Edmund Wilson on David Flusser

In 1969 Edmund Wilson (who by then had already written 22 books), penned an eloquent portrait of David Flusser when he recounted his conversations with Flusser in his The Dead Sea Scrolls 1947-1969 (London: W. H. Allen, 1969). Here are a few excerpts from Wilson’s book:

I had met him [David Flusser] in the library of the University and asked him to come to see me, and he arrived at the King David Hotel, precipitately, abruptly, hatless, with his briefcase in his hand, and the moment we sat down in the lobby, quite without a conventional opening—since he knew that I was looking for light on the subject—he began to talk about the scrolls. He was dynamic, imaginative, passionately interested. I had heard about his absorption in ancient texts—which he seems always to carry about him—while waiting in queues for his marketing. The important thing, he said at once, was not the polemics about the dates, but what was implied by the contents of the manuscripts. He started in English but asked if he could speak French. His English was bad, he said; and few people understood Czech. (I had the impression that German was not often spoken in Israel.) Hebrew he had learned, he added, rather late in life; “My best language here is really mediaeval Latin.” I knew that he was primarily a student of mediaeval subjects, but asked him with whom he spoke Latin. “With the Jesuits,” he replied. I had been told that if you asked him a question, it would take him three hours to answer, and I could see now what people meant, but he was neither a bore nor garrulous. On the contrary, I have rarely known a scholar who expressed himself—with all his material at his fingertips—so brilliantly and so much to the point. He would give me, to each of my questions, a full and closely reasoned answer, and stop when he had covered the ground. All the texts that were needed he had brought in his briefcase, and he handed me a Greek Testament for me to follow the Pauline Epistles while he held before me the Hebrew texts and translated them fluently into Greek, demonstrating that not only the doctrine but the language itself was exactly the same…. (pp. 78-79)

Such were the pressure and tempo of Mr. Flusser’s talk that he was carried at one point to lengths that had no precedent in my experience of even the most enthusiastic talkers. Not only did he raise his voice, when some insight had taken possession of him, quite oblivious of the people sitting near us and as if he were lecturing in a classroom, but when, at the climax of one of his arguments—though we had tried to get away from the orchestra by going to the farthest corner—the music impinged on our conversation, my companion, caught up by a familiar tune, actually sang a few bars of his exposition, as if it were part of an opera; then pulled himself up and returned to prose, as he put his text back in his briefcase…. (p. 80)

Flusser is a short stocky man, with sharp little cold green eyes that glint behind round-rimmed glasses, under modestly Mephistophelian eyebrows, and red hair that stands straight up from his forehead. And he delights in deadpan humour, which, if one does not show signs at once of appreciating his ironic intent, he underlines with a harsh dry laugh. I have seen him disconcert other scholars by insisting that the errors in sacred texts and the ignorant misreadings of them were really the constructive element in the history of civilization, since the religious ideas that have had most success have mainly been founded upon them…. (p. 81)

The next day [after a meeting with Yigael Yadin in 1967 shortly before the Six Day War], I went to see David Flusser—my friend the incomparable Flusser. He is in every way except scholarly accomplishment the opposite of his colleague Yadin. He had married since I had last seen him and now held a full professorship at the Hebrew University—about both of which events he had written me in the mediaeval Latin which he had told me, on a previous visit, was then in Israel his best spoken language. Though a professor, he is completely unacademic. He is a scholar who loves scholarship for its own sake, not to secure any kind of advancement. His central interest is comparative religion, but the range of his reading is voraciously immense, and his mind is so teeming with ideas which he feels such an urgency to communicate, and one idea so irresistibly suggests another, that his conversation becomes overwhelming. One of his colleagues one said to me, “The thing about Flusser is that he flusses.” And Flusser’s Fluss may turn into a torrent. He seems to have simultaneously before him, in his mind, open texts for instant reference, both the Old Testament and the New Testaments, the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigraphs (that is, the intertestamental writings), the Talmud and other rabbinical literature and the Fathers of the Church, as well as modern Biblical scholarship and the philosophy and belles-lettres of classical and modern Europe. Though I cannot always follow his leaping and shifting thought and am often left blank by his significant quotations, which he recites or reads in the original tongues, under the impression that I can follow them, I find him fascinating to talk with about the scrolls and kindred topics because his exact memory, his comprehensive learning, and his powers of intuition have let him to make connections and to draw conclusion that nobody else has or would have thought of…. (p. 247)

He is full of humorous irony as well as of intellectual excitement, and likes to perpetrate deadpan jokes. He has grown heavier since I last saw him and is thus even more extraordinary in appearance, with his red hair, his sharp little eyes that sometimes look green, sometimes blue, and his rather large pointed ears, which have no lobes and grow directly out from his head. I was not surprised to learn that at some recent scholarly congress in India he was the only one of the delegates whose feet were kissed by the natives and who was regarded, with his genie-like appearance, as a semi-supernatural being…. (p. 251)

An Interview with Dwight A. Pryor

January 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of The Center for Judaic-Christian Studies. In the following interview, the Center’s founder, Dwight Pryor, surveys his life’s journey, and reflects on the dangers inherent in the “Jewish Roots” movement. Dwight’s words are a clarion call to those who are part of this renewal, and a sobering warning to those who would abuse the fledgling movement.

[question]How did you first get involved with the Jewish Roots of Christianity?[/question]

[answer]My journey actually began with a small ad in the back of a Christian magazine in 1981, which led me to a discovery of the Jewish background to the life and teachings of Jesus.

A few years earlier, in 1977, the Lord had sovereignly brought me out of the New Age Movement into the Kingdom of God. For seven years I had served as the president of a nationally known New Age organization when, with many of my colleagues and friends, I encountered the extraordinary reality of Jesus as Messiah and Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit to radically transform lives and bring people into an intimate relationship with the true and living God.

As a result of that experience, I developed a keen interest in the Bible and its wisdom. I was influenced in my early studies by the writings of Derek Prince and developed a growing respect for the importance of Israel. Indeed I found myself drawn to the Hebrew Bible and surprisingly attracted to the Hebrew language.

In the spring of 1981 I noticed a small add in the classifieds of Logos magazine that posed a provocative question:“Can the sayings of Jesus be properly understood without a knowledge of Hebrew?” Readers were invited to request free information from Israel about exciting developments there in gospel research. Which I did…and the rest of the story, as they say, is history![/answer]

[question]Who placed the ad? And what information did you receive?[/question]

[answer]I received a packet of information from David Bivin telling about the unprecedented collaboration of Jewish and Christian scholars in Jerusalem studying the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and their growing conviction that Jesus of Nazareth likely spoke Hebrew in his religious discourses. More importantly, in their “excavation” of the gospels, Dr. Robert Lindsey and Professor David Flusser discovered mounting evidence that Jesus’ original words, idioms and Hebrew syntax are remarkably well preserved behind the earliest Greek manuscripts of the gospels.

Later, through a generous gift of a dear friend, I was able to travel to Israel on a study tour and meet David and many of the scholars of what became known as the “Jerusalem School.” I was captivated by the brilliant insights their research shed on the life and times of Messiah Jesus, and felt strongly that the Body of Messiah worldwide should share in the fruit of this pioneering work, and not just a coterie of a few gifted men and women in Jerusalem.

That journey up to Jerusalem forever changed my life and chartered the course for what would become my ministry. I went to Israel as a Spirit-filled believer, and I returned with a burning desire to become an authentic disciple of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. I went back to graduate school at the University of Texas, where I had attended more than a decade before as a Philosophy student, and took courses in Modern Hebrew and Jewish studies. With the help of several friends, I started the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in order to raise funds to further gospel research in Israel and to share those results with others. Since its inception in 1984, I have served as the Center’s president.[/answer]

[question]You must have seen many changes in the last 25 years in public awareness regarding the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Christian faith?[/question]

[answer]In the 80’s I could say to a church congregation that “Jesus wasn’t a Christian, he was a Jew!” and there would be gasps in the audience. Today everyone acknowledges that our Lord was not an Englishman but a devout Jew. Back then few people had ever heard the terminology “Jewish roots of Christianity.” Today you can do a Google search on the term and be directed to over 200,000 websites.

So yes, there has been a noticeable awakening in the Church, even worldwide, to its historic and spiritual origins in the Judaism of Jesus and the Second Temple era in Jewish history. But I am not really surprised by this. From the beginning I had the sense that we were witnessing more than some idiosyncratic curiosity of a few Hebrew-philes, but a move of God’s Spirit that would eventually spread throughout the Body of Messiah.

In the mid-80’s, when I was trying to convince Eerdmans to publish the book Dr. Marvin Wilson had written for us, Our Father Abraham, I told them this work would not be just another typical academic volume, with a short lifespan, but would circulate for years and become a classic in the Church’s awakening to its Hebrew heritage in Messiah. Though they were reluctant—they did not think there was a market for the book—they finally agreed to publish it (after we agreed to purchase 1,000 copies in advance!). Today Our Father Abraham is in its thirteenth printing and is one of the five all-time bestselling academic books for the second largest Christian publishing house in America![/answer]

[question]Are you pleased with the way this movement has developed over the years? And what do you see to be its future?[/question]

[answer]Many positive and edifying things are occurring for believers returning to the foundations of their faith in a Jewish Messiah and his Hebrew scriptures. Minds are being renewed in the service of God, hearts are being mended, and families are finding blessing and shalom in celebrating the biblical holidays, including the Sabbath. I especially am thrilled with the fact that we now are witnessing the third generation of young scholars fully acquainted with and academically prepared to advance the Church’s knowledge of the thorough-going Jewishness of Jesus and to promote the value of a Hebraic worldview to the Christian vision.

On the other hand, at times I have mixed feelings about the directions some in the so-called Jewish Roots Movement are taking. It is not surprising I suppose that with any move of God’s Spirit in the Church there will be excesses and even extremism that can lead to spiritual pride, soulishness, and sectarianism. Too many who are leaders, it seems, have little scholarly background or accountability, and sometimes their “new revelations” are nothing more than retooled ancient heresies garbed in Hebrew clothing. That does not contribute to the renewing of the Christian mind nor to the sanctifying of God’s name.

My strong conviction is that the Lord is restoring the Hebraic foundations of the Church so that together we all can move forward in greater faithfulness and maturity in the service of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Toward that end we should be Father-focused, Christ-centered and Spirit-saturated. We should stand with and pray for Israel. Our teaching should strive to be biblically balanced and theologically sound.

Of all the followers of Jesus, we who are being reconnected to the olive-tree roots of our faith, who study Torah and treasure Jewish wisdom—surely we should be the most humble and wise, with a servant heart and a good eye, like Abraham, our father in the faith. Love should abound in all that we do. More than just knowledge, if the fruit of the Spirit is not characterizing our lives and our communities, then we are in the wrong movement.

At the end of the day, we can never improve upon Jesus and his example. His passion was for one movement alone, the Kingdom of God, and his priority was for the raising up of disciples through sound instruction and godly example. To authentically emulate that and to carry on that mission should be the raison d’être of the Hebraic renewal community.[/answer]

An Interview with Barbara Chambers, JP Office Administrator

Josa Bivin, David Bivin and Barbara Chambers in Jerusalem, Israel.
Josa Bivin, David Bivin and Barbara Chambers in Jerusalem, Israel.
You may have received a letter from her. Or maybe you met her at a conference or workshop. In one way or another, she has had a part in your connection with Jerusalem Perspective. Her name is Barbara Chambers and she has been our office administrator since the end of 1994.

Over the years we have had many volunteers who came to assist us with correspondence and the publication of Jerusalem Perspective magazine. It has been a tremendous blessing to work with dedicated persons who responded to our call for help and stayed here for up to two years. Barbara has “survived” longer than any previous volunteer. Her dedication and determination are extraordinary, and her delightful manner is a joy to all those who have contact with her.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

A: I was born in March, 1935 in Wales, where I received my basic education. I had several jobs there, but the most colourful was with a subsidiary of the Guinness Brewery. I married early and had three sons within seven years. We moved to England and I trained to become a teacher of five- to thirteen-year-old children. During my first year as a teacher I divorced my husband. I worked in a number of schools over the next seventeen years, during which time I became a believer and became interested in Israel and the Jewish people. In 1975 I married a retired Anglican clergyman. We visited Israel twice, and I visited Israel ten more times before coming to stay. My husband passed away in 1994 and later that year I came on a tour to Israel where I met David and Josa Bivin. David offered me a job and here I am, and enjoying every minute of it.

Q: At what point in your life were you able to define your being drawn to the Jewish people and Israel?

A: In 1967 when I was in college training to be a teacher, Israel was in the news because of the Six Day War. I became interested in what was going on. After I became a believer at the end of 1976, I got involved in an “Intercessors for Britain” group. We were asked to specify another country for which we would like to pray. I found myself choosing Israel. I could not have told you why. In 1981 I met a group of people who were moving from country to country, on their way to Jerusalem. They called themselves “Pilgrims to Jerusalem.” At that time they included people from Norway, France, the Faroe Islands and Denmark. They set up a big tent in the local park, and preached about, among other things, the importance of holiness in our lives. My life was forever changed. I spent most of my spare time with them, hooked by their different way of life. They lived love. Eventually, I gave up my teaching job—I no longer had time to do it properly. Between 1981 and 1984 I traveled to places in Europe where the Pilgrims were holding conferences. I had no money, but God provided. At Antwerp I met a Jew for the first time. He quickly became like a son to my husband and me. Through him we were invited to Israel for the first time.

Q: What made it possible for you to come to Israel in 1994? Tell us about the trip’s surprise ending.

A: In June of 1994 my husband died. In September I was involved in a car accident and my car was written off. The insurance company paid me more than I had paid for the car, enabling me to take part in a wonderful tour of Israel. The tour concluded with a conference. Among the conference speakers were David Bivin and Dwight Pryor, with whose teaching I was already familiar. During the tour it had dawned on me that I was free to return to Israel after the tour to study Hebrew. At the conference I asked for David’s advice about how I could stay in Israel as a student. In the course of that conversation I learned that David and Josa needed a worker for the JP office. After returning to England with my tour group, I came back to Israel and “tried out” in the JP office for seven weeks. By the end of the third week, I knew this was right for me. I returned to England, packed up my home and within two weeks was back in Israel to stay.

Q: Describe what things have helped you feel at home in Israel.

A: First of all, I have peace. I seem to be in “a flow.” Also, my health has improved enormously. I lived with David and Josa at first. Then I found a nearby apartment and I just never looked back. Now I have an even better apartment with a garden, a dog and two cats. The neighbours are very friendly and I have made many friends.

Q: What have been the most memorable moments you’ve had in Israel?

A: One of the my most memorable moments was my sixtieth birthday. I had been here only a month when David and Josa left for a three-month speaking tour. I had only a few friends, and I used to meet with them on Saturday evenings for Bible study and prayer. Some were people I had met in England. They invited me over for an impromptu meeting and, lo and behold, it was a birthday party. I was so blessed!

Q: You have three sons. Tell us about them.

A: Melvyn is the eldest, Robert the second and David the third. Melvyn and Robert are married. Between them they have given me eight grandchildren and a great-grandson, now two years old. David is not married.

Q: Tell us more about your son David.

A: Just after his twenty-third birthday, David had an accident while riding his motorcycle doing cross-country stuff. He hit a tree and broke his neck. He is almost totally paralyzed; however, he now lives very independently in a rented bungalow in England. He has a live-in caregiver and is surrounded by a variety of electronic gadgets that help him in his daily life. I am proud of him. He is not bitter, has an interest in many things and has adapted very well to his change of lifestyle. Of my three sons, David has been the most supportive of my move to Israel.

Q: If there was one thing you could share with those who are reading this interview, what would it be?

A: We never know where the Lord will lead us, or what He will ask of us. Many people would like to come and live here in Israel, and many people do come. However, some of those who come are not called to be here, and for some who are called, the timing is not right. Sharing from my own experience, I can say that if the Lord is with you, then no matter where you are or what you do, you have peace. I am not trying to say that it is all a bed of roses. Far from it! But, there is a peace.