Union Theological Seminary Mourns

In Memoriam: Rev. Dr. Gay L. Byron ’92, ’99

Categories: Union News

portrait of rev dr gay l byron

In loving memory of the Rev. Dr. Gay L. Byron.

The late Rev. Dr. Gay L. Byron, a distinguished Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC, left an indelible mark on the fields of biblical scholarship, liberation theology, and womanist interpretations. She received her M.Div., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a journey that laid the foundation for her impactful career.

Her profound work extended to the exploration of the Pauline epistles, the intersection of race and ethnicity in early Christian writings, and the origins of Christianity in ancient Ethiopia. Dr. Byron’s scholarly pursuits earned her numerous fellowships and accolades, recognizing her exceptional contributions to the study of ancient Ethiopic (Ge`ez) sources for the New Testament and early Christian writings.

Among her notable publications is “Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature” (Routledge Press). This groundbreaking work explores how early Christian writings and teachings utilized the perception of blackness to imply other, and sometimes deeper, meanings than mere color. It served as a symbol of the separateness of Christian communities, unveiling layers of interpretation beyond the literal.

Dr. Byron’s intellectual legacy also includes her pivotal role on the editorial board of the Journal of Biblical Literature and her contributions as a co-editor for the book series on Womanist Interpretations of Scripture (Lexington/Fortress Academic Press). She was a theologian following the steps of Delores Williams, expanding our cultural understanding of womanist theology.

She generously shared her insights through lectures at theological schools and universities worldwide, addressing themes such as race, ethnicity, and the Bible, African American and womanist hermeneutics, Ethiopic manuscripts, and early Ethiopian Christianity.

During the 2021-2022 period, Dr. Byron collaborated with colleagues in the Manuscript Migration Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute (Duke University) as a Humanities Unbounded Visiting Faculty Fellow. Her project, “The ‘Invisible’ Lives of Ethiopic Manuscripts,” brought attention to the 112 Ge’ez manuscripts in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library through archival methods and digital humanities technology.

In addition to her scholarly achievements, Dr. Byron served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Divinity and played a pivotal role as the Principal Investigator for a grant sponsored by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., addressing the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers (ECFFM). Her impact extended beyond academia, as she actively served as an ordained minister of the Word and Sacrament (Teaching Elder) in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Originally hailing from Tampa, FL, Dr. Byron’s educational journey took her through Florida State University (B.S.), Clark Atlanta University (M.B.A.), and Union Theological Seminary in New York City (M.Div. and Ph.D.). Beyond her academic endeavors, she found joy in family and friends, exploring hidden artistic treasures, and engaging in various sporting and cultural activities.

Dr. Gay L. Byron’s legacy is celebrated not only in her groundbreaking scholarship but also in the lives she touched through her ministry, teaching, and leadership. She was deeply loved and influential to Union alums and students alike. Her influence will continue to resonate, inspiring future generations in the realms of biblical studies, theology, and beyond.

For more details on her project, “The ‘Invisible’ Lives of Ethiopic Manuscripts,” please visit the website here.

A homegoing celebration will be held on Thursday, December 14, 2023, at Shiloh Baptist Church, 1500 9th Street N.W., Washington, DC 20001, with visitation from 9:30 am to 10:45 am, the service from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm, and the repast from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm.