Review: A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

handbook on jewish roots of christian faith

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:

Soil:

  • God’s Plan for Israel
  • God’s Plan for the Nations
  • Messianic Prophecies
  • Appointed Times
  • Tabernacle and Temple

Roots:

  • The Jewish World of Jesus
  • The Jewish Life and Identity of Jesus
  • The Jewish Teachings of Jesus

Trunk:

  • The Jewish Disciples
  • The Jewish Paul
  • The Jewish Message: Resurrection

Branches

  • 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.

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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.

Review: The Warburgs

the warburgs

The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish FamilyRon Chernow. New York: Vintage, 1994.

Summary: The story of a prosperous and sprawling Jewish banking family who eventually established banking and philanthropic efforts in Germany, England, and the U.S., experiencing both great success and influence, and stunning disillusionment with the rise of Nazi Germany.

The Warburgs. It sounds like the title of a serialized TV drama chronicling a wealthy, influential, family with its own inner struggles, eccentric and driven characters, triumphs, tragedies and affairs. This wouldn’t be far off of the truth about this Jewish banking family whose rise began with the founding of M.M. Warburg & Co. in 1798.

I picked this up because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Grant (review). This is a much earlier work, and in many ways far more complicated, in telling the story of several generations of a family from the turn of the nineteenth century into the 1990’s. It was a family with two major and rival branches, the Alsterufer and Mittelweg Warburgs, and a family that became established on both sides of the Atlantic.

For much of the story, the Mittelweg side of the family was in the ascendent. The five sons of Moritz Warburg, exercised great influence on both sides of the Atlantic. Max Warburg stands out in the development of M.M. Warburg as a power house private bank in Hamburg before the rise of Nazi Germany. His elder brother Aby relinquished his place in banking for intellectual pursuits, amassing a unique library that reflected his synthesis of knowledge, bankrolled by his prosperous brothers, who stay by him during periods where his genius descended into insanity. Brothers Paul and Felix emigrated to the U.S. Paul was an economic genius who outlined the framework for our Federal Reserve System while Felix married into the Schiff banking family and became an influential partner in Kuhn, Loeb, in New York City and engaged in extensive Jewish philanthropy. Fritz fled Germany for Sweden.  Max remained and struggled to maintain his banking house’s clients in an increasingly hostile atmosphere and held out the hope that some accommodation could be reached with the Nazis. In the end, he turned the bank over to the Aryan Brinckmann, supposedly a caretaker for the Warburg interest, but who fought to retain control after the war.

The later part of the book chronicles the post-war trajectory of Warburg interests and the rise of the Alsterufer branch in the person of Siegmund Warburg, who established S.G. Warburg in England in 1946 and built it into a major investment banking firm before his death. Chernow’s portrayal of this financial genius was fascinating. We observe a leader who exercised perfectionist control over the firm while delivering excellence of customer service to both small and large investor, a man of both towering rages and refinement, one as much inclined to the philosopher’s retreat as to the hurley-burley of the financial world. The tense alliance/rivalry between him and Eric, Max’s son, over the re-establishment of the Warburg name in Germany accentuates the continued competition between the two branches of the family.

One of the themes is the tension the Warburgs struggled with over their German and Jewish identities, a tension many Jews in Germany faced. They, with other Germans, took great pride in the rise of Germany as a power, and saw their own efforts as part of this. Max even served as a pre-war director on the board of I.G. Farben, the chemical concern that manufactured Zyklon B, used to exterminate Jews in the concentration camps. We follow the gradual opening of the eyes of Max and other family members to the unfolding tragedy of Nazism and how a nation would willingly participate in the elimination of some of its greatest fellow citizens. Max both tried to encourage Jews to wait it out, and yet also helped bankroll and facilitate the flight of many others and was one of the last to leave while Jews could.

Another theme is the dissipation of Jewish identity through wealth and marriage outside the faith. Each generation was increasingly less observant, and the main thing that marked them out was philanthropic efforts. Some became secular, others married Christians, allowing children to be baptized and raised in Christian faith.

What is striking at the same time is a family marked by financial and intellectual genius, whether it was Moritz, the first of the Mittelwegs or Max, or his son Eric, who eventually succeeded in restoring the M.M. Warburg & Co. name in Hamburg. Jimmy, Paul’s son advised Franklin Roosevelt for a time, and flip flops between progressive and conservative stances, alienating him from most of those in power until he came back in favor during the Kennedy administration. One could go on and discuss the varied careers of the Warburg women, including Max’s four daughters.

One of the challenges was keeping all the names and family relationships straight! Chernow provides a family tree in the front matter and it’s good to keep it marked. What is striking is that he spins a fascinating narrative of this sprawling family, its hopes, its genius, its outliers, it’s impact and the cost of wealth over the generations. Even today, the Warburg name remains on Warburg, Pincus and M.M. Warburg & Co.  S.G. Warburg was bought out by Swiss Bank, became Warburg Dillon Read and later UBS Warburg before the Warburg name gave way to UBS Investment Bank. Chernow helps us understand the drive and the significant actors behind this enduring legacy of influence in the worlds of banking, philanthropy, and culture.