Minutes of Meeting

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November 8, 1998

Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton

Meeting Topic: Do the Gospels Give Us a Portrait of a Jewish Jesus?

Speaker: Pam Thimmes, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton

Host: Agnes Hannahs

PRESENT: Robin Smith and Felix Garfunkel, Co-chairs; Connie Breen, Larry Briskin, Bert Buby, Phyllis Duckwall, Shirley Flacks, Erica Garfunkel, Agnes Hannahs, Edith Holsinger, Jack Kelley, Howard Levant, Moira Levant, Barbara Levine, John Magee, Cecilia Moore, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Donald Ramsey, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Irving Saul, Lita Saul, Leonard Solganik, Lois Solganik, Pam Thimmes, William Youngkin.

Robin called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM.

Agnes and Cecilia each delivered devotionals as the opening prayer. Agnes's devotional focused on the beauty of the natural environment. It was very poetic and covered such themes as meditation on November, the great gift of the Northeast deciduous forests, the beautiful colors of fall, the beauty of the forest in winter, and the sounds of birds. Cecelia delivered a Thanksgiving blessing which focused on the home and the hope for peace.

There followed a discussion of the Christmas/Channukah Party scheduled on December 13 at the home of Shirley Flacks. Each person attending should bring a gift which costs one dollar or less. Men should bring a gift for a man, and women should bring a gift for a woman. Agnes volunteered to bring an Advent wreath. (See the directions to the home of Shirley Flacks later in these minutes.)

New attendees to the Dialogue were introduced. Harold introduced Lisa and Erving Saul. Len and Lois Solganik, who have attended previously but not recently, were also introduced.

There were a number of announcements. Ken distributed newsletters that are related to Dialogue, including Bridgecraft from the Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the newsletter from the Catholic-Jewish Relations Council of Northeast Queens. Jack Kelley announced that he attended the "Israel at fifty program" in Cincinnati, November 3-5. On another matter, Jack mentioned the controversy over the recent film, The Siege. Islamic groups are quite concerned about the negative portrayal of Muslims in this movie. Jack also brought up the recent bombing in Jerusalem and the persistent problem of anti-Semitism in Russia. Cecelia announced that on December 6, there will be a discussion of the novel and film, Beloved, in University of Dayton Kennedy Union room 310 at 3:00 PM.

Presentation of Pam Thimmes

Robin introduced Pam at about 8:30 PM. Following is an outline of her presentation which was derived from her overhead transparencies.

  1. Israel-1st Century CE
    1. Josephus tells us that there were at least 25 different expressions of Judaism in the middle-late 1st century CE.
    2. Biblical scholars suggest that these various expressions provide a complex social world in which groups were vying for identity, position and power.
    3. Israel was thoroughly Hellenized, and this Hellenization had an important impact on everyday matters.
    4. The Hellenistic world is characterized by diversity of governmental structures, multiple religious affiliations, and geographical boundaries that stretch from Spain to India.
    5. In the ancient world, the term HELLENISM implied civilization, art, architecture, literacy, law, rhetoric, etc.
    6. Within Hellenism, one finds:
      1. Popular philosophies
      2. Dying/rising saviors
      3. A substantial miracle tradition
    7. Great religious diversity:
      1. Greek & Roman pantheon of gods
      2. Local and regional gods
      3. Mystery religions
      4. Gnosticism
      5. Emperor worship
      6. Religions of the East (including Judaism)
      7. Judaism is the only religion given an exemption (from emperor worship) in the empire.
    8. KINSHIP is the main institution; it can imply family-but it sometimes supplants family.
    9. The prime motivating force in this culture is the constant tension between HONOR & SHAME. Honor means:
      1. Mediterraneans lead a life of 'agonism." Getting and maintaining honor involves "pushing and pulling" in relationships (arguing, etc.)
      2. Mediterranean people according to American standards are borderline personalities. The ideal person in Mediterranean society is a male (females are appendages).
      3. The sort of person who should emerge from this society is a 'wise' person with a standard set of values.
      4. The person should be of ready agreement (conceal true feelings to outsiders at all costs).
      5. The person should be quick witted so as to avoid confrontation.
  2. Social World Factors Impacting Life in Israel
    1. Social economic conditions
      1. Patterns of social rootlessness
      2. Famines, droughts, hurricanes, epidemics, earthquakes were common between 25 and 70 CE.
      3. Debt forced people to leave Palestine and settle where they could afford to live, or they were exiled.
      4. Taxes were felt as a punishment. There were religious taxes in addition to civil (state) taxes.
      5. Possessions and wealth were concentrated in the hands of the rich. Exporting was the big business.
      6. Overpopulation: 97% of the land was under cultivation, with no new areas for settlement; Jews were often settled in territories outside tribal territories (diaspora).
    2. Social ecological conditions
      1. Tension between the cities and the country
      2. Ambivalent attitude toward Jerusalem ( in the Synoptics)
      3. The Essenes retreat into the wilderness.
      4. The resistance movements (Zealots) were based in the country areas.
      5. The key renewal movements were rooted in the country and dominated by trends hostile to Jerusalem.
      6. Folks in rural areas distrusted the cities and city people.
      7. Folks in Jerusalem saw their rural neighbors as "hicks."
      8. Almost all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were directly or indirectly dependent on the Temple.
        1. It paid good wages
        2. Strike, 100% rise in wages
        3. Largest employer--at one point 11,000 workers just to build--a job creating program
    3. Social Political and Cultural Factors
      1. Roman rule was not consistent.
      2. Jewish community as a 'theocracy.'
      3. Constant opposition to the existing governmental structures.
      4. In general, Jews and Gentiles found it difficult to live together.
      5. Apocalyptic mindsets which had both a political and religious basis.
    4. Jewish sectarianism (renewal movements)
      1. Sadducees
      2. Pharisees
      3. Essenes
      4. Zealots
      5. Christians
  3. Christianity
    1. Gospel of Mark--CE 70+--Northern Galilee
      1. A mixed community of Jews and Gentiles
      2. Obviously suffered in the Roman-Jewish war
      3. First character introduced is John the Baptist
      4. Jesus in dialogue with Jewish authorities
      5. Challenges Jewish theology
      6. Kinship lenses
      7. Issues of authority/power are central
      8. Jesus works in both Jewish and gentile territories.
      9. Passover is not really Passover.
    2. Gospel of Matthew--CE 80-95--Antioch of Syria
      1. In dialogue with the synagogue across the street
      2. Presumes a largely Jewish community
      3. Birth stories rooted in stories from the Hebrew Bible
      4. Freely uses the Hebrew Bible to interpret Jesus for the community
      5. Was Matthew a Jew or a God-fearer?
      6. Jesus as the new Moses?
      7. Organization issues become apparent
      8. The end of the gospel displays antagonism with some Jews; interpretations of Jesus
    3. Gospel of Luke--CE 85-95--Asia Minor/Aegean Area
      1. Writing to a gentile community
      2. Infancy narratives written in a Semitic style
      3. Uses temple, prophets, ritual to introduce Jesus
      4. Everything about the portrayal of Jesus has been framed for a gentile community.
      5. Luke extends the story into Acts.
    4. Sectarian Christianity in Antioch of Syria--CE 30-100
      1. According to John Meier, emerging Christianity in Antioch appears to be as diverse/sectarian as was Judaism in the 1st century CE Israel, and at least 4 "flavors" of Christianity are represented.
      2. Christian sectarianism can be described as follows:
        1. Group 1--Jews from Jerusalem, the first believers to follow the way of Jesus; these argue for full compliance with the Torah.
        2. Group 2--Hellenists, i.e., those seven chosen in Acts 6 who speak Greek, have Greek names, and would opt for circumcision-free mission to Gentiles.
        3. Group 3--Paul and his followers. They are separated from Group 2 because they would also argue the obviation of food laws with no circumcision.
        4. Group 4--Gentile Christians, those who were converted to Christianity without attending to the Law.
Discussion Period

There was some discussion of the prevalent language in Israel around the time of Jesus. Pam said that the primary language was Greek, especially for the upper classes and the business community. Aramaic was spoken in towns and rural areas. Robin asked whether Jesus spoke Greek. Pam replied that modern social scientists suggest that he may have been multilingual, speaking Greek and Aramaic. Erica observed that we do no know how Jesus lived. Pam agreed, explaining that the documents we have about him are more political than historical. On another point, Pam stated that the split between Christianity and Judaism happened more readily in the Diaspora than in Israel. She noted that all minorities in the Roman Empire were persecuted, but there was not a lot of physical persecution until the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th centuries. Around the time of Jesus, about 5 percent of the population of Israel was religious. Early Christianity clearly identified itself as a Jewish group. Jack noted that Paul identifies himself with the Pharisaic tradition.

In elaborating the concept of shame in Mediterranean cultures, Pam explained that, in response to physical persecution, being quiet and "taking it" is considered a sign of honor. Harold noted that Jesus said from the Cross, "Ailey, Ailey." However, Bill Younkin noted that Jesus was silent at his trial.

With respect to Jewish sects in Jesus's time, the Sadducees were the only group without an apocalyptic mindset. They were the group that was most likely to compromise with the Romans. The Sadducees completely disappeared after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The Pharisees tended to be "dirt poor" and represented the aristocracy of learning; they survived the Temple destruction (and were the antecedents of modern Judaism). The Essenes ran off to the Dead Sea area. Pam noted that the area which was originally excavated around the time of the Second World War is being redug recently by French archeologists. The earlier excavations indicated the community was ascetic and monastic, but the more recent excavations suggest that it was an affluent community, trading extensively in perfume. Harold noted that the Essenes were a communal settlement and Pam agreed. The Zealots started the war with the Romans, and they died out after the defeat by the Romans in 70 CE. The Christian sect (Jesus movement) survives after 70 CE to coexist with the Pharisees. These two groups come eventually to define themselves against each other.

Pam reported that Matthew is considered to be the most Jewish of the gospels. However, Pam is not convinced the writer of Matthew was a Jew; he may have been a "God Fearer." A God Fearer is a gentile who goes to the synagogue but does not convert to Judaism. As evidence of her view, Pam noted that Matthew mixes up Sadducees with Pharisees. Also, he has Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two different animals. The Gospel of Mark dresses up John the Baptist to look like Elijah, heralding the Messiah. He also writes about the problems of getting gentiles into the community. Mark's Jesus is trying to walk the narrow road between Judaism and the gentile world. In contrast to Matthew and Mark, Luke writes to a completely gentile community.

The gospels are sectarian documents. For example, Matthew is very anti-Semitic; he portrays the dialogue between Christians and the synagogue across the street. The farther forward from 70 CE we go, the less Jewish are the Christian communities.

Erica noted that if Jesus came back, he would not recognize Christians as being of his religion. Pam reacted to her knowledge of the culture of Israel subsequent to the time of Jesus by saying that she cannot imagine living in such a non-scientific world. Bill asked whether Jesus was educated by the Pharisees. Pam said she did not know, but she thought this was likely. Erica confirmed Pam's contention that the Jewish dietary laws and the requirement for circumcision would have deterred gentiles from becoming Jews. Jack confirmed Pam's observation that the Passover meal was not a real Passover. There was no joy and there was lots of conflict; Jesus predicted that some of the apostles would deny him. In this connection, Felix noted that Rabbi Michael Cook from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati had talked about the fact that the Passover Seder was not formalized as we know it in the time of Jesus; it was formalized later in the Rabbinic period. Pam observed that the study of the gospels goes in waves of popularity. Mark used to be the most popular; now it is Matthew. Edith asked Pam whether she sees any parallel between the multiplicity of sects in Jesus's time and our own time. Pam said she did, and noted that such religious fermentation arises from rapid social, economic, and political changes. Edith then replied that world unity may therefore be impossible. Howard Levant commented upon Josephus who he has been reading recently; Josephus painted a picture of a fractured society. Pam noted that Josephus is important in giving us a picture of that time, but Philo is also important. Erica reported that a reference to Jesus is made in the Talmud. Pam agreed but said the reference originated much later, around 500 CE.

The meeting adjourned at about 10:00 PM.

Respectfully submitted

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary


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