Laura S. Nasrallah, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, has been named one of six Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology for 2013-14 by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Luce Fellows engage in yearlong projects selected on the basis of the strength of their proposals to conduct creative and innovative research in religion and theology.
Nasrallah's project is to work on a book, titled "Archaeology and the Letters of Paul." Nasrallah will investigate the local contexts and identities of the earliest communities—the 'brothers and sisters' to whom Paul wrote. Each chapter brings together one letter with the available archaeological data from the city/region to which it was addressed or in which it was written.
Focusing when possible on small finds and bioarchaeological data, Nasrallah's historical study shows how Paul's arguments about ethics, theology, and religious practice may have been first read or heard in light of such issues as child mortality, the meat and fish market as a religious site, food shortage, and the pricing of slaves. She will investigate material evidence as a significant context and inspiration for the broader social and theological conversations in which various religions of the Roman Empire took part.
Influenced by feminist and postcolonial scholarship's attention to those usually marginalized in the elite sources that survive from antiquity, Nasrallah's work contributes to biblical studies by bringing archaeological evidence to the fore, by making its focus the low-status communities that first debated these letters, and by reconstructing through case studies the variegated settings of early Christ-followers.
Such work is inspired in part by the bioarchaeologists, Roman historians, and scholars of religion who are invited to a symposium she is co-organizing with Steven J. Friesen of the University of Texas, Austin, titled "How Bodies Matter: The Intersection of Science, Religion, and the Humanities in the Ancient Mediterranean World."
Nasrallah's research and teaching bring together New Testament and early Christian literature with the archaeological remains of the Mediterranean world, and often engage issues of colonialism, gender, status, and power.
Her first book, An Ecstasy of Folly: Prophecy and Authority in Early Christianity, focuses on 1 Corinthians and on materials from the second- and third-century controversies over prophecy and the nature of the soul. In Christian Responses to Roman Art and Architecture: The Second-Century Church amid the Spaces of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2010), she argues that early Christian literature addressed to Greeks and Romans is best understood when read in tandem with the archaeological remains of the Roman world.
Since 2005, seven other HDS faculty members have been awarded Luce fellowships: Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (2005-06), Kevin Madigan and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (2006-07), Amy Hollywood (2007-08), Francis X. Clooney, S.J. (2010-11), Mark D. Jordan (2011-12), and, most recently, Karen L. King (2012-13).
The 2013-14 Luce Fellows constitute the 20th class of scholars to be appointed since the inception of the program in 1993. At the conclusion of their research year, the Fellows will gather at the annual Luce Fellows Conference to present and critique their work and to discuss with both current and past Luce Fellows how their work may impact the life of the church and the broader society.
—by Jonathan Beasley