Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Proposal Defense 講詞

聽日就係我 proposal defense, 開頭要講十分鐘介紹自己個 proposal, 之後答 20-30 分鐘問題. 以下就係我打算要講o既說話:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. In my dissertation, I'm trying to investigate the effects, if any, of the destruction of the 2nd temple on how the Jews imagined and described heaven. I suppose I don't need to repeat what I've said in my proposal, so in the following 10 minutes or so, I plan to give you a more personal account of how I came to this research topic, and why I think it is worthwhile to work on it as a dissertation.

How did I come to be interested in this topic? If you remember, about 2 years ago, we had a famous scholar named Eliot Wolfson on campus; he gave a special presentation on Jewish mysticism and showed some fancy-looking pictures of ancient manuscripts. But unfortunately, just like a selected few of the faculty members who are willing to admit and many graduate students who cannot help but confess, I did not understand his lecture at all. However, as diligent and enthusiastic a student I am, in preparation for the lecture, I read a number of his studies, which I somehow understood, and actually found intriguing at times. In some of those, Wolfson discussed the connections between heaven and temple in Jewish conceptions, that Jews believed that the temple on earth was built on the model of a heavenly prototype, and they imagined heaven in temple images. Being a knowledgeable graduate student of McMaster University who's done his comps and all that, I've heard of this idea many times before, but I have to say that it was on that occasion that I began wondering, since heaven and temple are connected conceptually, what would the destruction of the 2nd temple do to Jewish perceptions of heaven? Was there a shift after 70 CE?

At first, I thought to myself, the answer should be rather straight forward, because it just seems natural that the trauma of losing the temple would make quite an impact on perceptions of heaven, considering that the Jews traditionally imagined heaven as a temple. But then I saw an interesting idea that changed my mind in a recent article of David Suter, in which he points out that the authors and readers of the Second Temple apocalyptic literature believe that God can be found only in heaven, but not in the disqualified temple on earth, because many Jews considered themselves living in a state of a continuous exile in the absence of the temple even after they had physically returned from the exile. It was after reading this that I came to realize that the situation is a lot more complicated than I initially thought. I mean, I'm not too sure about the idea of an ongoing exile, but I think one aspect of this theory has some truth to it: that is, there was a relatively widespread dissatisfaction against the temple, that some Jews saw the temple or its priesthood as disqualified, they're not functioning the way they should. The community that copied and preserved the dead sea scrolls are an example of this, they're pious Jews, they're living a religious life, they're very keen observers of the torah, but they were doing so without the second temple, and they were quite OK with that. In other words, there might be a discrepancy between historical reality and the Jews' perception of the reality. In history, we know that the Jews lost their temple in 70 CE; but in the mind of some Jews, they had lost the temple way before its physical destruction. The starting point of the trauma of losing the temple is not necessarily the day after the temple's destruction; it could be much earlier. This observation, I think, turns this seemingly straightforward inquiry into an interesting puzzle that intrigues me.

Why do I think that this is an important topic to work on? In Judaism, there is an idea of sacred space. Some places are more important, more holy than others. And the most important of such sacred space are the temple which is God's dwelling on earth, and heaven which is God's permanent residence above the earth. A study that will enrich our knowledge of the development of the Jews' perception of these special places, that sounds pretty important to me.

Is my study of this important topic going to be important as well? Am I doing anything new that still needs to be done? Among other things, I think one significance of my dissertation is that I'll focus on comparing second temple literature with post-70 writings that date to before the 2nd century CE, instead of the Hekhalot literature that date to a much much later period like Elior did in her famous book The 3 Temples. And I think that is an important task. Just for example, let's say I want to find out the impact of the 9/11 attacks on movie making. The best way to do it is to compare movies that were made before 2001 with those that were made in the years or decades immediately following the event. I would not compare movies that were made before the event with those that are made half a millennium afterwards. I mean, I don't deny the value of doing that, but it seems quite clear to me that the materials that are closest in time to the pivotal event are the most important evidence for this kind of inquiry. That's what I'm doing, and to my surprise, that really hasn't been done adequately enough in the past as far as I know.


Walton said...

Will you like to share your thesis?

Howtindog said...

There's no thesis to share, because I haven't finished writing it. My hunch is I never will.

Walton said...

Ha ha .. never say never !

your proposal is a very interesting one and will help people to think if they are going to heaven.
Christians always use the "heaven" concept to attract people. it will be worthwhile to see what heaven is actually like.