In the spring of 2009, I took a graduate-level class co-offered by Hebrew College and the Andover Newton Theological School called Interfaith Models of Religious Leadership, taught by Rabbi Or Rose and Professor Gregory Mobley, examining the leadership styles of Moses and Jesus through interfaith engagement with the primary texts as well as writings from both Jewish and Christian scholars about both figures. This was my mid-term paper, wrapping up the Moses unit.
As the holiday of Passover approaches on the calendar, it’s hard to consider the role of Moses in the exodus from Egypt without questioning how important Moses himself really was in the liberation of the Jewish people. After all, if he can be so completely written out of the story that he doesn’t even bear mention at the Passover seder, was he ever really anything more than a prop?
Of course, the Haggadah, as a text with a particular religious purpose, has its own set of reasons for focusing its telling of the Exodus on God and away from Moses. Popular culture certainly has its own set of reasons for storytelling choices, but as artifacts of “the people,” pop culture can offer windows into what elements of the story have captured the imaginations of regular folk in different times and places.
The giving of the Ten Commandments marks a border in the story of Moses, a liminal point at which the story of liberation transitions into a story of law-giving and nation-forming. Because this moment signifies not only a transformation of the Israelites into a nation, but also a transformation of Moses from liberator to lawgiver, it serves as an interesting point of comparison through which to examine retellings of the story. Comparing the account in Exodus 19-34 with a play from a medieval Corpus Christi cycle and a contemporary “musical spectacular” reveals telling differences in how each storyteller perceived the character of Moses at this moment in his story.
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In the fall of 2002, I took a graduate-level class in developmental psychology with Prof. Joe Reimer at Brandeis. For one assignment, we were asked to write a case study of a fictional character. I chose Wendy, from the Peter Pan stories.
The Darling family lived in a tidy English townhouse at 14 Kensington Gardens at the turn of the century. The family consisted of parents George and Mary, elder daughter Wendy, sons John and Michael, as well as a dog called Nana and a servant named Liza. Mrs. Darling made it a daily habit to spend a moment each evening after tucking her children in their beds to recollect what she had learned from each of her children that day, a process she referred to as “tidying up her children’s minds” (Barrie, 12; ch. 1). As Wendy neared the onset of puberty, Mrs. Darling noticed during her tidying of her daughter’s mind that Wendy devoted more and more of her energy towards enacting fantasy stories involving the character of Peter Pan, a boy who lived with the fairies and wouldn’t grow up. Although Mrs. Darling took note of her daughter’s increasing focus on her fantasy world, for the time being she dismissed any fears with the assurance that fantasy is a healthy aspect of childhood play.
Not long after she first took notice of her daughter’s new play-pattern, Mrs. Darling noted an alarming change in the way Wendy spoke of Peter Pan. Rather than merely telling stories of Peter’s adventures in the “Neverland” of her dreams, Wendy began insisting that Peter periodically made nighttime visits to the nursery Wendy shared with her brothers. Wendy’s alleged adventures followed the pattern Wendy had previously set in the bed-time stories she would tell her brothers. The elements of Wendy’s stories were always the same: meeting at night in the nursery, flight from the world of Wendy’s home, adventures involving childhood staple characters like mermaids and pirates, and Wendy assuming the role of mother to Peter and his “lost boys.” Continue reading →