Schechter Scholars Breathe Mile High Air at Society of Biblical Literature Conference


The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies is well represented at the world’s largest conference on biblical studies, the 2022 Society of Biblical Literature’s (SBL) annual conference taking place late this and next week in Denver, CO.

Dr. Sarah Schwartz who heads Schechter’s Bible Studies department, Associate Professor of Bible Rabbi Prof. David Frankel, and Dr. Etka Leibowitz, Director of Adult Education are all presenting their scholarship at SBL.

All three are looking forward to enhancing contacts with peers, gathering feedback on research, participating in other sessions for cross-pollination of ideas, and making personal connections with new, and emerging scholars. After all, the conference is finally fully happening after disruptions due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Leibowitz is presenting a paper on Queen Helene, one of the most renowned female converts in Jewish history. Her paper takes a critical feminist historiographic approach, focusing on Queen Helene and comparing her with other contemporary royal women to explore various socio-religious-cultural phenomena connected to women and Jewish society in the Second Temple period.

Dr. Etka Leibowitz, Head of Adult Education, Schechter Institutes

Leibowitz, who will be attending her first SBL, is also a seasoned administrator and logistics facilitator par excellence. She is taking an active organizational role organizing Sabbath services and kosher food supplies for religious participants.

“Because the meeting begins on a Sunday, many of us need to travel early to Denver, and thus will spend Shabbat in the conference center. We have arranged for a conference room for Shabbat prayer and both Orthodox and Conservative academics will be there for services,” notes Leibowitz.

Frankel is co-chair of SBL’s ‘Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures’ section, which brings together Jewish and Christian researchers to jointly grapple with the Biblical text and its meanings.

Rabbi Prof. David Frankel

“It is an amazing group. At each SBL, we have three to four sessions each consisting of four or five different talks that reach into everything about the Biblical text you could imagine,” says Frankel who has attended SBL meetings for at least 15 years. “This is a great example for Jews and Christians to compare perspectives and helps find a way towards improving interfaith cooperation,” he notes.

This year, Frankel is examining the story of Eden in Bereshit as an archetype for human protest or a ‘protest narrative.’

“I am suggesting that it should be seen, much as the book of Job, as a ‘protest narrative’, with God as the object of protest,” Frankel posits. In his paper, Frankel argues, “the narrative expressed protest and bitterness at a world tormented by a narcissistic God. The severe suffering that God inflicts upon humanity for all time for the misstep, places God in an extremely negative light.”

Schwartz, a specialist in linguistic and literary analysis of the Bible, has attended a decade worth of SBL events. This year, she is presenting two papers.

Dr. Sarah Schwartz, Head of Bible Studies, Schechter Institute

The first is a re-reading of Judges chapters 19-21 focusing on crime and punishment. Her analysis “demonstrates the failed legal handling of the rape in Gibeah,” and “the failure of the legal system during the pre-monarchy era.” Schwartz argues that “the links between Judges 19-21 and the demand for a king in 1 Samuel, chapter 8, support this conclusion and attest that these texts view the establishment of the judicial system as the primary role of the monarch.”

Schwartz’ second paper focuses on differing moral perceptions in the David and Abigail story from 1 Samuel. Schwartz unearthed a “previously ignored connection between the perception at the foundation of Abigail’s speech and the book of Proverbs, which portrays Abigail as the image of the wise in his educational role.” Schwartz finds various tensions in the texts by examining strands from each book in a literary exploration of David’s actions vis-à-vis rewards, punishments, and God’s role, leading to insights into the period’s notion of kingship.


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