24 May 2014 Conversion debate in Israel #otdimjh

26 May 2014 “Debating Conversion in Different Historical Contexts” Conference focuses on Jewish Conversion to Christianity #otdimjh

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Here are the details of this most interesting conference. The array of topics selected, the international gathering of scholars, and the focus on the topic of Jewish ‘conversion’ to Christianity, mean that the papers, when published in book form, will be an important resource for anyone interested in the history of Jewish believers in Jesus.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 22.40.42 Debating Conversion in Different Historical Contexts

International Conference

26th -29th May 2014

An International Conference by The Center for the Study of Conversion & Inter-Religious Encounters in Cooperation with Israeli Centers of Research Excellence, Israeli Science Foundation and  Council for Higher Education

26th -29th May 2014, Oren Conference Hall (Ulam Knassim Aleph), Building 26,
Marcus Family Campus, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva

The first aim of the conference is to explore the broad range of available literary sources in which relevant information about converts can be found and discuss the methodology for extracting such information and analyzing it. Scholars of all disciplines, interests, geographic and chronological focuses are invited to propose papers which will shed light on the extant data and propose methodological strategies for its accumulation and analysis.

Sessions might include, but are not limited to, such topics as:

Law and conversion: courts records, regulations, and legal opinions

Religious and Secular Governance: decrees, official records,

Narrative and conversion: historiography, hagiography, biography, poetry

Intellectual and cultural brokerage: convert-authored scientific and educational treatises, poetry, and fiction

Theology: debates, exegesis, polemics, and apologetics

Archeology: tombs, dedications, houses of worship

Psychological, linguistic and semiotic analysis of conversion texts

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We especially welcome papers that address related texts from the Medieval and Early Modern periods, but also welcome proposals dealing with Antiquity and the Modern Era which bear relevance to the theme of the conference.


The second aim of the conference is to showcase the proposed database and prepare the ground for international cooperation on inputting relevant data. Participants are requested to prepare materials relevant to one or more converts (or an example of mass conversion) according to the parameters of the database set out above. We will study these test cases together, input the materials, and attempt to deal with the problems that arise, thereby creating a protocol for the database and ironing out the difficulties.

See the full program here.

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For several videos of the lectures see here (the funniest joke I have heard on the topic comes one minute 40 seconds into the presentation).

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Reflection and Prayer: Whilst most, if not all, of the participants at this conference would not be sympathetic to Messianic Judaism today, their work sheds much light on the context, character and motivations of Jewish believers in Jesus throughout history, many of whom were forced to ‘convert’ for all the wrong reasons, including their treatment by the Church.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, open our eyes, and open our hearts, to see the way we have gone against your word, your love, and your purposes for your people Israel. Help us to learn from the past and not make the same mistakes again. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.






Toward a Cultural History of Scholastic Disputation


Some abstracts of topics addressed

“Fear of Conversion to Judaism in Thirteenth-Century Christian Segregatory Legislation”

Paola Tartakoff, Rutgers University
Scholars have long noted the prominence of “fear of Jewish religious influence” among the stated justifications for a variety of types of medieval legislation aimed at segregating Christians and Jews. This justification was prominent not only in the first centuries of the Common Era, before Christianity amassed political and military might, but also into the late Middle Ages, by which point Jews constituted a persecuted minority.In seeking to account for the persistence of expressions of concern about Jewish religious influence during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, some scholars have simply cited “the force of tradition.” According to this view, the theological competition between Christianity and Judaism and any robust sense of rivalry between Christians and Jews were, by the high Middle Ages, long over. Therefore, whereas late medieval Jews, whose leaders likewise favored segregating Jews and Christians, had reason to fear that Jewish-Christian intermingling might lead to apostasy from their own community, Christians did not. In fact, according to this view, Christians had every reason to hope that intermingling would result in the absorption of more Jews into the Christian flock.

I shall argue, by contrast, on the basis of a broad array of evidence about conversion to and from Judaism in thirteenth-century Western Europe, that expressions of concern about Jewish religious influence often were genuine. In fact, they shed light on dynamics of repulsion and attraction between medieval Christians and Jews far more complex than previously imagined. It was not only the case that, in particular contexts, Christian employees in Jewish homes became Jewish, that some Christians fraternized extensively with Jews, and that some Jewish converts to Christianity returned to Judaism, but it was also well known that wealthy and educated Christians occasionally officially converted to Judaism. With attention to chronology and geography, my paper shall consider how these social realities influenced Christian fears about Jews as reflected in legal sources.

“Conversion as a Historiographical Problem”

Ryan Wesley Szpiech, University of Michigan
This paper surveys the problems raised by the word conversion in historiography and religious studies. It argues that the study of religious change necessarily relies on a number of assumptions about the nature of religious belief, experience, ritual, and language in order to make sense. “Conversion” is used as shorthand by scholars and historians to describe a moment of religious change, and its use in the study of medieval history to describe a wide range of disparate phenomena glosses over such assumptions and reifies religious change as a stable and repeated historical event, one that can be dated, analyzed, and compared by modern historiographical discourse. After surveying the origins of the concept of conversion as a particularly Christian phenomenon, I present a number of medieval case studies (Ovadia ha-Ger, Alfonso of Valladolid, Garci Ferrandes de Jerena, Abd al-haqq al-Islami, Anselm Turmeda, and others) that serve to problematize the question of how to define and describe conversion in a historical sense. I use these examples to argue that conversion represents an epistemological problem in historiography and that it can only be meaningful when understood in a particular historical context. I further suggest that it is imprecise as a generic term to describe religious change and can only be of limited use in discussing religious change to non-Christian religions. By looking at the problem of defining “conversion” in a historical sense, I conclude that any generic discussion that lacks a careful analysis of circumstance, audience, and textual sources runs the risk of fabricating historical information about religious change and misunderstanding the textual sources that purportedly describe it.

“Are Jewish-Christian Disputations a Source of Conversion?”

Alex J. Novikoff, Fordham University
 Two related fields in medieval Jewish-Christian relations have slowly been converging over the past generation. One is the study of conversion as a site for interfaith polemic, and the other is the study of disputation as a tool for pedagogy and polemic. Drawing on recent scholarship (including my own) in both these fields, this paper will address what is in fact a very old question: did Jewish-Christian disputations serve to effect conversion? I intend to bypass the simplistic “yes” or “no” response and answer this question obliquely, suggesting that the literary form of a textual disputation and the performative components of a live disputation are more critical to understanding the nature of conversion than has traditionally been recognized. I believe that a Christian conversionary impulse was there, and that disputation contributed to it, but not in a direct way, and I further hope to illustrate how a more nuanced approach to the vexed correlation between disputation and conversion can be achieved when other contextual factors are considered. My talk will range over several examples, but I will especially be focusing on the texts by Petrus Alfonsi (12th century) and Rodrigo Jimènez de Rada (13th century), and I will also discuss the disputations of Paris in 1240 and Barcelona in 1263.

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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1 Response to 24 May 2014 Conversion debate in Israel #otdimjh

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