School, which was only minutes from to our home (192nd Street), I opted to go to Francis Lewis to play varsity volleyball. And after my studies with Lawrence Schiffman at NYU, I also attended PTS and received my MDIV in 1997. Indeed, interesting parallels— we're both Presbyterians.

For the record, Childs' scholarship has been about going beyond historical criticism, about going beyond the typological reading of the Old Testament, having a deep appreciation for how the rabbis and the Jewish community have read and preserved sacred scripture, and theologically bridging the NT with the OT while "actualizing" the Mitte of the text. It's much more sophisticated than what I've just presented. But for the record, Professor Childs will be deeply missed. His work, mission, and the signature that he has left will indeed be 'canonized.'

John Ahn, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Book Review Editor, Horizons in Biblical Theology, Hebrew Transliteration Editor, Old Testament Library, Secretary, Korean Biblical Colloquium.

Comments on this article? email:
Let us know if you would like your comments sent to the author or considered for publication as a letter to the editor. Please include your full name and, if you would like, your affiliation.

Citation: John Ahn, " A Reflection on Brevard Childs," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited June 2007]. Online:


© 2021, Society of Biblical Literature. All Rights Reserved.