Judaism and Christianity: Roots and SourcesSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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In the spring of 2000, Gabriele Boccaccini, professor of Second Temple Judaism and early rabbinic literature at the University of Michigan, developed an innovative initiative in research scholarship. He proposed a 10-year program of studies in the literature and intellectual history that produced two major Western religions, Judaism and Christianity.
This idea required, specifically, a careful scholarly analysis of that body of documents, which is usually associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the literary sources upon which those scrolls depend. The main document he identified for this research was I Enoch, a complex collection of writings that were produced between the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile in about 500 B.C.E. and the end of the century in which Philo Judaeus, Jesus of Nazareth and Josephus lived. I Enoch was the optimal focus for the scholarly work because it was the influential literary collection that most influenced the rise of Christianity and incorporated the apocalyptic Judaisms that functioned as the foil against which rabbinic Judaism took shape.
Thus was born the plan for concentrated and carefully focused study by a worldwide company of senior international scholars, on the intellectual history of apocalyptic Judaism and Christian origins, 500 B.C.E. to 100 C.E. Five biennial conferences were planned to be held every other summer in Italy under the auspices of the Department of Near Eastern Studies (NES) at U-M. The conferences were to be supported by university departments with interests ancillary to those of NES, as well as by the Michigan Center for Early Christian Studies and the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies. The sequence of conferences was planned to begin in June 2001.
Florence, Venice, and Beyond
The first "Enoch Seminar: An International Conference on Second Temple Judaism," took place June 19-23, 2001 in Florence, Italy. The immediate setting of the colloquium was spectacular. The conference sessions were held at the Villa Corsi-Salviati, the U-M facility in Sesto Fiorentino (six miles from Florence), an ancient manor with frescoed walls and luxuriant gardens.
Forty distinguished specialists attended by invitation. More than a dozen countries were represented. Most of the notable world scholars of Second Temple Judaism presented the lectures: Professors Michael Knibb (University of London); James Charlesworth (Princeton Theological Seminary); John J. Collins and Adela Yarbro-Collins (Yale); Martha Himmelfarb (Princeton); George W. E. Nickelsburg (Iowa); Florentino Garcia-Martinez (Groningen and Louvain); Paolo Sacchi (Turin); Ithamar Gruenwald (Hebrew University); and Gabriele Boccaccini, among others.
The conference focused on the early Enoch literature of pre-Maccabean times and was organized in five sections of three and a half hours each. Five papers were presented in each section. The titles of the sections are descriptive of the actual content of the papers. Section I addressed Origins of Enoch Traditions; Section II, The Theology of the Early Enoch Literature; Section III, The Enoch Group and the Priesthood; Section IV, Enoch Literature and Wisdom Literature; and Section V, Conclusions: Origins and Identity of the Enoch Group (late Persian or early Hellenistic?).
The program fare was rich by any measure. The scholarly concentration was lightened by evening receptions in the garden, graced by distinguished guests from the University of Florence, the Jewish community, and other local cultural institutions, and illumined by a marvelous concert of flute and piano, as well as a visit by the Archbishop. Ralph Williams, U-M professor of English language and literature, took many of us on an unforgettable guided tour of Florence and its historic culture, as well as Kiddush liturgy and dinner at the historical local synagogue.
Plans were announced for the second conference in July 2003 and for publishing the papers of each biennial conference in book form. The first volume was published by Henoch in Turin, Italy and the second is about to appear from Eerdmans, which will produce all of the forthcoming biennial publications as a series.
Inevitably, the study of the cultural origins of religious groups in ancient Israel becomes complicated with questions of literary and thematic inheritance in the document traditions, as well as in the strains of later interpretations. Ancient Canaanite religious literature, Babylonian annals and narratives, and Zoroastrian influences all played a significant part in the final versions of the Hebrew Bible, of the Judaisms from the exile to the rabbinic movement, and in forming early Christian roots. Akkadian and Neo-Assyrian elements can also be detected. Issues of liturgies, theologies, philosophies of history, psychological worldviews, and political partisanships weave through all the literary traditions, which the Enoch scholars address.
Four key questions bridged the connection between the conference in 2001 and the second one in 2003. Professor Charlesworth formulated them in his closing summary of the program in Florence. He challenged the scholars to find the roots, sources, and origins of the rich stream of Enoch literature in the Judaisms of the Second Temple Period (500 B.C.E. to 100 C.E.); to articulate the relationship between this intellectual stream and the library of the Qumran community, which is referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls; to define more sharply the nature and criteria for discerning what is apocalyptic literature; and to discover the relationship between these first three and the traditions of the Torah of Moses.
With these stimulating words ringing in the back of our minds, the company of scholars reassembled for the Second International Enoch Seminar, this time in Venice, in July 2003. The identified topic for the scholarly work in this conference was "Enoch and Qumran Origins: The Enoch Group and Its Literature in the Second Century B.C.E."
The scholars lived in the modest, comfortable Domus Ciliota and daily walked throughout Venice to the places of meeting. The program was organized in five day-long meetings in which the scholars presented relatively brief overviews of prepared papers, leaving adequate time for spontaneous dialogue. Ralph Williams entertained us with dramatic tours of St. Mark's Cathedral and piazza, the historic Jewish synagogue and quarter, as well as the Tintoretto paintings at the Scuola de San Rocco.
The Enoch Seminars were planned from the outset in 2000 as a series of five events: 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009, neatly framed within the first decade of the millennium. The third will be held at the Monastery of Camaldoli (near Florence), June 6-10 next year and will study the similitudes of Enoch (also known as the parables of Enoch) and the Son of Man concept which played so prominent a role in the Jesus movement. It is the intent of these international gatherings to continue to invite the leading scholars in the field of Second Temple Judaism and Christian origins and to design the process of their meeting in such a manner as to produce ground-gaining scholarly dialogue by means of practical working-group discussions.
The conceptual and operational development of these biennial conferences have been largely a product of the creativity of Professors Gabriele Boccaccini and Yaron Eliav of NES. The administration of the meetings and the support work was assisted by J. Harold Ellens, James Waddell, and others NES scholars. The results of the first
International Enoch Seminar were published in 2002 as G. Boccaccini, ed., The Origins of Enochic Judaism, Henoch XXIV 1-2, Turin: Silvio Zamorani Editore. The volume produced by the second seminar will appear in October 2004 as G. Boccaccini, ed., Enoch and Qumran Origins: New Light on a Forgotten Connection, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Rewarding, indeed, was this remarkable experience of being immersed in the cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary lines of force and intellectual currents of the second Enoch seminar. The sense of mutuality in the quest for international, cross cultural, and cross- millennial understanding of the Jewish and Christian world, was dramatic and substantively satisfying. This was a signal moment in the work and service of the U-M and Department of Near Eastern Studies. It constitutes a model of effective education and sets the standard for future achievement in this type of international scholarly cooperation.
Dr. J. Harold Ellens is a research scholar in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at U-M and is writing on Middle Judaism and Christian origins. He received his first Ph.D. in communications psychology in 1970 from Wayne State University and is completing his second Ph.D. at U-M this year. He holds masters degrees from Calvin Theological Seminary, Princeton Seminary, and U-M. He is the author and/or editor of 104 books and 165 professional journal articles.