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The Vitality of Judaism

5th February @ 17:30 - 19:00

Woolf Institute, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0UB


Professor Hindy Najman will speak on 'The Vitality of Judaism' on Monday 5 February 2018 between 5.30pm and 7.00pm.

This paper argues that Judaism is constituted by a dialectical tension between authority and creativity.  Insofar as religious tradition is authoritative, it is also generative.  Readers of Jewish textual tradition who believe in its authority are also driven to maintain its present relevance by generating new readings and new texts formulating those readings.  But this generativity can also be perceived as a threat to Judaism's authority.  What if the new life, to which it gives rise, supplants the original, assuming its authority?  What if the child replaces the parent?  This is what motivates the attempt, by authorised figures to prevent the generation of threatening offspring, who might undermine religious authority.  But, like declarations that prophesy has ended – declarations made by non-prophets like rabbis and priests, of course – such attempts at closure show the scholar that, in an important sense, no such closure has happened, because the attempts are only necessary insofar as threatening offspring continue to be born.  If we are to understand the authority of Jewish Scriptures and other religiously privileged corpora, then we must seek to understand the generative vitality of these texts, and this requires us both to cross the boundaries between so-called canonical texts and the marginal texts to which they inevitably give rise, and to turn our gaze, not backward to a supposed origin, but forward, tracing the trajectory of Judaism's development.

Speaker profile:

Hindy Najman is the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oriel College, University of Oxford. Her research interests encompass Composition and Author Function; Construction and Imitation of Biblical Figures; Practices of Pseudepigraphy and Pseudonymous Attribution; Revelation, Divine Encounter and Prophecy; Idealized Sage and Perfectionism; Philology and Philological Practices; Diaspora and Exile; Authority and Tradition; Allegorical Interpretation and Midrash; Destruction and Recovery; Collection and Canon; the History of Biblical Interpretation; and Scholarly Practices of Reading the Bible and Biblical Traditions. She has written on the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Rabbinic Literature and Pseudepigrapha. Her publications include Losing the Temple and Recovering the Future: An Analysis of 4 Ezra, Past Renewals: Interpretive Authority, Renewed Revelation and the Quest for PerfectionSeconding Sinai: The Development of Mosaic Discourse in Second Temple Judaism, and a recent essay entitled "Ethical Reading: The Transformation of Text and Self". She is currently working on a new book entitled: Reading Practices and the Vitality of Scripture (Oxford University Press).

How to book

This is an open event. There will be refreshments.

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