Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kenneth Seeskin's "Jewish Messianic Thoughts in an Age of Despair"

Kenneth Seeskin is the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Professor of Jewish Civilization at Northwestern University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Jewish Messianic Thoughts in an Age of Despair, and reported the following:
About the book as a whole:

Belief in the coming of a Messiah poses a genuine dilemma. From a Jewish perspective, the historical record is overwhelmingly against it. If despite all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people no legitimate Messiah has come forward, has the belief not been shown to be groundless? Yet for all the problems associated with messianism, the historical record also shows it is an idea with enormous staying power. The prayer book mentions it on page after page. The great Jewish philosophers all wrote about it. Secular thinkers in the twentieth century returned to it and reformulated it. And victims of the Holocaust invoked it in the last few minutes of their life. This book examines the staying power of messianism and analyzes it in a way that retains its redemptive force without succumbing to mythology.

As for Page 99:

It is dealing with the question of whether it makes sense to say, with Kant, Cohen, Derrida, and others, that messianism represents an ideal that we can approach but never fully attain. In other words, the Messiah will always be coming but never actually have come. This is usually interpreted as saying that the age of the Messiah is infinitely far off. In defense of this view, some people argue that if we were ever to actually achieve the ideal, we would become complacent. Page 99 contains part of my argument that a Messiah who is infinitely far off is no Messiah at all.
Learn more about Jewish Messianic Thoughts in an Age of Despair at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue