Teaching Resources


Visions and Revelations

Instructor: Prof. Kurt Anders Richardson
Department of Historical Studies, University of Toronto at Mississauga

This comparative course studies Jewish, Christian and Islamic accounts of visions and revelations from their scriptures and traditions. The scriptures of the ‘Abrahamic Faiths’ are oriented to original prophetic transmissions of divine guidance and commandments. Because religious knowledge and authority derives from prophetic utterance, certain accepted prophecy becomes ‘canonized’ as a bounded set of scriptures not to be added to or subtracted from. Nonetheless, prophetic experience repeatedly erupts in the history of a religion seeking to provide guidance for faith in new situations in life. In Judaism, its rabbis regarded prophecy as ending after the emergence of the biblical books of Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi. With the appearance of teachings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth during the Second Temple period and their claim to fulfill the religious expectations of Judaism, prophecy resurfaces. By the same token, in the 7th century, Judaism and Christianity having made scant inroads among the Arabic peoples, the prophet Mohammad brings a whole new form of ‘Abrahamic’ prophecy into the Middle East. In each case, scriptures and canons are formulated, while prophecy claims continue to emerge. This course will explore the phenomenon of prophecy in the three religions as well as the experience of visions which often accompany the prophetic impulse. Basic questions include: How has prophecy been transformed, continued and suppressed in the three faiths? What has been the changing character and significance of visionary experience? How can we make sense of the various ideas of divine guidance and endings?

Required Text

Abraham J. Heschel. The Prophets. HarperCollins, 2001.

(Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures – online resources)

Suggested texts:

David E. Aune, Prophecy in early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.

Daniel Boyarin. Sparks of the Logos: Essays in Rabbinic Hermeneutics. Brill, 2003.

José Faur. Homo Mysticus: A Guide to Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998.

Abraham J. Heschel. Prophetic Inspiration after the Prophets: Maimonides and Other Medieval Authorities. KTAV, 1995.

Thomas W. Gillespie. The First theologians: A Study in Early Christian Prophecy. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1994.

Diana Lobel. Between Mysticism and Philosophy: Sufi Language of Religious Experience in Judah Ha-Levi's Kuzari. Albany: SUNY Press, 2000.

Laura Nasrallah. An Ecstasy of Folly. Prophecy and Authority in Early Christianity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

F. E. E. Peters. The Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Norbert M. Samuelson. Revelation and the God of Israel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Hendrik M. Vroom, Jerald D. Gort. Holy Scriptures in Judaism,Christianity and Islam: Hermeneutics,Values and Society. Rodopi, 1997.

Brannon M. Wheeler. Moses in the Quran and Islamic Exegesis. London: Routledge / Curzon, 2002.

Course requirements
  1. Each week the student is expected to have completed the assigned readings
  2. Readings for each week will be addressed with 2 study questions. These questions will be presented to the students at the conclusion of each class for the following week as well as by email. Each week, students are to submit an email of approximately 150-200 words no later than 5pm on Monday. Each submission should evidence careful reading of the texts, attentive to issues from class discussion.
  3. Class attendance (no exceptions)
  4. Class participation: punctuality and preparation are essential. If the student is prepared and stays focused on topic, open discussion is encouraged.
  5. All written assignments must be submitted on time. Lateness results in lowering of grades.
    1. Each student is to write 3, 5 page papers
    2. The papers should be typed in 12 point font (Times New Roman) with 1” margins, double-spaced.
    3. The papers should reflect careful readings of texts as well as a growing understanding of Heschel.
    4. Topics for the 3 papers:
      1. Describe some aspect of Moses’ prophetic experience and compare it with another leading OT prophet.
      2. Describe some aspect of Jesus’ prophetic experience and compare it with that of Moses
      3. Describe some aspect of Mohammad’s prophetic experience and compare it with an OT or NT prophet.

Grade calculation:

25%: Participation, email assignments, class preparedness
25%: Paper 1 (grade reduction by 5% per day for lateness)
25%: Paper 2 (grade reduction by 5% per day for lateness)
25%: Paper 3 (grade reduction by 5% per day for lateness)


September 13
Introduction to Course: What is prophecy and how does it figure in Abrahamic religion?

September 20
Abraham as Prophet: Genesis 11-25
Heschel I:1-3

September 27
Moses as Prophet: Exodus 1-34
Heschel 4-5

October 4
David as Prophet: Psalms 2; 8; 110
Heschel 6-8

First paper due

October 11
Elijah as Prophet: 1 Kings 17-21; 2 Kings 1-2
Heschel 9-11

October 18
Isaiah as Prophet: Isaiah 6-11, 53
Jeremiah as Prophet: Jeremiah 33-34
Heschel II: 1-3

October 25
Daniel as Prophet: Daniel 9-12
Heschel II: 3-5

Second paper due

November 1
Deutero-canonical prophets: 4 Ezra
Heschel II: 4-6

November 8
Deutero-canonical prophets: 1 Enoch
Heschel 7-9

November 15
Jesus as prophet: Mark 16; Matthew 24; John 17
Heschel 10-12

November 22
Paul as Prophet: 1 Corinthians 15
John as Prophet: Revelation 1-4, 20-21
Heschel 13-15

November 29
Mohammad as Prophet: Quran: Suras: 53, 96
(use Palmer translation)
Heschel 16-17

December 6
Continuing prophecy: Judaism, Christianity & Islam

Third paper due