The Millennium Cometh:
Apocalypse and Utopia in Bible, Sociology and Literature
Profs. John Coleman, S.J. (Sociology),  Felix Just, S.J. (Theology),  Holli Levitsky (English)
Loyola Marymount University - Spring 2000

Reading Guide, Discussion Questions and Writing Assignment for

The following questions are intended both to help guide your own reading of the assigned texts, and to stimulate our small group discussions on Thursday, Feb. 24. Also, the instructions for your third written exercise are appended further below.

Tues, Feb. 8

Literary Readings: Zvi Kolitz, "Yosl Rakover Talks to God" (on library reserve or E-Res)

  1. Explain the seemingly paradoxical statement, uttered by Yosl Rakover, that, "If anyone should ever find [the sheets of paper on which he is writing these lines] and read them, he will perhaps understand the feeling of a Jew-one of millions-who died abandoned by God, in whom he so deeply believes."  How can a "believer" be abandoned by God?

Thurs, Feb. 10
Biblical Readings:  Matt 23, 26-28;  John 7-9
  1. Which verses of Matthew, and which verses of John seem the most "anti-Semitic"?  Which of these two Gospels seems more hostile toward the Jews?  Were the intentions of the original evangelists really anti-Semitic, or were these Gospels misinterpreted and misapplied in anti-Semitic ways only by later generations of readers?
Extra-Biblical Readings:  4 Ezra 3:1-6:59, 11:1-12:51  (Reddish, 58-72, 87-92)
  1. A few decades after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. (i.e., at about the same time Revelation was written), the entire book of 4 Ezra deals with the aftermath of this calamity from a Jewish perspective. What are the main questions the seer addresses to God in these visions? What answers does God give to these questions?

Tues, Feb. 15

Sociological Readings: "Utopia and Utopianism" and "Mannheim, Karl"; both from the International Encyclopedia of the Socialk Sciences (on library reserve or E-Res).

  1. Can you ask about " the good society" without having a utopia?
  2. What would you say is the social critical functions of utopia? Would we be a better society if all utopian writings were banished?
  3. What classes are more likely to be utopian (declining? ascendant?) and which are more pessimistic?
  4. Mannheim wrote a book called Ideology and Utopia; how would you define those two terms?

Thurs, Feb. 17

Literary Readings: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale; Helene Cixous, "Laugh of the Medusa" (on library reserve or E-Res)

  1. What kind of society did the fundamentalist leaders of Gilead, in The Handmaid's Tale, hope to produce through their revolution? What kind of society does it become?
  2. Is it possible to create a world of perfect order and stability? What does the novel suggest?  What do you think?  Why?

Tues, Feb. 22

Biblical Readings: Gen 29:1 - 30:4; 38:1-30; Deut 25:5-10; and re-read Rev 12, 17, 21

  1. The Book of Genesis provides the basis for the role of the "Handmaids" in Atwood's novel. What was the original purpose of such sexual arrangements?  How is the "Levirate marriage" (Deut 25:5-10) similar in purpose but different in practice from the "Handmaid's relations" (Gen 29-30; 38)?
  2. How are women portrayed in the Book of Revelation: positively, negatively, or both? Are these women meant as individual characters, or as personifications of certain cities, peoples, and/or nations?

Sociological Readings: Susan Palmer, "Woman as World Savior" (R&P, 159-171); Michael Cuneo, "The Vengeful Virgin" (R&P, 175-194)
  1. On page 167, Palmer notes, "One notable feature of these feminized millennia is a tendency toward optimism and peaceful resolutions."  Compare the feminine symbolism in progressive (what Palmer calls 'comic') utopian visions of an eco-feminism with the feminine symbolism in the vengeful virgin cults.
  2. On page 169, Palmer notes that "sexual imagery has always been a strong element in end-time narratives."  Why? What function does it play? Did you find that to be the case in end-time biblical narratives?
  3. How is the Marian apocalypticism of Catholicism different?  Do you find from the examples in the Cuneo article, from the Protestant kind of apocalypticism?
  4. What do you take to be the psychological function (for a membership which is mainly feminine but not feminist) of a stern, vengeful virgin rather than a maternal, loving one?
  5. Do you think the Marian apparition images could have an appeal to peace and justice types and not only to right-wingers?



Thurs, Feb. 24 - Discussion Groups

Writing Assignment for Block #3
[See the main page of Questions & Reflections for additional Writing Guidelines and Tips]

Answer ONE of the following questions:

OPTION 1: Imagine that you are a college student in a course called, "The Millennium Cometh," much like the course you are enrolled in now.  During Spring Break, your family travels to Warsaw, Poland, where on a walk through the old Warsaw Ghetto you trip over a little bottle containing a document written by a man named Yosl Rakover.  After reading the document, you are so troubled by its contents that you decide to seek guidance from the professors of your "Millennium Cometh" course.

Write a letter to one of the three professors of this course in which you do the following: 1) outline your preliminary thoughts and feelings about the contents of the document found in a bottle, drawing on any one or more of the course readings as a way to frame your thoughts and feelings;  and 2) pose questions to the professor about how to incorporate such a document into the course.  Your questions, thoughts, and feelings about the document may all be integrated in the letter.

OPTION 2: Whereas utopian thought is founded on a premise of abundance, the dystopian is tied to the rhetoric and economy of scarcity, lack, hopelessness.  Moreover, like other dystopias, The Handmaid's Tale centers on the dangerous detours of reaction, not revolution.

It is interesting to note, then, that the Handmaid's request when offered things by the Commander is for hand cream.   What does this seemingly simple request say about the Handmaid?  About the world in which she now lives?  Look at Jeremiah 8:22, "Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?"  Does this quote from the Bible help to explain Offred's request?

For this question, imagine that you are Offred in The Handmaid's Tale.   What one item would you request from the Commander?  Why?  Please use passages from the novel, and elsewhere (if you wish), to explore this answer.

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