Shayna Sheinfeld
Frankel Institute Fellow, University of Michigan
Honorary Research Fellow, Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS)

What will you be researching while a fellow at the Frankel Institute and how does it relate to your work overall?

While a fellow at the Frankel Institute my research is geared toward my current monograph, Big Tent Judaism: Diversity in Jewish Leadership in the First through Third Centuries CE. This project analyzes the varieties of leadership in Judaism in this period, including the early Jesus movement. As with my overall research, I am looking beyond normative, elite evidence in my research to include underrepresented populations such as women and enslaved people.

What is the most common misconception about this area of research?

The little research that exists in this area tends toward traditional, masculine-centered ideas of leadership: a focus on political, religious, and military leaders. These are essential roles for an understanding of Jewish and Christian authority in this period, to be sure, but leadership roles exist at all levels of society, and by focusing on the elite roles only, we keep our gaze only on the most prominent figures and only on the most obvious ways one might be a leader. Take, for instance, religious leadership in the first century. We are likely to think about the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and therefore of the priests and the high priest, and of the political powers that relate to or react against this temple. But there were other Jewish temples, such as the one in Leontopolis, Egypt, and if we shift our gaze from temples to synagogues, we know that there were women leaders at the community level, with women identified as elders, priestesses, and synagogue mothers. We know that the early Jesus movement had women who were apostles and deacons, and women who financially and socially supported the movement. If we think beyond our immediate conceptions of elite leadership, we can better see the diverse communities, institutions, and leaders in ancient Judaism.

What has been your greatest success in academic/teaching, research, etc.?

It is hard to pick just one moment or one thing to identify as my greatest success. One thing that I am proud of is my commitment to promoting collaboration and support within the academy. The collaborative model of scholarship is still unusual and when it is used, it is undervalued in the study of religion in the ancient world. I try to use it, model it, support it, and talk about whenever I can, as it benefits everyone—each scholar who uses it, our students, and our audiences whether for books or public lectures. I learned about the importance of collaboration from one of my graduate mentors, Ellen Aitken, of blessed memory. From her example, I set up a writing group with two colleagues while doing my PhD work, and we three still write together—in fact, my textbook Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean which will be released in late Dec/early Jan is a result of collaboration with these two colleagues—and now good friends. I’ve organized two international Enoch Seminar conferences on gender and religion in the ancient world and worked to make sure that the space is collaborative and supportive rather than competitive.

What are you most looking forward to at the University of Michigan? What do you hope to gain from this experience?

I am especially looking forward to the dedicated time and space to work on my research while here at the University of Michigan. I am also thrilled to be a fellow with such an amazing cohort of scholars. Even just two months into the fellowship, our discussions help invigorate and excite my own research and writing, and more than once a comment by someone else has sent me on a merry research chase—I have already learned so much with this rich dialogue. I am incredibly grateful to my colleagues here, to Gabriele Boccaccini as our head fellow, and to the Frankel Institute for this opportunity.