A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, Edited by Craig A. Evans and David Mishkin. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019.
Summary: A topical handbook on the Jewish background of the Christian faith, informed by the perspectives of both Jewish and non-Jewish Christian scholars.
A variety of scholars have called attention to how important it is to understand the Jewish background to the ministry of Jesus and the origins and development of the Christian movement. This background is critical to understanding the New Testament, the relationship between the two testaments, and indeed, the relations between Jews and Christians.
What makes this handbook distinctive from others that cover similar ground is that it is a multi-authored work, in which some of the contributors are well-known scholars like Scot McKnight, Larry Hurtado, Craig A. Evans, Andreas Köstenberger, and George H. Guthrie, and most of the rest are Jewish and/or Israeli citizens who believe in Jesus as Messiah and have had some affiliation with the Israel College of the Bible. Because of this, the book has something of an “insider” feel of those who have lived the context about which they write.
The “Roots” in the title are reflective of the organization of the book around Soil, Roots, Trunk, and Branches. Here are the chapters under each:
- God’s Plan for Israel
- God’s Plan for the Nations
- Messianic Prophecies
- Appointed Times
- Tabernacle and Temple
- The Jewish World of Jesus
- The Jewish Life and Identity of Jesus
- The Jewish Teachings of Jesus
- The Jewish Disciples
- The Jewish Paul
- The Jewish Message: Resurrection
- The Parting of the Ways
- The Mending of the Ways
While the title says this is a handbook, in the acknowledgements, the editors note that the impetus for this volume was an online course on the Jewish Roots of Christianity, and the book has the feel and continuity of a textbook, or supplemental text meant to be read sequentially, as I did for this review. That said, it was an engaging read that is both concise and surprisingly comprehensive, and reflective of recent scholarship. Each section of the chapter includes extensive bibliographies of source materials for further reading or research.
There were both reminders of past reading, and some delightful gems. One was the reminder of how God’s plan for Israel and the nations works hand in hand and runs through scripture. I loved this summary of the major Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat!” The article on Jewish groups in the first century is essential reading for any student of the New Testament, as is the article on messianic expectations. Andreas J. Köstenberger helpfully shows how Jesus was like and unlike other rabbis. I had never seen the connection between the Lord’s prayer and the Kaddish until Scot McKnight pointed it out in his article. Much ink has been spilled in recent years on Paul. The chapter on the Jewishness of Paul covers much of this ground quite concisely.
A surprising chapter of this book was on the Jewish message of the resurrection. This argued for a much more significant basis for eschatological salvation, and eternal life, than one finds in most discussions of Jewish origins.
In the concluding section, the authors include a helpful summary of the parting of Jewish and Christian communities and some of the sad history of enmity between these. I appreciated the hopeful note on which the handbook concluded in describing the Messianic Jewish presence in Israel, and the relationships formed through the Israel College of the Bible between Jewish and Arab Christian pastors.
This is both a helpful reference work to have on one’s shelf for biblical studies, and could be used as a text for an adult ed course on Jewish roots of the Christian faith or a college or seminary level course. It also makes for an enjoyable “refresher” course should one read through it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.