An ethnic-Chinese born and raised in Singapore, Seow Choon Leong (蕭俊良) graduated summa cum laude in 1977 from Pepperdine University, where he was elected Scholar of the Year for the Religion Department. As a student in the Master of Divinity program at Princeton Seminary, he taught Hebrew during the summer and was president of the International Students’ Association. He received the Henry Snyder Gehman Award in Old Testament in 1979 and earned his M.Div. in 1980.
Known as Leong in the West and to family and friends in Singapore, he went from Princeton to Harvard University, where he earned his PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. As a student, he dreamed of returning to Asia to teach and sold many of his books to buy reference works he knew would be unavailable in Asia. However, all doors were closed to teaching in Singapore, except for a possible job as a Bible translation consultant.
Professor Seow began his teaching career as a lecturer in Hebrew in the summer program of the Harvard Divinity School before joining the PTS faculty as an instructor in Old Testament in 1983. He became assistant professor of Old Testament at PTS the next year and was promoted to associate professor in 1990. Profiled at that time, he said his primary goal was to enable his students to discover the richness in the original language of Scripture that is so often lost in translation. He hoped to instill in students a love for the Hebrew Bible so it would always speak relevantly to the church.
“Ultimately, our purpose is to be theologians, not philologians, but the Church must never lose the ability to lead the text out of its ancient context to the contemporary context.”
He added that he was especially interested in examining the place of ancient Near Eastern myths and symbols in society:
“New data are uncovered daily that shed light on this subject, and it remains for the scholar to piece them together.”
In 1995 Professor Seow was named to the newly established Henry Snyder Gehman Chair in Old Testament Language and Literature. He delivered his inaugural lecture, “Socioeconomic Context of ‘The Preacher’s’ Hermeneutic,” April 3, 1996.
He has also taught at Jewish Theological Seminary of America and at institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Africa. He has been the NEH/ASOR Fellow, W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem (1986), recipient of the Mitchell Dahood Memorial Prize in Northwest Semitic Philology (1989), Henry Winters Luce III Fellowship in Theology (1997), National Endowment for the Humanity Faculty Research Fellowship (2007), and a member of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton (1997).
Professor Seow says his “heart has always remained in Asia,” where he lectures and teaches whenever possible, mentoring students and young colleagues, and helping to build libraries by sending books. He adds that his love of research has brought him to the Princeton Seminary Library countless times to use its full range of resources and teach students how to use them as well.
Professor Seow delivered Princeton Seminary’s opening Convocation address, “The Quiescent Word” 1 Kings 19:1–19; Matthew 8:18–22, for the 2014-2015 academic year Monday, September 8, 2014:
Of his recent work, Job 1-21, C.L. Seow writes,
“This book best represents the kind of scholarship I most enjoy and how I see myself contributing to biblical scholarship. … I have had to venture far beyond my ken to do research in the history of Christianity, Jewish Studies, Islamic studies, comparative literature, and art history and music.”
Emilie M. Townes, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School wrote recently of Professor Seow’s new position:
“Professor C.L. Seow is joining the Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Graduate Department of Religion as a Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible. His primary teaching responsibilities will be in Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies – teaching divinity students (MDiv and MTS) and students enrolled in the Graduate Department of Religion (MA and PhD). He will be the senior member of our Hebrew Bible faculty as well as a senior professor in the Divinity School and the GDR as a whole. His position will allow him to build collegial relationships across the University and to enter into collaborative trans-institutional projects with faculty colleagues in the University.”