Religion as Pharmakon Shaw
As explained in the course syllabus, you will be given two opportunities to write one 4 page essay (typed, double-spaced) from the material on Judaism or Christianity. The following are the questions for the Judaism section of the course. Answer only one of these questions. If none of these questions appeals to you, then wait for the next opportunity to write. If any does, I would encourage you to do it now.
- From our readings it should be clear that the “land of Israel” is a powerful symbol in the religious myth of Judaism. Discuss the importance of the “land” in the mythic imagination of Judaism. Be sure to explain: (1) why the land is considered sacred; (2) what the experience of exile signified in traditional rabbinic theology (Ezra); (3) the idealization of the land in the symbolic geography of the rabbis; (4) how exile was reimagined by Luria; and (5) how it was overcome in rituals.
- Imagine that you are an Orthodox and observant Jew and have been asked to explain to your non-Jewish friends why the study of the Torah is so important to you. Explain the historical development of the written and oral Torah and what their functions are in Judaism. Also explain how and why the study of the Torah is one of the most important rituals in Judaism (see READER 123-129).
- We started the semester considering Rollo May’s definition of myth as “a way of making sense in a senseless world” (May, The Cry for Myth, READER 4). Karen Armstrong said a myth is “true because it is effective” (10) but when myth no longer allows us to participate in the sacred and feel transformed it becomes remote and fades away (19). Now we are in a position to apply May’s and Armstrong’s definitions of myth to Judaism. Describe the development of the Jewish myth. What are the central elements? What changes occurred in response to political and historical events? Be sure to discuss events surrounding 586 B.C.E. and how they influenced the myth. How did Luria respond to the myth as shaped by Ezra, and why? Finally, do you think the Jewish myth will change because of the creation of a Jewish state in 1948? If so, how? If not, why not?
Your essay should be 4 pages long, typed, and double-spaced. My criteria for grading are clarity and coherence, accuracy, depth of thought, grammar, and, where appropriate, imagination. Papers are due November 8.