1st Synthesis Paper: On Abraham, Yahweh, and Armstrong

There was a date for when Abraham lived that I kept dwelling on after class the other night, knowing I’d seen it somewhere. In A History of God, Karen Armstrong tells us Abraham “left Ur and eventually settled in Canaan sometime between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean at the end of the third millennium BCE”, approximately settling in the land of Canaan around 1850 BCE. (11-12)

Most of the reading that stuck out to me was Armstrong, though some were the sukkot texts Rabbi Seth brought in to class. I found it fascinating about the lulav representing the body of a person, the etrog representing the heart, and all of Israel! There is a lot of outside knowledge I bring to the class when it comes to certain aspects of what we are learning. I understand, but have not fully come to terms with the differences between scholarly work (particularly of someone raised in, who believes in a particular faith, versus a person who studies it from the outside) and everyday practice.

One instance of this frustration I have felt is Armstrong’s definition and repeated use of the term “goyim” to mean only “gentiles”, when, strictly speaking, the literal definition is “nations”, and can be used when referring to any body of peoples. Though it has come into usage in the vernacular as “gentiles”, as someone who is bound up in the study of linguistics, it’s (I feel) reappropriation is one that is disconcerting to me.

Some other instances throughout my reading of A History of God that stood out similarly was the omission of change in territorial names from Israel or Judah to Palestine, the latter being a name given by the Romans to a large region of land when they conquered the Israelites, naming it after the Israelites’ ancient enemy, the Philistines. The land of the Philistines was historically smaller than what has since been called Palestine.

Armstrong consistently referred to G-d as “Yahweh”. Within my practical experiences, I have no memory of any Jewish person(s) referring to G-d in any instance as “Yahweh”, instead using “Hashem” outside of prayer, and many other terms during prayer. “Yahweh” is, in my experiences, a very Christian way of referring to G-d, though this is a derivation of the sacred name of G-d, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. “Yahweh” and “Yahwist” is used by Jewish folk only in scholarly comparative religion circles.

Some questions I have going forward: Regarding the prophets, what are the differences in how Islam, Judaism, and Christianity view these folks? What meaning is there to the way the Qu’ran depicts the same stories? (I understand Islam is “correcting the mistakes” of passing the information, and of “correcting the corruption” of Judaism and Christianity, and I am curious how this shows through the Qu’ran, the hadith, and through other Islamic text and thought.) When it comes to living, and bringing the holy into everyday life, that are the reasons for kosher or halal slaughter, for covering of the head, for things like mezuzot and their counterparts (if they exist), etc? I hope we can explore these, and other issues that may come up, in the weeks to come.

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A not-so-synthesis paper [UPDATED]

UPDATED: BELOW YOU WILL FIND THE FINAL DRAFT!

Karen Armstrong‘s A History of God presents a lot of very interesting information about the history of the G-d of what I’ve come to learn are called “Yahwists“, otherwise known as Children of Abraham, or Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

I’ve also found a disturbing lack of certain pieces of information that are very important for someone outside the Jewish faith to understand our faith. There are other pieces where Armstrong chooses to go with what is the majority usage, without explaining actual definitions versus practical definitions.

Thusly, what I wrote was something of a “this is what I want my classmates to know in the space I have allotted.” I’m not sure how I feel about how I ended it.

This is it:

On Yahwists and Jewish Thought

In class, my group-mates and I incorrectly remembered a date somewhere around 1000-1500 BCE for when Abraham likely lived. Let me set this straight, Armstrong in A History of God tells us Abraham “left Ur and eventually settled in Canaan sometime between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean at the end of the third millennium BCE”, approximately settling in the land of Canaan around 1850 BCE. (11-12)

I must admit frustration with Armstrong’s repeated usage of the term goyim to only mean “gentiles”, when in fact it means “nations”. It has come into usage as “gentiles”, but the proper use and meaning of the term is very different. For example: “Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, lo yilmedu od milchamah.” This translates roughly to “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they make war any more.”

In my experiences, no Jewish person refers to G-d in any instance as “Yahweh”, as Armstrong continually refers to G-d. Instead, “Adonai” is used in prayers, “Hashem” is used outside of prayers, “Elohim”, “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King — very traditional and used on Yom Kippur and select services leading up to Yom Kippur), among others. There are many other names for G-d. “Yahweh” is, in my experiences, a very Christian way of referring to G-d, though this is a derivation of the sacred name of G-d YHVH, or the hebrew being יהוה. “Yahweh” and “Yahwist” is used by Jewish folk only in scholarly circles when it comes to comparative religion.

Palestine is a name given to a large region of land by the Romans when they conquered the Israelites, naming it after the Israelites’ long-time enemy, the Philistines. The land of the Philistines was historically smaller than what has since been called Palestine. This is something few history books, including A History of God mention, though it is important.

The Mishnah and Gemara (which make up the Talmud) are key documents to understanding Judaic thought. So, too, is what has come to be known as the “13 Principles of Faith” of Moses ben Maimonides, also known as the Ramban, one of our rabbinic Sages. In addition to this, I’d recommend for anyone interested, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), and in fact, there is a great volume that gives a whole list of great Jewish books spanning the millennia One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman.

For more information, please speak with one of the following:

Rabbi Seth Goldstein, Temple Beth Hatfiloh, (liberal-progressive)

360-754-8519, rabbi@bethhatfiloh.org, bethhatfiloh.org

Rabbi Cheski Edelman, Chabad Jewish Discovery Center, (traditional-orthodox)

360-584-4306, jewisholympia.com

Or contact me! Interest meeting for those wanting to explore or celebrate Judaism (in all it’s forms) on campus next Wednesday, October 17th from 4-5pm inside Student Activities (CAB building) at the big wood table. Historianneke@gmail.com

FINAL DRAFT:

On Abraham, Yahweh, and Armstrong

 

There was a date for when Abraham lived that I kept dwelling on after class the other night, knowing I’d seen it somewhere. In A History of God, Karen Armstrong tells us Abraham “left Ur and eventually settled in Canaan sometime between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean at the end of the third millennium BCE”, approximately settling in the land of Canaan around 1850 BCE. (11-12)

Most of the reading that stuck out to me was Armstrong, though some were the sukkot texts Rabbi Seth brought in to class. I found it fascinating about the lulav representing the body of a person, the etrog representing the heart, and all of Israel! There is a lot of outside knowledge I bring to the class when it comes to certain aspects of what we are learning. I understand, but have not fully come to terms with the differences between scholarly work (particularly of someone raised in, who believes in a particular faith, versus a person who studies it from the outside) and everyday practice.

One instance of this frustration I have felt is Armstrong’s definition and repeated use of the term “goyim” to mean only “gentiles”, when, strictly speaking, the literal definition is “nations”, and can be used when referring to any body of peoples. Though it has come into usage in the vernacular as “gentiles”, as someone who is bound up in the study of linguistics, it’s (I feel) reappropriation is one that is disconcerting to me.

Some other instances throughout my reading of A History of God that stood out similarly was the omission of change in territorial names from Israel or Judah to Palestine, the latter being a name given by the Romans to a large region of land when they conquered the Israelites, naming it after the Israelites’ ancient enemy, the Philistines. The land of the Philistines was historically smaller than what has since been called Palestine.

Armstrong consistently referred to G-d as “Yahweh”. Within my practical experiences, I have no memory of any Jewish person(s) referring to G-d in any instance as “Yahweh”, instead using “Hashem” outside of prayer, and many other terms during prayer. “Yahweh” is, in my experiences, a very Christian way of referring to G-d, though this is a derivation of the sacred name of G-d, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. “Yahweh” and “Yahwist” is used by Jewish folk only in scholarly comparative religion circles.

Some questions I have going forward: Regarding the prophets, what are the differences in how Islam, Judaism, and Christianity view these folks? What meaning is there to the way the Qu’ran depicts the same stories? (I understand Islam is “correcting the mistakes” of passing the information, and of “correcting the corruption” of Judaism and Christianity, and I am curious how this shows through the Qu’ran, the hadith, and through other Islamic text and thought.) When it comes to living, and bringing the holy into everyday life, trrrrrwhat are the reasons for kosher or halal slaughter, for covering of the head, for things like mezuzot and their counterparts (if they exist), etc? I hope we can explore these, and other issues that may come up, in the weeks to come.

 

Religion/Spirituality CHALLENGE: My Results

So I’ll update this again when my memoir is done, but here is my map. There may be some slight revisions to be made after I look at what needs to be done, again, but this is essentially final form. Yes, that is a flip-up picture! (I just need to find the tape.)

UPDATE: THE MEMOIR!

A Life in Texts: Freedom, Growth, and Change (However Painful)

“And he said to Abram: Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not their own.”  — (Genesis 15:13)¹

I am a ger. Not a convert, but in the classical sense of the term ger, meaning “alien” or “stranger.” The faith community I am a part of has taken me in as their own, yet I cannot participate in certain religious rites that take place before the community (these days usually on the bimah of a synagogue). In the conversion process, it started because I felt cornered and coerced into it, that it was the only way to keep my relationship. I initially felt drawn to Judaism because I wanted to explore Christianity’s roots to it’s father-faith years ago when I fell in with a crowd of very culturally (and some religiously) Jewish folk who were very strongly grounded in their beliefs, or heritage.

The churches I grew up in would be considered right-wing by most, and the school I spent the most time at as a young child was orthodox Lutheran (Wisconsin and Missouri synod affiliations, primarily Wisconsin). My mom is a Seventh-Day Adventist, though she and the church don’t get along well due to their differences of opinion theologically and when it comes to the founding tenets of Seventh Day Adventism (most include the fight over keeping vegetarian/pescetarian, as well as generally keeping knowledge closed off from the general membership).

After a number of abuses both witnessed and experienced (emotional to sexual), as a young child I identified this with “organized religion”, and I went on a quest to find something better that would keep me grounded and safe, away from what I had experienced. As many young people of our generation and culture do, I wandered through wicca and neopaganism of all sorts. I found myself caught in the Nightside of Eden² ³, holding intense memories of the landscape around me burning as though it were the Apocalypse, and my friend and I were sitting on the roof just laughing hysterically. I was greatly disturbed by this, and I went looking for better things. I found the Bhagavad Gita; I found Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”; I found Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin; I found “Naked Lunch.”

I was led on a quest to discover the deepest (and sometimes darkest) parts of myself, and of humanity. During all of this, after a bad breakup with my first boyfriend (the only person who will ever be called that), I was assaulted on a quest to find knowledge about the intersection of magic and modern life for a research paper for my first program at Evergreen taught by a Vodoun, of all people that could have come into my life.

The assault ended much of my questing for alternative forms of knowledge of the Divine, as it spoke to me. I considered myself an agnostic for years, wondering how a G-d who so lovingly created us could allow such things to happen to good people. Saying I considered myself an agnostic was at times generous. I began finding the sacred in other places: at Vimy, in the beautiful graffiti across the sloping hillsides of France, in the music I listened to, in my dancing and stretching practices. After years of being surrounded by my loving fiancé and our community, it has become time to face the abuses of the past head-on, to address them, and to heal… Judaism is my sukkah, though it seems a lifetime of permanence ahead, in which to heal and begin to grow and fly again.

¹ Hebrew-English Tanakh. Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 2003.
² “As in the case of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the title of which signifies its precise opposite, so also the Jewish Tree of Death is the noumenal source of phenomenal existence. It is the latter that is false for the phenomenal world is the world of appearances, as its name implies. The noumenal source alone IS, because it is NOT. Once this truth is grasped it becomes evident that the ancient myths of evil, with their demonic and terrifying paraphernalia of death, hell, and the Devil, are distorted shadows of the Great Void (the Ain) which persistently haunt the human mind.” (Grant, Kenneth. Nightside of Eden. Skoob Books Publishing, London: 1994. 31)
³ “Identity with this phantom of ego-consciousness, as the mummy, as projected as a mirage in the Desert of Set. It has to be destroyed (i.e. forgotten), in consciousness, before true death is undergone at the Pylons of Daath. In the way only is the Universe ‘destroyed’ and consciousness liberated from the thraldom of imagined existence. Then only may ‘he (the Adept) enter into a real communion with those that are beyond’.” (ibid., 37)

 

CHALLENGE! A religion/spirituality memoir and map!

 

CHALLENGE: Religion/Spirituality memoir. 600 words. Whether you identify as atheist, agnostic or a practitioner of a specific religion (or multiple religions), you have a story to share about how you arrived at how you think about religion today. In this paper, please discuss your own experiences, including people/events/organizations/institutions that have influenced your thinking on the topic of religion. Your paper should include a summary of where you are today and how you got here, as well as conclusions you draw from your experiences. This paper will be based mostly on your own experience, but please also include quotes from 2-3 text sources that have influenced your thinking on religion.

Please include in this memoir a map (hand-drawn OK) illustrating the main influences that have shaped how you think about religion. Include a key word or phrase describing how each person, group, event, book, film or institution you depict influenced you, and your approximate age at the time. Be as specific as possible.

 

 Now, I’ll post mine up when I’m done. Will you do the same?

 

The beginning of class, and a ton to share!

Hello again, friends.

The new quarter has just begun, and thus far my coursework seems like it will be interesting, if less focused on Judaism than I was initially hoping for. However, I am sure that I will learn a ton, and come out of it changed in ways I cannot even imagine now. Below, you will see a gallery full of PDFs and word documents that are all from my course: Religion, Society & Change. I’ll be posting a modified version of the syllabus in the next few days so you can see what we are actually doing in this course over the next year. It is my hope by including these, whether the articles, the slides, or just the other pieces like field observation guidelines, will give you something to chew on, as I find myself doing. If you see something in there that grabs your interest, comment on it here, if you so feel to!

I will be writing a ton as soon as I get errands, and my homework done. I am so excited about the illuminated manuscript work! Rebecca’s already given me the green light to go ahead and continue work on my Shir Hashirim piece I began over the summer in another course: The Medieval Book. (I am working on Book or Chapter 6, the section holding “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” or “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”) Maybe this time I can rework the first pages, or redo it, and do it better! I will post pictures of what I’ve been working on soon. I am so unbelievably over the moon.

Finding myself as the only “out” Jewish person (possibly one of two, as someone mentioned something about Hebrew) is interesting. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I am not a cradle-Jew. I am going through the conversion process. (I can’t remember if I said this in an earlier post.) However, I am one of the more observant people I know of this faith and people I have come to love dearly. There are times I am wondering how to speak up in class when either another student asks the faculty about Judaism or Jews… (specifically regarding Christ), and they don’t know the answer, but I do. Another question I have is this: if a faculty-member is getting something wrong (or at least, wrong as I know it), how do I address this, especially when what they are presenting is to a class of at minimum 50 people? “Nicely,” isn’t exactly an answer that I find satisfactory as of course it must be nice and civil, but it also must address the issue(s) at hand.

We are reading: A History of G-d, No god but G-d, Christianity: A Very Short Introduction, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as a bunch of other readings getting posted to Moodle or given as handouts.

This is a class I will continue to use the Marginalia techniques learned in Dr. Richard Benton’s program: “Orthodoxies & Apostasies: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

In other news, I found out that any medications that affect your liver share something interesting to look up… If you ever wind up with bruising or bleeding beyond the normal, check in with your pharmacist or doctor to see if your medications (pharma or otherwise) affect cytochrome P450.

Also, fascia! Fascia is this whole other theory of looking at the body. No tendons. No ligaments. Just fascia! It’s in all animals, land or water-dwelling. You can see fascia most easily in meat. Look into fascia, it changes your entire world, and everything I learned in biology class.

Garnering Interest, Showing Hope: Or, a day in the life of campus interfering with religious observance and reviving a student group!

An easy and meaningful fast to all of you who are doing so today, Yom Kippur. Today, on my campus, not only are classes being held, but the activities fair is being held today. This is excluding to any students who, like me, are observant. So this morning, I have made a choice, to finish what I started. I will be attending services later in the day, but I am working on a letter to be posted at the activities fair at an un-WOmanned table regarding why I am not at the fair, nor in classes today, and for those who had to choose, or who felt uncomfortable knowing there is/was a choice to be made regarding classes and campus versus observances of faith however expressed. I hope that in the next 20-30 minutes or so I can glean some extra feedback. I feel confident having had three extra editors last night, in the text, but I felt it needed some imagery. Tell me what you think, and which I should use. If you have commentary on the text, please feel free to give that as well. Thank you.

Click the following link: ForTESC-YK-ActivitiesFairLetter-pictures

UPDATE: This is the final version, the version that I printed out and should have been distributed at today’s Activities Fair: Fall2012-ActivitiesFairLetter-YomKippur

And here are some pictures used that are beautiful, large or small:

Cantor pointing to The Book of Life, opening Yom Kippur, in this 15th century Italian illuminated machzor.
Cantor pointing to The Book of Life, opening Yom Kippur, in this 15th century Italian illuminated machzor in the style of Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi, known as Boccardino il vecchio (Boccardino the Old, 1460-1529) who’s considered one of the last representatives of the golden age of Florentine renaissance illumination

Avinu Malkeinu ("Our Father, Our King") by Adam Rhine