Women in biblical studies – a strange coincidence

My hard copy of the Spring 2010 issue of JBL arrived in today’s mail. Of the eleven articles in it, three are by women. That’s nearly 30%, a much higher proportion of women authors than the proportion of women bibliobloggers (see JK Gayle’s comment that suggests less than 10% here), but the sample size is quite small.

The first is “Gog’s Grave and the Use and Abuse of Corpses in Ezekiel 39:11-20″ by Francesca Stavrakopoulou, from the University of Exeter (UK). The second is “The Gospel of John and the Five Senses” by Dorothy Lee from Trinity College/Melbourne College of Divinity (Australia). The third is my “How Accurate are Eyewitnesses?” and I am from the University of New England (Australia). Thus, nearly 20% of the articles in this edition of JBL are by (ordained) Australian women. This must surely be unusual!

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6 thoughts on “Women in biblical studies – a strange coincidence

  1. A quick look back at the Winter 2009 issue of JBL shows nearly 31% (3 of 13) of the published scholars being women:

    Alice Logan, Susanne Gillmayr-Bucher, and Edna Israeli.

    Is this a quota?

    To be clear, the list of bible bloggers I compiled was from Jeremy Thompson’s “top 50 plus” for the months of January, February, and March this year. (Of course, I was trying to show the very low percentage of women bloggers listed in his “top” lists of Alexa ranked blogs. Thanks for the link.) A much more comprehensive list is April DeConick’s “Women and Religion Blog Roll” at http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/.

    • Without having done any statistics, I imagine it’s probably a pretty accurate reflection of the proportion of papers sent to the editor. My feeling is that biblical studies is a field that is still rather male dominated, although I don’t have any actual figures to back that up. There are significantly more women than men in the Earliest Christianity unit that I’m teaching into, but most of these people aren’t going to make it their career – it’s just a subject that interests them as an elective for their degree.
      While biblical studies is taught in secular universities where the gender balance is more equal or has swung the other way, it is also taught in institutions whose primary role is to prepare Christians for ordination and some of the denominations who are training for ordination don’t ordain women, which pushes the gender balance the other way. Even though my denomination has always ordained women (since its formation in 1977), there are still noticeably more male than female candidates. We got excited when the intake after mine was half women, but that seems to have been an aberration and 1/3 women is pretty normal.
      Thus, I think that the JBL numbers of women is probably a reasonable reflection of women biblical scholars, whereas the number of women bibliobloggers is not representative of the proportion of women working in the area.

  2. Hi Judy. I’m originally from Armidale too, though now I live in Sydney. I often wonder about this question. I check JBL every issue, and I see about 1-2 in 10-11 essays written by women. Do you think this simply reflects the number of submissions by women relative to men? Or are women being knocked back with greater frequency? I feel that as a woman I need to try twice as hard. The comment about the quota is good! I have my suspicions on that too. NTS is also underrepresented by female authors.

  3. Ruth, I suspect that it probably reflects the number of submissions by women relative to men. I think that fewer women than men do biblical studies at an undergraduate level because although many denominations now ordain women, very few have equal numbers of ordained men and women. I think that then fewer women tend to do research degrees in the areas that JBL covers, so I think they get significantly more submissions from men than women. I guess it’s *possible* that the editor rejects more women than men, but I think this is unlikely.

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