Academic Year 2012-2013
Alexandria Frisch is a PhD candidate in NYU’s Hebrew and Judaic Studies Department, focusing on Second Temple period history. She graduated with honors from the College of William and Mary, majoring in religion and history (2000), and completed two Masters degrees—one in Jewish Education from Baltimore Hebrew University (2004) and another in Religion from Yale University (2006). While pursuing her doctorate, she earned a Teaching and Learning Certificate from the NYU Center for Teaching Excellence and was a fellow at the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Cardozo Law School. Currently, she is a recipient of a Doctoral Scholarship from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.
Eschatology, Law, and the Problem of Empire in Second Temple Judaism
My dissertation examines the depiction of foreign empires in the works of Second Temple Judaism, a literature rife with images of the rise and fall of empires as Jews struggled to understand what the constant succession of imperial conquerors (Persian, Greek, and Roman) meant for their political, cultural, and religious lives. In particular, this study argues that growing imperial oppression led to a preoccupation with the nature of empire at three stages of its existence—its beginning, duration, and, especially, its eschatological end. These three temporal points became a way to grapple with empire’s role in history, which, at times, rivaled God’s role. As such, the eradication of empire became a necessity and figured prominently in apocalyptic texts.
My Tikvah research will examine this period’s concern for the eschatological end of empires in relation to Jewish law. If laws are meant to foster an ideal society, then how do they function alongside eschatological visions of an ideal world? Does one strategy dominate or do they work together as an approach for living under empire? For example, the Qumran community had a distinct notion that the end of days would bring the collapse of empires, but concurrently had a heightened anxiety about the observance of purity laws. These laws make more sense when we understand their function in preparing the community to fight alongside a pure, angelic army in order to realize the eschatological vision. Thus, eschatology precedes or, at the very least, simultaneously informs the law. By comparing eschatology with law, especially in literary corpuses where they occur together, this project will offer a more nuanced understanding of the ways that empire affects subjugated, religious communities.