Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Imagining Jesus, imagining Jews
by Weininger, Melissa Sarah, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2010, 229; 3397295
Abstract (Summary)

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Jewish philosophers and theologians began to write about a topic that had been subject to a long-standing historical taboo in Jewish culture: Jesus. Spurred by a desire to enter into a dialogue with Christian theologians and to rebut Christian canards regarding both Judaism itself and the implication of Jews in Jesus’ death, many Jewish scholars began to reconsider the historical Jesus. This work opened the door to later Jewish writers of fiction and poetry, who began to use the figure of Jesus in their Hebrew and Yiddish work in the early twentieth century.

Focusing in particular on three writers of the early twentieth century, this study examines how the figure of Jesus was appropriated by modern Hebrew and Yiddish writers in order to construct a modern, secular, Jewish identity. It shows that this literature was written not only as a response to living in the modern world, but also as a constructive project, part of forging a Jewish identity separate from traditional religious definitions of Judaism.

Drawing on contemporary cultural theorists like Homi Bhabha, the complicated idea of “identity,” both as construed throughout Jewish history and as an abstract idea, is discussed and historicized. Modern literary works about Jesus are considered in the context of Jewish writing throughout history, beginning with the Talmud. The work of three writers in particular, who reflect the variety of languages and ideologies competing to define modern Judaism during the interwar period, is examined in greater depth: the bilingual poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg, the Hebrew novelist A. A. Kabak, and the popular Yiddish writer Sholem Asch. Each of these writers characterized his Jesus differently, and through this characterization presented a model for the construction of modern Jewish identity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Brinker, Menachem
Commitee: Meltzer, Francoise, Schwarz, Jan
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Jewish Studies
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 71/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Modern literature, Middle Eastern literature, American literature, Judaic studies
Keywords: Asch, Sholem, Greenberg, Uri Tzvi, Hebrew, Israel, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jews, Kabak, Aaron Abraham, Yiddish
Publication Number: 3397295
ISBN: 9781109690255
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