Excellent book for helping Christians understand how some misunderstandings about Jesus and church origins come across as anti-Jewish (not antisemiticExcellent book for helping Christians understand how some misunderstandings about Jesus and church origins come across as anti-Jewish (not antisemitic, as the author makes the distinction). This happens largely when 1st century Judaism is portrayed negatively in order to provide a foil for Jesus. One example Levine gives is the treatment of women, which according to her was not nearly as negative as described in the standard narrative of Jesus who liberated women who were oppressed and marginalized by an oppressive religious system.
Levine is Jewish, attends an Orthodox synagogue, and teaches New Testament to mostly Christian (self-identified) students at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. She has a good understanding of the NT and Christian theology. Her assertions about Judaism in the first century (and other periods) are backed up with primary sources. While they may be selective and a matter of disagreement among scholars, they are certain to make us reconsider.
Despite the title, the point of the book is not primarily to add to our knowledge of who Jesus was, but to combat the anti-Jewish ideas that stem partly from seeing him as non-Jewish or repudiating important aspects of Judaism. She interacts more with liberal Christian theology than with Evangelical views, though in many cases the two are closely related.
From my limited readings of recent works on Christian origins, I am a little surprised that Levine does not seem to think that Jesus' Jewishness is being acknowledged much more in the past 50 years than in preceding centuries, but perhaps that is more true in conservative scholarship than liberal (?).
I recommend this book for any Christian, because most of us have little understanding of our relationship with Judaism and Jews today, and especially for those involved in ministering to Jews or working in inter-faith efforts. ...more
Biblical inerrantists believe that the entire Bible is without any error, whether related to matters of faith, history, ethics, or scientific explanatBiblical inerrantists believe that the entire Bible is without any error, whether related to matters of faith, history, ethics, or scientific explanation. On the other side of the spectrum are those who see the Bible as a purely human document, possibly with some interesting ideas. Kenton Sparks, on the other hand, argues that it is indeed the actual word of the actual God, but that it was written, edited, and collected as a canon by fallible human beings whose limitations and failures show up in the text.
Despite what you might think from the title, this is not a book that gloats in exposing all kinds of problems with the Bible. It takes for granted that certain problems exist, the Canaanite genocide being the prime model, and then asks what we do with them. Sparks argues that rather than explaining them away as inerrantist apologists do, or allegorizing them as many early Church fathers did, we should simply recognize that they are reflections of incorrect or even twisted views of the authors.
If one accepts this view, then a major problem is how to sort out what is the true message from God, the "gold," and what is, as Luther said of epistle of James, "straw." Sparks does address this in some detail in the latter part of the book. While his ideas will certainly not solve the whole issue, they do provide some hope that the task is a reasonable one.
If you are a strong inerrantist, then you probably will not appreciate this book unless you read it to find cannon fodder. On the other hand, if your faith is troubled by what seem to be the questionable or outright unethical stories and teachings of the Bible, then Sparks may have a good word for you....more