Investing in the spiritual rebirth of the Jewish people

January 2016

Books for the New Year

The question of how to fit the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures with the New Testament has been a matter of discussion for centuries by biblical scholars teaching in academic faculties as well as church leaders who are tasked with preparing weekly sermons. Here are two current books that touch on this subject from very different angles.
Richard B. Hays served as Dean of Duke Divinity School and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament. In his recent book, Reading Backwards, Hays demonstrates that it was Israel’s Scripture that taught the Gospel writers how to understand Jesus as the embodied presence of God and how those Scriptures provided the literary witness to the Church from its earliest days. Dr. Rosa Lee Richards offers a brief review of this important book.

Reading Backwards

A Review by Dr. Rosa Lee Richards
Book cover: Reading Backwards by Richard B. HaysIn Reading Backwards, Richard Hays discusses the relationship between the Hebrew Bible (OT), and the Christian New Testament. In Christianity the OT is often neglected, when, Hays contends, the NT should clarify and be clarified by it. But how to read the two Testaments together? His answer: by reading metaphorically, or figurally, from back (the NT) to front (the OT).
How can the Bible be read backwards, with the NT elucidating the Hebrew Bible, without disrespecting Jewish understandings and without turning the NT into an unseemly bed of weedy outgrowths? This is done by looking at OT figures that presage, without prophesying, Christ and determining how Christ’s life resonates with the OT lives. This technique, according to Hays, was first used by the Gospel authors. Hays describes the way in which each Gospel reads backwards from Christ to the ancestral figures of the OT. By seeing how each figure is related to Christ, their significance is enhanced and clarified and made relevant to the believer today, while Christ is seen from Eden to Resurrection. 
Richard B. Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, Texas: Baylor University, 2014). ISBN 978-1-4813-0232-6.

A World Without Jews

A Review by Dr. Theresa Newell
Book cover: A World Without Jews by Alon ConfinoA second recent book, A World Without Jews, analyzes why in Nazi Germany the Jewish Bibles and synagogues were burned to ashes. What was it in these sacred writings and space that brought out anger, disrespect and a desire to dishonor the Biblical narrative given to the Jewish people?
Author Alon Confino, Professor of History at the University of Virginia and at Ben Gurion University, Israel, contends that the ideas which led to the burning of the Old Testament scriptures “fit within a broader theological debates about separating Christianity from Judaism, especially among Protestant theologians . . .  already from the late nineteenth century [by] several leading German liberal Protestants [who] called for a full separation of Christianity from Judaism” (p 130). The extreme of this chilling assessment was the claim among some of both Protestant and Catholic leaders of 1930s Germany that Jesus was Aryan and that German Christianity must be rebuilt entirely without Jewish roots. The burning of Jewish books led inevitably to the burning of Jewish bodies. This book is a devastating reminder that ideas which evolve into idealogies change history – for good or for evil.
Alon Confino, A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014). ISBN 978-0-300-21251-8 (pbk). 
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What was it like to be Mary?

By Dr. Theresa Newell, CMJ USA Board Member
Image: The Annunciation by Fra Angelico [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]
Annunciation by Fra Angelico [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]
A young Jewish woman in a nothing town in Upper Galilee, newly settled by religious Jewish families from Judea, was shocked by an angelic visitor named Gabriel. At that time, Mary (Hebrew: Miriam) had much to look forward to: she was engaged to a godly man from the house of King David named Joseph. 
One Bible translation describes young Mary as "confused and disturbed" when Gabriel appears to her. Understandably so! The message from God is even more amazing: "You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua)." 
Did Mary understand these words and the implications of what all of this meant? Under Torah, a pregnant unmarried woman must be put away. At best, she would face shame, social ostracism, judgment, ridicule - perhaps even death. Her life was at stake! What was asked of her was total surrender to God and His plans for her life. From that moment, her own dreams and plans ended.
Still she said "yes" to God's plan! "I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true" (Luke 1: 18). 
We are struck that it was not the religious leaders who received the news of Messiah. They were the ones who had searched the Hebrew Scriptures for clues as they anticipated a Redeemer who would deliver their people from oppression.
How would the Messiah make his appearance? They debated words in Torah that said he would be "a prophet like Moses," and would speak only God's words to the people (Deut 18: 18) and that he would be from the House of Judah and be a king (Genesis 49: 10). Prophets wrote that he would be born in "Bethlehem Ephrathah, a small village in Judah" (Micah 5:2) and that he would "be oppressed and treated harshly...dying for the sins of the people" (Isaiah 53: 7, 8). The rabbis asked, "How would this all come to pass?" But God sent a heavenly messenger to young Jewess Miriam to reveal His plan. No one was expecting that!
More overwhelming news came to her ears from the angel about this baby she was to carry in her womb: "He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!"
And so our God entered humbly into the womb of a young virgin and took on human flesh supplied by his Jewish mother Miriam. It was Jesus' Jewish flesh that went to a cross to redeem Jew and Gentile alike and that was raised again. 
May the humble and trusting spirit of Miriam and her amazing child Yeshua be in each of us as we celebrate the birth of this Jewish Messiah who is Lord of all!