Minutes of Meeting

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Date: January 12, 1992

Location: United Theological Seminary

Meeting Topic: Messages Concerning "Good" and "Evil" in Biblical Stories

Facilitator: Dr. Wayne Barr, retired faculty member, United Theological Seminary

Hostess: Jane Kimpan

MEMBERS PRESENT: Eileen Moorman, Acting Chair; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, Bert Buby, Shirley Flacks, Eric Friedland, Phil Hoelle, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Jane Kimpan, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Carrie LaBriola, Ruth Precker, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Louis Ryterband, Harold Silverman, Dieter Walk, Susie Walk.

GUESTS PRESENT: Wayne Barr, Judith Barr, Pat Johnson, approximately 8 students and their escorts from Eric Friedland's Wright State University class.

Eileen called the meeting to order at 8:00 PM. Due to the significant number of guests in attendance, Eileen asked everyone to introduce themselves. Father Burt offered the opening prayer. Eileen thanked Jane Kimpan for hosting the meeting.

The next meeting will be on February 9 at the University of Dayton Kennedy Union Ballroom at 7:30 PM. The meeting will be an open meeting and there will be no refreshments. Ken will investigate publicity.

Harold Rubenstein announced the participation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton in the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World. He indicated that the Federation would be especially interested in activities commemorating the Spanish Inquisition and the subsequent experiences of the expelled Spanish Jews. Harold asked that the Dialogue consider cosponsoring this endeavor with the Federation. Harry supported the idea of cosponsorship. Eileen moved that the Dialogue cosponsor with the Federation its involvement in the 500th anniversary with the details of Dialogue involvement to be worked out later. The motion passed unanimously.

Arthur asked that the details of the March 8 Retreat be described to those in attendance and Eileen did this. (Secretary's note: see the Schedule and Announcement at the end of the minutes.)

Carrie announced several events in the Martin Luther King Holiday Celebration between January 17 and January 20. She also announced a Future Shape of Black Religion Conference, sponsored by Bethel Baptist Church, to be held at Wright State University on January 31 and February 1.

Dr. Barr's Presentation

To begin the formal program, Eileen introduced the speaker, Dr. Wayne Barr who is a retired faculty member at United Theological Seminary. Dr. Barr opened his presentation by explaining that his approach to the three Biblical stories will be nonphilosophical and nontheological. Instead, he will focus on the messages concerning "good" and "evil" within the stories.

The first story discussed was the Joseph story. It is in the latter fourth of the Book of Genesis and flows like a novella. It moves rapidly, in contrast to the earlier Jacob stories. The moral is that Joseph kept the faith and lived a moral life. Joseph constitutes the link between the historical experience of the Hebrews in Canaan and that in Egypt. There are four scenes in the story: Joseph at home, Joseph in Egypt, Joseph with his brothers in Egypt, and the Reconciliation. It is interesting that there is no explicit mention of God in the story of Joseph's relationship with his brothers.

Next,Wayne overviewed parts of the Joseph story which included the following: Potaphar's wife's attempt to commit adultery with Joseph, Joseph's becoming second in command to Pharaoh, the famine in Canaan, Joseph's 10 brothers' repeated visits to Egypt, Joseph's putting his precious cup in Benjamin's sock, Benjamin's subsequent arrest and his brothers' offer to stand in for him, and Joseph's consequent realization that his brothers have changed. This last is the reconciliation scene in which the formerly combative brothers come together. Throughout the story to this point, God is absent which makes the story a very human one. However, after Joseph brings his whole family to Egypt, he tells his brothers that God has caused the deliverance of the family. The story thus shows that God triumphs not through manipulation but through the flow of human history.

The next story, that of David, is much more complex than the Joseph story. It is contained in three books: Samuel I, Samuel II, and Kings. There are 3 stories of David's beginnings, including the Goliath story. There are two views of David's kingship: one in Samuel I is an idealized view of David as a hero; other stories have more complexity with David displaying both good and evil traits. In Samuel II, there is the interesting story of Bathsheba in which the theme is whether David's house will be an eternal house (i.e., whether subsequent Jewish kings will be his descendents). Finally, Solomon comes to the throne after David. It is important to note that there are no miracles in the stories; they are simply causal stories illustrating that God is somehow at work acting through human history; the locus of God's influence is the human heart. In one additional story at the end of the Book of Samuel, David is incited by Satan to take a census and then later is punished for it. This story constitutes a challenge to the theological concept of Dualism.

The final story, that of Jonah, is a parable. It helps us remember that people have a responsibility to be a "light to the nations." God called to Jonah to go up to Ninveh to preach. When Jonah finally follows God's instructions, Ninveh is spared and Jonah is disappointed. Following this, there is the story of Jonah and the gourd plant.

Wayne pointed out that there is a fundamental unity to the three stories which is included in the following themes:

  1. Rejection of dualism
  2. Good has the power to win in the end.
  3. The arena of conflict between good and evil is human life; the locus of this conflict is the human heart.
The formal presentation ended at 9 PM. In the discussion period, Ken asked for a definition of Dualism. Wayne defined it as the concept that both good and evil have ultimate power. The opposite is Monism in which only good has ultimate power. Carrie indicated that her understanding of Dualism was the concept that there is a difference between the human spirit and the body (the physical). In contrast to the Greeks, the Hebrews thought of the human being as a unified body and spirit.

Arthur proposed a fourth message of the three Biblical stories, tschuvah or repentance. In other words, human beings can change. Sophie raised the issues of the humanity (fallibility) of Biblical heroes: even saintly Joseph did evil things. There ensued a discussion of God's acting through history by motivating people to engage in evil action. Are people just puppets? Carrie raised the point that Biblical characters are not paragons of virtue because people who read and are affected by the Bible need to model themselves after believable characters. Arthur concurred, pointing out that Moses, the greatest leader of the Hebrews, was also very human and fallible. Wayne encapsulated these concepts by explaining that Biblical stories are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Burt continued on this line of thinking by maintaining that the Bible is a vehicle for rediscovering ourselves; at different times we need different perspectives from different stories.

Eric asked Wayne how he ties in his scholarship on the Hebrew Scriptures with his Christian faith. Wayne replied that for him, Jesus is a focusing of the Hebrew Scriptures. He also felt, however, that the Hebrew Scriptures have a life of their own and have meaning and usefulness in living a constructive life. Burt maintained that the Hebrew Scriptures reveal much about Jesus because Jesus only knew the world of the Hebrew Scriptures. Arthur called the Christian Scriptures a magnifying mirror of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The meeting adjourned at 9:35 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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