The Talmud among Victorian Christians: Polemics and Humanism in Interfaith Encounters

29 January, 2024

We are deeply honoured to welcome Professor Aaron Koller, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Yeshiva University, USA, to lead a session of the Sacred Literature in Interfaith Contexts Reading Group.

Here are the details of this fascinating event.

Topic: The Talmud among Victorian Christians: Polemics and Humanism in Interfaith Encounters

Abstract: A Victorian intellectual or socialite could have learned about the Talmud from two types of literature: exposés of the depraved Jewish culture, such as the work of Alexander McCaul, and apologetic writings laying out the beauty of rabbinic thought, exemplified by an influential essay by Emanuel Deutsch. The talk will discuss some of the tactics used in each of these types of literature, and the reasons that each – in its own way – was so popular in Victorian England. In the academy, things took a different turn with the appointment of Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy to be the first instructor of Rabbinics at Cambridge. This colorful figure’s legacy includes lasting contributions to scholarship; less well known is his theology. In sermons and writings spanning three decades, he laid out a worldview that included God’s involvement in the world, particularly in the corporate history of the Jews, while also embracing a profound pluralism. Schiller-Szinessy believed strongly in his own Jewish faith and simultaneously in the divine significance of Christianity. Remarkably – and perhaps not coincidentally – Schiller-Szinessy was also highly successful as a pedagogue in Cambridge, gathering a fluid circle of non-Jewish colleagues and students who were devoted to Rabbinics. The study of Talmud was seen as part of the broader humanities. Finally, the talk will conclude with some reflections on the implications of these models for the function and role of Rabbinics in the contemporary academy.

Speaker: Professor Aaron Koller, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Yeshiva University, USA.

Speaker’s biography: Professor Koller studies the languages and history of the Near East from the Late Bronze Age through rabbinic times. He has written on biblical literature, the history of biblical interpretation, Semitic languages, and Jewish intellectual history. For the past few years he has been working on the history of writing, and of the alphabet in particular. He is the author of Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought (JPS/University of Nebraska Press, 2020) and Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2014), among other books, and the editor of five more. In 2022-2023, Professor Koller was a Bye-Fellow at Cambridge University and a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Oxford. He has previously served as a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and held research fellowships at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research and the Hartman Institute.

Chair: Professor Syed Atif Rizwan, Senior Fellow of the Oxford Interfaith Forum, Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies, Director of the Catholic-Muslim Studies Program, and Chair of the Department of Intercultural Studies and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union, IL, USA.

Date: 29 January, 2024

Time: 18:00-19:00 GMT| 19:00-20:00 CEST | 10:00-11:00 PST | 13:00-14:00 EST

Venue: online

If you would like to join the Sacred Literature in Interfaith Contexts Reading Groupplease sign up here.

Download flyer

Recording of the session

Professor Aaron Koller’s books:

Related Sessions

Recordings of Past Sessions