(Cinematic) Visions of Christ


Although the very first depictions of Jesus were textual, pictorial representations of him were not far behind. At the turn of the 20th century, Jesus rose on the silver screen, first as simple recordings of theatrical “passion plays” and then as full-blown features depicting a wide variety of “Jesuses”. This course introduces students to the range of textual and cinematic depictions of Jesus by a close examination of a number of canonical and non-canonical gospels as well as of a number of major “Jesus movies”. Continue reading

Books That Didn’t Make It into the Bible


Although many people think of the Bible as containing all of the sacred literature of the Judeo-Christian tradition, many books of “scripture” that could have been included in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament were left out by the committees that put those anthologies together. In this seminar course we will examine a selection of such “lost” books (drawing from the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library) in order to better understand what was left out of the Bible as well as what was kept in and why. Students will be responsible for doing close, thoughtful reading of each assignment and actively participating in each class discussion. In addition, students will be asked to write several papers and to make a presentation related to the themes of the course. The second essay is to be revised based on class and instructor feedback. Continue reading

Taking Judaism to the Gentiles: Josephus, Philo and Paul


At the end of the Second Temple period, Judaism was well on its way to becoming the dominant religion of the Roman Empire as Jews, “half-Jews”, and “God-fearers” worshipped the God of Israel in various ways and to various degrees.  Thus, like Hellenism before it, Judaism was (mentally) conquering its (political) conquerors.  In this course we will read selections from the works of three Hellenized Jews who lived around the time of Jesus and who were instrumental in “taking Judaism to the Gentiles” — and thus paving the way for the later rise and triumph of Christianity: (1) Josephus, a priest-general turned historian-apologist who participated in the Jewish revolt against Rome; (2) Philo of Alexandria, a leading figure in one of the leading communities of the Jewish Diaspora who attempted to reconcile Jewish religion and Greek philosophy; and (3) Paul (also known as Saul) who — despite often being thought of as a “Christian” — arguably lived and died thinking of himself as a Jew engaged in propagating what he understood to be the full, final flowering of Judaism. Continue reading

Agent in Athens, Patient in Jerusalem: The Cosmic (Sense of) Self in Ancient Greek and Judaic Cultures


One of the great insights of the modern era is that notions of what a “person” is, as well as notions about the “cosmos” those persons inhabit, vary from culture to culture. Indeed the two are linked. In this talk, we will explore the interconnections between cultural notions of “self’ and “cosmos” by considering the cases of ancient Greek culture on the one hand and ancient Judaic culture on the other. In each case, notions of creation were correlated with notions of the cosmos that in turn were correlated with notions of the nature of man and the nature of wisdom. In Athens, the cosmic (sense of) self was that of a cosmic agent, while in Jerusalem it was that of a cosmic patient. Continue reading

Apologies of Socrates and Gospels of Jesus


The lives and deaths of Socrates and Jesus had some remarkable parallels. Both were charismatic teachers claiming to be on divine missions. Both were executed by the ruling elites they challenged. And both were vindicated in the writings of their disciples. This course will explore these and other parallels by reading and discussing two Apologies (Defenses) of Socrates, one by Xenophon and one by Plato, and a number of gospels, some that made it into the New Testament and some that didn’t. In addition to examining the teachings of each figure, we will consider how each one’s calling and legacy is portrayed in the various accounts. The two Apologies of Socrates will be supplemented by selected other dialogues by Xenophon and Plato related to the death of Socrates. Continue reading

Lost Books of the New Testament


Although 27 books were included in the fourth century anthology known as the New Testament, early Christians produced a great many more books considered sacred by various communities.  Among these other books were additional gospels, acts of the apostles, epistles and apocalypses.  In this course, we will read and discuss a selection of the surviving “lost books” that did not make it into the Bible (as well as several of the canonical books that did) in order to get a sense of the works themselves, the similarities and differences among them and between them and the canonical works, and of the process that led to the creation of the Christian canon. Continue reading

On the Cutting Room Floor: Books that Didn’t Make It into the Bible


Despite our habit of talking about it in the singular, “the Bible” is an anthology of many books from different times and places. But not every book that could have made it into the Bible did so. This lecture will survey the processes by which the biblical anthology was put together and explore some of the books that were left “on the cutting room floor.” Continue reading

Agent in Athens, Patient in Jerusalem: The Cosmic (Sense of) Self in Greek and Hebrew Culture and their Descendents

WRITINGS > Unfinished

This essay is a generalization about idealizations.  As such, it is necessarily imperfect and incorrect.  In some ways it says too little.  In other ways it says too much.  Nonetheless, my hope is that this essay still says something true, something that begins to get at some of the ways that Greek and Hebrew civilizations spawned “senses of self” (or even more radically, actual “selves”) that were fundamentally different from, perhaps even antithetical to, one another — just as they also spawned “worldviews” (or even actual “worlds”) that were fundamentally different and perhaps antithetical.  As such, this essay is an exploration in what might be called “historical cultural psychology” — an examination of the ways in which “self” and “world” mutually constituted one another in two historically-important civilizations.  And to the extent Athens and Jerusalem live on in at least two contemporary civilizations, this essay is also an exploration of the ways in which “self” and “world” mutually constitute one another today. Continue reading