Minutes of Meeting

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Date: Mar 11, 2001

Location: Home of Jerry & Lorraine Kotler

Meeting Topic: Jesus as Wisdom Teacher

Facilitator: Dr. Arthur Dewey, Xavier University

Hosts: Jerry & Lorraine Kotler

PRESENT: Felix Garfunkel, Chair, presiding; Nan Adams, Gloria Anticoli, Abraham Avnit, Donna Bealer, Candy Davidson, Arthur Dewey, Linda Emerick, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Lillian Gillespie, Agnes Hannahs, Eugene Hannahs, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Barbara Levine, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Jack Pitsinger, Judy Pitsinger, Ruth Precker, Bill Rain, Donald Ramsey, Ken Rosenzweig, Sophie Rubenstein, Jack Sederstrand, Phillis Straka, Lou Vera, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Bill Youngkin.

Felix called the meeting to order at 7:50 PM. He called for a moment of silence in memory of Harold Rubenstein. Felix asked for volunteers to host the upcoming three monthly Dialogue meetings.

Jerry delivered the invocation. He said he wanted to greet the meeting attendees the way King David greeted people. He sang a song that is from the last verses of Psalm 22. "L'maan Achai V'rayai." Because of my brothers/sisters and friends, oh please let me say, peace to you. This is the house of the Lord. I wish the best for you." Jerry then told us that the Jewish holiday of Purim occurred a couple of days ago. This celebrates the story told in the Book of Esther. The Jewish Queen Esther managed to save the Jewish people in Persia from Haman, the Prime Minister of Persia, who had evil designs to kill them. Jerry noted that a prayer is said which is a six-line summary of the Esther and Mordechai story. He read a two-line introduction to it. "For the miracles, for the redemption, for the battles, for the triumphs, which Thou did perform in those days at this season. Haman sought to destroy the Jews and plunder their wealth. Thou did foil his plans and visited the punishment on him and his family." Jerry then noted that hamantashen is a traditional pastry that is eaten at Purim. It is triangular in shape, with fruit filling, and is thought to commemorate Haman's hat or Haman's ear in the Saphardic tradition.

At this point new attendees to the Dialogue meeting were asked to introduce themselves. This included: Jack Sederstrand, Jack and Judy Pitsinger, Linda Emerick, and Lillian Gillespie.

Arthur Dewey's Presentation

Bill Youngkin introduced Arthur Dewey. He has been a member of the religious studies faculty at Xavier University in Cincinnati for about twenty years. He is a member of the Jesus Seminar. That group votes on various passages from the scriptures to assess the group's consensus about whether Jesus actually said what is suggested in the passages. Bill noted that Arthur Dewey led a retreat for United Church of Christ pastors, where he met Bill. Arthur is originally from Boston, where he attended Harvard as well as other universities.

Arthur stated that he was delighted to visit the Dialogue. He stated that it takes a lot of courage for Christians and Jews to continue to talk to each other. Arthur said that he would talk about the wisdom of Jesus. He began with some background observations. The Jesus Seminar grew out of the quest for the historical Jesus which developed earlier. Arthur then covered some history of the first century. The Jesus Seminar began back in 1985 to search for the authentic sayings of Jesus. Before the Enlightenment, there was a natural literalism with respect to reading the scriptures. The enlightenment began in the 18th century. Since the enlightenment, there were two responses to reading the bible. One was Biblical literalism. The other was Biblical criticism. The work of Biblical scholarship comes out of that second response. Based on the practice of Biblical criticism, there are two voices when the gospels are read: Jesus and the early post-Jesus Christian community. The objective of Christian Scripture scholars and the Jesus Seminar is to determine which texts represent the authentic words of Jesus and which represent the ascription of words to Jesus by the early post-Jesus Christian community. Approximately 1500 versions of over 500 sayings and 387 reports of 176 events were examined by the Jesus Seminar. Shirley asked what language Jesus spoke. Arthur stated that his language was Greek and Aramaic. All the extant texts, gospels and other early Church materials were written in Greek. Jerry asked whether there is any evidence that Jesus spoke Aramaic. Arthur stated that there was no evidence of this, except in two or three residual words. Arthur stated that nothing was actually written down by Jesus; he was an oral performer. Someone noted that Eric Friedland feels Jesus spoke Hebrew (see the Dialogue minutes of January 14, 2001). Arthur replied that there is a good chance that Jesus was illiterate. Although some have stated that he was a Pharisee, there is no evidence of this. Lorraine noted that the Jewish tradition is to read, and this suggests that Jesus might have been literate. Steve also noted that Jesus is often referred to as a rabbi. Arthur replied that that just means he was a leader, a "head." Erica said that the actual voice of Jesus was not recorded, and therefore everything we know about him must be considered to be filtered through the lens of the early post-Jesus Christian community. Arthur disagreed. He then went on to note that first-century Judaism was a very pluralistic form of Judaism. Jesus appears to work as an itinerant teacher and story teller, as well as a healer.

The historical Jesus is a scholarly concept. Arthur is not talking about the Jesus of faith or culture. He is talking about what we can know based on the evidence. There are two economic models that can be applied to the first century Palestinian world: the limited goods model and the urban model. According to the limited goods model, there is only so much of any commodity to go around, including women, truth, and semen. According to the urban (or extractive) model, the economy produces a surplus by taking from powerless people. The world of first century Palestine is a social pyramid. 5% of the people ruled the rest. 85% of the humans in the world existed to be extracted from. There was a patron/client system. The big patron was God or the gods. Then, the emperor was a powerful patron. The dominant personality was a dyadic personality. People tended to find worth in others eyes. It was an oral society; 95% of people were illiterate.

Within first century Judaism, Hellenistic Judaism was a plurality. According to some scholarly estimates, there were perhaps 4,000,000 Jews outside of Palestine and 2,000,000 within it. As was the case throughout the Roman Empire, there were many synagogues in Rome. The largest missionary movement in the first century was Judaism. Felix said that some have estimated that 10% of the people in the Roman Empire were Jewish. Arthur continued that Christianity was very small in the first century, numbering from 7,000 to 20,000 adherents. Within Judaism, there was the wisdom movement. This movement started around the time of the reign of King David. Scribes at the time of King David provided the country with the ability to collect taxes. However, the existence of a community of scribes results in the recording of stories. As one approaches the time of Jesus, the wisdom tradition becomes very complicated. There were many books, such as the Wisdom of Solomon and the books of the Apocrypha. Within the wisdom tradition, one can experience the transcendent, one can articulate it, and also one can test it. If it works, one can articulate it and pass it on. We know all this from what is written. However, outside the level of written literature, stories are present among the people. It is in that position that Arthur would place Jesus. Jewish scholars like Hillel commonly used aphorisms, such as the Golden Rule. The Jesus Seminar voted that the aphorism, "love your enemies," ascribed in the Christian scriptures to Jesus, was authentic. Arthur emphasized that this is not a legal statement, and would have gone against the standard thinking of the first century. At Kumran, the Essenes considered themselves to be sons of light, and everyone else to be sons of darkness. This is emblematic of the dyadic personality. Loving your enemies is a philosophy that is inconsistent with this personality type. The aphorism does not reflect the concerns of the later Christian community, which was rather defensive. At this point, there was an extensive discussion among the attendees of the meaning of the term enemy. Arthur noted that Jesus did not say, "love the stranger." For many Christians, the statement, "love your enemies," has been treated as a legal statement. Actually, this is not a legal statement, it is an aphorism. Rabbi Avnit referred to the requirement of the Hebrew Bible to "love your neighbor as yourself." Arthur said that this might refer only to members of ones own group. Rabbi Avnit replied that the Torah does not allow us to hate our enemy; however, it does not say to love ones enemy. Arthur replied that this line of thinking is from the Rashi commentary of the 12th century, but it is not characteristic of the first century. Rabbi Avnit said that when the Israelites saw the Egyptians drown, they were not allowed to rejoice. The injunction to love your neighbor as yourself comes from this.

Arthur sees Jesus as a peasant. The statement, "love your enemies," does not make sense in Jesus's world. In conjunction with that aphorism, Matthew 5:45, "God causes the sun to rise over the good, and the ungood, and the rain to fall over the good and the evil also," also throws a different light on how humans see themselves and others. One does not need any book wisdom for this. The Jesus Seminar voted this red, the code for authentic. The Jesus Seminar voted the Good Samaritan story as authentic. It coheres with the aphorism, "love your enemies," and the peasant wisdom (God benefiting good and evil). If the text were directed to a Jewish audience, the expected hero would have been a Pharisee, not a Samaritan. Arthur noted humorously that in Cincinnati, Good Samaritan Hospital is right next to Hebrew Union College. Christians do not get this joke, but Jews do. The story fits a peasant's mentality, including resenting the (privileged) priests.

In Matthew 13:33, there is a story about concealing leaven in three pots of flour. Why were people in the 1st century negative toward leaven? Bread when rising looks like a corpse. Jesus is saying that God's rule is like the baking of bread in a concealed manner. That is what a parable is like; it makes one think, but does not mandate one explanation. Jesus's audience would have at least two referents for the word "empire": 1. the sovereignty of God; and 2. the Roman Empire, occupying their land. The Roman Empire is big and powerful. The images in parables will conflict with images of the empire (which the audience presupposes). Arthur stated that Jesus was experimenting, trying to imagine what God's rule is like. Erica asked whether he was using the leavening bread as a metaphor for the empire of Rome. Arthur replied that Jesus was not referring to Rome. Rabbi Avnit asked about the lack of leaven during the Hebrew departure from Egypt. Someone asked what point Jesus was trying to make. Arthur replied that he could not say directly what Jesus's intention was. A parable is a thought-provoking device. It is a struggle for meaning. Erica asked whether it is like a Midrash. Jerry said that a Midrash fills in gaps in the Biblical text. Rabbi Avnit reported that Rashi said that the term leavening comes from matzah (unleavened bread).

Another parable comes from Mark 4:31. It refers to the mustard seed, which has the smallest seed but the biggest plant. Jesus's parable states that the mustard plant grows into a tree that provides shade for the birds. Arthur noted that most mustard plants are actually pretty scrawny. Thus for Jesus, this is a kind of joke. Jesus's imagination is like a cartoonist. This parable was rated red by the Jesus Seminar. Also, the mustard plant was considered a weed, again not a likely image for speaking about God's empire.

Then there is the aphorism that states, "it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to get into heaven." In the 1st century, rich people were thought of as favored by God. Jesus had a sense of humor. If the audience were mostly peasants, they would agree that the rich were favored by God. However, they would not want to agree that they themselves were not favored by God. One must be able to think through the parable.

An analogy is to Latin America where peasants often thought that their deprived state was ordained by God. Thus the statement from the Christian scriptures that is also part of the Ohio State Motto, "With God, all things are possible," was voted black (inauthentic). This saying found in the Gospel of Mark was constructed by Mark to cover up the challenge and the point of the "camel" aphorism.

Steve asked about Jesus's social station. Jerry asked about "turning the other cheek." Arthur replied that this was voted red. Someone asked how the wealthy would have responded to Jesus. Arthur stated that they would have ignored him.

Someone asked about Paul. Arthur replied that Paul has gotten a bad rap. He was a Jew to the day he died. He was what we would call today a Messianic Jew. Arthur noted that Paul would be surprised that we were still here. He thought the world was coming to an end. He was not founding churches. He was calling for respect for non-Jews. Paul was contending that the "ethnoi" (considered "subhuman") stood on equal footing with Jews. Erica said that Paul was a great proselytizer. Arthur replied that the culture of proselytizing was already in place. Philo was saying in Alexandria that the customs of Jews were diverse, some were traditional in keeping the customs, others were mostly spiritual, and some were attempting to live along a middle path.

Arthur emphasized that we do not know much about the early Christian community. Was there a Jerusalem church? We do know that some Baptizer groups evolved into groups such as the Manicheans. Unfortunately, the later Arab invasions have wiped out a lot of the historical record. Arthur said that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes were perhaps only 5% of the population. Judaism was much more diverse in the 1st century than we have imagined.

It is ironic that Rome actually decided who won out among Jews: the Pharisees. Felix asked about the Egyptian Coptics. Arthur replied that the Coptics consider themselves to be the first Christian church. Erica asked about Paul. Arthur stated that Paul had a transcendent experience, which he interpreted as placing himself in the Jewish prophetic tradition. He was speaking for a radical democracy of faith.

Erica asked about the Apocalyptic tradition. Lou asked about circumcision. Arthur replied that it is hard to interpret 1st century material on this. Felix said that after the destruction of the temple, there had to be a substitute: ritual prayer filled this role. Rabbi Avnit noted that Joshua circumcised everyone before they entered the promised land. Arthur replied that even this assumption has been edited by later generations.

Someone asked what percentage of the examined texts were considered to be authentic. Arthur replied that 19% were rated red or pink. The "Our father" prayer was rated to be only partly authentic. Someone asked Arthur, from your point of view, was Jesus good for the Jews? Arthur replied aphoristically, no; and he was not good for the Christians either.

Felix called the discussion of Arthur Dewey's presentation to a close at 9:30 PM.

Dialogue Administrative Matters

Ken made two announcements. He received from Lou Vera of the Office for Interfaith Relations of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati a wonderful tape of a speech by Rev. John Pawlikowski at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (Louisville, May, 2000) on "The State of Jewish/Christian Relations." Pawlikowski presented a very knowledgeable, perceptive, and sensitive discussion of the history and current state of Christian-Jewish relations. Ken recommended that Dialogue members listen to the tape and pass it around to each other. Ken also referred the Dialogue members to a very interesting article on the successes and failures of the modern Catholic Church.1

Lou Vera announced two upcoming events of interest to members and friends of the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue. From August 19 to 26 in Lakeside, Ohio, the annual Christian-Jewish Chautauqua will be held. The overall theme of the gathering is spirituality. On November 5, Jewish scholar A.J. Levine will make a presentation in the Cincinnati area. More details of these events will be available in upcoming weeks. Lou may be contacted at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Office, telephone (513)421-3131 or by e-mail at "".

The meeting adjourned at 9:35 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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1 "The Catholic Church; Between this World and the Next," The Economist, Jan 27, 2001, pages 21-23.