Tag Archives: literature

Poetry, Prose, and Redaction: Preliminary Conclusions on Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 1

I have been working steadily since my last blog post on Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 1, and I feel confident enough to state a few preliminary conclusions about the poetics of the text.

1. Formally, the text of P-J to Genesis 1 is rhythmic prose. It shows many of the features of poetry, but lacks a real poetic structure, which was important for late antique Jewish Aramaic poetry.

2. Though the text is technically prose, many of the additions (e.g. those in verses 1-6, and even some of the longer additions, like those of verses 21 and 30) maintain or expand upon the rhythm of the original text, implying that at least one of the earlier authors of P-J saw Genesis 1 as poetry.

3. Several of the longer expansions (e.g. in verses 7, 16, and 26) are fully prosaic–they do not maintain any noticeable rhythm, meter, or parallelism. Interestingly, these additions all introduce material from later, rabbinic sources, and therefore belong to a later redactional layer. Thus, I posit that the later authors/redactors of P-J did not see Genesis 1 as poetry, since it does not have much of a poetic structure.

4. Therefore, we may see a progression in how the authors of P-J saw Genesis 1. Early on, because the text of the targum retained the rhythm of the Hebrew Text, P-J to Genesis 1 was a text to be performed in front of an audience, probably in a synagogue service. Later, though, the text became a prose object of religious study: shifting views of what constituted good Aramaic poetry meant that the later rabbis saw the text as prose, and P-J’s use as a study text for seers meant that rabbinic traditions were added to the text.

Michael Maher, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis (Aramaic Bible 1B; Collegeville, Minn.:: Liturgical Press, 1992).

A. S. Rodrigues Pereira, Studies in Aramaic Poetry (c. 100 B.C.E. – 600 C.E.): Selected Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan Poems (Studia Semitica Neerlandica; Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1997).


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CFP: Religion, Literature, and the Arts Conference

Ninth Religion, Literature, and the Arts Conference
Sacrifice, Terror, and the Good
September 26‐28, 2013
University of Iowa, Iowa City IA

The 2013 Religion, Literature and the Arts conference at the University of Iowa will focus on the relationships between terror, sacrifice, and the good. If one of the chief functions of the humanities is to encourage us to think reflectively about what we take to be the highest good, sometimes the task of the humanities scholar must be one of recovery, and sometimes one of critique. Rather than leaping to the defense of the pure virtue of the good, the conference pauses to reflect on its terrifying aspects and how it may compel us to sacrifice even that which is dear to us. Working across time and place, we want to build an understanding of how sacrifice works to alleviate or induce terror, and the role of the good in this process.

We invite papers focused on one of these three key terms, as well as papers that conceptualize how these terms might relate to one another. The conference is hosted by the University of Iowa’s Department of Religious Studies, and so we welcome contributions working with both classic and contemporary theories of sacrifice, penitence, and trembling before the divine—Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Rudolf Otto, Georges Bataille, Rene Girard, Walter Burkert, Slavoj Zizek, Talal Asad, to name but a few examples. But we are equally interested in papers and presentations that cut across disciplinary boundaries and address the broad themes of the conference from other vantage points, working with texts and non‐textual artifacts alike. As a starting point, the following kinds of questions might be considered:

  • Does terror have its ethical or political virtues? Is there an aesthetics of terror? How is the experience of terror represented in literature and the arts, and to what end? Is terror induced by the call for sacrifice, or does it justify the call for sacrifice?
  • How did ancient or antiquated rituals of sacrifice operate? How are they taken up and reenacted in contemporary cultures, by artists, creators, and consumers?
  • Does pursuit of the good always demand sacrifice? In a time of abundance, are we still called upon to sacrifice? What is the value (ethical or aesthetic) of choosing a good that does require sacrifice? In what contexts is goodness experienced as something to be feared? Is the good an inherently terrifying subject, or an inherently dull one?

In thinking about developing a proposal, it might be helpful to consider the following three broad headings under which accepted papers will be organized:

Constructive Diagnoses
This track invites papers using philosophy, theology, psychoanalytic theory, political theory, and/or literary theory to define, diagnose, and perhaps undermine what given cultures define as the good. For example, papers might develop a phenomenology of terror, deconstruct the practice of sacrifice, or explore how the divine or the demonic function as manifestations of the good.

Cultural Manifestations
This track invites papers that explore the agony, ecstasy, or monotony of sacrifice within a given culture, society, community, or ritual setting, from a variety of methodological perspectives and in a variety of contexts. Examinations of specific historical events or material artifacts, investigations of the ways sacrifice has been represented in literature and the arts, and inquiries into specific rituals of sacrifice are all equally welcome.

Creative Interpretations
This track invites creative work that touch in some way on the themes of sacrifice, terror, and the good—fiction, creative non‐fiction, poetry, paintings, music, film, and/or dance. Where appropriate, the abstract in this case might take the form of an artist’s statement explaining how the work speaks to the themes of the conference.

Submission of Abstracts
Please submit abstracts of no more than 350 words, along with a working title for your paper, your name, institutional affiliation, and email address to the RLA working group at religion‐rla@uiowa.edu. The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2013.

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Used Book Store Finds

My wife and I recently visited several of the used book stores here in Iowa City for a much-needed day of relaxation. Here was our haul:

  • E. A. Speiser, Genesis (Anchor Bible). $3.
  • W. D. Davies, The Sermon on the Mount. $2.
  • I. M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. $4.50.
  • Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. $1.99.
  • Willa Cather, My Antonia. $2.
  • Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights. $2.
  • Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina. $2.
  • C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. $4.50.
  • Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass. $2.
  • Chris van Allsburg, The Polar Express. $1.

Total before tax: $25. Not a bad day, if I do say so myself! I’m especially jazzed to have gotten an Anchor commentary for $3.

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Forthcoming: vHMML: An Online Environment for Manuscript Studies

The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, has received a grant to create vHMML, “an online environment for manuscript studies.” From the announcement:

vHMML will consist of six closely-linked, interoperable, and mutually-reinforcing online components:

1. School: instructional material in various formats for teaching the paleography and codicology for languages/cultures represented in HMML’s collections (Latin, Syriac, Ge‘ez, Christian Arabic, Armenian);

2. Scriptorium: a sophisticated collaborative workspace able to support a variety of manuscript-related projects using manuscript images from HMML’s collection and imported from other sources, and providing tools for studying their form and content;

3. Lexicon: a crowd-sourced glossary for manuscript studies inclusive of western and non-western manuscripts;

4. Folio Collection: thickly-described sample manuscript folios from HMML’s collections, supplemented by images supplied by other institutions or individuals, which will illustrate the chronological and regional development of writing styles;

5. Library: other HMML digital resources supportive of manuscript study such as classic works on paleography, manuscript catalogs, and videos;

6. Blog: a central point for communication and feedback gathering about vHMML.

It looks like a really good project to me, and I’m excited to see it when it’s done!

(via Reddit)

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