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Letters 1–122

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Chapter Summary

The scholarly topics that recur time and again in these letters are all related to the study of religion, in particular to Kabbalah, messianism, magic, Gnosticism, monasticism, Patristics and Hekhalot literature. The letters also offer some sharp observations about the study of religion, for instance when Smith rhetorically asks Scholem: Why is it that the study of religion attracts so many nitwits?". Moreover, they reflect on academic politics, in particular over the difficulties in Smith's career before his appointment as Professor of Ancient History at Columbia, side by side with Elias Bickermann, whom he eventually replaced after Bickermann's retirement. The letters also reflect on contemporary political conditions and events. Smith tells Scholem about anti-Semitism in post-war USA; Scholem refers to a distressing trip to Germany after the war, in order to save remaining books of Jewish interest.

Keywords: Gershom Scholem; Morton Smith



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