In Chasidic thought, it is an auspicious sign when a person dies on a holy day. On Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5771, (the new moon of Adar), my spiritual mentor and teacher, Dwight A. Pryor (זצ״ל), passed into the world of truth. He died on a Shabbat, and more than that, he died on the new moon of Adar. According to the Talmud, "Joy increases in Adar." In this case, joy may have increased in heaven, but those of us still wrapped in this mortal coil lament the loss.
Mr. Pryor will be remembered for his great scholarship and his contribution to the work of restoring the Jewish Roots of Christianity. His Center for Judaic-Christian Studies has been a major contributor, and brought us books like Marvin Wilson's Our Father Abraham, and Bivin and Blizzard's Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus. Mr. Pryor was also a founding member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research and disseminated their work.
His spiritual contributions, however, weigh heavier than his academic contributions. His was a truly humble, gracious, and righteous soul—a man of integrity, wisdom, and the spirit of Messiah—without pretense and without braggadocio. He spoke into the lives of thousands, turning their eyes to Messiah, opening minds to the Jewishness of Jesus. Despite health complications, he worked tirelessly to bring the message of the kingdom and the Jewish roots of our faith into the midst of the Christian church. Untainted by the bitterness of many in the Hebrew Roots Movement, Mr. Pryor was animated by a genuine love for his brothers and sisters in Messiah.
He brought careful balance and real scholarship to a movement too often characterized by imbalance and lack of credibility. He was a progressive, never afraid to challenge the status quo when he felt it contradicted the testimony of scripture. He was not afraid to speak out against theological sacred cows—yet at the same time, he had a tremendous respect for the church, and labored toward her restoration, not her dismantlement.
In a sense, Dwight Pryor has a lot to do with the founding of the ministry of First Fruits of Zion. In 1991, I was working three jobs, was a young father, and had no intention of starting a ministry. I wanted to promote a local engagement where Dwight Pryor was speaking in Colorado. When the local Christian paper would not cooperate in publicizing the event, my wife Amber (Tikvah) and I began a small newsletter called Israel Today simply to promote Mr. Pryor's appearance. We were soon receiving subscription requests from all over the country—and thus the ministry was born. A few years later, in (1994,) we changed the name to First Fruits of Zion.
In 1999, we approached Mr. Pryor and asked if we might publish some of his articles in our magazine. Our magazine editor at the time was Jewish believer Keren Golan. She worked out of our Israel office and began corresponding with Mr. Pryor, who had lost his wife to cancer a few years earlier. They struck up a relationship, and before we knew it, Keren Golan became Keren Golan Pryor. I reflect back now on the day that Dwight called me to discuss Keren. Knowing the pain of loss he suffered at the death of his first wife, my heart was full of joy, knowing the caliber of Keren and what a perfect helpmate she would be for Dwight.
In some ways, it seems like Dwight's spiritual DNA helped shape the ministry of First Fruits of Zion. He pioneered much of the theological territory that we have settled. My colleagues Toby Janicki and D. T. Lancaster share my admiration for him. Dwight Pryor's teachings impacted both of them before they came to work for First Fruits of Zion. He is like a spiritual father to all of us at First Fruits. Although he was never officially affiliated with the ministry, he was always willing to give us counsel (and at times correction), helping us to steer through these uncharted waters.
We inherited from him a love for the body of Messiah and a desire to impact the church with the message of Jewish Roots and the Jewishness of the Messiah. In that mission, we have tried, with varying degrees of success, to emulate his gracious, humble, long-suffering spirit. We have learned from him the importance of serious scholarship in this endeavor of restoration, and even more importantly, he taught us the value of accountability and connectedness within the body of believers.
Mr. Pryor will be missed by all of us at First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David. We send our condolences to Dwight's family and to our sister Keren: "May you be consoled along with the other mourners of Zion."
זכר צדיק לברכה, zecher tzadik livracha: May the memory of the righteous be for blessing.