This was a nice, short 100-page overview of the subject of magic in the Roman Empire among Jews, Christians, and pagans from 0-300 CE. It is written pThis was a nice, short 100-page overview of the subject of magic in the Roman Empire among Jews, Christians, and pagans from 0-300 CE. It is written pretty readably and had good footnotes with lots of interesting additional information. Janowitz seems very up on all the latest hip new research, without yet ever getting really bogged down with horrid postmodernist academic jargon that can make wading through academic books so torturous sometimes. She does cite happily to all kinds of scholarship and theory, from venerable conservative scholars like Gerschom Scholem and Peter Schaefer to more daring thinkers like Daniel Boyarin and theories about performative language.
A major point Janowitz makes is that the term magic has historically always been a very subjective one - one person's religious practice is another person's magical practice.
Some really amazing and fascinating details to be found here, though, like the chapter on a Jewish woman named Maria who may have lived in first-century Alexandria and was kind of a proto-scientific pioneer in experimenting with metals for alchemististic purposes. I envision her as a kind of ancient Marie Curie. Fun!
My one quibble is that I didn't love the system for citing to the references ... for me the easiest system to navigate has always been the old-fashioned one where the notes are on the bottom of the page below the text they refer to, and all the information on the work is right there along with the substance of the note. I guess modern editors see this as too cumbersome and bulky, so instead the social sciences citation system is used, where you have to flip to the back of the book and hunt down the endnote. And then the endnote only gives you the authors last name and the date, so if you want to see what's actually being referred to, you have to flip through more pages to find the bibliography and match up the name and date. I find it incredibly aggravating to have to flip around so much to find references....more
A very scholarly survey of early Jewish texts containing mystical elements. The book begins with the apocalyptic accounts in Ezekiel and Daniel and coA very scholarly survey of early Jewish texts containing mystical elements. The book begins with the apocalyptic accounts in Ezekiel and Daniel and covers apocryphal Second Temple period writings, the Qumran documents, Philo, the Mishna and Talmud, and the Hekhalot ("palaces") and Merkabah ("chariot") literature.
This was a very tough book to get through and I definitely wouldn't recommend it for the casual reader who's just generally interested in mysticism or Judaism. One problem is that Schafer seems to assume a lot of familiarity on the reader's part with the literature in question, despite the fact the most of it with the exception of the Biblical texts is fairly obscure, and only likely to have been read by graduate students and scholars. He throws around highly tehcnical terms like "nomina barbera" and "macroforms" and uses quite a bit of transliterated Hebrew, Aramic, and Greek. There is almost no hand-holding whatsoever for the generalist reader who just wants to learn what "early Jewish mysticism" might entail - no friendly introductions or readable overviews.
Instead, from the very beginning the book reads like a series of scholarly articles written in response to myriad other scholarly articles, which is more or less what it is. One the plus side, this makes it a thorough guide to a lot of secondary literature for anyone who wants to dig deeper.
Schafer's method for surveying the texts is exegetical and philological, which means that he'll start out by quoting a paragraph or two from whichever text he's looking at, and then gives his own summary of what the paragraph means, and then provides a detailed commentary and copious footnotes about various translations of different words and all the different ways other scholars in the past have read the passage. Unless you happen to have recently read the whole text he's discussing and/or have it open on your desk in front of you (which I never did, as I came to the book hoping for a nice readable survey), this can be hard to follow and one's eyes tend to glaze over. Now, this is considered standard and very rigorous scholarly practice, and on that level, Schafer achieves a perfectly fine book and an acadmically important one.
As for the substance of the book, from the get-go Schafer is very concerned about the use of the term mysticism to describe the phenomena in Jewish literature that the book covers. He discusses in a very lengthy introduction the question of whether this term is so loaded with Christian meanings that it is wrong to apply it in the case of Judaism. Specifically, the Christian sense of mysticism as scholars have tried to define it tends to center around an experience of union (unio mystica) between the human spirit and the Divine. Schafer sees the Jewish literature as much more concerned with what he calls "liturgical union." That is, those who make the ascent to a behold the divinity are not going there for the sake of achieving union, but rather for the sake of participating in worship rituals at a higher level. His conclusion to the whole book is that the term mysticism is of only limited use when discussing early Jewish phenomena....more
Scholarly, but for the persevering reader, excellent for getting a clearer view of the earliest Christian sects, and how and when they gradually grewScholarly, but for the persevering reader, excellent for getting a clearer view of the earliest Christian sects, and how and when they gradually grew apart from their origins in Judaism....more
Publisher's remarks: This is a unique book. Other books to date that have discussed Romney's Mormonism have either come from Mormon apologists or fromPublisher's remarks: This is a unique book. Other books to date that have discussed Romney's Mormonism have either come from Mormon apologists or from non-Mormon authors hostile to Mormonism and lacking an insider perspective on the religion. This one, on the other hand, is by two former-Mormon professors of sociology who have the insider knowledge you only get by growing up in the religion, but who can be honest about the less savory facts since they're no longer members. The authors are smart, funny, and frank, and are conscientious about backing up every point with scholarly depth, breadth, and rigor. They've written a book whose usefulness, I believe, will far transcend this election season....more
In this massive doorstop of a book, scholar Ephraim Urbach explores the worldview of the rabbis of the Talmud through the primary texts. Urbach's thorIn this massive doorstop of a book, scholar Ephraim Urbach explores the worldview of the rabbis of the Talmud through the primary texts. Urbach's thoroughness is an amazing achievement, and reading through just a few chapters will leave you much more enlightened about what rabinnic Judaism is all about than when you started. The big limitation of the book, however, derives largely from the nature of the rabbinic sources themselves - namely, that this literature arose out of oral traditions as a compendium of legal rulings, rather than through the systematic effort of a unified author's effort ... as a result, Urbach's careful scholarship, through no fault of his own, often is incapable of conveying a sense of historical context - instead, it often starts to read like a series of paragraphs arranged by topic that sound like: "And then R. Such-and-such said this, and then R. Whosit said that, and then R. Thingamajig said that." That said, this is a fabulous resource if you have the patience to work through individual chapters....more
A memoir by blogger Joanna Brooks, who has become a sort of unofficial spokeswoman for the Mormon church, though her views on church matters are not aA memoir by blogger Joanna Brooks, who has become a sort of unofficial spokeswoman for the Mormon church, though her views on church matters are not always typical or orthodox.
This book is a strange animal, and full of contradictions that make for simultaneously interesting and uncomfortable reading. She very clearly and insistently writes from the standpoint of someone committed to her faith, and yet she is constantly criticizing it and making it sound just ridiculous and awful. This didn't offend me, since there is no love lost between me and the institutions of Mormon officialdom. But I read it vicariously cringing on behalf of Mormons I know and love who will read this and feel like they're constantly being poked with little needles. It's a prickly book, yet not in a cantankerous or curmudgeonly way. Her tone is by turns gracious, generous, warm, and devotional, yet the book is full of barbs.
The narrative was actually pretty slow-going for me, even boring, up until about half way through when she starts talking about her time at BYU, when one of her mentors was fired for her feminist views. She goes on to talk about her time of alienation from the church, her marriage to a Jewish man, and then coming back to the church just as the Mormon church started mobilizing politically against gay marriage in California (the infamous Proposition 8 campaign). In a painful move that set her secretly at odds with her congregation, friends, and neighbors, Brooks turned right around and campaigned FOR gay marriage, but stuck by her decision to remain in the church.
That's another part of why I call this book a strange animal - the fact that despite all the barbs, she remains committed to the religion that basically seemed to cause her immense pain, and a church that doesn't seem to want her or share the values she holds most dear. Despite all the barbs, she swans on and on about how Mormonism is in her blood, it's the air she breathes, etc. The book left me feeling sorry for her and utterly bewildered by her choice. Basically, this seems like a women who is willing to submit to a lot of self-torture to cling to a faith based mainly on nostalgia. It's been a few weeks now since I finished the book, but as I recall she doesn't engage at all with historicity issues or the church's truth claims.
Maybe she gets down and dirty with such issues in her blog, and thus didn't feel the need to go into in the book ... but it was a bit disappointing that she didn't go into the subject of the mental gymnastics needed to maintain faith in the face of contrary historical (and logical) evidence, or her motives for doing so. If I recall correctly, the only motives we hear about in the book are emotional ones.
She is clearly a person of intelligence, integrity, and passion, and expresses herself well in writing. But I'm afraid that for true-believing Mormons, this book may be offensive, and for unbelievers like me, it'll be puzzling, unsatisfying, and pity-inspiring.
Note: I read the original self-published version of the book, not the version that is slated to be released August 7, 2012....more