It really happened, No. 1. Setting: two owners of a photoengraving shop on West 45th Street, Manhattan, hosting a Christmas Party for employees; one, an Irish Catholic, the other, a German Jew. The name of the shop: Reimann-Conway Associates. The time, 1950, just five years after the War. Conway leans against the wall near Reimann, both trading songs and jokes with the men. Suddenly Reimann leans away from the wall, takes a few steps, sweeps his outstretched arms for space, and attention, breaks into a thunderous bass which moves through the assembled men - thunderous - yet ... the words ... intimate, gentle, even glorious, and then sad, "Oh, Tannenbaum, sweet Tannenbaum ... . The German Jew, a man, no longer a boss, bringing us all together in joyous tears, at the time of a great Christian holiday. Not to be forgotten.
It really happened, No. 2. Vincent Donovan, working in Africa with the Masai tribe. His first impressions: "Here I was, at last face to face with an adult pagan people, with nothing between me and them." He adds: "Looking at these people around me ... I suddenly felt the urgent need to cast aside all theories and discussions, all efforts at strategy-and simply go to these people and do the work among them for which I came to Africa; thus he begins his own "evolution" by respecting their culture, joining them in their customs and traditions. He even went so far as to tell the story of Jesus as a man, born of a woman. Living in a village-simple, humble, human, like a Masai. Mr. Donovan's job, as a Catholic priest, was to convert the "unconvertible." Instead, he was the one converted, not out of his own faith, but into theirs, encountering no boundaries, no separation. In fact, his account became a book, "Christianity Rediscovered," which elicited a reader response plunging to its essence with daring expectations for a new Catholicism: "The community of the living image, Christ, will not be an immutable, fixed and cultic community, but the one which refuses to be ideological, iconoclastic and utopian." Not to be forgotten.
It really happened, No. 3. Jesus and the Scholars. There are numerous studies focusing on the "mission" of Jesus - Yeshua in Aramaic, the language of Jesus - and on what we now call Christianity. Many burst with detailed evidence that Jesus and most of his followers were Jews, certainly to the end of Jesus' life, and to the year 70 CE (Common Era) for his followers. One scholar tells us that "Jesus himself who worshipped the Jewish God, kept Jewish customs ... acquired Jewish disciples, who accepted him as the Jewish messiah," and concludes, this is "The one thing that nearly all scholars agree upon." And many scholars also agree that Jesus and his followers, expected that the end would occur in their lifetime. Such an expectation could explain the frequent references to "father" and "kingdom" implying a necessary spiritual preparation, but also implying that Jesus was not a god, did not think of himself as a god, but as a son, like all other Jewish men (evidence culled from analysis of translations and knowledge of customs). The scholars also see Jesus as a pragmatic reformer in some matters, as with laws observing the Sabbath; and also as a conservative insisting that the Torah was incumbent on all Jews-again, a kind of warning that the end was near. Not to be forgotten. (The main source for this paragraph is Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacCulloch.)
What does all this research mean for the Christian celebration of the birth of a new religion called Christianity? It can mean that Christianity is not a contentious rejection of Judaism, but an addition of a continuous weaving of sources about an extraordinary man preaching goodness to a geographically limited audience, gradually elevated to a figure preaching, under the aegis of divinity, a universal message to the world.
To put it another way, Christianity has its roots in Judaism, enriching both, rather than tearing them apart as antagonists in a competition for "truths" that separate, exclude, and even alienate. The implication is that with knowledge and compassion, we celebrate as do the German Jew, the preaching priest, and the searching scholars, with a "Merry Christmas," "Happy Holidays," "Happy Hanukkah"-an "e pluribus unum" of voices.
George Sebouhian is a Fredonia resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org