LeeaLife as a seminary student is often rewarding, but sometimes challenging. Such challenges cause one to wonder things like, “Am I in the right place?” and, “Is this really what God wants me to be doing right now?”

Last Wednesday, I began to receive an answer to those questions. On February 15, I had the privilege of presenting my research paper, “A Virgin, Whom No Man Had Known: A Womanist Study of Virginity as Described in Genesis 24,” at Candler’s Sophia Forum. I was excited to be among the nine students selected to share my work with fellow classmates, faculty, and staff. At the same time, I felt a sense of anxiety about whether my paper was ready to be presented in a public venue—especially as a first-year Master of Divinity student. I spent a week developing a visual aid and anticipating questions, and the anxiety I had once felt soon dissipated. During the forum, my colleagues in theological study acknowledged and affirmed my efforts in pursuing this academic endeavor. I was, in fact, in the right place at the right time.

My research paper stemmed from a special topics January term course entitled “Womanist Ways of Reading Women in Genesis” instructed by Distinguished Visiting Professor Kimberly Russaw. Dr. Russaw guided our studies as students sought to approach the Bible with a “world behind the text” lens. While reading, I became fascinated with the character of Rebekah, who is the first person to be referred to as a virgin. I sought to understand the sociohistorical context of her narrative, and quickly discovered that בְּתוּלָה (bĕthuwlah), the Hebrew word for virgin, was much more complicated than I thought. At the Sophia Forum, I discussed virginity as a physical construct, and argued that biblical and Ancient Near Eastern evidence suggest its traditional meaning has been inaccurately depicted over the years.

At the end of my presentation, there was a question and answer period from the audience. While some people may find answering questions a bit nerve-wracking, this was actually my favorite part of the forum. Many of the questions were centered around my findings and were especially helpful in affirming that I was knowledgeable and diligently prepared on the subject matter. They also provided me with the possibility of completing further research in the future as part of a doctoral program—something I had not considered before!

Indeed, the life of a seminary student comes with its own set of challenges, but I believe that every challenge is worth it in the end. And in this case, the Sophia Forum was certainly worth it.

Top photo: Leea presents at the Sophia Forum.