COMPLIT 186/JEWISHST 186/HDS 2054: Comparative Love
The Song of Songs in Western Tradition
The Song of Songs is, arguably, the greatest love poem in Western literature, but the nature of the love depicted in its verses has been disputed since the time the poem was committed to writing until today. Virtually every type of interpretation has been applied to the poem, from literalist to Jewish and Christian allegorical readings, philosophical and mystical exegeses, and nationalist and political interpretations, not to mention the innumerable implicit meanings underlying the many poems and prose works that have imaginatively recreated the Song through allusion and intertextuality. This course will trace the interpretive career of this unique poem, and in the process explore such basic literary questions as the relation between literalism and allegoresis, the exploitation of literature by religion and other ideologies and the consequences, eros and gender as principles of desire, and the role of influence and appropriation in the history of the poem’s interpretation. Readings will include, in addition to the Song itself and select modern scholarship about it, selections from the Old Greek translation, classical Jewish interpretation (Midrash and Targum), Origen, medieval Jewish commentaries and secular love poetry, Bernard of Clairveaux and other medieval Christian exegetes, the Zohar and Christian mystics, S.Y. Agnon, and Toni Morrison. All readings will be in translation. No previous knowledge of love required.
Fall 2020 Instructor: David Stern
Comparative Literature 186 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jewish Studies 186
Comparative Love: The Song of Songs in Western Tradition
The Song of Songs is, arguably, the greatest love poem in Western literature, but the nature of the love depicted in its verses has been disputed since the time the poem was committed to writing until today. Virtually every type of interpretation has been applied to the poem, from literalist to Jewish and Christian allegorical readings, philosophical and mystical exegeses, and nationalist and political interpretations, not to mention the innumerable implicit meanings underlying the many poems and prose works that have imaginatively recreated the Song through allusion and intertextuality. This course will trace the interpretive career of this unique poem, and in the process explore such basic literary questions as the relation between literalism and allegoresis, the exploitation of literature by religion and other ideologies and the consequences, eros and gender as principles of desire, and the role of influence and appropriation in the history of the poem’s interpretation. Readings will include, in addition to the Song itself and select modern scholarship about it, selections from the Old Greek translation, classical Jewish interpretation (midrash and Targum), Origen, medieval Jewish commentaries and secular love poetry, Bernard of Clairveaux and other medieval Christian exegetes, the Zohar and Christian mystics, S.Y. Agnon, and Toni Morrison. All readings will be in translation. No previous knowledge of love required.
HOW WE PLAN TO RUN THE COURSE:
The course will be run to encourage student participation and interaction as much as possible—both with me, and between yourselves. In each class, students will be divided into groups of two or three students (depending on enrollment), and assigned a cluster of verses to follow through the week’s readings in the different commentaries and commentators. Each group will present reports on their findings in class; those reports will, we hope, serve as the basis for class discussions. I will be available to assist you in studying the sources.
On the class schedule that follows I have marked those classes in which (I hope) there will be presentations.
All readings for the course will be on Canvas under MODULES, with ONE EXCEPTION:
Toni Morrison, Beloved (1977; Vintage International, 2004). You can easily buy a copy on Amazon or (for a used copy) abebooks.com.
If you do not own a Bible with both the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament) and the New Testament, I strongly recommend you acquire one. My recommendation is the Oxford Study Bible, but any Bible will do, and there are of course a million Bibles online.
1) Class participation including the reports/presentations described above.
2) There will be two written assignments. The first will be a short (approx. 5 pp.) paper involving the analysis of a text. The second will be a final, lengthier (approx.. 10-15 pp.) paper on a topic of your choice. Possible topics will be discussed in due time.
Short Paper: Topic to be handed out: Oct. 14. Due: Nov. 4.
Final Paper: Topic to be approved by me by Dec. 2. Due date: tbd.
There will be three components to the final grade for the course:
Class participation, including the class presentations, will count for 40%.
The short paper will count for 20%.
The final paper will count for 40%.
Class Schedule and Readings
This class schedule is tentative and may be adjusted, based on the interests and abilities of the students and the rate at which we progress. The latest class schedule (with a list of assigned readings) will be available on the CANVAS website under ASSIGNMENTS under MODULES. Please check there each week for updates. Please note as well that each module will contain many more readings than are required. The additional readings are there in case you are especially interested in the topic or in the event that you decide to do your final paper on a topic related to that week’s module.
1) Sept 9-- Introduction
Reading the Song for the first time.
2) Sept. 16-- Contemporary Scholarly Approaches to the Song of Songs
This class will have two parts. The first part will consists of a number of readings-- some required for everyone, some to be selected from a group of articles— of modern scholarship on the Song.
The second part of the class will consist of presentations from groups of students on clusters of verses. The presentations will each deal with what modern commentaries on the clusters of verses have to say about them.
DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS ABOUT BOTH PARTS OF THE CLASS CAN BE FOUND ON THE TWO MODULES FOR THIS CLASS ON THE ASSIGNMENTS SECTION UNDER MODULES. PLEASE CONSULT THEM.
3) Sept. 23-- The Earliest Interpretations: The Question of Canon, Old Greek, Rubrics, Early Rabbinic Interpretation
The Problem of Canonization
Gerson D. Cohen, “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”
Ilana Pardes, “I am a Wall, And My Breasts like Towers”
Selected Rabbinic Passages about the Song of Songs
The Old Greek Translation and the Earliest Signs of Interpretation
NRSV-NETS Parallel texts
Jay Treat, “The Sinaiticus Rubric-Tradition of the Song of Songs”
Early Rabbinic Interpretations
Judah Goldin, excerpt from The Song at the Sea
- 30--Origen and Early Christian Interpretation
- Matter, Chapter 1, “Introduction to the Genre”
- Matter, Chapter 2, “Hidden Origins”
Reading: Hippolytus, Selections
- Selections from Origen’s On First Principles,
- Origen, The Song of Songs Commentary and Homilies
5) Oct. 7--Classical Midrash and Shi’ur Qomah (Early Mystical Texts dealing with the measurement of God’s body)
- Selections from Midrash Rabbah on Song of Songs
- David Stern, “Midrash and Jewish Bible Interpretation”
- “Shiur Qoma”
- Joseph Dan, “The Religious Experience of the Merkavah” (read pp. 289- 296)
6) Oct. 14--Patristic Commentary of the Church
- Matter, Chapter 3, “The Key to the Code”
- Chapter 4, “The Changing Portrait of the Church”
- Theodore of Mopsuestia on the Song of Songs
- Selection from Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
- Selection from Gregory of Nyssa
- Selection from Gregory the Great
7) Oct. 21-- Karaite Exegesis, the Targum (Aramaic Translation) of SoS, and Medieval Jewish Commentary
- The Commentary of Yefet ben Eli- Edited and translated from Judeo-Arabic by Joseph Alobaidi Please read your verses in Yefet's commentary.
- Daniel Frank, "Karaite Commentaries on the SoS from Tenth-Century Jerusalem"
- The Aramaic Targum of Song of Songs, translated by Jay Treat
- Selections from medieval Jewish commentaries, from Christian D. Ginsburg
- Excerpt from Song of Songs in Mikraoth Gedaloth Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Song of
- 28-- Jewish Mystical Interpretation
- Art Green, “The Song of Songs in Early Jewish ”
- Excerpt regarding Sefirot, from Barry W. Holtz, Back to the Sources
- Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona, Commentary on the Song of Songs
- Selections from Sperling and Simon, The Zohar
- Selections from Lachower and Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar
- “Lekha Dodi,” by Rabbi Solomon Alkebetz
- Gershom Scholem, “Tradition and New Creation in the Ritual of the Kabbalists”
9) Nov. 4--Medieval Christian Commentary
- Matter, Chapter 5, “The Marriage of the Soul”
- Matter, Chapter 6, “The Woman Who is the All”
- Thomas Aquinas on interpretation
- Selections from Glossa Ordinaria
- Selections from Bernard of Clairveaux’s sermons on Canticles
- Selections from Nicholas of Lyra, Postilla
- Selections from Alan of Lille
- “Sequence of Feasts for the Blessed Virgin Mary”
- “A Mystic Pastourelle”
10)Nov. 11-- Vernacular Variations: Christian and Jewish
- Art: Medieval Manuscript Illuminations
- Matter, Chapter 7 “The Genre as Trope”
- Selections from Teresa of Avila, Mechtild of Magdeburg, , John of the Cross
- Poems by Samuel Ha-Nagid, Judah Ha-Levi, Ibn Gabirol, Moses Ibn Ezra, and other medieval and Renaissance Hebrew poets, from Peter Cole, The Dream of the Poem : Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 (Princeton U Press, 2007), 45, 145, 157, 91. For an introduction to medieval Hebrew poetry in Spain, see Cole, 1-20.
- Music: Late Medieval and Renaissance Music
11)Nov.18-- S.Y. Agnon and the Modern Jewish Re-Imagining of the Song
Franz Rosenzweig, selection from The Star of Redemption
S.Y. Agnon, “And Solomon’s Wisdom Excelled”
S.Y. Agnon, “Edo and Enam” (posted on Library Reserves)
Ilana Pardes, Agnon’s Moonstruck Lovers, 30-65, 96-120
Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg, “Where Has Your Beloved Gone? The SoS in Contemporary Israeli Poetry”
Admiel Kosman, “I told the city watchmen of Jerusalem that my beloved lives here.”
12) December 2-- The Song of Songs in Contemporary America and the Question of Race
Toni Morrison, Beloved
Carole R. Fontaine, “Song? Songs? Whose Song?: Reflections of a Radical Reader”
Ilana Pardes, The Song of Songs: A Biography, 195-218.
A. The Research Paper
The purpose of the research paper is to involve the student as directly as possible in a particular aspect of the course’s subject matter. Successful completion of the research paper will involve competence in the subject chosen, competence in using appropriate methods, and competence in writing.
1. Topics for Research Paper
Students may choose their own topic to research. Appropriate topics would include how a particular interpreter approaches the Song of Songs, or how a particular theme is treated by a variety of interpreters, or how one or more interpreters treat a particular passage in the Song of Songs. All topics must be approved in consultation with the instructor.
The interpreters we read in class are, of course, available for further research. Here are some other possible interpreters, whose work can be researched in English: Leo Hebræus, William of St. Thierry, John of Ford, Gilbert of Hoyland, Martin Luther, Théodore de Bèza, Moses Mendelssohn, Franz Rozenzweig’s Star of Redemption, “The Merchant’s Tale” by Chaucer, Piers Plowman, John Cotton, Joseph Hall, Thomas Brightman, Voltaire’s “Précis du Cantique des Cantiques.” The use of languages other than Modern English expands the possibilities for research considerably; for example, Latin translations of Rashi (this requires Hebrew and Latin), Ibn Sahula (requires Hebrew), Theodoret of Cyrrhus (requires Greek). Someone may wish to explore some aspect of the art history of Song of Songs manuscript illustrations. There are many possible thematic topics like the question of feminism and feminist readings or the use of the poem in American culture (including poets like Walt Whitman) or in other works by Toni Morrison and in Black culture more widely, or in modern Israeli culture.
The earlier you choose an area for research, the easier it will be to write a good paper. Choose something that ties in with work of interest to you, whether it is work previously done, or work connected with another course, or something entirely new to you.
All written papers should acknowledge all material quoted from or paraphrased from published writing. Failure to acknowledge the use of another’s ideas constitutes plagiarism. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you use material that was quoted by one of your sources without actually checking the original source used, you must give credit to the intermediate source. If you were able to go back to the original source for yourself, you do not need to give credit to the intermediate source (but it is scholarly courtesy to acknowledge someone who guides you to a source).
The paper should be typed or word-processed using the guidelines in Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations or APA Sixth Edition or another manual of style approved by the instructor. The body of the paper should be at least 5000 words long (approximately fifteen pages). These limits do not include notes, bibliography, or appendices.
3. Due Date: To be announced.
4. Preliminary Draft
The instructor is committed to writing and rewriting as an essential part of the educational process. It is impossible to become familiar with the conventions of a field without practice and any piece of writing can be improved. As noted at the beginning of this syllabus, all students are asked to submit a draft of both their short and long papers to Francesca to get feedback before you submit a final draft.
The last date on which preliminary drafts may be submitted is April 25. The preliminary drafts may be submitted on paper or in electronic form.
The instructor will respond to the preliminary draft as a reader familiar with the field; he will not proofread. He will return the draft with his comments at the next class session (or by mail if you enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope). You will have until the date of the final exam to revise your draft.
Treat the preliminary draft as seriously as if it were the final draft. If the draft is not typed legibly or if it contains an inexcusable number of spelling errors, it will not be read.
B. Rights of the Learning Community1
Each member of the classroom must advocate for his or her own needs. With your help, I hope to never lose track of what’s truly important: our mutual learning.
You have the right to a safe learning environment. No oppressive culture will be tolerated, which includes any actions, behaviors, statements, or micro-aggressions that proliferate or promote judgment based on sex, race, gender, creed, age, size, class, orientation, religion, physical or mental ability, or any other aspect of your identity. Should you, at any time, feel unsafe or unwelcome in our classroom (or the university as a whole), I encourage you to approach me in confidence.
Determining Your Own Education
You have the right to useful education. The purpose of education extends beyond economic benefits; it increases our enjoyment and satisfaction of life and develops critical faculties to advocate for a better future. So, should I, at any time, propose a course of action that feels distant or alien to you, I encourage you to speak up for you and your fellow students. It is entirely possible that, in my role as teacher, I occasionally lose sight of the reality of the students. I simply need reminding. I will honor any reasonable student consensus, and redirect the course material to more appropriately match the realities of the student.
You have the right to accessible learning. In addition to honoring all of the required accessibility guidelines provided by the university, I promise to make all materials as available as possible, in whichever forms are most accessible to the members of our classroom community. If the bureaucracy of disability services proves too burdensome or emotionally taxing, you may approach me directly. Together, we may develop a strategy for your success.
To promote deep engagement with the course content, I encourage you, at any time, to stand up, walk around, or readjust your placement in the classroom. Learning is an embodied experience and an uncomfortable self quickly becomes an uncritical self. Your time is valuable and it is often challenging to critically engage with any one subject for too long. Should you find your focus lacking due to illness, outstanding personal crisis, or educative opportunity beyond my classroom walls, alternative learning arrangements may be negotiated. Of course, these alternatives must still meet the minimum University attendance requirements.
C. University Policies
This course will adhere to all university procedures, policies, and codes of conduct.
1 This section is adapted with few changes from Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, “Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture” (URL: http://learning.instructure.com/2014/08/syllabus-as- manifesto-a-critical-approach-to-classroom-culture/).
The syllabus page shows a table-oriented view of the course schedule, and the basics of course grading. You can add any other comments, notes, or thoughts you have about the course structure, course policies or anything else.
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