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Hebrew and Greek Thought Revisited: Chaos, Cosmos, and Human Origins

The vibrant culture of the West—its distinctive religious and political traditions, philosophical and scientific inquiries, and literary and artistic modes of imagination—springs from the creative tension between Hebraic and Greek thought. We cannot understand the challenges of the present or chart a path into the future without returning to these two intertwined roots of our civilization. What do Greek and Jewish approaches to the fundamental human problems—of life and death, war and peace, family and friendship, love and loss, justice and cruelty, hope and history—have in common? Where do they diverge? How do these ancient traditions help us to identify, and begin to correct, the errors of modern life and thought?

We begin at the beginning. What are the origins of the world, according to Greek myth, tragedy, and philosophy on the one hand and the stories of the Hebrew Bible and reflections of the rabbinic tradition on the other? Does order emerge from chaos through conflict? Is it introduced by a divine intelligence? Is it inherent in nature itself? What do the Greek and Jewish stories about the first things imply about the origins and vocation of mankind, and of men and women? Are love and aggression impediments to, or conditions of, the achievement of a dignified and peaceful existence? Is the work of creation ever complete? What role do human beings play in the completion of creation? These are some of the questions explored in this course.

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