Vines Intertwined: A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam

By Ferguson, Everett | Interpretation, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Vines Intertwined: A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam


Ferguson, Everett, Interpretation


Vines Intertwined: A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam by Leo Duprée Sandgren Hendrickson, Peabody, Mass., 2010. 838 pp. $34.95. ISBN 9781-59856-083-1.

THIS AMBrnous UNDERTAKING (the Table of Contents alone is thirteen pages) surveys the interrelationships and interconnections between Jews and Christians in the context of wodd history. The book covers nearly 1300 years, beginning in 640 B.C.E. There were no Christians then, but according to Leo Sandgren, neither were there Jews in the modern sense, but the covenant renewal under Josiah and Jeremiah was foundational for both. The historical survey concludes with the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 638 CE.

Political history structures the organization and begins each unit - Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. Notable is the attention to the parallel histories of Rome and Persia. Sandgren shows a remarkable knowledge of the grand sweep of western history (with occasional reference to its cultural landmarks) as well as the details of both Jewish and Christian history. He is even-handed and non-polemical in his presentation

Picking up on the modem imagery of Judaism and Christianity as siblings rather than mother-daughter, Sandgren adopts the symbolism of vines intertwined. "We now recognize that Judaism and Christianity are what they are because of the other" (p. 2). This perspective means "reading Jewish history in the light of Christianity and Christian history in the light of Judaism, and both within the light of the Greco-Roman and Persian wodds" (p. 696). He provides an excellent succinct comparison of Judaism and Christianity on p. 675.

Sandgren does not identify a time for the "parting of the ways," for "the vast majority of Jews and Christians passed easily between the two communities, shared common interests and the mutual needs for survival" (p. 7). As specific evidence, "The canons [of the church] give the impression that in daily Ike, under normal circumstances, the leaders were more concerned to separate the people than Jews and Christians desired to be separated" (p. 680). The same goes for contacts with pagans, for on the local level "Christianity had Jewish and 'pagan' elements; Judaism had Christian and 'pagan' elements" (p. 669). He is more definite on the separation of Samaritans and Jews: the destruction of the Samaritan temple by Hyrcanus marks the permanent split Sandgren often includes economic and social factors in addition to religious ones in conflicts and concludes that the polemics of Christians against Jews often had a political or social context

Sandgren describes his historical approach as a "critical maximalism." Thus, he is a maximalist on individual contacts between Jews and Christians (both certain and possible), on what we can assume about "common Jews" (who are largely silent in the sources), and on some historical basis for what comes down to us in legendary form. On the other hand, he is a minimalist on the extent of rabbinic authority among Jews. As an example of Sandgren's penchant for a clever phrase, in discussing the role of Jews in identifying holy sites to Christian pilgrims, he observes, "Although Christians had the keys to the kingdom, Jews still had the keys to the Holy Land" (p. 669).

Special features of the book include eight maps, many source quotations, five pages of selected primary literature, fourteen pages of selected secondary literature, and ten appendices that provide names and dates of Jewish high priests, Ptolemies, Seleucids, Roman emperors, Parthian kings, Sasanian kings, principal rabbinic sages, Jewish patriarchs and exilarchs, bishops of major Roman cities, and ancient historians. However, the sixty-seven pages of endnotes are very inconvenient for a work of this length, and a longer list of abbreviations is needed. The book is accompanied by a CD of the entire text in searchable PDF format

Bible students will be interested in some of the positions taken.

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