Book Review: Craig A. Evans, and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

Evans, Craig A. and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2019. 354 pp.; Pb; $24.95.  Link to Hendrickson

This book attempts to be “a comprehensive yet concise primer on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.” The book therefore contains a series of short articles on aspects of Judaism written from the perspective of Jewish Christianity. Co-editor David Mishkin is a faculty member of Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel and contributor Erez Soref serves as president of ICB. Many contributors to this collection are also associated with ICB, but there are several sections written by New Testament scholars who have done significant work on their assigned topic. In addition to Craig Evans as an editor and contributor of two articles, there are three essays from Andreas Köstenberger, two each from George Guthrie, Scot McKnight, Brian Rosner, and Jason Matson and a section on early devotion to Jesus by Larry Hurtado.

The book has thirteen chapters divided between four sections; each chapter has three to five subsections written by various contributors. Since this is a handbook, the subsections are brief and can be read individually. The book uses in-text citations and each section concludes with a Works Cited. These references can be used for further study of the individual topics.

The titles for the four sections use a metaphor of an olive tree, beginning with the Soil (exploring the Jewish ground from which the Christian faith developed), the Roots (tracing the Jewish world, life and teaching of Jesus), the Trunk (developing the Jewishness of the disciples of Jesus and the apostle Paul) and finally the Branches (the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity).

In the first part of the book surveys the Jewish soil from which Christianity developed. The first chapter examines God’s plan for Israel by tracing various covenants in the Hebrew Bible. After an introductory chapter on the kingdom and covenants, there are short descriptions of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New Covenants. Seth Postell discusses the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15 and 17, concluding “the Abrahamic covenant provides God’s unconditional commitment to restore the blessing through the provision of the seed and the land” (16).

Chapter 2 reviews God’s plan for the nations in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The essays in this chapter recognize the nations as Israel’s enemy and enticer, but also the salvation of the nations “in the last days.” Like the second chapter, chapter three reviews messianic prophecies in the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The section on the Torah focuses on the “prophet like Moses.” Brian Kinzel’s section on messianic psalms is an excellent overview, including both Jewish and Christian interpretations of these Psalms. Craig Evans contributes a frustratingly brief section on the New Testament use of the Old. After about a page on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Evans divides the section into Matthew and John (“the two most Jewish gospels”), Mark and Luke, and Paul and Hebrews. Evans has a second contribution on the Jews and Judaism in the Gospel if John in chapter 9. It is impossible to do justice to Paul’s use of the Old Testament in a half page. Although the handbook has a chapter on Paul, there is nothing more directly on his use of the Old Testament. Likewise, the complex exegesis of the book of Hebrews needs further explanation. Fortunately chapter 9 has a good section on Hebrews by George Guthrie.

The fourth and fifth chapters deal with a few details of Second Temple Judaism. Chapter four surveys the “appointed times” (Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Purim and Hanukkah). For each special day, the authors provide a synopsis of the day in the Hebrew Bible, some discussion of the special days in the New Testament, and a short note on the practice today. Chapter 5 is entitled Tabernacle and Temple, although the chapter comprises two sections on the atonement and salvation in the Old Testament. A third section by George Guthrie concerns Jesus and the tabernacle/temple. He connects Second Temple period expectations of an eschatological Temple with Jesus’s apocalyptic prophecies and the “cleansing” of the Temple. Further, he draws attention to Paul’s teaching of the church as a temple of God (Eph 2:19-22) and Jesus’s replacement of the Temple in the Gospel of John. This section could have including the superiority of Jesus to the tabernacle in Hebrews and the apocalyptic replacement of the Temple in Revelation.

The second section of the book is focused on the life and teaching of Jesus as a representative of the Jewish world. Chapter 6 covers the archaeology, literature, social groups and institutions of Second Temple Judaism, including a section on Jewish messianic expectations prior to the time of Jesus. Sheila Gyllenberg contributes an excellent article on the archaeology of Jesus, briefly summarizing place names and material remains which bear on Jesus research. She contributes a second section in the chapter on the Jewish literature of the period, Jim Sibley surveys Second Temple social groups and Andreas Stutz has sections on Jewish institutions (synagogue, temple, etc) and Messianic expectations in the Second Temple period. After a short comment on general messianic expectations, he divides the expectations into three sections, Hellenistic Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Rabbinic Judaism.

Chapter 7 examines the “Jewish life and identity of Jesus” beginning with Craig Evans’s overview of the ministry of Jesus, Andreas Stutz gives a short piece on the Son of man in Daniel 7.  Stutz points out Daniel 7:13-14 was “unequivocally related to the messiah” and that Jesus applied the title Son of Man to “exclusively and unambiguously to his return (see Matt 24:30; 26:64, Luke 21:26-27)” (158). Andreas Köstenberger contributes two sections to this chapter, one on the I Am statements in John and another on the trials and crucifixion. Finally in this section, Larry Hurtado gives a brief summary of his view on early Christian devotion to Jesus. For Hurtado, although Jesus was revered during his ministry, devotion to Jesus as God “seems to have been a major escalation in which the risen Jesus was given the kinds of reverence that are otherwise restricted to God” (175).

After a short section by Köstenberger on Jesus as a rabbi, chapter 8 discusses two examples of Jesus’ teaching, the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount (both sections by Scot McKnight). McKnight points out Jesus was not a moral philosopher in the Greek (or modern) traditions, but a Jew, and Jewish ethics derive ultimately from God. Jesus’s teaching is therefore based on the law, prophets and wisdom (189). Russell Morton has a short section on one of Jesus’s most Jewish forms of teaching, the parables.

The third section of the book (“the trunk”) is devoted to the development of Christianity first by the Jewish disciples of Jesus (ch. 9) and then by Paul (ch. 10). The goal of both these chapters is to highlight the Jewishness of the earliest followers of Jesus. As Jim Sibley points out, the early church “did not need to conduct a careful search for its Jewish roots. It was entirely Jewish!” (206). For many Christians, Paul is an example of a Gentile Christianity which rejected the Law. But as Brian Rosner says in his section on Paul in modern scholarship, Paul was a Jew “who believed Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, had called him to the servant, prophetic, and priestly task of heralding the gospel to the nations” (235). Although Paul is clear the Gentile followers of Jesus are not “under the Law,” he often has a positive view of the Law (242). Chapter 11 is devoted resurrection as key to the Jewish message of Christianity. Resurrection was anticipated in the Old Testament, developed in the Second Temple period and was the central to Paul’s theology.

The final section of the book concern the parting of the ways in early Judaism (David Mishkin), early Christianity (Jason Matson), and the Middle Ages (Ray Pritz). Although neither Mishkin nor Matson point to a specific event which forced Judaism and Christianity to develop in separate directions, Christianity’s developing Christology and devotion to Jesus as God forced Jews to consider Christians as blasphemous (286, following Larry Hurtado and Michael Bird).

The final chapter of the book offers some suggestions for the “mending of the ways.” Erez Soref traces the roots of the Messianic movement in modern Israel. This movement includes both Jews and Arabs (302), an alliance which is not without its problems. Messianic Jews and evangelical Arabs often view one another with suspicion, but hope to have a “weighty missiological effect on a war-torn land” (306).

Conclusion. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith is just that, a handbook. As such, the articles are tantalizingly brief, but the authors provide sufficient bibliographical material to point interested readers in the right direction. Since many of the writers are associated with Israel College of the Bible or other Messianic Jewish organizations, some readers will find the perspective of the book too narrow. Given the purpose of the book to draw attention to the Jewish roots of Christianity, this should not be a reason to avoid the book. For readers interested in exploring the Jewish Christianity from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, this Handbook will be a valuable guide.

NB: Thanks to Hendrickson for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Craig A. Evans, and David Mishkin, eds. A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

  1. Sounds like a neat idea for a book! Were there any sections you thought weren’t handled well? Seems like reviewing Jewish apocalyptic was not a priority.

    Were any non-Christian Jewish or Agnostic perspectives given a place?

    Like

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