Interview: Dan York


Durham University

Areas of Interest/Research:

Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Ancient Judaism, Early Christianity, History of Modern Biblical Interpretation. 

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I love reading ancient texts in their original languages. 

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

In terms of my doctoral project, the “big idea” is that Israel comes first and then the nations — not simply in terms of historical succession but in terms of priority. 

What is your current research about?

Recently, my research has asked how the history of biblical interpretation might inform ongoing biblical interpretation today in ways that might actually provide better categories and generate better readings than modern scholarship sometimes offers. For example, I raise these questions in a recently accepted and forthcoming Catholic Biblical Quarterlyarticle where I argue that the woman does nothing wrong when she adds the words “do not touch” to the divine command in Gen 3:3. At the same time, my research does not eschew modern approaches to biblical texts arising from linguistic and/or historical-critical insights. I’m currently wrapping up another article where I let modern linguistic theory inform a reading of Gen 12:3 LXX to problematise traditional readings that typically pave a way for supersessionism.

These approaches all converge in my doctoral thesis pertaining to the Book of Genesis. In the history of interpretation of Genesis, a common principle confidently unites Christian readings of the blessing of the nations, especially as it pertains to Abraham (largely influenced by a particular reading of Paul). The principle is that the nations are central to the divine blessing whereas Abraham is not. Under this principle, the blessing inherently anticipates a gentile-inclusive gospel, concomitantly making Abraham, the patriarchs, and Israel largely irrelevant and obsolete. I avoid this impulse, attempting to read Genesis as a Jewish text that depicts Abraham’s blessing as something primarily for the sake of the patriarchs in their life amidst the nations, thereby communicating a priority of the patriarchs over the nations. In the end, the project has implications beyond Genesis, extending to Pauline studies as well as theologies of Israel within both Jewish and Christian economies.  

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

Well, I came out to Durham to study with Walter Moberly. So, I would say he is a central figure in my academic life and development as a biblical scholar. I admire Walter’s ability to bring together rigorous and careful scholarship with an applicational point for both religious and secular communities interested in the Bible today. Walter also models humility in his research, maintaining that all of our research and insights remain tentative, even after we’ve done all the hard work of reading texts as best as we can. For me, Walter’s approach is both liberating and encouraging. It’s liberating, because it keeps my research—as important as I think it is—in perspective. However good my research might be, I’m simply adding my voice to a conversation started long ago which will continue long after me. At the same time, it’s encouraging in that it keeps me motivated to learn, grow, and stay sharp in order to remain a helpful scholar.

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

This is a difficult question since many different figures, books (literature, philosophy, theology, and biblical studies), lectures, articles, life experiences, and existential questions have shaped me and my interests. But I’ll distil it to these books within biblical studies…

Jon Levenson’s The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies. While more has been written since this book to support and further its thesis (e.g. James Kugel and Hindy Najman sound similar notes, also see Michael Legaspi’s The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies), I think this book is a courageous attempt by a Jewish scholar to show how modern biblical scholarship has been shaped largely by modern Protestant agendas largely antithetical to Judaism and Jewish approaches to the Hebrew Bible.

Christopher Seitz’s Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness, and Walter Moberly’s The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism. I read these books prior to seminary. They were formative for me as they forced me to start thinking about how one might read the Hebrew Bible theologically if one came to terms with the contributions of historical criticism. 

Benjamin Sommer’s Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition. This book has been the most interesting one I’ve read during my PhD studies. Sommer reads the Pentateuchal sources as essentially four ancient proto-rabbinic interlocutors grappling differently with the mysterious revelation of God at Sinai. Sommer’s approach is unique. It takes Pentateuchal criticism with full seriousness (although in less of a diachronic register) but situates the various sources in a synchronic theological dialogue about God and Torah. Whether one entirely agrees with Sommer’s take or not is irrelevant, because the book is so thought-provoking and well-researched. 

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

Yes. My article entitled “Make a Fence for the Torah: A Positive Reading of the Woman’s Words in Genesis 3:3” was recently accepted in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly and is forthcoming. I’ve also got an article on Genesis 12:3b LXX currently under review which hopefully will be accepted for publication.

Where can we follow you online?

I tend to stay away from social media, and I don’t currently blog (maybe someday…). 

One can find me via my Durham University page or via snail mail:

Dan York
Department of Theology and Religion
University of Durham
Abbey House, Palace Green, Durham DH1 3RS

If we ran into you at a conference and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

I enjoy talking about movies (e.g. Coen Bros, Tarantino, Nolan, scary movies, etc.). I tend to quote films often, especially the Big Lebowski. Here’s a quote I’ll keep clean that sums up my biblical scholarship: “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax, you’re £$%£$%& right I’m living in the *@£$%^& past!!!” I’d also be open to talk about extra-fine-nibbed fountain pens. For me, wielding a nice fountain pen parallels what wielding a good lightsaber might have felt like, “an elegant weapon for a more civilised age” (to quote the great Jedi Knight). I’ve also been a lifelong fan of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, so if SBL ever landed in March-April, you might hear me talking about how “this might finally be the year” that the Zags take down March Madness. 

What research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

See some of my answers above (e.g. questions 3 and 6). Although I do have ideas percolating, my goal right now is to concentrate on finishing my thesis.    

>> Thank you so much, Dan, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.

Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.

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