Cameron C. Afzal

BA, Grinnell College. MA, McGill University. MDiv, Yale University. PhD, Columbia University. Active member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, as well as the Catholic Biblical Association; has written on the Apocalypse of John and has taught broadly in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, Judaism in the Second Temple Period, the Hebrew Bible, and Late Antique Christian Mysticism. SLC, 1992–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Religion

Readings in Christian Mysticism: Late Antiquity

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

This course will focus on the intersection of Jewish theology and Greco-Roman philosophy in the early Christian texts commonly seen to contain "mystical elements." We will define these elements as texts that have to do with the desire on the part of the reader to "know," experience, or "be with" God and with the author's attempt to properly demarcate the boundaries within which these desires can be fulfilled. Christian mysticism is perhaps best thought of as erotic theology—theology that involves the desire for God. Recognizing this, we must also acknowledge that inherent to this theology is a profound paradox. What is desired must be conceived. It must be held in the grasp of one's understanding in order to be attained. While this is fine for an orange, or even wealth and power, it is much more problematic when the object of desire is God, the creator of the universe. Theologians in the early church developed a language of desire and specific sets of practices involving one's lifestyle and prayer in order to resolve this paradox and fulfill their desire. They began to ponder this paradox with a synthesis of a biblical theology of divine revelation (i.e., the revelation of God as preserved in the biblical canon, symbolized in both the revelation of YHWH on Mt. Sinai and in the incarnation of the Divine Logos as Jesus of Nazareth) and Platonic expression of a desire for the ultimate good, truth, or beauty. In order to better grasp these ideas, we will read parts of the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and contemplate the anthropology of desire set forth by Plato in the Symposium and the Phaedrus. Educated in the Hellenistic world, the early church fathers took these ideas for granted and attempted to find common ground with their Christian inheritance. We will study the phenomenon of Gnostic Christianity, an early attempt at synthesis of biblical material and Greek philosophy. We will then move on to encounter the great early Christian writers—such as Origen and Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Psuedo-Dionysius, and Ambrose of Milan—and conclude our study with a lengthy look at what, for Western culture, is the seminal work of Augustine of Hippo.

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Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: The Hebrew Bible

Open , FYS—Year

The Hebrew Bible stands at the foundation of Western culture. Its stories permeate our literature, our art...indeed, our sense of identity. The Hebrew Bible's ideas inform our laws, have given birth to our revolutions and social movements, and have thereby made most of our social institutions possible (as well as the movements to remove them). What is this book? How was it written? Who wrote it? Who preserved it for us? Why has all or part of this body of literature been considered holy to the practitioners of Judaism and Christianity? Four thousand years ago, various groups from small tribe-wandering nomads would get together and tell stories. These stories were not preserved on stone tombs but in the hearts and memories of the people to whom they belonged. We will read the collection of traditions in a book called Genesis and compare these stories with other texts (written in mud and stone) such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Babylonian Creation Epic, which were contemporary with biblical traditions. We will read the biblical epic of liberation, Exodus; the historical books that weave theology into a history of a nation; and the oracles of the great Hebrew prophets of Israel, those reformers, judges, priests, mystics, and poets to whom modern culture owes its grasp of justice. We will trace the social, intellectual, and political history of the people formed by these traditions from the Late Bronze until the Roman age.

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Related Disciplines

Previous Courses

The Hebrew Bible

Open , Seminar—Year

The Hebrew Bible stands at the foundation of Western culture. Its stories permeate our literature, our art—indeed, our sense of identity. Its ideas inform our laws, have given birth to our revolutions and social movements, and have thereby made most of our social institutions possible (as well as the movements to remove them). What is this book? How was it written? Who wrote it? Who preserved it for us? Why has all or part of this body of literature been considered holy to the practitioners of Judaism and Christianity? Four thousand years ago, various groups from small tribe-wandering nomads would get together and tell stories. These stories were not preserved on stone tombs but in the hearts and memories of the people to whom they belonged. We will read this collection of traditions in a book called Genesis and compare these stories with other texts (written in mud and stone) such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Babylonian Creation Epic, which were contemporary with biblical traditions. We will read the great biblical epic of liberation, Exodus, and the oracles of the great Hebrew Prophets of Israel—those reformers, judges, priests, mystics, and poets to whom modern culture owes its grasp of justice. We will trace the social intellectual and political history of the people formed by these traditions until the Roman age.

Faculty