Dr. Michael Graves ‘06
Armerding Professor of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College
Please tell us about your journey to HUC-JIR.
I learned about HUC-JIR when I was a student at Wheaton College in Illinois. I majored in Biblical Studies and Ancient Languages. Although I am not Jewish, I was eager to study Hebrew because it is the language of the Hebrew Bible. My Hebrew teacher was C. H. Bullock, who earned his Ph.D. at HUC-JIR. Prof. Bullock introduced his students both to the Hebrew language and also to the cultural and literary heritage of the Jewish people. All of this interested me greatly. By the end of my college career, I served as Prof. Bullock’s teaching assistant in Hebrew.
I went on to study “Old Testament and Semitic Languages” in seminary. During this period, I sent letters to the HUC-JIR bookstore, and they kindly sent me copies of the teaching materials produced by Prof. Isaac Jerusalmi on biblical Aramaic, Pirqe Avot, and the Hebrew text of the Joseph story. When the time came to apply to Ph.D. programs, I was accepted at several good schools. But I chose HUC-JIR because of its outstanding faculty, strong textual focus, and the unique opportunity to study the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic literature, and the Greco-Roman world. I do not know anywhere else globally that I could have learned what I learned at HUC-JIR.
Where do you work, and what is most rewarding/challenging about your work?
After part-time teaching at Xavier University in Cincinnati and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, I returned to teach full-time at Wheaton College, where I currently serve as the Carl Armerding and Hudson T. Armerding Chair in Biblical Studies. The most rewarding aspect of my work is teaching bright, enthusiastic students in a liberal arts context that aims to respect the life of the mind and also nourish religious practice. One of the greatest challenges is to help students see how careful thinking and religious belief can inform and enrich one another. The current cultural climate makes this especially difficult. To bring sound research and critical thinking to bear on matters of ultimate significance in a religious setting is challenging today, but it is also rewarding to see students expand their understanding and mature in their faith.
What are you currently researching?
My research focuses on the Hebrew Bible and its reception in late antiquity. My interests include textual criticism, interpretation, and theology. I have written books and articles on St. Jerome, Hebrew, and Jewish sources, the Latin Bible, patristic biblical interpretation, midrash as scriptural exegesis, and biblical interconnections with the Qur’an. Among current projects, I have a book set to appear this fall that looks at inner-biblical interpretation using insights gleaned from later Christian exegesis. I have another book in press that offers a new critical text, translation, and commentary on a work by St. Jerome that compares the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew texts of the Psalms. I recently wrote four essays on rabbinic literature and the New Testament for an upcoming biblical studies reference work.
What impact do your studies at HUC-JIR have on your current work?
The breadth and depth of my studies at HUC-JIR’s Pines School of Graduate Studies have strongly shaped my present work. I teach a wide range of courses that includes the Bible, Judaism, world religions, Qur’anic studies, and early Christian commentaries. Without HUC-JIR’s broad view and intensive training, I would not be prepared to do this. In both my teaching and writing, I learned from HUC-JIR to bring academic scholarship to the study of religious texts and to pay careful attention to how traditions are employed and change over time. These skills are crucial for exploring where things have been in the past and how to interpret religious texts ethically in the present and future.
How do you continue to engage with HUC-JIR today?
One of the most important ways I stay connected to HUC-JIR is through email communications, such as newsletters and announcements of upcoming events. Although I cannot attend most events, I love to see what the HUC-JIR community is doing. I was very pleased to be able to attend the Cincinnati Ordination this past May via Zoom. Another significant connection point is the PSGS luncheon that is held each November in conjunction with the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. Relationships with fellow alumni and current HUC-JIR faculty and students create numerous opportunities for collaboration. Finally, the PSGS Alumni Association has allowed me to stay engaged with HUC-JIR. For example, I served on the Alumni Leadership Council Development Working Group for several years. I was privileged to spend time with students as the PSGS Alumnus in Residence in 2018. I currently serve as co-chair of the PSGS Alumni Association.
Why is Pines School of Graduate Studies so special?
The Pines School is special for a number of reasons. I will mention three that have been especially meaningful for me. First, HUC-JIR is known for its strong training in languages, texts, and history. Graduates of the Pines School can work competently with primary sources. Second, the imprint of Jewish learning is always present. This goes without saying for subject areas that deal exclusively with Jewish sources. But even when studying materials from the ancient Near East or the Greco-Roman world, I found the attention given by faculty to living traditions of interpretation and hermeneutical issues to be recognizably Jewish. And, of course, every student was expected to pass reading exams not only in German and French, but also in modern Hebrew. Third, the Pines School combines respect for traditions with innovative thinking. Ancient texts are seen as worthy of careful attention, but they are understood using contemporary critical tools. In the study of the Hebrew Bible and related fields, the Pines School occupies a crucial position within the broader world of graduate education.
Please tell us about the partnerships at your school and in your community.
I have been fortunate to join in many constructive partnerships. As an example, shortly after I came to Wheaton in 2004, I became friends with HUC-JIR alum, Rabbi Simcha Bob ‘77, of Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard. We both participate in a Jewish-Christian dialogue held three times per year at Wheaton College. For many years, he and I have been studying Talmud monthly. For the past ten years, we have been team-teaching a course on Judaism at Wheaton College. He has spoken in numerous classes and at events on campus to offer Jewish perspectives on topics. When Rabbi Bob retired, he was succeeded by Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky, a friend and classmate of mine from HUC-JIR. She has visited my classes as a guest teacher, she has graciously welcomed numerous Wheaton College students as visitors to the synagogue, and we have both participated in several interfaith events. We also get together to discuss current research projects. When an old Torah scroll was gifted to Wheaton College, Congregation Etz Chaim kindly allowed us to keep the scroll in their ark, so that it would be treated with proper respect, and Wheaton College students could come learn about the scroll in its synagogue environment. Moreover, my church (Gary United Methodist Church in Wheaton) takes our confirmation classes to visit Congregation Etz Chaim each fall. These are just a sample of the many partnerships that have developed between my communities and the Jewish community in our area through HUC-JIR connections.