Steven Schweitzer, academic dean at Bethany Theological Seminary, presented two professional research papers at the 2014 meeting of the International Society of Biblical Literature (ISBL), held July 6-10 at the University of Vienna in Austria.
The Society for Biblical Literature holds its international meeting in collaboration with the European Association of Biblical Studies (EABS) each summer on different continents, drawing more than 1000 participants from more than forty countries. As one of the largest gatherings of religious scholars in the world, it highlights current research, fosters networking and fellowship, and focuses on issues in the profession. The North American meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature, also open to members from around the world, occurs each November in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion.
Schweitzer’s first paper, “After Exile, under Empire: Utopian Concerns in Chronicles,” was presented on July 8 at the invitation of the Chronicles and Utopia Group of the EABS, based on his earlier publications and presentations. Beginning with his doctoral dissertation, Schweitzer has contended that Chronicles presents a vision for a “better alternative reality,” or utopia, that is set in Israel’s past rather than a documentation of historic reality.
Schweitzer is one of the first and strongest proponents for this approach to reading Chronicles, having published Reading Utopia in Chronicles, a revision of his dissertation, in 2007. His paper for the ISBL specifically examined how the writer of Chronicles dealt with two crises of Israel’s heritage in proclaiming his utopian vision: the exile of the Hebrews in Babylon under the Persian monarchs and the failure of the Davidic dynasty.
His personal interest in science fiction and the prevalence of theological themes found in that genre led Schweitzer to develop and teach the course Science Fiction and Theology at Bethany in the fall of 2013. When he discovered the existence of a Science Fiction and the Bible Group within the EABS, he submitted a proposal to present a second paper at this summer’s meeting, which was accepted. The paper entitled “Teaching Science Fiction and Theology: Reflections and Possibilities,” presented on July 9, was a reflection on the process of teaching the course.
Using a number of movie and television science fiction series, the class explored a wide variety of theological themes, such as the nature of humanity, construction and experience of the Divine, the problem of evil, and the quest for meaning. Students discussed how these examples relate to biblical texts that illustrate similar themes. Noting that science fiction has grown in influence and appeal within western culture, Schweitzer says that “the course was about how to ask theological questions of many aspects of our lives and the culture around us in intentional ways.”
Schweitzer’s work in the field of Chronicles has also led to two recently published essays. As a former professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Schweitzer was invited to contribute to a book honoring two leading Mennonite scholars from AMBS, Struggles for Shalom: Peace and Violence across the Testaments, published earlier this year. His essay “The Concept of Shalom in the Book of Chronicles” is his first exploration of the texts through the lens of shalom.
A second essay, “The Genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-9: Purposes, Forms, and the Utopian Identity of Israel,” was invited by the editors of Chronicling the Chronicler: The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography, released in 2013. Based on a chapter in Schweitzer’s earlier book, the essay is a much broader treatment of genealogies in Chronicles than many other publications offer.