Byron, Gay L.

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Byron, Gay L.


Education: Florida State University, B.S., 1983; Clark Atlanta University, M.B.A., 1986; Union Theological Seminary, M.Div., 1992, M.Phil., 1996, Ph.D., 1999. Religion: Presbyterian.


Home—Rochester, NY. Office—Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, 1100 S. Goodman St., Rochester, NY 14620-2589. E-mail—[email protected].


Cleric, educator, and author. Ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, 1997. Baptist Church of the Redeemer, Brooklyn, NY, seminary intern, 1990-91; St. James Presbyterian Church, New York, NY, seminary intern, 1991-92; Laconia Community Presbyterian Church, Bronx, NY, stated supply pastor, 1997-99; Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Rochester, NY, assistant professor, 1999-2002, associate professor of New Testament and Black Church studies, 2002-03, Baptist Missionary Training School, chair of biblical interpretation, 2003-05, associate professor of New Testament and black church studies, 2005-07, and professor of New Testament and Christian origins, 2007—. Commissioned Lay Pastor Training Program, instructor, 2001; General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations of the Presbyterian Church, Presbytery of Genesee Valley, appointee, 2000—. Board member, Presbyterian Foundation of Genesee Valley, 2002-05; member of theology committee, Caribbean and North American Area Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 2003-05; member, Committee on Preparation for Ministry, 2007—.


Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, Society for the Study of Black Religion.


Academic Scholarship, Atlanta University, 1984-86; African American Doctoral Scholar, Fund for Theological Education, 1992-97; Doctoral Tuition Fellowship, Union Theological Seminary, 1992-95; George Andover Taylor Academic Scholarship, Union Theological Seminary, 1989-92; Academic Scholarship, Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Fund for Graduate Education, 1993-99; Dissertation Fellowship for Minorities, Ford Foundation, 1997-98; Lilly Faculty Research Expense Grant, Association of Theological Schools, 2003-04; Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology Program, Association of Theological Schools, 2005-06.


Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.


A Christian scholar and active member of the clergy, Gay L. Byron has concentrated her academic life studying, writing, and lecturing about the origins of the early Christian church and the black church. She has also focused on the experience of Africans and African Americans within the Christian church and Christian ethos. Her book Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature is an exploration of how early Christian writings and teachings utilized the perception of blackness to imply other, and sometimes deeper, meanings than mere color and to serve as a symbol of the separateness of Christian communities.

In her introduction to Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature, Byron explains that discussions about early writings on Ethiopia and Egypt exhibit inconsistencies and should be clarified, that past references to this terminology are unbalanced and need reexamination, and that the role of women and the issue of gender has not been adequately explored. Byron examines the use of certain terminologies, such as Egypt/Egyptians, Ethiopia/Ethiopians, and Black/Blackness in early Christian writings, discussing them as "ethno-political rhetorics" and explaining how early Christian writers used color as a social commentary. In antiquity, racial distinctions depended more upon national or social identity than upon skin color, and Byron points out the way several groups referred to themselves in relation to other, or outside, groups, with both ethnicity and social status used as distinguishing traits. "Black" as a term could be used to identify an ethnic group, to distinguish an entity, or as a moral judgment. Byron attempts to distinguish among the possibilities, suggesting that equating blackness with sin was, for the early Christians, more about rhetoric and polemics than racism.

Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature also addresses the issues surrounding gender and sexuality. As Anthony Alcock pointed out in his critique for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, "Byron is quite right to point out the failure of other writers, particularly those who have devoted monographs to sex in early Christianity, to deal with the black component in descriptions of sexual passion." These issues include ideas of beauty, sin, virtue, and redemption. Sometimes black skin is equated with sinfulness in encouraging lustful thought, but is also used to indicate the possibility of turning away from sin into beauty. There is also the question of to what, exactly, the term "black" refers. It does not always indicate skin color, but can also indicate an absence of light, the color of another personal feature such as hair, withdrawal from attention, or depression of spirit.

Critics felt that Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature is an important contribution to research on early Christian studies. In his article on the book for the Catholic Historical Review, Aaron P. Johnson commented that "Byron's emphasis on ethno-political rhetorical strategies … constitutes a serious methodological advance in the scholarship on ancient Ethiopians and Christian ethnic perceptions." Alcock had a similar reaction: "We should be grateful to Prof. Byron for having taken the trouble to write up her research in the form of this most stimulating book. It will undoubtedly provide an indispensable starting-point for subsequent research on the subject." Further praise came from Boykin Sanders in Interpretation: "Gay Byron's book underscores how literary critical method yields new insights for interpreters of early Christian traditions."

Byron told CA: "I hope my books will make the New Testament and Early Christianity much more accessible to students, scholars, and interested readers. By delving into unexplored topics and materials that are generally deemed beyond the contours of New Testament interpretation, my aim is to provide a broader and more accurate picture of the ancient world that illuminates the voices and traditions of previously marginalized groups. My writing is one form of my ministry. It is my hope that my publications will ignite in readers a deep desire to not only learn more about biblical writings, but also to explore and develop creative and critical ways in which these writings can still transform church and society."



Catholic Biblical Quarterly, January 1, 2004, James Chukwuma, review of Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature, p. 146.

Catholic Historical Review, July 1, 2005, Aaron P. Johnson, review of Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature, p. 510.

Interpretation, July 1, 2006, Boykin Sanders, review of Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature, p. 354.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July 1, 2003, David Noy, review of Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature, p. 513.


Bryn Mawr Classical Review Online, (March 22, 2003), Anthony Alcock, review of Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature.

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School Web site, (May 10, 2008), author profile.