Option 1: from Judah ha-Levi, The Kuzari. NOTE: I belatedly found a more recent, and easier to read, translation of this text. I am uploading a file that contains the part we read for class and more, including a much more extensive introduction.

Here are the text options for your third gobbet, which will be worth 15% of your grade. It is due at 11:59 PM on Friday, March 27, 2020 Sunday, March 29 2020.

The extracts below are both particularly challenging ones. They are very unequal in length, but that does not mean that one is necessarily easier than the other.

For the first extract, you will need to think very carefully about the distance between the author’s time and place of writing on the one hand and the time and place of the alleged events on the other, and about what he was really trying to accomplish in this work (hint: look at the first few paragraphs); and assess how and why the Rabbi’s presentation of his beliefs is not what the King of the Khazars had expected to hear.

For the second extract, you will need to do some reading to learn more about Kabbalah in general and the idea of the Shekhinah in particular.

Both are from readings for Week 9’s assigned readings, one on philosophy and one on mysticism, both of them Jewish.

Option 1: from Judah ha-Levi, The Kuzari. NOTE: I belatedly found a more recent, and easier to read, translation of this text. I am uploading a file that contains the part we read for class and more, including a much more extensive introduction. By no means do you have to go back and read the whole thing. However, this will be a more extensive and helpful resource and is definitely clearer for understanding. The extract comes from p. 12 of the attached file.

” ‘We believe everything that is written in the Torah, which is a massive amount of information.’

“Said the Kuzari: ‘I was correct in my original resolve not to ask a Jew, because I knew that Jews have lost their connection to their past and have no depth of wisdom. This is no doubt a result of their history of destitution and misery, which has left them without any positive characteristics. You, Jew, should have said that you believe in a Creator, Who organizes and oversees the universe, and Who created you and sustains you, and other such ideas that are universal to all religions. Those ideas are the real reasons to pursue truth and emulate the Creator’s righteousness and wisdom.’ ” [Note: there are some additional words here in square brackets provided by the translator; you may use them to help understand, but they are not part of the original text.]

Option 2: from The Beginning of Wisdomby Elijah de Vidas (1575), on p. 348 from the .pdf of the reading: “In the same way, the Shekhinah will not bind Her love to a man who is devoted to worldly matters. Hence, the essential element in love consists in his not loving anything whatsoever in this world more than he does God, may He be blessed.”
As part of your assessed coursework, you will be writing three “gobbets”, commentaries on passages of texts selected from your assigned readings this semester. The documents will be chosen from a range of sources: some of them are narrative, while others are official or administrative documents. It is worth thinking about what kinds of record survive for this period compared with our own: what sorts of records, for example, would enable us to build up a better picture of life in the period had they survived – or indeed, had they even existed at the time?
Primary sources need to be used with particular care. The fact that they are written by contemporaries, or near-contemporaries, of the events they describe does not necessarily make them more accurate or impartial than later secondary studies: often quite the opposite, in fact, since they are frequently written by people with a deep personal stake in the events they describe. Primary sources must be approached skeptically and critically.
On the other hand, they do bring us closer to the period and the society being studied, and thus enable us to realize that people who lived many centuries ago had very different assumptions about all sorts of things – religion, human nature, class, race, authority, the natural world, ethics, and so forth – from those that are common today.

An ideal gobbet should conform to the following guidelines:

1. Each gobbet should normally be no longer than 750 words, excluding notes and the extract itself if you choose to quote it at the head of your work. (Use Tools -> Word Count to keep track.)
2. Begin by identifying the passage, explain its context (do read the rest of the document from which it is taken!), and say something about its authorship. What kind of document is it? How does this information affect the way we ought to approach it: e.g., does it raise a strong probability of political partiality, dishonesty, naïvety, inaccuracy, or anything else that should lead you to approach what it says with caution? Or can we take it more or less at face value? Whereas a will, testament or private letter could be more trustworthy (but not invariably so) as a source, a chronicle or other record of a political event could have been heavily influenced by the personal sympathies of the author.
3. Then comment on the main point or points of the extract. This will probably involve the identification of any specific persons or events mentioned in the extract. More importantly, ask yourself why the document was written. Was it a response to a particular event, an attempt to precipitate or pre-empt some action, to gain something, or whatever else? What, in other words, was the original purpose of the document? What did the author want the reader to learn from it? In order to understand this, you need to work through the document systematically, analyzing the arguments or assertions in it. However, do not allow your commentary simply to become a repetition or re-wording of the passage itself: what is required is analysis, not paraphrase.
4. Finally, you should try briefly to broaden the argument and explain how the document fits into or increases our knowledge of the period or of the subject it deals with. Is it typical or atypical in the views it expresses? If it is a request of some sort, was it successful? What were its consequences? What does it tell us about contemporary attitudes to, for example, society, law, religion etc.?
5. In writing gobbets, avoid repetition and lengthy introductions and conclusions. Get straight to the point, and make your points clearly and succinctly. It is often difficult to get all your ideas into 750 words, but learning to express yourself concisely while still communicating everything important is part of this exercise.
6. You will want to use secondary literature to help with understanding the set passages, and there is no doubt that it will be helpful. However, it is very important to write about the primary source, not the secondary literature. In other words, use the secondary literature as a guide to the necessary background information, but base your comment strictly upon the text itself.
7. If you have any questions or concerns, ASK! You can email me, come to my office hours (see syllabus) or talk to me after class.

As chance would have it, the text above is precisely 750 words, so this will give you a visual sense of how much space you have.


 

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