If you were to organize a graduate seminar around a single text what would it be?

Eleanor Kaufman

University of California, Los Angeles

My choice of a single text around which to situate a Jewish Studies course would be Spinoza's Theologico-Political Treatise (TTP, published 1670). Admittedly, this is a fraught choice in this context, given that Spinoza was famously excommunicated from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam in 1656. Moreover, his writings are often taken to equate God and nature and thus espouse a pantheistic impetus above and beyond a monotheistic one; and his at times quite comical assessment of the Hebrew prophets in the TTP is generally far from flattering. My course would examine such theological reflections directly and through close textual analysis; with this, I would devote the first part of the term simply to a careful reading of the text, without relying on outside sources. Then, for the remaining weeks, I would introduce the students to the rather extraordinary range of commentary on Spinoza and on this text specifically. We would look at the tendency to read the TTP in light of Spinoza's most celebrated work, The Ethics (1677), thereby downplaying the theological dimension of his oeuvre, something notable especially in studies of his work by eminent Continental philosophers (Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri, Étienne Balibar, and the excellent collection by Warren Montag and Ted Stolze, The New Spinoza). I would then turn to an increasing body of work on Spinoza that regards him as a Jewish thinker despite his clear distance from and tension with Judaism, in the fashion of Daniel Boyarin's A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (e.g. Rebecca Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza). Related to this is the important work of Jonathan Israel, Steven Nadler, and Willi Goetschel that considers Spinoza's Jewish background as the basis for a philosophical system that becomes one of the pillars of secular if not atheistic thought. Finally, I would turn to the minor strain of criticism that takes seriously the fact that Spinoza favors apostles over prophets in the TTP and holds the example of Christ considerably higher than those of the Hebrew prophets. In this context, Graeme Hunter's Radical Protestantism in Spinoza's Thought is exemplary. Having taught a graduate seminar on "apostate Jews" in which the TTP was one of the featured texts, I see the merit of devoting a whole seminar to it.