Academic journal article Shofar

Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment

Academic journal article Shofar

Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment

Article excerpt

Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment, by Michael J. Cook. Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights, 2008. 416 pp. $29.99.

The title is meant to suggest that Jews can overcome their centuries-old fear and apprehension by reading the sacred scriptures of Christian belief and practice. Rabbi Michael J. Cook (Bronstein Professor in Judeo-Christian Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati) asserts that the time is long overdue for Jewish educators, clergy, and lay people to penetrate responsibly into Christian scriptures in order to discover and appraise the historical Jesus, which can help to illuminate and correct the misgivings and misdirection about the Jews found in Christendom. Reciprocally, attributed Jesus admonitions ("The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they teach you" [Matt 23:2a] and "salvation is from the Jews" [John 4:22b]) mandate the Ecclesia to engage the Synagoga on matters of Heaven and Earth. Birthing Jewish-Christian dialogue is an exciting and exacting learning experience for the enrichment and betterment of two sibling religions committed to biblical narrative and teaching.

Cook appraises the books of the New Testament as documents of human instruction meant to be reverently received and critically reflected in the light of academic research. Generally speaking, however, the educated Christian believer would differ; he or she would assert a balance of divine and human instruction consttued in the instruction to acquire scriptural spirituality and wisdom. And herein lies a major dilemma. Devotees of the New Testament advocate the "Bible as is" and so stress the content (kerygma and didache), whereas Cook sees conflated and conflicted textual data that demand problem-solving techniques. Thus his book is a reflective reservoir that is fed by a range of interpretations and options. Feeding the depths (to continue the aquatic metaphor) are tributaries that combine the Synoptic problem and the quest for the historical Jesus, and old-new currents, such as the history of Christian-Jewish polemics and the importance of modern and post-modern thought on Christian origins. His assessment of textual variants explained in the context of dissimilar groupings of believers in the Way - with all its wisdom and wrangle - is even-handed, and his assent to the incontrovertible fact that Pauline Epistles more than the teachings of Jesus molded the central role of the Jew in Christian Heilsgeschichte is academically sound.

In presenting a Jewish understanding of the New Testament, Cook begins his journey by cutting through a labyrinth of technicality and detours of ideological babble. Around short and selective episodes, told in reader-friendly style, he introduces the known and not so known bits of biblical criticism, which demonstrate the courage of his conviction that historical accuracy is the right direction to portray the Jews correctly in the "Greatest Story Ever Told." Against the background of first-century Judaism, he examines key scriptural ideas in a literary, political, and cultural context, He explores their message concerning who Jesus is, how much or little his ministry is imbued with protorabbinic values and tradition, and the importance of the historical Jesus sans Christology in the life of contemporary Jewry. …

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