This course is a survey of Jewish civilization from the origins of Ancient Israel to 1500 C.E. All materials are in English translation. The course is taught primarily from the standpoint of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies, in the sense that the course will address both the history of Jews during this long period, and the most influential writings produced during that time. There will be some focus on the persons and writings that have been most influential for Jewish Civilization over time, including into the modern world. This course is the first half of a two-semester sequence, and another course taught regularly in Spring semester addresses Jewish Civilization from 1492 to the present.
The course will be organized according to an overarching thematic image of “Crisis and Response.” Jewish Civilization over the time period we study, from origins in the later part of the second millennium B.C.E., to the end of the 15th century C.E., encountered key crises including a memory of enslavement in its sacred sources, the need for sovereignty, the loss of sovereignty and a state of exile, and then continued existence only within larger empires for over two millennia. Responses to these crises were varied.
In early legends, centuries of slavery were followed by liberation as The Exodus and the establishment of covenantal law (addressed in Unit 1).
Later, the need for sovereignty brought the establishment of monarchy and centralized worship at a temple by the kings David and Solomon, and then a continuous period of sovereignty for over four centuries. This sovereignty ended in 587 B.C.E. and initiated the need for continued existence in exile as well as in Persian and Hellenistic polities (addressed in Unit 2).
The first century C.E. brought a new crisis with the end of Temple worship due to Roman conquest, and then the most enduring and productive response for Jewish Civilization was the legal and other innovations of Classical Rabbinic Judaism (addressed in Unit 3).
In the Middle Ages, the rise of Christian and Muslim empires brought new contexts for Jewish communities, but also new degrees of persecution, and these crises were intimately connected with responses in intellectual and religious life, including the development of philosophy and the mysticism of Kabbalah (addressed in Unit 4).
- Three short papers, 2 pages each; each 15% of the course grade (45% total)
- Midterm exam, closed-book, in-class (20%)
- Final Exam, closed book, in-class (20%)
- Class Participation (15%)
Required Books: (available at the University Co-Op Bookstore):
- Alexander, ed., Textual Sources for the Study of Judaism
- Jewish Publication Society (JTS), TaNaKh: The Holy Scriptures
- Robert Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought