Oct

14

Lecture Hopping- Biggest Walkout of the Year Edition

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Armin Rosen reports on the big semi-annual, semi-mandatory sophomore class lecture.

The title of this post is actually a wee bit inaccurate. This wasn’t just the biggest walkout of the year–it was also the biggest walkout of last year, and was probably bigger than any walkouts that were held the year before that one, too. About seven hundred students were at Roone for Friday’s Contemporary Civilization course-wide lecture. By the time Berkley Talmud professor Daniel Boyarin had finished dissecting the seventh chapter of Daniel, a mere handful were left in the audience, proving that while Iraq might convince 400 or so people not to go to class, intellectual passivity is one cause around which practically everyone can rally. Even at Columbia.

If only John Erskine could have lived to have seen so spectacular a “fuck you” to the Core Curriculum and everything it represents. Granted, it was a Friday afternoon. And granted, I’ve heard some people complain that Boyarin’s central thesis–that the all-time mindblower that is Daniel 7 represents an attempt at suppressing certain polytheistic ideas within ancient Judaism, and that its formulation of an “older” and “younger” God provided a theological basis for the emergence of Christianity as a protestant movement within Judaism itself–has nothing to do with what we’ve been reading and studying in CC. I’ve heard others say that his brilliant synthesis of linguistics, history, literature and religion was off-topic and irrelevant; that his meticulous application of comp-lit methods both on a practical and theoretical level were limited to ideas and concepts uninteresting to people without a strong background in Judaism.

Sure, these people say, he was able to use documentary and methodological evidence to prove that the vision of the beasts and the “throne apocalypse” were separate texts that were interwoven in order to downplay the latter’s suggestion that God could take the form of an earthly “son of man.” And yes, he did use exhaustive Talmudic and historical evidence to prove that there existed a surprisingly Christian belief in pseudo-human divinity within ancient Judaism, and that later Jewish thinkers tried to weed out a certain “mythological” strain within the religion.

But apparently that wasn’t enough for some of you. So Boyarin dropped a Hebrew term or two (surprise–that’s the language Daniel was written in!). And he used big, Jewishy words like “Talmud,” and “Torah,” and maybe dropped a bit more Aramaic and ancient Greek than we’re normally accustomed to. But these kinds of criticism only prove that Boyarin was a victim of his own sophistication. Sure, the theological and intellectual history of two major monotheistic faiths might not seem all that relevant to the study of Western thought–except wait a second, how isn’t that totally relevant to the study of Western thought?

Boyarin was abstruse at times, but the brilliance of his analysis was never in question. He brought a mind-boggling depth and originality of thought to a piece of literature whose significance within the cannon should have been clear, but whose historical and literary meaning certainly was not. His analysis shed light on an obscure but hugely important topic, and complicated typically comfortable theological and historical lines–categories like “Jewish,” “Christian,” “monotheist” and “polytheist” are only safe until a scholar like Boyarin disturbs them, and reminds us that every last idea has a vast and infinitely complicated history lurking behind it. I thought it was fascinating. Too bad so many people disagree.

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26 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    fyi- Daniel was written mostly in Aramaic

  2. swampy nero  

    i only caught the last 10 minutes of questions but from what I gathered I agree with Armin here. I don't know how irrelevant the talk was before the questions but I can't imagine that a speech dealing with christian themes in a book in the old testament could possibly unrelated to the evolution of western thought

  3. correct  

    this stuff is crucial. In the NT [act], early christians use Jesus' fulfillment of prophesy as their primary apologetic for converting Jews. and what was jesus' favorite title for himself? "son of man". his lecture strikes at the core of why christianity was [and is!] so compelling for people [beginning, of course, with jews] and why it swept the globe

  4. Anonymous  

    The only thing that guy said that's worth repeating:

    "I made a serious tactical error this morning: I had lox."

  5. spanish inquistion

    'canon'

  6. Everyone else

    dear armin, we despise/hate/look down on you too.

    the feeling is definitely mutual.

    love,
    everyone else

    PS - John Erskine would think a mass lecture is ludicrous and would wonder what the point is if the vast majority of core sections are taught by non-tenured faculty.

  7. will the people  

    in power post this lecture onto the internet somewhere? either in text or video? that's kind of why i didn't go - i thought i could get it some other way. didn't mean to diss the guy.

  8. But wait  

    CC is the study of Western thought?

    And here I thought it was the study of bullshitting your way through a series of texts for which we're given even less context and connection than we were in Lit Hum.

    The man was clearly brilliant. He clearly drove home a strikingly well-supported thesis about a series of interrelated subjects which would be absolutely fascinating and totally relevant... if CC was a major, and we were all in it. But it's not a major. It's a year-long attempt to shove way too many texts down our throats with way too little in-class supporting context for them to make any god damn sense as a whole.

  9. huh?  

    did armin just crib this from a spec article?

  10. that's great  

    haha- that's too pathetic-- isn't he on spec?

  11. Anonymous  

    I don't really understand why people complain. I don't think I would realy understand America's Constitution, let alone its common law, without reading all the texts on CC and more. I'm not even sure I understand it now. I'm not sure I could truly appreciate even our most banal pop culture without all the historical detritus of thousands of years of thought. My only problem with the Core is that it's not a major that everyone has to take. But hey, maybe I'm one of those crazy fellows who thinks it's crazy not to be an idiot.

    p.s. If you make the argument that it's all a bunch of racist/sexist/ethnocentric/sexually repressive junk, I won't disagree. However, solutions to these problems will only come by understanding the history of thought that shaped our lives and upbringing.

    Protip -- One way a solution will not come: by hoping for some mythological outsider messianic mode of thought that will solve all our problems.

    • oh my god  

      Anonymous, #13, you're a pretentious fool. I'm going to hazard a guess and say that you're currently taking CC. Look up "cognitive dissonance" in a book, and, while you're at it, look up "detritus."
      Also, your pathetic attempt to keep everyone but dead white men out of the core is laughable. Really? We have to understand the history of thought? Original. But if we're trying to CHANGE, rather than merely COPY modes of thought, wouldn't we want to see some other authors in there?
      Others make this argument better than I do, but it doesn't take a genius to see where you went wrong.

  12. OK but  

    Sure, Boyarin is brilliant at what he does, an excellent speaker and the general point of what he was saying was interesting.

    But lest we forget, most of us aren't well versed in many of the texts he mentioned, he could've at least explained what the pescher, mishrasch (sp?), talmud et al. were so that we had more of a clue as to what he was talking about. He obviously had no clue who his audience was because CC coursewide lecture does not equal JTS.

    Also it felt like he repeated the same idea OVER and OVER - the talk could've been half as long and twice as engaging.

  13. Yo...  

    I really did want to care. Really. But once he used the word Pescher, which in my ignorance meant nothing to me, I was gone. Thinking of fish. You know, "pesc-"...no?

  14. man  

    this post was incredibly self-congratulatory and arrogant. if you want to feel proud of yourself for being such a brave, indefatigable intellectual, go right ahead, but please spare everybody the faux-wonderment that several hundred 19-year-olds didn't feel like spending their friday afternoon listening to a not-actually-mandatory lecture on a subject tangentially related to a two-week unit in their actually mandatory class.

    you're right that we could all be better people, but pointing it out in this way (that is, criticizing your peers for not being as intellectually curious and intrepid as you) still makes you a dick.

  15. blah  

    i thought it was fascinating, too. but some of us have jobs to get to on fridays.

  16. Hey bwog  

    Can you purge Armin from your ranks? He adds little substance to your site but a whole lot of douchebaggery. Most of his writing is complete crap, so it says quite a bit about the Spec that he's still on staff.

  17. josh hirschland  

    all i can say is "ha!"

  18. I absolutely  

    Second 19's motion. Just get rid of him.

  19. Smug  

    Stop being so smug about your Judaism. Try educating your peers instead of thinking about how big your balls must be because you know what the Tanach is.

  20. I definitely  

    Third 19's motion.

  21. army's biggest fan

    though his writing is shallow and pandantic, you gotta love the guy

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