RL ST 113
(J ST 113, CAMS 113, CMLIT 113)
Myths and Legends of the Jews (3) Comparative study of diverse interpretations of stories from the Bible in Judaism and Christianity.
RL ST (J ST/C LIT/CAMS) 113 Myths and Legends of the Jews (3)
The impact of the Bible on Western Culture is immense. Beyond its religious importance, the motifs and images from its myths and stories permeate literature and art, providing a basic frame of reference that for much of history could be taken for granted. A degree of familiarity with these motifs so as to be truly fluent is no longer common, and so it requires special effort to discern allusions to biblical traditions. Moreover, these traditions are not static: religious communities continually re-interpret them and appropriate them in very different contexts. Many prominent traditions in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do not appear explicitly anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, but are the product of imaginative and ingenious interpretation and re-tellings. Why, for example, is Noah an example of a righteous person in Christian tradition, but in rabbinic tradition is more often portrayed as a profane, earthly-minded man who was saved only because he was the least bad of an evil generation? Why is Moses commonly portrayed with horns in medieval art? Underlying such different traditions are centuries of debate and reflection on these texts as sacred scripture, and competing religious communities often authorized their distinctive beliefs and practices by reading them into scripture. The differences are often too subtle to discern apart from careful comparison.
This course will explore the boundaries between Scripture and tradition by means of a close examination of the myths and stories in the Hebrew Bible and their subsequent interpretation and re-tellings in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Our procedure will be to compare these traditions closely with the biblical text, asking: What is different? What concerns motivated the changes? Is it possible to discern patterns of change, or “agendas” of the author? We will also compare with later interpretive traditions (Jewish, Christian, Islamic). Can we trace trajectories of interpretation? Can we discern particular interpretive methods in operation? We will seek to answer: what do these re-workings of the traditions tell us about the development and function of Scripture, and the social circumstances of the communities? Finally, we will seek to detect reflections of these interpretive traditions in literature and art from the medieval to the modern periods.