Religion 41 Syllabus

Submitted by Diane L. Dix on Tuesday, 9/9/2008, at 8:19 AM

Religion 41
Reading the Rabbis
Amherst College
Fall 2008

Professor Susan Niditch    Chapin 114
Office Hours: Th 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., and by appointment    Phone 542-2270 (office)
    549-6074 (home)

Books to Buy:  available at the Jeffery Amherst Bookshop

Barry Holtz        Back to the Sources
David Kraemer        The Meanings of Death in Rabbinic Judaism
Moses Mielziner    Introduction to the Talmud
Jacob Neusner        There We Sat Down
H. Shanks, ed.,     Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism
Hermann Strack    Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash
New Revised Standard Version of the Bible

Also:  A set of readings available in the Religion Department Office.

General Plan

Weeks 1-6:  Readings in the midrashic collections:  We will learn what midrash is and explore methods of dealing with this literature that interprets the Bible; discussion of methodologies from fields such as anthropology, folklore, and more traditional Rabbinic scholarship.  Most important, what do the Rabbis reveal about their view of humanity, God, and the ways of the world through their reformulations of biblical texts?

Week 7:  Introduction to the Mishnah, the major second century codification of legal material; discussion of its relationship to biblical law; Mishnah as a key indicator of Rabbinic worldview and culture.

Week 8-13: Readings in the Talmud (the Mishnah plus its commentary, the Gemara), the most complex expression of Rabbinic thought with which we will deal.  The Talmud provides the exegesis of laws of the Mishnah, but along the way presents folktales, proverbs, exempla, philosophical dialogues, prayers, and many other genres of literature.


1. Four formal papers on suggested topics, details to be provided along the way; occasional additional writing assignments for in-class work.