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Advice: Only Jew in an "Old Testament" Literature Course

Hello, looking for advice.


I am a Jewish college student enrolled in a literature course that covers the “Old Testament” as translated by Robert Alter. (For anyone unfamiliar with Alter, he’s currently the Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley). Besides one other student, whose grandfather is Jewish, everyone in the class is Christian.


There is a student in my class (mid-60s) who has said some very questionable things lately. Before class today, she said to another student: “There’s no way they went through Egypt and came out looking like that—” then pointed in my direction. Since she is older, I don’t think she cared that I could hear her over the other conversations in the class. In fact, I feel that she intended for me to hear that comment. Also, I’ve started to speculate that she subscribes to the belief that she is a “real Jew” as opposed to me: a fake European one.

For example, during a discussion regarding Genesis 34 and the killing of the Shechemites, our Professor asked us to give one reason why this event might have been wrong in the eyes of G-d. I guessed that it might be wrong because the circumcision of the Shechemites can be interpreted as conversion, and later it will become a law not to kill, and especially not to kill another Jew. That student laughed at this comment. I can’t understand what was funny.

Current Situation:

Finally, and this is why I’ve come here for advice, I think my professor absolutely failed today’s lecture. We were reading from Exodus 16–40, and discussing 34:29: “Moses did not know that the skin of his face had glowed” —a verse commonly mistranslated as: “he knew not that his face was horned” so our professor showed us images where Moses is depicted with horns.

While he was showing the images, that student kept saying “There must be a reason! There must be a reason!” implying that it wasn’t a mistranslation from Latin and that Moses did have horns on his head. These comments ignite a sea of conversation, and now the entire class is wondering why Moses looks like the Devil. Then, instead of talking about antisemitism, libel, or how this mistranslation heightened the hatred of Jews in the Middle Ages and beyond, the professor brings up the Protestant Reformation. Yes, in our “Old Testament” literature class, we aren’t discussing Jews, we are discussing the breakup of Catholics and Christians. I love a maximalist approach to literature, so I am always on board with discussing history, but why not Jewish history in a Jewish literature class? (As a reminder, we are reading a Jewish scholar’s translation of the Bible, and utilizing other versions only to compare syntax.)


Do I drop the course for my mental health? Do I email the professor? Do you think I’m making something out of nothing?


Enrolled in an “Old Testament” literature course where everyone is Christian. The professor doesn’t seem interested in discussing historical context unless it’s from a Christian perspective. Also, I speculate that a student in the class believes she is a “real Jew” and her comments make me uncomfortable.

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