Academic year
2022/2023 Syllabus of previous years
Official course title
Course code
LT2420 (AF:348907 AR:185758)
On campus classes
ECTS credits
Degree level
Bachelor's Degree Programme
Educational sector code
2nd Semester
Course year
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The class “Jewish Studies” is part of the formative activities of the B.A. degree in Language, Culture and Society of Asia and Mediterranean Africa – course Near and Middle East. The class seeks to prepare students in the historical-cultural and humanistic area, providing them with theoretical, methodological, and analytical tools which are fundamental in the study of religious phenomena and, specifically, of Judaism in its many archaeological-historical, philological-linguistic, philosophical, literary and artistic expressions.

The formative goal of the class is offering the students a detailed overview of Jewish Studies and of the most important events of the religious and cultural history of the Jews from antiquity to the early modern era through the analysis of themes and texts that represent the various expression of ancient, late-antique, medieval and early modern Judaism.

Through weekly readings, frontal lessons with PowerPoint presentations, seminar discussions, as well as guided readings of relevant literary texts, historical sources, and documents, the students will develop analytical skills and a critical thinking which will allow them to recognize central themes in the millenarian history of the Jewish people, to identify the many inter-cultural and inter-religious contacts between the Jews and their neighbors over time, as well as to understand the relevance of Jewish culture within the history of the Near and Middle East and in the European area.
Knowledge abilities on the course:

At the end of the course, the students will:

- orientate themselves in the cultural and religious history of the Jews from antiquity to the early modern era;
- be familiar with the festivities, the most important texts, and the fundamental terminology/concepts of Judaism;
- recognize the major trends in Jewish thought and the central questions of Jewish history in relation also to the neighboring cultures;
- know: (a) to examine material and textual Hebrew sources from antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the early modern era, which are relevant for studying Jewish history; (b) to contextualize these materials, and (c) to relate them one with another, in comparison also with coeval texts and archaeological materials of non-Jewish origin.

Communicative and learning abilities:

The students will learn to:

- read and critically elaborate the reading materials proposed during the lessons and assigned in preparation;
- autonomously study topics not covered during frontal lessons;
- understand academic contents in English and read scientific papers/books in English;
- know the terminology, themes of, and the fundamental approaches to Jewish Studies, in order to orientate themselves in the field at both a conceptual and historical level;
- develop an oral (and written) clarity which will enable them to autonomously formulate evaluations and interpretations of the course-related topics with the appropriate terminology.
There are no particular prerequisite courses that are required, only a fair knowledge of English. During the class, the students will read, analyze, and discuss Jewish literary and documentary sources: although the lecturer will constantly refer to the original texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, the students will be able to follow on translations into English or Italian prepared by the lecturer; therefore, the knowledge of Hebrew/Aramaic is not required.
The class introduces the students to Jewish Studies and to the different methodologies developed by scholars for attaining a religious-historical analysis of the themes and texts relevant to Judaism, thus examining Bible criticism, rabbinic philology, archaeology, art history, manuscript studies, lived religion, etc.

After a first introductory lecture on the history and historiography of Judaism, the students will be presented with the most relevant events in Jewish history, as well as with its most important literary and artistic expressions. The approach will be chronological – from ancient Israel to the early modern era – but with attention also to analogous phenomena which developed diachronically in the different parts of the Jewish diaspora. While outlining the cultural and religious history of the Jews from antiquity to the early medieval era, the course will also touch upon less known aspects which are not usually treated in traditional scholarship, such as the iconography of late antique Palestinian synagogues, or the Jewish magical tradition.

During the course, students will be guided in the reading and analysis of a selection of texts from the Bible, Qumran literature, the writings of Josephus Flavius, rabbinic literature, the corpus of Jewish magical texts (e.g. Sefer ha-Razim, Ḥarba de-Moshe, the Babylonian incantation bowls, etc.), the responsa penned by the , the Genizah fragments, Sefer Yuḥasin, Sefer Ḥassidim, cabalistic texts, etc. The analysis of these sources will be the starting point for examining various relevant topics, such as the different trends in Jewish thought, the encounter/clash with the non-Jewish population, the relationship between religion and science, issues concerning gender, etc.

Lesson 1: Introduction

- Judaism/Judaism(s)
- Jewish Studies
- Biblical canon

Lesson 2: The religion of Israel before the exile

- Biblical archaeology/ Bible criticism
- Prophetism

Lesson 3-4: Second Temple Judaism

- The Babylonian exile
- First and second Sadocitism
- The encounter with Hellenism
- Jewish sectarianism (Philo, Flavius Josephus)
- Qumran

Lesson 5-9: Late antique Judaism

- The rise of the rabbis
- Identity, authority, competition
- Mishnah
- Palestinian and Babylonian Talmud
- Midrash
- Halakhah and haggadah
- Rabbinic prayer
- Magical traditions in rabbinic literature
- Elements of non-rabbinic Judaism
- Jewish communities in Sasanian Babylon and in Roman Palestine
- Magical texts and objects in Hebrew and Aramaic (e.g. metallic amulets, Babylonian incantation bowls, Sefer ha-Razim, Ḥarba de-Moshe)
- Archaeology and iconography of Palestinian synagogues
- Piyut

Lesson 10-12: Medieval Judaism

- The Jews in Palestine and in the Islamic Countries
- The Cairo Genizah
- Geonnim and responsa literature
- The Massorah and the Leningrad codex
- Religious poetry
- Religious philosophy: Maimonides
- The Jews in medieval Europe
- Sefer Yuḥasin (Megillat Aḥima‘az) and the Jews in Italy
- the crusades, the Jewish communities of the Shumm, Sefer Ḥassidim
- Rashi and the Tosafists

Lesson 12-14: Early modern Judaism

- The blood libel and the case of Simon of Trent
- The age of ghettos
- The Jewish-Italian synergy
- The Holy Office and the Jews
- Crypto-Judaism

Lesson 15: Major trends in Jewish mysticism

- From Hekhalot to Sefer Yeṣirah
- Mosheh de León
- Abraham Abulafia
- Pico della Mirandola and Flavio Mitridate
- Isaac Luria and Ḥaiym Vital
- Shabbetay Zevi

Mandatory readings:
- Gunter Stemberger, “Introduzione all'ebraistica,” trad. ital. Morcelliana, Brescia 2013.
- Other texts and didactic material will be provided by the lecturer on the website of the course.

Additional mandatory texts for students who do not attend lessons:
- A book assigned by the instructor.
The final grade is obtained as follows:

Students who attend to the lessons:
40 % - attendance to classes and active participation in class discussions.
60 % - oral exam which examines the historical-cultural knowledge of the topics presented in class and in the preparatory readings.

Students who do not attend to the lessons:
40 % - writing a review of a book from a list of relevant readings prepared by the lecturer.
60 % - oral exam which examines the historical-cultural knowledge of the topics presented in class and in the preparatory readings.
The course includes 30 hours of frontal didactics alternated with readings of primary sources and discussions/exam of the topics presented in class and treated in the assigned reading material.
Definitive programme.
Last update of the programme: 13/06/2023