Religion 37 Syllabus

Submitted by Diane L. Dix
Religion 37
The Body in Ancient Judaism
Spring 2008

Professor Susan Niditch    Chapin 114
Office Hours: Thursday 9-10 and by appointment    email:

Required Books:

Bible (HarperCollins Study Bible or any other)
Bordo, Susan            Unbearable Weight
Bynum, Caroline        Holy Feast and Holy Fast
Doniger, Wendy and        Off With Her Head
    Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, eds.
Dorf, Elliot N. and         Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality
 Louis E. Newman, eds.
Douglas, Mary            Purity and Danger
Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard, ed.    People of the Body
Foucault, Michel        History of Sexuality, Vol. 1
Kraemer, David        The Meaning of Death in Rabbinic Judaism
Niditch, Susan            Ancient Israelite Religion

A Course Reader will be available in the Religion Department Office.

Entering the Topic

Jan. 29:     Some Excerpts and Issues

Jan. 31:      Questions and Approaches: Samples
            Horace Miner, “The Nacirema,” American Anthropologist, 1956 (course reader).
                Riv-Ellen Prell, “Why Jewish Princesses Don’t Sweat: Desire and Consumption in Postwar American Culture,” pp. 329-359 in Eilberg-Schwartz, People of the Body (buy or reserve).
            “Pumping Iron II.”  In-class viewing.

What sort of issues pertaining to the body and culture are raised by each of these scholars?  What are the questions they pose, the methodologies they use, assumptions they have?  Beware of the edge in “The Nacirema.”  What is this article about?

Feb. 5, 7, 12: A Case Study in Bodies and Culture: Feast or Famine
    Feb. 5:  Discussion of “Pumping Iron.”
                Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight, pp. 45-69; 99-164 (buy or reserve)

    Feb. 7: Guest Class by Professor Amy Frykholm               

    Feb. 12: Continue in Bordo, pp. 165-212; 245-275
            Caroline Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, pp. 113-296 (buy or reserve).
                For class prepare a three page essay in which you outline three or more key points raised by Bynum and explain their relevance for our study of the body.
            Discussion of Bordo, Bynum, and Frykholm

Altering the Body

Feb. 14, 19: Circumcision
            S. Niditch, “Introduction to Ancient Judaism,” in Ancient Israelite Religion (buy or reserve), pp. 3-33.
        Genesis 1-3; 15; 17
        Exodus 4:24-26
        Genesis 34
        Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, The Savage in Judaism, pp. 140-176 (course reader and reserve).

Feb. 18:  A lecture by Professor Edward Greenstein, Bar Ilan University, Israel, “The Problem of Evil
            in the Book of Job,” Chapin 101 at 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 20:  Three Page Essay Due: Applying Body Questions to the Case of Circumcision    

Feb. 21, 26:  Hair
    Feb. 21:
        Numbers 6: Nazirite vow
        2 Sam 14:25-18:16:  Absalom
        Judges 5 (opening lines of the poem); Judges 13-16 (esp. chs. 13 and 16).
        Niditch, Ancient Israelite Religion, pp. 99-118.
        Edmond Leach, “Magic Hair” in Middleton, ed., Myth and Cosmos (course reader).
        Possibly material in Professor Niditch’s new book, My Brother Esau Is a Hairy Man.    

    Feb. 26: Hair Continued
            Saul Olyan and biblical references in his essay, “What Do Shaving Rites Accomplish,” JBL 117(1998)611-622 (course reader).
            Readings in Eilberg-Schwartz and Wendy Doniger, eds., Off With Her Head, to be assigned in class (buy or reserve).

Concepts of Clean and Unclean

Feb. 28: Food
        Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, pp. 1-7; 36-71 (buy or reserve).
        Leviticus 11
        Passover ritual, Niditch, Ancient Israelite Religion, pp. 99-106 (buy or reserve).
How does the axiom “you are what you eat” apply to Israelite customs and legal traditions pertaining to food?  Prepare a one page response essay for class.

Mar. 4: Excretions, Clean and Unclean
        Leviticus 12, 15
        Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, The Savage in Judaism, pp. 177-194 (buy or reserve).
        m. Niddah (course reader)
            Chava Weissler, “Mizvot Built into the Body,” pp. 101-115 in Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, People of the Body.
        Rachel Wasserfall, “Menstruation and Identity,” pp. 309-327 in Eilberg-Schwartz, People.
        Continuing motifs of clean/unclean, chaos/creation, issues in gender.

Mar. 6: Five Page Essay Due on women and uncleanness in Judaism: in-class discussion.

Mar. 11, 13: Death: Soul/Body/Uncleanness
        S. Niditch, Ancient Israelite Religion, pp. 50-69 (and biblical passages cited).
        The following set of biblical passages:
            Lev 20:6, 27            2 Kgs 23:24; 10
            Deut 18:9-14            Isa 8:16-22
            Deut 26:12-15        Isa 28:7-22
            1 Sam 28:3-25        Isa 57:3-13
            2 Sam 18:18            Isa 65:1-7
            2 Kgs 9:34-37        Jer 16:1-9
            2 Kgs 21:6            Amos 6:4-7
            2 Kgs 13:21 (compare 2 Kgs 4:8-37)    
        Numbers 19: the ritual of the red heifer
            “Death,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 5, pp. 1419-1429, Chapin Lounge and Frost Library Reference.
            “Olam Ha-Ba,” (i.e. “World to come”) in EJ, Vol. 12, pp. 1353-1357, Chapin Lounge and Frost Library Reference.
        Ohalot excerpt, “Mishnayoth, Order Taharoth” (course reader)
        David Kraemer, The Meaning of Death in Rabbinic Judaism.
Women’s Bodies: At the Margins, Power, Violence, Gender Identity

Mar. 24: Viewing of “Basic Instinct,” Fayerweather 117, 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Mar. 25: Intro: Women Desired/Feared
        Discussion of “Basic Instinct”
            English Ballads, Child 81: “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard,” Child 42: “Clerk Colville” (course reader).
        Keep in mind from Motif Index for the next few classes
            S262.1:  wife given to monster to appease it
            P214: wife drinks husband’s blood
            S263.6: wife sacrifice to procure wealth
            H460 ff.: ties husband to bed so lover can kill him
            G79.1: animal wife eats husband
            G250.1: wife is witch
            K2213: treacherous wife

Mar. 27:    Read Foucault, A History of Sexuality, pp. 81-131.  Prepare a one page response.

Apr. 1:  Judges 4-5 (Jael)
        Judges 16:4-31 (Delilah)
        1 Kgs 16:29-34; 21; 2 Kgs 9 (Jezebel)
        2 Kgs 11:1-16 (Athaliah)

Apr. 3:  Women’s Bodies, War, and Exchange
            Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women,” in R. Reiter, Toward An Anthropology of Women, pp. 157-210 (course reader).
        Genesis 34, Judges 19-21, Judges 11
        Think about “Beauty and the Beast” in traditional tellings; counder motif S262.1.

Apr. 8:  Woman and Food/Woman and Wisdom
        1 Samuel 25
        The Book of Esther
        Proverbs 1-9
            C. Newsom, “Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom: A Study of Proverbs 1-9,” pp. 142-160 in P. Day, ed. in Gender and Difference (course reader).

God’s Body      

Apr. 10: Eilberg-Schwartz, “The Problem of The Body,” pp. 17-46 in Eilberg-Schwartz, People.
        Stephen D. Moore, God’s Gym, pp. 75-102 (read biblical passages he cites) (course reader).
        Shiur Komah:
        Naomi Janowitz, “God’s Body,” pp. 183-201 in Eilberg-Schwartz, People.
        Elliot Wolfson, “Images of God’s Feet,” pp. 143-181 in Eilberg-Schwartz, People.

Apr. 15: Two page Reflection Due on God’s body.

The Body: Issues in Contemporary Jewish Ethics                    

Apr.15: A guest lecture by Professor John Reeder, Brown University

Apr. 17:  Euthanasia
            Louis Newman, “Woodchoppers and Respirators,” in Dorff and Newman, Contemporary Jewish  Ethics and Morality, p. 140-160  (buy or reserve).
            Fred Rosner, “Euthanasia”; Byron Sherwin, “A View of Euthanasia,” in Dorff and Newman, CJEM, pp. 350-391 (buy or reserve).
Apr. 22:  The Case of Abortion
        Articles by Feldman and Lubarsky in Dorff and Newman, CJEM, pp. 382-402 (buy or reserve).

Apr. 23:    Viewing of “Star Trek:  The Insurrection,” Fayerweather 117, 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Apr. 24:    Discussion of film and issues it raises.

Apr. 29, May 1: In-class offerings by call members.
        Judaism and biotechnology: applications
        Article by Mackler in Dorff and Newman, CJEM, pp. 177-193 (buy or reserve).

May 6:    The Final Essay Due
    A case study on a topic in Judaism, the body, and biotechnology.  The project will be selected in early April in consultation with Professor Niditch.  The length of the final essay is 8 -10 pages.