Professor Speaks on Greco-Roman Influence on Ancient Rabbis

A chorus of “shaloms” greeted attendees of Galit Hasan-Rokem’s lecture on the interplay between Greco-Roman folklore and rabbinic interpretation of the Bible on Friday at the Barker Center.

The roughly twenty guests at the event, titled “Singing with Sirens,” were welcomed with complimentary Middle Eastern-style sandwiches, wraps, brownies, and soft drinks. The audience represented an array of backgrounds, including guest professors from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and students at the College.

“I am excited to come and have a discussion with eminent scholars and bright graduate students whom I’ve met here,” said Hasan-Rokem, a professor emerita of folklore at Hebrew University.

Discussing the relationship between Greco-Roman folklore and ancient rabbinic texts, Hasan-Rokem talked about the interdependence of the cultures, emphasizing the influence of a specific figure from Greco-Roman folklore: the sirens.

The sirens and other Greco-Roman tropes, Hasan-Rokem said, influenced the rabbinic view of women as alluring and punishable. She noted that the oral transmission of information in rabbinic culture facilitated the incorporation of new voices and ideas.

Stephanie P. Spence ’14, a Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator, said the lecture shed light on on how ancient folklore influenced rabbinic interpretations of the Bible.

“It allows us to piece together the symbiosis of the cultures and show how we can allegorically read the Bible and pull from the other cultures,” she said.

The lecture also served to reach out to surrounding fields, reflecting Hasan-Rokem’s belief in the importance of interdisciplinary studies.

“Studying the folklore of different cultures is an interesting way of studying critically the cultural diversity of a country,” she said. “It entails not just the most hegemonic or dominant and hierarchical studies of texts.”

This interdisciplinary focus appealed to the Harvard professors who brought Hasan-Rokem to give the talk.

“This year’s seminar is a perfect opportunity for everyone to come together,” said Rachel L. Greenblatt, associate professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations and head coordinator of the seminar. “What Jewish studies has been trying to do in general for the last few years is to really work with other departments in the humanities.”

Hasan-Rokem will spend the rest of the semester at Williams College in western Massachusetts.

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