(26 October 1945–18 June 2020)
Three Examples from History and the Present
The book of Kohelet has been interpreted in very different, even opposing ways. There are rather divergent views on its main theme. Is Kohelet a God-fearing sage or a hedonistic sceptic? A godly preacher or a godless provocateur? This article shows three important interpretations of the book through the centuries and highlights their presuppositions, methods and results.
The Polarity of the Proverbial Literature as a School of Wisdom
Ursula B. Rapp
The Book of Proverbs (Mishlei) is a collection of wisdom-sayings which are formulated in many cases as stereotypes of ‘good and bad’, ‘wise and stupid’. For today’s readership this seems to be too simplistic and superficial for our experience of life. However, this need not lead to the conclusion that the text is outdated, because the stereotypes serve as a framework within which each has to locate him- or herself – always knowing that perceiving oneself as wise might be the most stupid opinion of all.
2018 saw the fiftieth anniversary of the spontaneous founding of an interfaith initiative involving Jews and Christians in the unlikely location of Germany. Anneliese Debray, who was the director of a Catholic women’s adult education centre in Bendorf, near Koblenz, had the imagination and courage to set about creating programmes for encounter and reconciliation in the post-war world. The centre, the Hedwig Dransfeld Haus, became a meeting place for French and German and Polish and German families; for physically and mentally handicapped people together with ‘normal’ people; for the challenging task of ecumenical encounters between Catholic and Protestant Christians; for dialogue between Christians and Muslims; and eventually between Israeli and German young people. In that latter context the editor of this journal found himself visiting the centre and then, with two fellow rabbinic students at Leo Baeck College, attending an annual Catholic Bible study conference that summer. Our presence, our willingness to be there, and the rarity of such an opportunity for the participants, led to the desire to repeat the experiment the following year. Through incremental changes, the International Jewish-Christian Bible Week became an annual reality. After the death of Anneliese Debray, who had struggled for years to keep the Haus financially afloat, it went into bankruptcy. Nevertheless, what had been built had enough recognition and influence that it led to an invitation from Dr Uta Zwingenberger, who was responsible for Bible education in the Diocese of Osnabrück, to re-establish the Week in a new home, another Catholic adult education centre, Haus Ohrbeck, in the area of Osnabrück. There it continues to grow and flourish, hosting up to 130 people each year. Part of the impact, which makes it different from other more formal interfaith encounters, is the participation of families, with special programmes for children, so that the entire atmosphere is one of a normal human community.
The annual International Jewish-Christian Bible Week runs from a Sunday to a Sunday, allowing for the celebration of the Jewish Shabbat and the Christian Sunday by attending one another’s religious services. During the five years covered in this issue, it has been the author’s privilege to offer the sermon on the Saturday morning during the Jewish service. This enables him to explore new perceptions of the texts we have been studying that have arisen during the Week, but also to reflect on broader issues that might have arisen in the multiple interactions – interfaith, intercultural and interpersonal – that have taken place during the Week. Given the occasional negative associations that accompany the word ‘sermon’, I have preferred to use the term ‘epilogues’ to characterise these responses to the texts and experiences of the Week. The term also covers a more imaginative reflection on the Book of Proverbs (Hebrew: mishlei) that we have been studying – a visit to the City of Mishlei.
This article traces the interpretation of Genesis 1:26–28 from the approach of contemporary identity studies over the past fifty years (in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of Bible Week). The article commences with a personal anecdote as a means of demonstrating the link between the biblical text and the lived experience of real people in relation to feminist interpretations. The article continues by detailing examples of academic writing from the following contemporary hermeneutical approaches: feminist, Earth-centred/environmental, queer (LGBTQi+), post-colonial, and indigenous.
This short article expresses how one’s own experience affects one’s reading of the Bible, and how reading the Bible helps the reader to understand their reality differently. Stories that are presented in the Bible are stories in which one can find him/herself. This brief work focuses on what the sages say about shoah and times of crisis. Two verses are considered: Prov. 1:27 and 3:25, where the author gives advice to the reader on how to live wisely in times of distress. Shoah is presented here as a lived experience of the author after being forced to leave their hometown and escape the storm that hit the lives of so many people. Reading the Bible while being a displaced person put us very much in line with the exiled Israelites who lived the experience of loss and shame after 587 BC.
This issue contains papers delivered over a period of five years at the annual International Jewish-Christian Bible Week held at Haus Ohrbeck, Osnabrück, Germany. Each year during the opening evening I offered a ten-minute introduction to the texts that we would be studying. This article includes the introductions to each of the five sets of texts that were studied: Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), 2015; Psalms 107–118, 2016; Mishlei (Proverbs), 2017; selected passages marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Week, 2018; Psalms 119–134, 2019. They include general overviews of specific passages, and sometimes questions that might be addressed in the daily study groups that are held during the Week. Each was intended, according to the nature of the texts, to provide a welcome to the more than one hundred participants attending the Week and establish something of the unique character of the programme of textual study and interfaith dialogue.
The Hebrew Bible is a compilation of literary ‘fictions’ and poetry that evoke ‘the truth of the human condition’ (Elena Ferrante). This article retells the story of the Book of Jonah from the first-person perspective of ‘Jonah’. The fictional narrative is rooted in the language and themes of the original biblical text. Jonah is still angry with God’s forgiveness of the Ninevites, and readers’ complicity in the always-recurring flight from taking responsibility to act against evil in the world. As Jonah tells his story, he regresses into a manic state that parallels chapter 2 of the biblical book. The narrative moves into reflections about humanity’s lack of compassion for the natural world, and Jonah’s fears about the forthcoming ‘ecocide’ of the planet.
Gregorian Chants with Texts Based on the Psalms
Gregorian chants are mostly based on Old Testament texts, predominantly from the Psalms. Decisive for their interpretation in the light of the New Testament are texts of the Church Fathers (Augustine, Gregory the Great, etc.). The texts often do not follow their canonical order in the Bible, but were primarily compiled on the basis of broader associations. Hence, it is not uncommon for new content references to emerge that are committed to a Christian perspective, emotionally and theologically very bold. This article describes an imaginary ‘Gregorian Composition Workshop’: the individual ‘chambers’ include compiling texts, the choice of a suitable mode and melody, as well as the most refined rhythmic differentiations. The final piece, through its unique quality as the ‘sounding word of Holy Scripture’ permits an intensive view of the spirituality of the ninth and tenth centuries, and a realistic understanding of the Psalms as the basis of Christian existence.