DAYTON CHRISTIAN JEWISH DIALOGUE
Minutes of Meeting
January 9, 2000
Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall
Meeting Topic: Dialogue about Eschatology
Facilitators: Eric Friedland and Bert Buby
Hosts: Sophie and Steven Kahn
PRESENT: Robin Smith and Felix Garfunkel, Cochairs; Nan Adams, Judith Baker, Donna Bealer, Connie Breen, Bert Buby, Phyllis Duckwall, Shirley Flacks, Eric Friedland, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Frances Gross, Edith Holsinger, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Moira Levant, Barbara Levine, Ken Lotney, John Magee, Abe Miller, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Donald Ramsey, Anne Ringkamp, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Ken Rosenzweig, Pat Searcy, Bob Silverman, Chuck Smith, Leonard Solganik, Lois Solganik, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Juanita Wehrle-Einhorn, Robert Wehrle-Einhorn.
Robin called the meeting to order at about 7:55 PM. She thanked Sophie and Steve Kahn for providing refreshments for the meeting. Steve then delivered the prayer. Robin announced that Dialogue dues for the year 2000 are now due. She said that at next month's Dialogue meeting we will discuss arrangements for the Islamic Center tour on April 9. At this point, Robin asked any new attendees to introduce themselves. Abe Miller said that he has attended one prior meeting and hopes to become more active in the Dialogue. He is a professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Bert Buby's Comments
Bert announced that this is the third session in the Special Millennium Series. There will be a short segment about messianism and a little discussion of the terms, apocalyptic and eschatology. Edith asked for definitions of the terms. Bert replied that he would talk about how he understands messianism as a Christian. As a Christian, he sees messiah as being only linked to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is a saving person who through his life brings a way of life to his followers. He is not a political figure, and his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus is thus a personal messiah. We get our best understanding of the messianic nature of Jesus from the earliest gospel which was Mark. Even Jesus's followers did not understand him very well. As the gospel moves along, Jesus predicts his impending death and resurrection to his followers. However, his followers do not really understand this. Jesus as messiah is a "suffering servant." This concept is similar to that used in the Book of Isaiah from the Hebrew Scriptures. This is definitely Bert's concept of Jesus as messiah. Jesus is for Christians their "spiritual king." Jesus represents victory over sin, death, and evil.
The second concept Bert brought up is the apocalyptic concept. The Book of Revelation is an authentic apocalyptic work. An apocalyptic book reveals hidden things in a very exuberant language. Martin Luther had no use for the Book of Revelation.
Eric Friedland's Comments
Eric then said that the central point is that Judaism as well as the daughter religions of Christianity and Islam are heavily eschatological. In other words they deal with how the world will be like at the end of time[s]. In the Hebrew Bible, there is some discussion of this issue. However, the approaches are very diverse. One motif is Son of Man; another is the Suffering Servant; a third is the ideal future king from the House of David. Then there is the theme of a Utopian End of Days. Over a period of time, these different motifs became welded together in various combinations. The community that gave us the Dead Sea Scrolls was intensely eschatological. There seems to be a distinct correlation between hard times and the intensity of eschatological speculation and belief. In the Jewish Community, this has always existed because of all the suffering the Jewish People have endured. However, the eschatology in the 17th century is radically different from the eschatology of the Rabbis of the Talmud because external conditions were so different. Edith asked about the Christian community. Eric said that Christians also had their own distinct eschatology, their own combination of motifs which developed in response to their particular circumstances. Among Jews there was the abiding conviction that the future will somehow be better, but historically there were those who would say that this improvement would come about as a result of the coming of a personal Messiah while others would say that it would come about by other means. In any event, it was this undying hope that a positive future was in store for one and all that sustained the Jewish People through some very horrendous times. Ken asked Eric about the concept of the Messianic Age as was developed in Reform Judaism. Erica asked about the concept of Son of Man, ben adam. Eric replied that when Ezekiel used that expression, he only meant a finite human being, in contrast to God who is infinite. However, in the Book of Daniel this expression obtained a whole different coloration, this time as a vivid, humane symbol for a whole nation.
Dialogue and Discussion
Bert asked to share a thought of Father Raymond Brown. There is no way we can know when the world began. Science will do a better job than religion, but even scientists cannot precisely state the point in time that the world began. Also, no one can know when the world will end.
In response to a question raised by Bert, Eric observed that the Book of Daniel is looked at differently by Jews than Christians. Bert asked Eric why the Book of Daniel is not classified among the prophetic texts. Eric replied that the Book of Daniel is a latecomer, written in the 2nd century BCE. Prophecy for Jews terminated with Malachi in the 6th century BCE. The people that established the standard Jewish canon of the Bible were the Rabbis. They had certain criteria for the admissibility of books to the Bible. In the first century BCE and CE, a lot of books were circulating which claimed to have the authorship of an ancient figure. One book called the Wisdom of Solomon was written in the 2nd century BCE but was attributed to King Solomon (who lived several centuries earlier). Also, because of the Roman oppression of Israel during this period of time, a lot of heavily apocalyptic books were making the rounds. The Rabbis that decided on the canon put these books in the category of the modernday Watchtower publication. They felt these books were a little "off the wall," thus exacerbating an already unstable situation. The Book of Daniel was downplayed in order to avoid giving in to apocalyptic extremism. Dieter asked about an Orthodox group in (modernday) Israel called the Temple Faithful. He asked how they are attempting to bring about the Messianic Age by restoring the Temple. Eric said that, for one, the Talmud goes into a lot of detail about the Temple, in the hope that it would be rebuilt. Eric said a noted medieval Catholic writer, Joachim de Fiore, wrote a treatise dividing up historical time. He divided time into three parts: the reign of God the Father, the reign of God the Son (Jesus), and the reign of the Holy Spirit. This last period would be the millennium. However, this line of thinking was condemned by the Catholic Church.
Eric then asked Bert in what ways the Catholic Church is still eschatological, given that the Church believes the Messiah has already come and that de Fiore's views were severely condemned. Bert replied that the Book of Enoch was a Jewish book written around the time of Jesus that was eschatological. (Eric notes that this book was never included in the Jewish biblical canon.) Bert continued that an extreme position in the Catholic Church is held by those who believe in apparitions. They believe that there will be a divine intervention to end the world. Mainline Catholic churches believe in a realized eschatology, but they feel that no one can predict when the end times will come. The Catholic Church also has a belief in a future personal resurrection. Many individual Catholics however do not have such a belief in resurrection. Bert said that he believes the biblical text is not just speaking to his mind but also to his belief structure. It is not enough to analyze the Bible as literature alone. It must speak to his heart as well. Jesus would have been a Pharisee and probably an Orthodox Jew.
Bert said it is not enough to believe that God will save the world; we must work to improve it ourselves. Death is a point of eschatology that we must struggle with. Does eschatology take you beyond death? Eric asked about the part of the Catholic Mass where there is a triad of verses: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. What does it mean that Christ will come again? Bert replied there is a commentator on the Book of Revelation named Corsini who helps Christians to stay with life until the message of Christ is realized. It is our responsibility to bring about a better world through our efforts. Parousia means the presence of Christ in the Second Coming.
Questions and Discussion
Erica asked about the Book of Enoch. Bert said it is part of the (Catholic) Apocrypha. Steve said that he wonders about the End of Days. Bert replied that Christians must follow Jesus so that Jesus will bring the perfect world. Steve said that he believes that humanity is on a journey from the animalistic to the spiritual. Humanity will evolve toward the divine. However, in Judaism, there is a separation between the divine and the human. It is a dilemma which Steve said he must wrestle with. Eric said that Steve's concept of the perfection of humankind is incorporated in the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer, in which it is predicted that "the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty." (tikkun olam) Eric stated that this is a clear articulation of Jewish eschatology shared by Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews today.
Harold hesitated to bring up this question because it might sound facetious. What is the eschatological role of Alan Greenspan? Bert said he believes that Greenspan is making the world better by his professional activities in his given role. Bert continued that Jesus is the one who brings the whole world together, but he will bring the world to God. Eric said that we need everyone to work to bring about the Kingdom. Eric said he has one more question for Bert. Does Bert think that in order to realize the ultimate Kingdom, that those of us who do not currently subscribe to Jesus as Savior would need to acknowledge Jesus. Or is Bert comfortable with various alternative avenues of thinking about the truth of religious revelation. In other words, is there more than one way of getting to the Kingdom of God. Bert said he is convinced there are many ways to God. In Nostra Aetate, it is acknowledged that all the monotheistic religions are ways to God. When a Christian can walk in the shoes of a Jew, that person will be a better Christian. Also when a Jew can walk in the shoes of a Christian, that person will be a better Jew. Furthermore, belonging to an institutional religion is only one avenue to the Kingdom. Bert referred to the metaphor of the right hand of God vs. the left hand of God. The right hand of God represents the institutional religions, whereas the left hand of God represents the impulse toward improvement of the world which may be present even in atheists. Bert would never attempt to convert anyone; he would only witness to his religious faith. Chuck Smith supported the philosophy of accepting the validity of other religions. Erica asked how Bert squares these statements with the Christian Scriptures in which Judaism is said to be obsolete. Bert acknowledged that such statements are present in the Christian Scriptures, but said there are other statements that counterbalance these statements. You have to see the whole plan rather than zero in on particular statements. Bert said that to hurt another person is an abomination.
Abe asked Eric about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Why was there such a controversy about the Dead Sea Scrolls for so many years? Eric acknowledged that there was a delay in getting them out for examination by the public, but that has now been solved. Abe asked if there is a surprise phenomenon from the scrolls. Eric replied that the scrolls give us a picture from one Jewish sect of the environment that led to the development of Christianity. Bert replied that the Dead Sea Scrolls provide an ancient text for comparison with the biblical texts that have been handed down to us.
Eric asked what were the participants' eschatological views. Eileen said that as a Christian, she takes the Christian Scriptures seriously; those Scriptures call her to put on the mind of Christ; Christ was a Jew, so Eileen is obligated to understand his Jewish environment; therefore, she said she sees herself as a Jew. Eric referred to an 18th century play entitled Nathan the Wise by Lessing. In this play, for the first time in the Christian world, Jews were portrayed in a favorable light. In the play, a Christian character states to Nathan (a Jew) that Nathan is a good "Christian." Nathan replies, "what makes me in your eyes a Christian makes you in my eyes a Jew." Steve said that as we become more spiritual, the differences between religions will diminish.
Ken asked about the role of humans in bringing about a better world. By citing a statement from St. Augustine, Bert supported the idea that humans have an obligation to work for a better world. Eric also supported this concept; he referred to the Kabbalah in which it is stated that in everyone there is a spark of divinity that is encased in a shell that is our own selfishness, our overweaning ambition. The way to break the shell is to do acts of kindness, generosity, and compassion. Because the sparks are encased in the shells, God is exiled from the world. If we take it upon ourselves to do our little bit by giving encouragement to other human beings and doing acts of charity, we break the shell. The net result is that the sparks become a flame. Then God returns to the world, full of majesty. In the kabbalistic view, humans have an indispensable part to play in bringing about the better world. Eleanor asked how prevalent is this kabbalistic view in Judaism. Eric replied that it is incorporated in many streams, notably Hasidism, and it is sublimated in other branches of Judaism. Shirley reinforced this thought. Eric said that his and Bert's hope for a better world are the same, but this hope is expressed in an idiom conditioned by our different religious backgrounds and upbringing.
Bert replied to Erica's previous question about the concept of "Son of Man." All these messianic strands which were taken from the Hebrew scriptures are merged in Jesus. Eric said that the main difference between Judaism and Christianity is not so much the person of the Messiah, as, historically, there have been many messianic claimants. Rather it is the idea of the Incarnation, i.e., that somehow God would take on the form of a human being, a pivotal difference not to be minimized. Someone asked about the nature of the Messiah in the Jewish tradition. Eric replied that he is completely a human being, and never is he seen as equated with God. Someone asked whether there is any hope without faith. Bert said no. People of all faiths or lack of faith may be doing good work. Bert said that God is much bigger than we imagine. Edith reinforced the idea that we cannot define God. Pat Searcy asked how one acquires faith. Bert said that it is a free gift of God. When one cries out to God, God responds. Bert sees that when students who say they are without faith are surrounded by people who do good deeds, they absorb the faith. Chuck Smith said that religion helps people answer the question "why"; asking this question is a basic human need. Bert reiterated that when we ask the question "why," we are on a journey of learning.
The meeting adjourned at about 9:35 PM.
Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary