This interview first appeared on the Women Biblical Scholars website
Dr. Jill Firth is on faculty at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia, where she lectures in Hebrew and Old Testament. She earned her BA from the University of Western Australia, MA in Spiritual Direction from the Melbourne College of Divinity, and MDiv and PhD from the Australian College of Theology. She is also a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.
How did you decide to become a biblical scholar? Share your autobiographical journey.
When I finished secondary school, I enquired about studying theology, but I was advised to get some life experience first. After I finished university, my pastor husband was posted to a rural community, so I plunged into parish ministry and then child raising. I planned to return to study when my youngest child was school age, but we went to work in a remote Australian indigenous community and then in Hong Kong. Returning to Australia, I finally enrolled in an MDiv and also began an MA in spiritual direction, while also training for Anglican ordination. A nudge from God drew me to focus on the PhD, which built on an MDiv essay on Book V of the Psalter. Tutoring and adjunct lecturing in earlier years have developed into appointment as a lecturer on faculty.
Tell us about your work (past and current). What are you most excited about right now? What do you hope your work will contribute?
I am currently editing my dissertation, ‘The Re-presentation of David in Psalms 140-43,’ for publication. I studied the intertextuality between Psalms 140-143 and Books I-III using contextual counting and genre concerns and comparing the diction of ledavid and non-ledavid psalms. My research suggests that the end of the Psalter re-presents the David of the lament psalms of Books I-III, which nuances Davidic hope and future vindication by foregrounding present suffering.
I am contributing some articles on Hebrew words to a new reference work. I am also exploring the integration of my interests in Psalms, spiritual direction and apologetics. Current conference papers include ‘Luther’s Use of the Lament Psalms in his Letters of Spiritual Counsel’ and ‘Exsurge Domine versus Ein Feste Burg: Psalms in the Contest of Imaginaries in the Lutheran Reformation.’ For SBL, I am applying insights from the spirituality of eighteenth century Moravians to pastoral care in embodied trauma.
Who has most influenced you as a scholar? Tell us a bit about it.
Early role models include my Reformation history professor, John Tonkin, and Roberta Hestenes whom I heard once when I was a university student. Both held careful scholarship alongside religious conviction and human dignity. My PhD supervisor, Lindsay Wilson, has been a wonderful guide, with thoughtful and accurate Biblical scholarship. David M. Howard Jr. influenced my thinking about David, and Mark J. Boda keeps stretching me as to exegetical methods. I admire Beth Stovell’s achievements as a scholar and Christian leader.
What are the most pressing issues or concerns you have related to the broader field of biblical studies?
Integration of Biblical Studies with religious experience and practical questions. Advancing the study of Biblical languages for theological students. Hearing more women’s voices in Biblical studies, whether listening to the women in the Biblical texts, reading scholarship by women, or hearing women teach. I coordinate a women’s writing group for Ridley students.
Why study the scriptures/biblical text?
Original language study opens up so many insights.
What do you like to do for fun?
Reading, walking on the beach, thinking, sewing, spending time with family and friends.