Jews, Christians to share views of Bible

Church, synagogue leaders joining in three meetings

November 02, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Despite their theological differences, Jews and Christians draw from a common well for spiritual inspiration -- the dynamic personalities of the Bible.

Moses is the prototype of a religious leader; Jonah is a man anguishing over a call from God; and the Messiah is a figure that embodies yearnings for peace and justice.

Some of the region's most gifted preachers will share their interpretations of these biblical personae during the next three Wednesdays with members of several Baltimore synagogues and congregants from Christian churches.

"Ancient Treasures, Modern Scripts," a series sponsored by the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies (ICJS), begins at 8 p.m. tomorrow when Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman of Congregation Chizuk Amuno and the Rev. Flo Ledyard of Washington's College of Preachers sermonize on Moses.

On Nov. 10, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Pikesville and the Rev. Robert Leavitt of St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park will preach on the Messiah. The series will conclude Nov. 17, when Rabbi Marc Margolius of Congregation Beth Am Israel in Pennsylvania, and the Rev. Michael Curry of St. James Episcopal Church in West Baltimore preach on Jonah.

The series, to be held at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 8100 Stevenson Road in Pikesville, is free.

The presentations are part of the Culman Series, which honors ICJS board member Peter W. Culman, a professor of homiletics at St. Mary's Seminary and University and the managing director of Center Stage for 32 seasons. Culman will retire from his Center Stage position next year.

The purpose of this series is to bring together Jews and Christians, men and women, blacks and whites, to reflect on stories and biblical figures they may read in common, but may interpret quite differently, said the Rev. Christopher M. Leighton, ICJS executive director.

"In large measure, each of us reads and appropriates biblical personalities through the experience and through the tradition with which we've been bequeathed," Leighton said. "But we normally live comfortably within our own enclaves and rarely move into uncharted, unexplored, unfamiliar terrain. The fact is, how Moses is understood in the Jewish community or in the African-American community is very different with how he is understood in mainline Roman Catholic or Protestant white churches."

Zaiman said this is not a forum for academic lectures, but an opportunity to share how denominations approach these stories within the context of their liturgies.

"The charge is that we are to give or preach a sermon the way we would in our own congregation," he said. "This is not to be an overview of Moses' life or a historical study."

The presentations will be followed by four town meetings Thursday evenings in February, which will bring together about 400 people from across the city to analyze the stories about the biblical figures, compare how their respective traditions interpret them and attempt to draw life lessons from them, Leighton said. It is a model that Leighton hopes can be exported to bring together diverse groups in other cities.

"We'll break into smaller study groups and look at texts that tease out the crises these figures meet in various points in their lives," Leighton said. "We'll explore questions like, `What does the way in which Moses made this decision tell you about how you make decisions in your own time?' "

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