Academic Programs 
      

Job and Jonah: Suffering, Repentance, and Spiritual Transformation (SC-626) 
Winter/Spring 2004

Job and Jonah are probably the two most “unorthodox” books in the Hebrew Bible. Their principal characters try to make sense of experiences that do not fit the images of God presented in the other books. Moreover, these challenging portrayals evoke the existential questions we all must face: Is there any meaning in suffering, and can the pain or trauma be redeemed? How do we repent, and how might we invite others, including our leaders, to repent? How can we transform ourselves and our communities to be more in keeping with God’s promises and moral imperatives? Aiming at an inclusive method of “practical exegesis,” the course will juxtapose Jewish interpretations with teachings in the Christian and Muslim traditions.

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Wednesdays from 7:00-9:20 p.m. on Jan. 28, Feb. 4, 11, 18, 25, March 3, 10, 17, 24, April 21, 28 and May 5, 12

Yehezkel Landau
Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations.
 

Contact Information:
phone: 
(860) 509-9538
email: ylandau@hartsem.edu
Professor Landau's web page

 

Course Syllabus



Goals include:

  • to help students appreciate how Jews read their own Scriptures, and how Christian and Muslim approaches to these sacred stories offer complementary insights; hopefully this will foster a non-doctrinaire approach to texts and an openness to multiple readings
  • to cultivate an awareness of how contemporary the so-called “Old Testament” is
  • to relate the stories in Job and Jonah to our own faith struggles of discernment, fidelity, and transformation
  • to encourage a multi-faith conversation around the challenges posed by the texts, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and enrichment

Anticipated Learning Outcomes: 

  • appreciating how any translation is already a distortion of the original text

  • developing a basic understanding of the four-level typology of rabbinic exegesis, with special appreciation for the power of midrash (allegorical parable)

  • being able to approach Scripture as a source of practical wisdom, rather than a collection of myths or fables

  • appreciating Scripture as an underpinning for collective self-understanding throughout history, and relating this awareness to our own life journeys within faith communities

  • cultivating a “dialogue” between ancient texts and their wisdom, on the one hand, and contemporary thinkers and their own insights, on the other, and discerning how that cross-generational conversation can enrich our own faith journeys

Methods of Teaching and Discussion:

An introductory session on Jewish exegesis of Scripture, with examples of midrash.  An additional preliminary overview of the major issues raised by the two books.  Subsequent class sessions will focus on the Biblical texts, as well as theological and philosophical issues raised by these ancient stories.  Particular attention will be paid to our own faith responses to suffering, ethical misconduct, guilt feelings, and yearnings for transformation.  Instruction will weave together various approaches and interpretations, including the literary, the psychological, and the practical application of insights gleaned from our readings of these texts.  Class discussion will aim at forging an interfaith learning community, wrestling with the challenges within the texts and juxtaposing those “objective” challenges with our own “subjective” faith struggles.

Course Assignments and Methods of Assessment:

Course participants will be expected to have read the assigned readings for each class.  They will also be asked to prepare a one-to-two-page reflection statement (typed, double-spaced) for each session, responding to the required readings.  These will be read by the instructor and returned to the students with comments.   The written reflections will help students formulate their insights and questions to offer as part of the class discussion.

A final paper of approximately 15 double-spaced pages is required of students taking the course for credit.  The paper should make reference to at least one book listed under “Recommended Readings” at the end of this syllabus.  This paper is due the last day of the course (May 12).

Criteria for grades will be as follows:  participation in class discussions (20%); grasp of the reading material and creative, critical thinking exhibited in the short reflection statements (30%); and seriousness of engagement with the larger issues raised by Job and/or Jonah, as demonstrated in the final paper (50%).

 

Schedule of Class Sessions, Topics, and Readings

January 28:   Introduction to the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Exegesis

READING:  Chapter One, A. “Biblical Narrative” by Joel Rosenberg in  BACK TO THE SOURCES:  READING THE CLASSIC JEWISH TEXTS, edited by Barry Holtz, pp. 31-81 (on reserve)

February 4:   Prophecy, Prayer, and Protest

READING:  JOB AND JONAH:  QUESTIONING THE HIDDEN GOD by Bruce Vawter, C.M. (selected chapters on reserve)

“Psalm 22:  My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” by Andre LaCocque and “”Lamentation as Prayer” by Paul Ricoeur, in THINKING BIBLICALLY: EXEGETICAL AND HERMENEUTICAL STUDIES by LaCocque and Ricoeur, pp. 187-232 (on reserve)

February 11:  The Book of Job:  Textual Analysis (I)

READING:  THE BOOK OF JOB (JPS translation) with introductions by Moshe Greenberg, Jonas C. Greenfield, and Nahum M. Sarna - out of print

www.hareidi.org/bible/Job.htm

February 18:  The Book of Job:  Textual Analysis (II)

READING:  THE BOOK OF JOB (JPS translation), continued

February 25:  Modern Readings of Job

READING:  THE DIMENSIONS OF JOB edited by Nahum M. Glatzer (Note, especially, “Job and Jonah” by Leon Roth)

March 3:  The Theodicy Challenge:  Is There Redemptive Meaning in Suffering?

READING:  WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE by Harold S. Kushner

March 10:  A Catholic Liberationist Perspective

READING:  ON JOB:  GOD-TALK AND THE SUFFERING OF THE INNOCENT by Gustavo Gutierrez

March 17:  Suffering and Redemption in Islam

READING:  “Islam” (chapter 3) in PROBLEMS OF SUFFERING IN RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD by John Bowker, pp. 99-136;

“The Problem of Suffering in Islam” and “The Problem of Suffering in Islam, Part II” by Mahmoud M. Ayoub, ALSERAT, Vol. VIII, No. 2, pp. 11-21, and Vol. VIII, Nos. 3 & 4, pp. 26-35

“The Problem of Theodicy in the Risale-i Nur” by Mehmet S, Aydin, in ISLAM AT THE CROSSROADS:  ON THE LIFE AND THOUGHT OF BEDIUZZAMAN SAID NURSI, edited by Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi’, pp. 215-227 (all readings on reserve)

March 24:  The Book of Jonah:  Textual Analysis

READING:  JONAH--THE JPS BIBLE COMMENTARY by Uriel Simon

April 21:    Teshuvah—Repentance and Return

READING:  Selected chapters from ON REPENTANCE IN THE THOUGHT AND ORAL DISCOURSES OF RABBI JOSEPH B.SOLOVEITCHIK by Pinchas H. Peli and from THEY MADE THEIR SOULS ANEW by Andre Neher (on reserve)

April 28:    Jonah:  Christian and Muslim Perspectives

READING:  essays from THE JOURNAL OF SCRIPTURAL REASONING, Volume 3, No. 1—June 2003, on the theme “Extending the Signs:  Jonah in Scriptural Reasoning” (on reserve)

May 5:       Discerning our Spiritual Path

READING:  THE CALL by David Spangler

May 12:      The Process and Promise of Spiritual Transformation

READING:  HOPE FOR THE FLOWERS by Trina Paulus

Recommended Readings  (the final course paper should make reference to at least one of the following:

JUDAISM AND TRAGIC THEOLOGY by Frederick S. Plotkin

THE BOOK OF JOB:  A CONTEST OF MORAL IMAGINATIONS by Carol A. Newsom

JOB AND DEATH NO DOMINION by Daniel Berrigan

J.B. by Archibald MacLeish

ANSWER TO JOB by C. G. Jung

CREATION AND THE PERSISTENCE OF EVIL by Jon. D. Levenson

GOD AND EVIL:  A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE by David Birnbaum

EVIL AND SUFFERING edited by Jacob Neusner

WHY DO WE SUFFER? By Daniel Harrington, S.J.9

REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING by William J. O’Malley

GOD, EVIL, AND INNOCENT SUFFERING:  A THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION by John E. Thiel

WHEN SUFFERING PERSISTS by Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr.

SUFFERING RELIGION edited by Robert Gibbs and Elliot R. Wolfson

PROVERBS AND ASHES:  VIOLENCE, REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING, AND THE

SEARCH FOR WHAT SAVES US by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker

IF GOD IS GOOD, WHY IS THE WORLD SO BAD? By Benjamin Blech

FACING THE ABUSING GOD:  A THEOLOGY OF PROTEST by David R. Blumenthal

ARGUING WITH GOD:  A JEWISH TRADITION by Anson Laytner

THE HEALER OF SHATTERED HEARTS:  A JEWISH VIEW OF GOD by David J. Wolpe

MAKING LOSS MATTER:  CREATING MEANING IN DIFFICULT TIMES by Rabbi David Wolpe

NECESSARY LOSSES by Judith Viorst

AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT:  A FATHER’S JOURNEY THROUGH LOSS by Leonard Fein

FOUND THROUGH LOSS:  HEALING STORIES FROM SCRIPTURE AND

EVERYDAY SACREDNESS by Nancy Reeves

BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON:  ONE FAMILY’S FAITH-JOURNEY THROUGH ILLNESS by Thomas J. Davis

LIVING WITH LOSS, HEALING WITH HOPE:  A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE by Rabbi Earl A. Grollman

“Hilkhot Teshuvah” (Laws of Teshuvah) by Moses Maimonides, in THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE (Mishneh Torah, Vol. 1)

THE GATES OF REPENTANCE by Rabbeinu Yonah ben Avraham of Gerona

LIGHTS OF RETURN by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

DUTIES OF THE HEART by Bachya ibn Paquda

DAYS OF AWE by S. Y. Agnon

THE YOM KIPPUR ANTHOLOGY by Philip Goodman

 

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