Science Fiction and the Bible events this summer

Two events came and went. I want to share a few general thoughts and trajectories. 

The first one was the EABS’ “Science Fiction and the Bible” panel which happened at the joint meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the European Association of Biblical Studies in Vienna. It was the second meeting of the “Science Fiction and the Bible” research group – two full sessions of diverse papers. I am always surprised – maybe I should start not being surprised, actually – how themes converge, appear, re-appear and are suddenly relatable to each other. Often, at conferences, it’s like there is a theme that I couldn’t have anticipated which then becomes a thread.

To me, in Vienna, one such theme was fandom and canon. In biblical studies we often talk about canon, so do fans of science fiction. What does it say about a piece of literature, for example, if it is considered to be part of a canon or not part of a canon? Who gets to decide what is canonical? 

One paper fit in quite wonderfully, that dealt with open and closed systems. Is the Bible a closed system? No – the presenter argued – of course not. It is open to manipulation and constantly changed by interpreters. So, is a comic book canon or a science fiction canon constantly changed by its fans? I think there is a lot of potential in looking at biblical exegesis from a fan-perspective and a SF/comic book-canon-perspective. One of the papers presented in Vienna did that: the paper compared explicitly the many commentaries on purity laws from the book of Leviticus to discourse among fans of Star Trek. We talked about rules and the geeks who love them: the rules of Leviticus, the rules of rabbinic interpretation, and the rules of built worlds in science fiction or in gaming. 

We spoke about the sacred and the profane – the supposedly non-serious popular genre of science fiction and the so very serious and sacred business of the Bible. Anyone who knows and likes science fiction might be a bit confused that anyone might consider science fiction not-serious. It can be very serious. It can be goofy, silly, and quirky, of course, but in the end, its governing question “What if…” invites very sincere and mature speculation. The Bible isn’t that different, really. It speculates about a deity and a supposedly chosen people – a constant negotiation of a series of “what if”‘s in relation to community, identity, and transcendence. 

The second event related to the Bible and Science Fiction was a panel at Wordcon (Loncon 3) about the Bible and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Five Bible scholars got together, sat on a panel and brainstormed. The main methodological approach we all seemed to advocate was the mash-approach. Take a piece of SF/F or SF theory and mash it up with a piece of the Bible and biblical criticism and scholarship – explore how in conjunction these seemingly incompatible worlds sing. We met up in the Green Room (I really just wanted to say “Green Room” – I got to be in a Green Room!) before the event and joked that surely it would be just us panelists at that session and nobody else.

Well no.

The room had (so I was told) 104 chairs in it and they were all taken. People were standing in the back of the room. We had a good conversation with attendees and were challenged by some interesting questions: is Q God, isn’t Q God? Why would Jean-Luc Picard deny so vehemently that Q is God in a Gene Roddenberry-universe?

What does Aronofsky’s “Noah” say about obedience when the deity seems to be rather withdrawn from the goings-on? What do responses like Aronofsky’s say about “obedience” to the biblical text?

How do material explanations by our science-biased culture of previously inexplicable phenomena compare and contrast with mythological explanations found in the Bible? 

Summing up: what an exciting summer so far! 


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