Catastrophe: Dialogues on Storytelling and the Present Moment—Part 1: The Book of Exodus

The catastrophic, overwhelming challenges we are facing globally are manifesting locally—week by week, day by day, hour by hour. Cities are besieged. Economies are failing. Friends are dying. As the human toll creeps ever higher, it begins to feel as though our very humanity lies in the balance. How can we preserve it? Although the scale of the COVID-19 disaster is unprecedented, it is worth recalling that this is not the first time that human societies have faced catastrophic collapse. What can we learn from those who have come before us?

The Commonwealth Club and UC Berkeley's Townsend Center for the Humanities invite you to take part in Catastrophe: Dialogues on Storytelling and the Present Moment, a series of conversations that will examine catastrophe and the essential role that stories play in helping us to face and survive catastrophe. Bringing together (remotely, of course) internationally known humanities scholars from UC Berkeley and prominent figures from the Bay Area arts community, this series is an opportunity to share knowledge and renew hope by discussing literary accounts of catastrophic change, ranging from Ancient Egypt to Bronze Age Troy and from Imperial Rome to colonial America.

Please join Townsend Center scholar Ron Hendel and poet Matthew Zapruder to discuss the Book of Exodus. Ron and Matthew will look at and listen to the poetry at work in the Exodus account of the collapse of pharaoh’s Canaanite empire and the subsequent rise of Israel. Their conversation will bring the power of that poetry and the cultural memories embedded within it to bear on the precarious nature of our present moment.

Ronald Hendel is the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  He is the author of many books and articles on the religion, literature, and history of the Hebrew Bible, including The Book of Genesis: A Biography, and How Old is the Hebrew Bible?  He is the general editor of The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition.

Matthew Zapruder is the author of five collections of poetry, including Come On All You Ghosts, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and Father’s Day (Copper Canyon, 2019), as well as Why Poetry, a book of prose. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a William Carlos Williams Award, a May Sarton Award from the Academy of American Arts and Sciences, and a Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship in Marfa, TX. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he is an Associate Professor at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Image - Ronald Hendel

Ronald Hendel

Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies, University of California, Berkeley; Author, The Book of Genesis: A Biography, and How Old is the Hebrew Bible?

Image - Matthew Zapruder

Matthew Zapruder

Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s College of California; Author, Come On All You Ghosts, and Father’s Day