Minutes of Meeting

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February 13, 1994

Alumni Hall Room 101

University of Dayton

Topic: Proverbs

Speaker: Dr. Kathleen Farmer, Professor at United Theological Seminary

Hosts: Steve and Sophie Kahn

PRESENT: Dieter and Suzie Walk, Cochairs; P. T. Bapu, Bert Buby, Bev Carper, Glenn Duckwall, Phyllis Duckwall, Kathleen Farmer, Eric L. Friedland, Phil Hoelle, Sophie Kahn, Steve Kahn, John Kelley, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Marty Lipscomb, Mike Lipscomb, Ken Lotney, Bob Mass, Arch W. McMillan, Cy Middendorf, Judith Moore, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Kenneth Rosenzweig, Louis Ryterband, Dennis Sullivan, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman.

Dieter convened the meeting at about 8 PM and acknowledged the hosts of the meeting, Steve and Sophie Kahn. Dieter delivered the opening prayer and then announced the retreat which is to be held on April 17 at Bergamo. The speaker will be Eric Friedland, Sanders Professor of Judaic Studies. Discussion leader is Bev Carper who has written the book, A Spiritual Heirloom. Also, there will be a tour of the Marianist Environmental Education Center (MEEC), led by Bro. Don Geiger. Those interested in attending should send a check for $15 per person to Phyllis Duckwall (see address under Dues Announcement).

Jack Kelley announced that he has written a history of the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue of approximately 30 pages. He then discussed his efforts to obtain Christian-Jewish dialogue publications for the University of Dayton's Roesch Library. These efforts have met with some success.

Dieter introduced the meeting speaker, Dr. Kathleen Farmer, Professor at United Theological Seminary. Dr. Farmer has written a book entitled Proverbs and Ecclesiastes published by Eerdmans. Kathleen opened her presentation by stating that it would focus on Proverbs. At her request, the attendees shared various common proverbs such as "a stitch in time saves nine." Kathleen said that much of Proverbs is not short and pithy statements that we think of as proverbs (especially the first nine chapters). The Hebrew title of Proverbs, Mashal, does not have the exact meaning of proverbs; it has a wider semantic range, including what we call parables in English. However, in Chapters 10-22 and 26-29, there are a series of short sayings similar to what we think of as proverbs. It seems evident that popular proverbs were spoken by people in ancient Israel. However, it is not known why some of these spoken proverbs were assembled together in the Book of Proverbs. Some but not all proverbs are sexist and demeaning to women. The sound of a proverb (such as rhyming) is important but much of this effect is lost in translation. Most proverbs make extensive use of metaphor in which one thing stands for another. The meaning of proverbs is also immersed in the cultural context of ancient Israel. Much of this meaning has also been lost. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether references in proverbs should be considered metaphors for something else or not.

Proverbs usually do not express universalizable truth; rather they express particular truth. They often involve a commentary on human behavior. People who universalize a proverb are thus missusing it. Proverbs can be descriptive or prescriptive and it is important to carefully distinguish proverbs which serve these different roles. For example, one proverb states, "the rich have many friends but the poor are shunned by their neighbors." Clearly, this is a descriptive, not a prescriptive proverb. Furthermore, it is not universally true. Often proverbs are sequenced as pairs in which a corrective proverb follows an initial proverb. For example, Chapter 26, verses 4-5 are as follows:

Do not answer a stupid man in the language of his folly or you will grow like him;

answer a stupid man as his folly deserves, or he will think himself a wise man.

Lorraine commented that a lot of proverbs are contradictory. Kathleen continued with the assertion that proverbs are contextual statements; they are timely rather than timeless. Another type of proverb is the "better" proverb. An example is from Chapter 15 , verses 16-17:

Better a pittance with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble in its train.

Better a dish of vegetables if love go with it than a fat ox eaten in hatred.

Dieter asked Kathleen why she covered Proverbs and Ecclesiastes together in her book. Kathleen replied that in the oldest references to the two books, they were adjacent. Eric commented about the idea that proverbs were often committed to memory. Kathleen replied that not all proverbs were memorized. Eric asked if Kathleen would recommend the memorization of proverbs as a part of Christian education. Kathleen responded that she would only encourage this if opposite proverbs were memorized together so that the particularity of the proverbs' truth is recognized. Jerry asked whether the commentators such as Rashi, Maimonides or those from the Talmud ever commented on these proverbs. Kathleen replied that she did not think so. Steve stated that proverbs must be used carefully since they are oversimplifications. Murray stated that proverbs are observations about human behavior that provide a learning experience. Cy asked when the proverbs were written down and Kathleen responded that this is not known but she thinks it was in the Hellenistic period.

The formal meeting adjourned at 9:08 PM and it was followed by a social period.

Respectfully submitted,

Kenneth Rosenzweig

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