JES 501 Afterlife and Eschatology in Judaism and World Religions

Faculty: Reb Simcha Raphael (Profile)


This course shall weave together an exploration of teachings on death and immortality in Judaism, and other great traditions of the world. As historians of religion we shall trace the evolution of Jewish ideas on dying and the deathbed, and the postmortem survival of the soul from earliest roots in Biblical tradition through to the contemporary era. Traversing continents and traveling through time we shall encounter an ever-changing panorama of Jewish texts – Torah, Apocryphal literature, Talmud, medieval Midrash, Kabbalah and Hasidism – documenting how scholars and sages of the past reflected upon their own encounters with human mortality. At the same time, within the varied cultural environments in which Jewish life evolved we also find teachings on death and immortality. We shall investigate these death traditions – of ancient Egypt; the ancient Near East; the Greco-Roman world; early and medieval Christianity; Islamic civilization; and medieval Tibet – exploring the inter-relationship between these traditions and Jewish belief and practice. We shall endeavor to discover how these varied traditions illuminate our perspective on Jewish views of death, dying and the afterlife. Throughout the course, class presentations will be augmented with visual images of death practices from religious art or archaeological and anthropological evidence, to help students appreciate the diversity of death rituals and beliefs.

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