Ori Z. Soltes


Ori Z. Soltes is Professor of Teaching at Georgetown University, and former Director and Curator of the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum in Washington, DC, where he curated over 80 exhibitions. He has taught and lectured in 23 other universities and museums throughout the country, on subjects ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict to The Body in Ancient Art. Both before and since his years as a museum director, he has guest-curated exhibitions across the United States and overseas.

Professor Soltes was educated in Classics and Philosophy at Haverford College, in Classics at Princeton University and The Johns Hopkins University and in Interdisciplinary Studies at Union University. He is the author of over 240 articles, exhibition catalogues, essays and books on a wide range of topics, and the writer and narrator of over 30 documentary videos. Among his most recent books are Our Sacred Signs: How Christian, Jewish and Muslim Art Draw from the Same Source, (Westview Press, 2005), The Ashen Rainbow: Essays on the Arts and the Holocaust, (Bartleby Press, 2006), Searching for Oneness: Mysticism in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Traditions (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008),  Untangling the Tangled Web: Why the Middle East is a Mess (Bartleby Press, 2009), and Jews on Trial: From Jesus to Jonathan Pollard (Bartleby Press, 2013).

View Ori Soltes's Explore Georgetown profile.



Bartleby Press (2013)


Bartleby Press (2009)


Rowman and Littlefield Publishers (2008)

Throughout the ages and across religious traditions, people have yearned to personally experience God and deeply connect with the Creator. In Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Ori Z. Soltes traces the sweep of mysticism--this search for oneness with God--throughout the three Abrahamic traditions. This unique comparative overview begins with a definition of mysticism and a discussion of its place within religion as a whole. Soltes then explores the history of mysticism from Biblical times through the present day, highlighting the emergence of mysticism with the three traditions and how beliefs and practices converge and diverge over time. The final chapters discuss the growing interest in mysticism today through practices such as Kabbalah and how people publicly express their private encounters with God through art, literature, and other modern media.


Bartleby Press (2006)

The Ashen Rainbow considers various aspects of the arts as they relate to the Holocaust. It is based, in part, on Ori Soltes' experience in teaching the course The Theological Implications of the Holocaust for many years at Georgetown University, which has focused in part on writers who wrestle with questions of God and Man--presence, absence, nature, existence as such--provoked by the extermination of so many innocents with so little opposition from the outside world.

Connected by the rubrics "arts" and "Holocaust," the diverse essays that comprise The Ashen Rainbow were written at different times and places over a fifteen-year period. Each essay stands on its own and together they offer a comprehensive, multifaceted examination of an event that captures humanity in its brightest and darkest moments.


Westview Press (2005)

The art of the three Abrahamic religions--Christianity, Judaism, and Islam--has a tangled, interwoven history. Symbols cross back and forth among the three faiths, adapted to reflect that faith's specific spiritual needs. And much of this symbolic language predates any of the Abrahamic faiths entirely. In Our Sacred Signs, Ori Soltes traces the interconnectedness of religious symbols such as the Star of David, which isn't, it turns out, exclusive to Judaism at all. He shows that the various ways that Jesus is portrayed on the cross recall an artistic tradition that is in no way unique to Christianity. And he shows that religious architectural conventions as simple as the dome represents early "pagan" traditions. The narrative--essentially a series of overlapping stories--moves through the halls of museums and off to the holy sites of the three religions, tracing the millennia-long artistic trail that has endured even as the West moved toward secularization in the last three hundred years. Soltes shows us how art has long been used as an instrument to take us where words cannot follow. Our Sacred Signs is a breathtaking and revelatory journey through human history, its gods, and its art.


INAF 138 Theological Implications of the Holocaust

The Holocaust is recognized as one of the traumatic moments in human history. The uniquely systematic depths of human-human interaction it revealed, paired with daring acts of heroism which the period yielded, have raised a range of questions which challenge long-held assumptions about what humanity is, if and what God is, and how to understand the concepts of good and evil.  

This course will have as its goal to assess the Holocaust as it has been approached by a range of thinkers, and to place it within the larger context of theology, history, art and thought. While our primary backdrop will be theological questions provoked by its narrative -- from both Jewish and Christian perspectives -- we will inevitably encompass the larger historical picture of Jewish-Christian, Jewish-Jewish, Christian-Christian and human-divine relations. We will also consider the importance, in the later part of the twentieth century, of visual (and other) art as a means of response -- both in the expression of anger and in seeking healing -- to this trauma.

INAF 227 Jewish Thinkers in the Post-Medieval Era

This course explores some of the major minds and movements in Jewish thinking in the last 350 years while asking four questions: what is “modern”? what is “Jewish”? what is “theology”? and how might we understand all three terms combined as one rubric? Stated otherwise: in considering the historical development of diverse thought patterns and issues that emerge outside and inside Jewish life during this period – Secularism, Nationalism, Marxism/Socialism, Existentialism, Psychoanalysis, Reconstructionism, Modern Orthodoxy, the Holocaust—what do the reflections of individuals diverse in background and outward expression share, by virtue of which we may group them together under such a rubric? The criss-cross of personalities and genres—philosophy and theology and work that is not typically included within either of these categories—should, in the end, begin to answer parts of our questions, while stimulating yet further questions (at least some of them ultimately unanswerable).

INAF 080 Moses to Muhammad

The purpose of this course is two-fold: to provide an introduction to Judaism and Islam—and to Islam specifically in its theological relationship to Judaism as well as to Judaism in its theological relationship to Islam—and to follow the course of that relationship as it plays out historically, in different times and places, form the seventh century to our own time. 

Thus some of the questions that we will address include: What are the theological and historical circumstances in which Judaism was born? What are the theological and historical circumstances in which Islam was born? What influence, if any, did either of these faiths have on the other, given their historical interfaces? How are these influences apparent in different media, from theological and legalistic literature to symbols in art to gastronomic customs? How do putative influences change in the sweep of Islam across a wide world in which Jews are a far-flung series of diverse and even disparate communities. What are the implications of this extended past for the world in which Jews and Muslims live today and will live tomorrow?

INAF 241 Kabbalah in Its Contexts

This course will address the question of what "mysticism" is—how it differs from "normative" religious experience—and therefore how Jewish, Christian and Muslim mysticism differ from (and are rooted in) normative Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It will also address the question of how Jewish, Christian and Muslim mysticism differ from and share common ground with each other. 

The course will follow a two-fold path. One will be conceptual: we will be constantly asking how what we are reading, talking and thinking about is specific or not specific to what Jewish or Christian or Muslim mysticism is. The other will be historical: all three mystical traditions undergo centuries of development and part of grasping them is seeing how they change even as they remain consistently focused on the same essential issues. (And those issues, not unique to mysticism or to these three “types” of mysticism, but uniquely addressed by each of them, include: why are we here? what, if anything, created us? for what purpose, if any? how can we know what It/He/She is and wants of us? how can we grasp that Other without losing hold of ourselves?—and so on...)