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Jewish Studies seminar and events 2015-16

Semester 1 

Wednesday 7 October 
Professor Philip Alexander (Manchester) 
17.00-18.30 Lecture
18.30 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 3.01 (22 Kingsway)

'Narrative and Counter-Narrative: The Jewish Anti-Gospel (the Toledot Yeshu) and the Christian Gospels'

In this paper, it will considered whether the theory of “counter-narrative” throws any light on the relationship between the medieval Toledot Yeshu (‘The Life of Jesus’) and the canonic Gospels. Contrary to recent trends in the study of the Toledot, I will argue that the kind of polemic it reflects goes all the way back to the first and early second centuries, by seeking to demonstrate that some pericopes in the canonic Gospels can themselves be read as counter-narratives to the kind of stories we find in the Toledot. If this is the case, then it might suggest that the Toledot, again contrary to received wisdom, might have some role to play in the quest for the historical Jesus, in that it might preserve the folk-memory of genuine Jewish reactions to Jesus of Nazareth. I will introduce en passant the Toledot Yeshu, and survey recent work on it. 

Philip Alexander is Emeritus Professor of Post-Biblical Jewish Literature at the University of Manchester and a Fellow of the British Academy. He studied Classics and Oriental Studies at Oxford. Apart from a brief period in 1990s, when he served as President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, he has taught Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester and co-directed its Centre for Jewish Studies. He was a member of the official team appointed by the Israel Antiquities Authority to edit the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has researched widely in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, and has a longstanding interest in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity. He has published over 120 books and lectured in the UK, Europe, Israel, North America and Australia. 

Wednesday 21 October
Professor James Aitken (Cambridge)
17.00-18.30 Lecture
18.30 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 3.01 (22 Kingsway)
'Scribal Culture and the Making of the Septuagint '

The Septuagint is to be approached as both a resource for understanding the Hebrew Bible and an important witness to Judaism in the third century BCE. To appreciate this Greek translation on both these fronts we should understand the neglected place of the text within the scribal cultural tradition of the time. The comparison of the translation technique with evidence of Greek scribal practice in Egypt, and the examination of the role that Greek had for all religious groups there, will show that the Jewish translators can be placed in a social class within Egypt. This has implications for how we understand features in the translation and the place of Jews within Ptolemaic Egypt.

James Aitken specialises in second temple Judaism and in the Greek and Hebrew languages, and more recently has focused upon the Septuagint. He pays particular attention to the language of the Septuagint and to the evidence offered by inscriptions and papyri as a means of recovering the social history of the text. Recent publications include No Stone Unturned: Greek Inscriptions and Septuagint Vocabulary (Eisenbrauns, 2014), The T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint (London, 2015), and The Jewish-Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire (ed. with James Carleton Paget; Cambridge, 2014).

Wednesday 18 November
Astrid Schmetterling (Goldsmiths, University of London)
17.00-18.30 Lecture
18.30 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 3.01 (22 Kingsway)
'Uriel Orlow's 'Unmade Film': A Multidirectional Site of Palestinian and Israeli Traumatic Memory'

Uriel Orlow’s installation Unmade Film (2013) is a work in fragments. It contains components – a storyboard, stills, a script, a voiceover, music and staged theatre scenes - of a film that has yet to be made. Its setting is the Israeli mental health clinic Kfar Sha’ul, initially known for treating Holocaust survivors. The clinic is built on the ruins of the Palestinian village Deir Yassin, whose inhabitants were massacred by paramilitary Zionist forces in 1948. Kfar Sha’ul/Deir Yassin is a site where one traumatic memory has superimposed itself on the other. Informed by recent debates about the negotiation of divergent histories, memories and sensitivities in the public sphere, this presentation will consider Orlow’s collection of fragments as a “multidirectional” (Michael Rothberg) archive in which Palestinian and Israeli memories do not compete and obliterate each other, but can resonate with one another.

Astrid Schmetterling is Senior Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on the relation between history, culture and memory and is informed by the insights of postcolonial and transcultural studies. In this context, she is interested in contemporary international art practices, as well as in early 20th century German culture. She has published a monograph on Charlotte Salomon (Suhrkamp, 2001) and essays on Else Lasker-Schüler, Arnold Dreyblatt, and Vivienne Koorland, among others. Her most recent publication is a co-authored book with Lynn Turner, Visual Cultures As Recollection (Sternberg Press, 2013). 

Thursday 3 December
Dr Benjamin Williams (King's College London)
17.00-18.30 Lecture
18.30 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 4.38 (22 Kingsway)
'Gnats, Fleas, Flies and a Camel – 
Medieval and Early Modern Expositions of Midrash Genesis Rabba'

This paper examines the reception history of midrash by considering interpretations of a particularly perplexing exposition in Genesis Rabba (5:9 and 20:8). According to this midrash, when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree, God commanded the ground to bring forth cursed animals of four species – gnats, fleas, flies and a camel. While medieval Ashkenazi commentators struggled to explain the presence of a camel, Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi explained the kabbalistic significance of these creatures, and sixteenth-century commentators emended the text with reference to recently printed editions. By examining commentaries on the midrash, therefore, this study seeks to illuminate the modes of exegesis employed by successive interpreters of midrash and the expository resources at their disposal, and thereby to gain a fuller understanding of the reception history of rabbinic Bible interpretation.

Ben Williams is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Department of Theology & Religious Studies, King’s College London. He is carrying out a three-year project on the reception of the Hebrew Bible in the Sixteenth Century entitled “Reading the Bible in the Ottoman Empire: A New Chapter in Early Modern Jewish Exegesis”. Ben studied at the University of Oxford where his doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Joanna Weinberg, was entitled “Commentary on Midrash Rabba in the Sixteenth Century: The Or ha-Sekhel of Abraham ben Asher”. He then taught rabbinic and medieval Hebrew texts at Oxford, Leo Baeck College and the University of Manchester.

Semester 2 

Wednesday 20 January
Professor Hindy Najman (Oxford)
17.00 Lecture
18.30 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 3.01 (22 Kingsway)

Rethinking Hokhmah (Wisdom) in its Hellenistic Context

It is well-established that ancient Jewish wisdom texts exhibit the cross-cultural influences of the Near East. Far less subject to scholarly scrutiny are late ancient wisdom texts written in the Hellenistic period, of which we now have a treasure trove, due to the remarkable discoveries, over the last century, of texts in the Cairo Geniza and in the caves at Qumran. These finds have opened our eyes to the continuation of wisdom traditions beyond the biblical canon, to hitherto unsuspected cross-pollinations between Jewish and Greek wisdom, and to previously hidden connections between ancient wisdom and later developments in Byzantium and beyond. I will talk about ‘Instruction for the Expert’ (Musar le-Mevin or 4QInstruction). The text exhorts its reader, a member of a holy community, to ethical behaviour and to meditation on ‘the mystery that is to come’, which will grace the contemplator with knowledge of truth and sin. 4QInstruction is intimately tied to wisdom, liturgical, prophetic and historiographical texts from the Hebrew Bible, to deutero-canonical texts such as 2Esdras and Ben Sira, and to the Greek writings of Hellenistic Jewish thinkers such as Philo of Alexandria, whose conceptual framework matches that of the text in question to a surprising degree. The text anticipates works such as the ‘Book of Formation’ (Sefer Yetzirah), which would be incorporated, in the Middle Ages, into the corpus that came eventually to be known as Kabbalah. Thanks to this discovery at Qumran, we have an opportunity to examine the plurilingual context of late Jewish antiquity.

Hindy Najman is the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture.  She has previously taught at Yale University, the University of Toronto and the University of Notre Dame. She has written and edited 17 books and over 50 articles in the areas of Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic Judaism, early Rabbinics and the history of Jewish interpretation. She is currently writing two books. The first to be published in 2017, Metanoia: a Theory of Reading Ancient Jewish Sources, and the second to be published in 2018,  Ethical Reading: Unities of Texts in the Study of Wisdom, Lament, and Angels.

Wednesday 3 February
Dr Lily Kahn (UCL)
17.15 Lecture
18.45 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 3.01 (22 Kingsway)
Isaac Salkinson’s Hebrew Shakespeare Translations

This talk will examine the Judaizing translation techniques in the first Hebrew versions of complete Shakespeare plays, Iti'el (Othello, Vienna, 1874) and Ram ve-Yael (Romeo and Juliet, Vienna, 1878). The plays were translated directly from the English by Isaac Salkinson, a Lithuanian Jew who had converted to Christianity. They form part of an ideologically loaded maskilic (Jewish Enlightenment) initiative to establish a modern European-style Hebrew literature in Eastern Europe at a time when the language was still solely a written medium prior to its large-scale re-vernacularization in Palestine. The paper will introduce the translations’ unusual sociolinguistic background and illustrate some of their major domesticating techniques, including the neutralization of Christian and classical references, the insertion of Jewish religious and cultural motifs into the target text, and the Hebraization or Aramaicization of Latin and French linguistic elements.

Lily Kahn is Lecturer in Hebrew at UCL. Her main research areas are Hebrew and Yiddish in Eastern Europe. She is also interested in comparative Semitics, endangered languages, global Shakespeare, and the Sámi language. Publications include The Verbal System in Late Enlightenment Hebrew (Brill, 2009), Colloquial Yiddish (Routledge, 2012), and A Grammar of the Eastern European Hasidic Hebrew Tale (Brill, 2015).

Wednesday 9 March
Wendy Filer (King’s College London)
17.00 Lecture
18.30 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 3.01 (22 Kingsway)
Jews and Access to Justice in Early Modern England: Conflicts between Theory and Practice

The terms of resettlement of Jews in England in 1655 did not include the toleration of autonomous Jewish courts for the resolution of disputes between Jews.  At the same time, English legal discourse treated Jews as perpetual aliens forever denied access to English courts. Whilst English judicial hostility to Jews and their disputes receded after resettlement, unfettered access to English courts posed challenges to an emerging Jewish court system. This paper will discuss changes in English legal discourse about Jews as 'aliens' and will then, through a reading of legal cases involving Jews, explain how English legal jurisdiction shaped the individual choice of court, English or Jewish, among eighteenth century Jews.

Wendy Filer is a PhD student at King’s College, London. She studied law at St Anne’s College, Oxford and practised commercial litigation with a City law firm for 18 years. She has an MA in Jewish Studies from King’s College. Her PhD research on the work of London’s Sephardi Jewish community’s lay court during the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries focusses on how Jewish judicial autonomy adapted to challenges from the English legal system and from Jewish court users’ acculturation to English legal norms.

Thursday 17 March
Professor Zuleika Rodgers (Trinity College Dublin)
The Maccabaean Lecture
17.30 Refreshments
18.00 Lecture
Council Room (King’s Building, Strand Campus)
Jews in Ireland: From British Subjects to Irish Nationals

The lecture will explore some of the major issues faced by the Irish Jewish community with the coming of independence. Communal and structural challenges will be examined as well as individual responses. 

Zuleika Rodgers is Assistant Professor in Jewish Studies, director of the Herzog Centre for the Study of Jewish and Near Eastern Religions and Culture, and curator of the Weingreen Museum of Biblical Antiquities at Trinity College Dublin. Her research has focussed on Jewish antiquity, and recently she co-edited the first companion to the writings of Flavius Josephus. Recently her interests have shifted to issues around the study of Jewish communities in Ireland.

Wednesday 30 March
Dr Dalit Rom-Shiloni (Tel Aviv University/Oxford)
17.15 Lecture
18.45 Refreshments
Virginia Woolf Building 3.01 (22 Kingsway)
Priestly Traces in Jeremiah: Data and Challenges

Scholarly consensus has relied on clear dichotomies that link Jeremiah to Deuteronomy and Ezekiel to the Priestly sources, and it has highlighted the distances in vocabulary and even more so in themes and conceptions between the two prophets and the two schools of thought. My research over the last few years, however, has led me to acknowledge numerous instances where Jeremiah, and possibly his followers as well, utilize priestly terminology and traditions. The paper will present examples of the diverse data and discuss the methodological challenges they raise.

Dalit Rom-Shiloni is a Senior Lecturer of Hebrew Bible in the Department of Hebrew Culture Studies, Tel Aviv University. Her academic interests include Judean theology and ideology of the sixth century BCE, specifically concepts of God in times of national crisis, ideologies of war, and internal ideological conflicts of identity within the Judean communities of the Neo-Babylonian and the early Persian periods; inner-biblical allusion and exegesis in prophetic literature, mainly in Jeremiah and Ezekiel; and landscape and ecology, with special attention to the role of imagery and metaphor in prophetic and poetic Biblical literature. During her stay in Oxford, Dalit Rom-Shiloni is writing a monograph entitled One of the Priests at Anathoth: Priestly Traces in Jeremiah. First fruits, thoughts, and challenges, are to be presented in the seminar. Dalit is the author of God in Times of Destruction and Exiles: Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) Theology (2009; in Hebrew); Exclusive Inclusivity: Identity Conflicts between the Exiles and the People who Remained (6th-5th Centuries BCE) (LHB/OTS 543, 2013); 'A Short Commentary on “Jeremiah”', in: Jewish Study Bible (2nd ed., Oxford 2014; and Theodical Discourse: Justification, Doubt, and Protest in Face of Destruction (SBLAIL, forthcoming).





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