Legacy or Lineage?

Rev. Dr. Jane Lancaster Patterson, Seminary of the Southwest and AABS President

Recently, the cartoonist and philosopher of creativity, Austin Kleon, recounted an exchange with a person who asked him what he hoped his legacy would be. Kleon answered that he didn’t think in terms of legacy, but rather in terms of lineage, the whole stream of people in history who have inspired him, and those who will in turn be influenced by his work. As scholars, we are clearly not self-made, always standing in the midst of work that began long before us and that will continue long after us. And while we are working, we are also never alone, the beneficiaries of so many scholars who are pursuing questions related to the ones that inspire us.

Finding a Lineage
In the hopes of stimulating an ongoing conversation about our personal lineages as biblical scholars, I offer a glimpse of the scholarly lineage without which I would literally not be teaching New Testament now. The first is Phyllis Trible, whose Texts of Terror saved me in Bible 100. You would never have seen in my first exam the makings of a biblical scholar. I had no idea what was going on in the lectures. I couldn’t find the starting point, much less gain a sense of where any of the discussion was going. When the first paper was assigned, one of the professors mentioned off-handedly that Trible’s work might be helpful. Desperate, I followed through on the suggestion. I went down to the stacks, found Texts of Terror, and started reading it right there. I devoured it, sitting on the floor in that cramped space, practically glowing with a sense of connection. I was gripped by her ideas, and also the clarity of her method. I was both rescued and hooked in the space of a couple of hours.

Being claimed by a lineage
Thinking about lineages helps to make sense of the stream of influences that come together in my work: reading Wayne Meeks’ article, “The Polyphonic Ethics of the Apostle Paul” for the first time, when I was beginning to focus on Paul; the dedicated scholarship and steady support of my dissertation advisor, Victor Furnish. It seems obvious to say that this is a chosen lineage, but actually the feeling is more like that of being claimed. When I was wandering around in the my early twenties, drawn to the church but really mainly drawn to contemplative prayer, Teresa of Avila came and claimed me, with her blend of forthrightness, wry humor, and mystical intensity. In my role as a theological educator, Phoebe has stepped out of Romans 16 to inspire and encourage me in the task of explaining Paul to people who are quite sure they don’t want to hear him.

Lineages in the New Testament
In teaching my students about the wide variety of ways to follow Jesus in the first two centuries, I speak to them about lineages. The New Testament contains a very narrow stream of the potential lineages that we are coming to know better through, for example, the Nag Hammadi documents. What does it mean to stand in the lineage of Peter (the synoptics), the beloved disciple, Paul, and John the apocalyptist? What are the emphases of this particular stream of practice and thought? What are we missing?

Like the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, our hermeneutical lineages stretch back potentially to our origins in God. But what are our creative responsibilities to those who will follow us? Much of my effort in teaching these days is to introduce my students to as wide a variety of interpretive voices in biblical studies as I can possibly gather in a semester. For some, this din of voices is challenging, but for so many it means hearing voices like their own for the first time in an academic setting. My hope is that at least some of them feel that electric moment of being claimed by an elder, and set on a path of discovery.

What lineage do you stand in? What do you hope to pass on?