In an emotional ceremony, Marvin A. Sweeney, world-renowned Professor of Hebrew Bible at Claremont School of Theology and Professor of Tanakh at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, was presented with the soon-to-be published manuscript of his Festschrift, containing contributions from 26 of his former students and colleagues from around the world, during a Society of Biblical Literature reception on Nov. 20, 2017.
A Festschrift (German, from celebration + writing) is a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute to a scholar who has made significant contributions in his or her area of study. It is usually edited by one of the honoree’s former students and is often presented at retirement, or some other important milestone. It is a tremendous honor and affirmation of the scholar’s work.
Because Sweeney had recently survived a bout with illness and would be turning 65 next year, Tom Phillip, CST’s Dean of Library and Information Services and Professor of Theological Bibliography, approached Shelley Birdsong, one of Sweeney’s recent star students, about editing and overseeing a Festschrift for Sweeney. She immediately said yes.
Birdsong, now Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at North Central College in Illinois, began contacting Sweeney’s colleagues and former students in the field for contributions. Another star student of Sweeney, Serge Frolov, Professor of Religious Studies at Southern Methodist University in Texas not only agreed to write a contribution, but also offered to help her edit and gather contributors. She happily accepted. “It is a big job,” she said, “and I’m still a junior colleague in the field.”
“Everyone in the universe thinks Marvin is worthy of a Festschrift,” said Birdsong, “and his upcoming 65th birthday seemed like an especially appropriate time to present him with it. Especially since we couldn’t do it at his retirement because we all know he will never retire. In fact,” she adds, “It’s a running joke at CST that Marvin never ends his classes on time, for better or ill. If the class ends at 1:30, he’ll keep talking until 2:30 because he loves what he does.”
Birdsong admits that back when she began as a CST grad student, she knew almost nothing about Sweeney. She chose CST because it was known for an excellent program in Biblical Studies and she wanted to stay in Southern California, where she grew up.
“However,” she said, “once I began my studies and met Marvin, I literally saw his name everywhere – every journal quotes him, every book either mentions him, or he has written it; he is truly world-famous. And I had no idea when I applied. I felt really fortunate, and also embarrassed at being unaware that I would be studying with such a world-class professor.”
“We all love Marvin,” she said, “and he has deeply affected all of us, especially me. As you may know, the Biblical scholarly job market is really rough out there right now. I don’t think there’s any way I would have been able to get a job in my field if I hadn’t been Marvin’s student. He arranges all kinds of networking opportunities for us, and he holds us to extremely high standards. I really appreciate it now.”
The Festschrift is only one of Sweeney’s most recent honors and accomplishments. On Nov. 20 he was voted President of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew. In October, his most recent book was published: The Pentateuch (Core Biblical Studies; Nashville: Abingdon, 2017), 144 pages.
“Dr. Sweeney is the absolute authority in his field,” said CST President and Hebrew Bible scholar Jeffrey Kuan. “Hundreds of CST graduates from all over the world came here specifically to study with him. We are fortunate to call Dr. Sweeney one of our own.”