Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Things I Learned in Class This Week

I'm taking two courses through the University of Arizona's Humanities Seminars Program this month. On Mondays, I'm learning about Sex and Violence in the Bible. On Tuesdays, I'm reading Middlemarch.

For five hours every week, a smart person stands in front of me and tells me things I did not know.  I don't always agree with everything that's presented, but I am never at a loss for topics which engage my mind.

For instance, this morning a classmate pondered the behavioral rigidity of George Eliot's study of provincial life and the rules laid down to the Hebrews in their Bible.  External versus internal, immediate consequences versus eternal damnation, the role of belief and faith and whether social norms have the same effect as Biblical proscriptions..... she walked away, but my brain has been spinning ever since.

None of Eliot's characters seem to have a deep attachment to the trappings of formal religion, not even the Vicar or the Rector.  Yet their behaviors are as tightly regulated as were those of the Hebrews, were they to follow all 613 Commandments.  Do we humans have an instinctive need to girdle ourselves with restrictions?  Is it an extension of my oft repeated parenting mantra : Kids like rules?

Like I said, my head is spinning.

Did you know that the twelve tribes of Israel were not descended from a single maternal line?  There were two wives and two servants and just one lucky patriarch.  No wonder they threw the littlest one into a pit and sold him into slavery.  It's a wonder that they had't hurt one another long before Joseph and his coat came along.

Our professor tells us that the virgin who gives birth to a son in the King James version is merely a young woman in the original Aramaic.  He tells us that Moses's Midianite wife touched his genitals with their baby's bloody foreskin, although the text clearly says feet.  Apparently, feet is Bible speak for genitalia. These are things of which I previously was unaware.

He went on to quote Saint Paul, in 2nd Corinthians: The letter killeth; the Spirit giveth life.

In other words, much of it is allegory, so it behooves you to pay greater attention to that which energizes the writing than to the actual letters on parchment, or pixels on the screen.

I'm reading literature in both classes, not studying religion or 19th century politics.  I save those conversations with myself for after class is over.  I drive home slowly, in the right lane, my brain passing cars and bicyclists alike.  I'm paying for 5 hours per week; I'm getting many many more.

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