Podcasts of “Legends of the Cave: Biblical, Rabbinic, and Kabbalistic Quests for Ancestral, Mystical, and Messianic Truth in the Dark”
Cave stories are deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. In the Bible, caves serve as the eternal resting place of our our ancestors (the Patriarchs and Matriarchs), as a place of eros and drama (Lot and David), as a place of visions of the divine (Moses and Elijah). In imagining numerous elaborations of such stories, rabbinic literature foregrounds the mysteriousness of the cave. Midrashim portray the cave as a meeting place of the human and the divine, seeing it as an image of the cosmos into which the divine Presence flows, even as the World-to-Come. It was, however, the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s 13-year sojourn in a cave, and of the spiritual heights he attained there, that became so influential for the Jewish imagination, particularly in medieval kabbalah. The Zohar, kabbalah’s central work, is replete with elaborate stories of revelations that transpire in caves, of mystical figures encountered there, of esoteric books lodged in their depths. In this course, we will explore selections from all these literatures, as well as comparing the Jewish legends of the cave with Plato’s, exploring the relationship between cavernous depths and spiritual experience.
Taught by Nathaniel Berman and David Silber, Spring 2016
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