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SIDIC Periodical I - 1968/1
Biblical Studies (Pages 12 - 15)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Bible Studies in Several Lands
The editors | L. Poulin


«Therefore, they (the faithful) should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be ... through devotional reading or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, are commendably available everywhere... ».
Dei Verbum, No. 25

There have been Bible courses of degree standard at several of the universities in England for a number of years and outside these there are evening lectures, and vacation courses, some interdenominational, some specifically Anglican, Protestant, or Jewish.

In the Roman Catholic field, outside the seminary courses, the initiative was taken ten years ago by Fr. Hubert Richards with a 4-year weekly evening course for lay people and Sisters. Now there are several weekly courses and a number of summer schools in different parts of the country. These are usually very well attended but as a correspondent in England writes: « They are still not biblical enough » and do not reach enough people as is brought out in the following incident.

At a meeting last autumn between Catholics and Methodists in London, it was proposed by a Sister that the visible unity of the people of God be studied, first in the Old Testament before going on to the New. A Catholic objected that this was « a sheer waste of time after the coming of Christ » and a Methodist remarked, « Any way, the Old Testament only foreshadowed symbolically the reality of the New ».

The reader is also referred to Mr. Simpson's notes on the Translator's Preface in the Jerusalem Bible found on page 3 of this issue.

In the United States the general reading public has been introduced to a deeper and truer understanding of the Bible by means of the « Old and New Testament Reading Guides », published by the Liturgical Press in Collegeville since 1960. Written by different biblical exegetes, the booklets bear the marks of scholarship, without being too technical. Edited in an attractive and handy format, each booklet in the series of Fourteen NTRGs includes the text of one or more books of the New Testament accompanied by short and, in general, good notes.

However, certain inadequacies must be noted. Although written more than fifteen years after Divino Afilante Spiritu, insufficient attention is given to the literary forms, particularly of the Gospels and Acts. With regard to the question of Jewish-Christian relations, it must be kept in mind that the reading guides were written in pre-conciliar times. The authors seem to overlook the Jewish background of the New Testament. This is seen especially in the Introduction (No. 1) where the question is scarcely mentioned. Unfortunate, too, are the generalisations and oversimplifications which are found, for example, in the Introduction to the Gospel of St. Matthew where the author speaks of « the earthly expectations of his ( Jesus') contemporaries » and « her (Israel's) rejection by God » (p. 8, see also No. 7, pp. 67, 68, 75). In the notes on the Gospel according to Matthew again appears the well-known caricature of the Pharisees (pp. 24, 41, 73), evidence of a want of knowledge of the Jewish world of Jesus' time. These examples are but a few of the many that show a lack of sensitivity on the authors' part to the harm that can be done to mutual understanding and esteem between Christians and Jews by an inaccurate and one-sided explanation of some New Testament texts. A future series, breathing the spirit of Vatican II, will no doubt remedy this.

In Canada, a Montreal team of priests publishes a biblical leaflet, « Parole Dimanche », which has already distributed more than 15 million copies, with a weekly circulation of 36,845, a third of which are in English under the title « I Discover the Bible ». Distributed not only in Montreal, but also across Canada and the U.S.A., it is « a popular introduction to biblical culture », which ever since it first appeared eight years ago, must certainly have promoted interest in and knowledge and love of God's Word. From the dense yet appealing text, many excellent commentaries can be quoted. Thus, in No. 324, a comparison is made between the Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover. The author stresses the beauty of the latter, the readiness to help one another which invites the stranger and the needy to participate at the family Seder Table, and finally quotes some of the very fine prayers drawn from the Hagaddah, the ritual of this feast. We feel involved ourselves and united to our Jewish brethren in praising « Him who has performed all these wonders for our Fathers and for us ».

In No. 308 there is a very good commentary on the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John: « He came unto his own and his own received him not ».

Unfortunately, time-worn phrases from the old theology on Israel are still to be found. For example, in No. 296 is written:

The Jews considered the forgiveness of sins as a divine prerogative.... Yet, Jesus transformed this power of « judging » into that of « forgiving ». According to Jewish belief, the Son of Man was to separate saints from sinners (Dan. 7), but Christ's judgement consisted in vindicating sinners to make them take their place with saints.

This is falsifying both Judaism and Christianity. Jesus never wished to contradict the Scriptures (Dan. 7 is justifiably quoted here). In addition, Jewish tradition tells us, for example, that when God judges His creatures at Rosh Hashanah, He leaves the throne of justice to occupy the throne of mercy. Elsewhere, in Matt. 25, it is distinctly stated that at the Last Judgement the saints and sinners will be separated.

Other examples could be discussed: generalisations are used which modern biblical exegesis no longer admits. We hope the necessary revisions will be made and the widespread influence of the Bible Leaflets will contribute increasingly towards creating a mentality of fraternity between Christians and all their brothers.
(Numbers in the above report refer to the French series of leaflets).

For years biblical work in Austria has been stimulated by the review « Bibel and Liturgie », edited by the Augustianian Clerks of Klosterneuburg. For the past year its influence has been broadened by the activity of the association « Oesterreichisches K a th oli s ch e s Bibelwerk » whose secretariat is in the above-mentioned city.

The central advisory body of « Bibelwerk » has recently proposed a 5-year formation program for priests and lay theologians, to acquaint them with modern trends in biblical research. A member of this commission is Professor Schubert, well-known for his positive work in the field of Jewish-Christian relations. (Prof. Schubert is director of the Institut far Judaistik at the University of Vienna). With his participation, the meetings and courses organised by the « Bibelwerk » cannot but promote a correct understanding of the Jews in the context of Holy Scripture.

The centre « Ut unum sint » in Rome, Italy, has recently begun publication and distribution of biblical correspondence courses widely diffused throughout the country. These are made- up of two introductory courses (« Corso introduttivo alla Bibbia »), and three specialised ones — « The Religious Message of the Bible », « Bible - Family - Liturgy », and g Bible and Liturgy » (« Il messaggio religioso della Bibbia », « Bibbia - Famiglia - Liturgia », and « Bibbia e Liturgia »).

These correspondence courses often quote Dei Verbum of Vatican II; but, in the leaflet introducing them is the following unfortunate sentence: « ... Because Israel as a whole has failed in its missionary vocation God has chosen a little " remnant " which will eventually be decreased to a single unity, Jesus Christ Our Lord ». This is oversimplifying the origin of Christianity, an origin mainly and profoundly Jewish, and forgetting the complex history of its beginnings.

However, the courses themselves are of a completely different nature from that which the introduction would lead one to suppose. The authors of this very complete and well-documented work are at pains to interpret the texts in the rabbinical tradition of the Talmud. Often too, they show an awareness that the true and profound meaning of a text is learned through the etymology of Hebrew words. Its inclusion in the synagogal liturgy, sometimes largely commentated, brings out the importance and the nuances which the piety of the Jews bestowed on these words. Thus, the magnificent daily Sephardic-rite prayer is quoted after the lesson on Abraham pp. 63-64 of « Bibbia – Famiglia – Liturgia ». All the family liturgy is recalled (p. 37 ibid.) to show with what respect Hebrew society treated women, in contrast to the Eastern and even the Greek world. On page 77 of the same course, the author stresses what the nations owe to the Israelites (faith in God and human learning).

After such efforts to provide sound and thorough biblical culture, we find regrettable those pages marked by the pre-conciliar mentality. For example, why give Origen's interpretation of the leprosy of Mary, Moses' sister? Origen sees, in this murmuring against God and in Israel's punishment, the type of « Jews and heretics who refuse to receive Jesus Christ ». Is it also true that Hebrew tradition, which recognises Israel in the Spouse of the Canticle of Canticles, claims that « the other nations have no right to the love of the Lord »? And what can be said of this idea:« The Jews were realists and readily drawn to seek material rather than spiritual goods. Apparently, even today, their attitude has not greatly changed in this respect ».
Such passages are all the more surprising that, generally speaking, the context is of a high scientific and spiritual standard. We can only hope that these concessions to a certain traditional interpretation of biblical texts will be revised in future editions of this course, which deserves a wide circulation.

The Editors

The Study of Torah in Israel

The Bible — pentateuch, prophets, and hagiography — is the basis of religious and cultural life of the Jewish people and therefore forms a very important part of the educational program in Israel. Both in general and in religious schools, 20% to 30% of the program is spent in studying some aspect of the Bible. In the latter type of school, talmudic commentaries of famous rabbis throughout history are added to direct study of the Torah beginning at the primary level. As for non-religious or general schools, in the words of Professor Sinai Ucko, « The Bible is taught ... to all age-groups — elementary and grammar schools have Bible study for four hours each week. There are only a few " religiously gifted " teachers available to teach the religious content of the Bible. The other teachers in the nonreligious schools admit that the Bible is a book with religious content, but choose a different approach; in their presentation, the Bible is an archaeological source book, a work of art, a historical source, or a book rendering knowledge of the geography of the home-land.... The latter approach has a special fascination for pupils of all groups ». (« Holy and Profane in Israel Today » by Sinai Ucko, European Judaism, 1/67, p. 26)

On the university level there are courses in biblical archaeology, geography, art and so on; in the Yeshivot (or higher talmudic schools) there is special concentration on the study of Torah for the training of rabbis and other scholars.

In many towns and settlements of Israel this study also forms part of the daily or weekly life of the people. In groups or individually, Torah and Haftarah readings for the Shabbat are studied during the week preceding it, sometimes each day between the two daily evening prayers, or at another time during the day, or else only on Shabbat. For those who wish to make an intensive study of some specific aspect of the Bible, such as charity or free will, a course outline on questions dealing with the Pentateuch and its commentaries is published and distributed gratis by the Department of Adult Education. In many areas the rabbi or another volunteer teacher guides these studies or, if such a person is not available, the Department provides one. Lecturers are often sent, at the request of some group, to speak on various biblical topics. This year, for example, on the 700th Anniversary of the journey of Nachmanides from Spain to Israel, lectures on his life and his commentaries are much in demand. Sometimes two and three-month courses are given in Bible and Talmud where there is no institute of higher learning. As in the schools, teachers are chosen who present the Bible with the orientation suitable to the group concerned.

For the Jewish people throughout Israel, from the newest settler to the « vattik » of the first « Aliya », the Bible is a living reality, whether it is seen as the marvelous account of God's dealings with his people, or as the history and cultural heritage of a people come alive again in the growing life of this country.


Jewish Professors Teaching the New Testament

Professor Zwi Werblowsky, Dean of the Department of Comparative Religions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, deals with medieval Christian theology and spirituality in his courses. In this context, he treats the Christian interpretation of the Bible.

Professor David Flusser belongs to the same department of the Hebrew University. For the year 1967-68 his courses are on « Faith and belief of the primitive Christian Church », « Reading of the Gospel of Matthew », and « Reading of texts from the Greek and Latin Fathers ».

Dr. M. Stone gives courses in both Jewish and Christian apocryphal literature in the department of religious sciences in the above-mentioned university.

Professor Martin Buber was the first to introduce courses in New Testament at the Hebrew University within a department of religious sociology, which has now been divided into a department of Comparative Religion, and General Sociology.

Rabbi Samuel Sandmel, Distinguished Service Professor at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati (U.S.A.), teaches several New Testament courses. In the Department of Bible and Hellenistic Literature he offers « An Introduction to the New Testament » and seminars 1) in the Gospels, 2) in Paul, and 3) on Philo and Paul. Both Jews and Christians are enrolled in these courses.


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