DAYTON CHRISTIAN JEWISH DIALOGUE
Minutes of Meeting
December 12, 1999
Location: Home of Shirley Flacks
Meeting Topic: Book of Revelation
Facilitator: Bert Buby
Host: Shirley Flacks
PRESENT: Robin Smith, Cochair; Gloria Anticoli, Arthur Auster, Connie Breen, Bert Buby, Phyllis Duckwall, Shirley Flacks, Eric Friedland, Agnes Hannahs, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Donald Ramsey, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Ken Rosenzweig, Chuck Smith, Mary Anne Sunshein, Rose Wendel, William Youngkin.
Shirley called the meeting to order at 8:10. Shirley delivered a prayer which focused on this festive season, the upcoming new century, and the obligation we have to continue to do good deeds. Agnes led the attendees in singing the song Shimmering Thread from the recent Ceremony for the Dayton Peace Accords, during which the Dayton Philharmonic performed a concert with the Sarajevo Philharmonic. At this point, Chuck Smith, a new Dialogue meeting attendee, introduced himself. He said he is returning to an interest in religion and noticed the schedule of Dialogue meetings on the internet.
Bert Buby's Presentation
Shirley introduced Bert Buby, noting that the Book of Revelation is the subject of his next book. Eric noted that Bert's presentation is part of the Dialogue's Special Millennium Series which will conclude with the January 9, 2000 meeting.
Bert observed that the Book of Revelation is best read out loud. It also should be read without break from cover to cover. The book was originally written in the Koine Greek language. Bert first read and listened to Revelation in its original language. It is the only book in the Christian Scriptures with two titles, Apocalypse and Revelation. The word apocalyptein in Greek means to lift or to uncover. Bert explained that the title of the book is Book of Revelation, not Book of Revelations. The person who wrote the book was probably a Jewish-Christian living three generations after Jesus. The book is structured in sevens. Bert asked Eileen to read the first chapter. He recommended the attendees just listen without reading. The book was probably written about 95 CE by John of Patmos who lived in a grotto on the island of Patmos. He had been put there by the Romans who controlled all of the areas around the Mediterranean Sea at this time. Bert commented that the text is always your primary teacher, rather than commentators on the text. Bert has tried to walk in the shoes of John of Patmos. There are very many allusions in the Book of Revelation to the Hebrew Scriptures. This is the only book in the Christian Scriptures that is truly an apocalypse.
Bert read a first-person narrative he has written based on the life of John of Patmos. The narrative complains about the materialism of the Roman culture. It also complains of his confinement to this wretched island (Patmos) by the Romans. John talks of a cave which reverberates with noises from the outside and of a most beautiful voice which told him to contact the churches in Asia Minor. Jesus is the source of the beautiful voice. John experiences an ecstatic wonderment of sight and sound, and feels that he is sharing in the Last Supper. Jesus was calling John to a prophetic role. Jesus was speaking to John as the eternal word. Suddenly, John heard the Hebrew scriptures, and was told not to be afraid. After completing the reading of the narrative, Bert said that he wrote it as close to the original text as possible, without inserting too many of his own interpretations. It is basically a targum on the Book of Revelation in English. John was given the responsibility for addressing the seven churches in Turkey. The Romans probably sent John to Patmos to prevent him from pursuing his mission of preaching to the seven churches.
A lot of people have tried to find secret codes in the text of the Book of Revelation. The book demonstrates the fact that early Christians knew the Hebrew Scriptures and poured them into their own writing. The main purpose of the Book of Revelation is to get the reader to worship GOD ALONE! People were being so inculturated by Roman culture that practicing the Christian religion was difficult. There must have been a good rapport between Christians and Jews of that time since they worked next to each other as merchants in Ephesus. In the Book of Revelation, six is an incomplete number. Bert then stopped to see if there were questions.
Bert observed that the churches in Turkey were challenged by and to some extent giving in to Roman culture. The writer, John of Patmos, is into the contemplative mode. Arthur asked Bert to distinguish between John of Patmos and the Apostles. Bert replied that John of Patmos lived after all of the Apostles were dead. He noted that the names of the actual writers of the Gospels are in dispute. Bert also observed that ancient writers did not have all the hangups we have about plagiarism. John borrowed heavily from books from the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.
Bert noted that June 16, 2000 is claimed by some to be the time of the end of the world. He also stated that "666" is a special number indicating the code name for Nero. Ken asked whether the 7 candlesticks referred to in the Book of Revelation could represent the seven candles of the Jewish Sabbath menorah. Bert said that he thought the candles were meant to refer to the seven churches in Turkey, but the symbolism is fluid and could also represent the menorah. Mary Anne asked about the allusions in the Book of Revelation from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and other parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. Bert replied that there are many. Eric noted that the Book of Revelation was written during the Domitian persecutions. Eric asked whether John of Patmos was writing under an impulse derived from fear of the impending persecutions. Bert replied that scholarship is divided on this subject. Also Bert noted that the persecution in places like Patmos which were remote from Rome did not seem to be that intense. Bert agreed that there is a prophetic urgency about the book; however, it is more a rejection of Roman materialism. Jack thanked Bert for distinguishing between John the evangelist and John of Patmos. Jack also noted that John the Baptist was another important person named John. Jack noted that in high school he was asked by his fellow students which John he was named after (his legal name is John). Someone asked whether John of Patmos was a rabbi who converted to Christianity. Bert said that we do not know. However, John of Patmos knew the Hebrew Scriptures very well. Eric asked Bert about the quality of the language in the Book of Revelation. Bert replied that the language is poetic, but there are grammatical mistakes. Steve observed that it seems more likely that John of Patmos was a scribe rather than a rabbi. Bert agreed. His writing is not analytical. He calls Rome Babylon, a symbol of depravity.
Bert said he has read the Book of Revelation in modern Hebrew. Eric asked what John's native language would have been. Bert replied that it was probably Aramaic. Shirley asked why Bert does not think the native language of John of Patmos was Greek. Bert replied that this is because of the grammatical mistakes in the text. Ken asked what special insights Bert obtained from reading the book in Hebrew. Bert said that he learned a little more about the Hebraic sources of the Book of Revelation.
Bert Buby's Presentation on Chapter 12
Bert asked Eleanor to read Chapter 12. Bert noted this chapter is in the middle of the book. Bert then read the first person narrative he has written based on Chapter 12. There is a lot of mythical language in Chapter 12, with many allusions to ancient mythology. The chapter portrays a mystical, aesthetical experience. Harold noted that we are skipping all kinds of evils that are mentioned in the letters (chapters 2 and 3) to the churches in chapters prior to Chapter 12. Bert replied that there are mixed messages in these letters; they are partially positive, but the dark side comes out because of the threat of immersion in Roman culture. There is a call to conversion. Harold replied that the specificity and intensity of this torture distinguishes this book from the Hebrew Scriptures. Shirley countered that the Book of Jeremiah has plenty of harsh penalties. Harold asked how serious a part of Christianity this book is. Bert replied that this book was a difficult one to be accepted into the Christian canon, but Bert is happy it is in the canon. Bert's focus is on the theology and spirituality of the text. Professor David Barr from Wright State University has focused much of his research on the rhetoric of the Book of Revelation. Gloria observed that she has great difficulty understanding the language of the Book of Revelation. Bert acknowledged that the book is difficult to read because of its pervasive symbolism. Steve asked whether John of Patmos wrote in highly symbolic language to escape the wrath of the Romans. Bert replied yes. Bert continued that the Book is very subversive. Eric said that it is very interesting that only a decade or two later there was a lot of millennialism in the Jewish community associated with the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Bert commented on the non canonical apocalyptic literature, including the Genesis Apocryphon. Eric commented on the apocalyptic literature in the midrash (stories written to flesh out the Biblical text). Bert noted that there is a tremendous renewal in the book. Gloria asked if the dragon is a symbol of the Roman Empire. Bert replied no; the dragon is the source of absolute evil. Arthur asked whether all this dire symbolism squares with the Christian concept of love and forgiveness. Bert said it does, and that love is in the book. Eileen supported this with readings that include the word love. Bert stated that Lamb of God is a symbol for Jesus which refers back to the Exodus from Egypt. Jesus is the new Exodus for Christians. Jack offered a positive aspect. Martyrdom is well known in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. However, we rarely make a connection.
Eric asked about John's talking about a new Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation. Is this a metaphor? Bert replied that he thinks it is a metaphor for the union of earth and heaven. Bert said that, for the Christian, the victory over evil has already happened with Jesus' death on the Cross. The real victory over sin, death, and evil has been won. Shirley said that she used to speak at schools and other non-Jewish organizations about Jewish topics. One group she spoke to told her that only when all the Jews return to Israel will the end of the world come. Bert reiterated the importance of reading the book continuously from cover to cover. He also said that no one knows the time for the beginning of the world nor its end.
Someone asked about the rhetorical analysis of the Book of Revelation by David Barr. Bert said he respects David Barr's analysis of the Book of Revelation from a literary standpoint. Chuck Smith asked about some names in the text. Bert noted there are names or titles for Jesus which appear nowhere else in the Christian Scriptures.
Bert read another first-person narrative based on Chapter 1, as a conclusion. It referred to beast imagery, taken from the Book of Daniel. Eric asked whether Jesus is subordinate to the father in the apocalyptic literature. Bert replied that it is a high Christology. Yes, the divinity of Jesus is affirmed in the Book, without subordination. Eileen added to Bert's response to Eric that Jesus' divinity is implicit in the Book, but not explicit. Bert replied that it is both implicit and explicit.
Robin observed that the Book of Revelation does not have much to do with the Millennium. Bert agreed. Chuck Smith said the Book of Revelation keeps sounding the horn of how to be saved. Someone observed that if we are still here next month, we will have another dialogue meeting.
There was a discussion of two future meeting dates for which programs have not yet been assigned. These dates are February 13, 2000 and June 11, 2000. Ken suggested one of the programs might include the playing of a Yiddish CD entitled, Dreaming in Yiddish. Adrienne Cooper is the female singer on the CD and Ken's cousin, Joyce Rosenzweig, is the piano accompanist. Joyce is on the faculty of the Hebrew Union College-School of Sacred Music in New York City. Ken has listened to the CD and found the songs very poignant and beautiful.
Agnes said that she is working on a paper on the topic of the "banality of evil," a concept developed by the writer Hannah Arendt after studying the Holocaust and specifically the life of Adolf Eichmann. She would be willing to lead a program on this subject.
After some discussion, the attendees decided to schedule the Yiddish CD for the February 13 meeting and the presentation on the Banality of Evil for the June 11 meeting.
The meeting adjourned at about 10:15 PM.
Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary