In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity, by Oskar Skarsaune
This book is one that I borrowed from a friend of mine who shares some major religious and intellectual interests to me, and he warmly recommended this as an excellent book written for a scholarly layman with regards to understanding the massive and often unrecognized debt of Christianity to Judaism. As this book is about 450 pages of solid text, this review cannot hope to give all of the many details included in this very scholarly account. The recommendation of the friend definitely was a good one and this is a very thought-provoking and well-researched book for anyone who has an interest in the “Hebrew roots” of Christianity. This is not to say that the book is without flaws, as there are some errors in terms of its view of apostolic Sabbath-keeping practices (the author appears to be unaware of the Sabbatarian nature of the early church, which only strengthens his argument further, to give the most notable example of where his research about early Christianity is imperfect).
Despite these minor flaws, though, the book is an exceedingly excellent one that succeeds in showing where Christianity went wrong in the second century AD through the fact that growing Jewish hostility against Christianity as well as the lesser amount of Jews or philo-Semites within Christianity (particularly in its leadership) led to the dominance of Gentile Christians who used Jewish self-criticism within the prophets against the Jews and gloried against the branches (something Paul had warned against in Romans). Despite these tendencies, though, the author convincingly demonstrates from an astute knowledge of a wide variety of writings on both the Jewish as well as the pagan and the Christian sides of the various cultural conflicts that Christianity had an immense, if often unrecognized, debt to Judaism in a wide variety of aspects of faith, from those which are fairly easily understood (canon, Passover, the development of the counterfeit priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church) and those that are not often recognized at all (missionary efforts, the essentially “Jewish” arguments of Justin Martyr, who comes off as being far less Hellenistic than he often appears when he is understood in the context of contemporary Judaism).
The book is organized in a very thorough manner, starting with an examination of Second Temple Judaism and its relevance to Christian studies, looking at the threat of Hellenism and how it was dealt with (Jesus Christ’s hostility to the Pharisees is here portrayed, rather convincingly, as an opposition to their adoption of certain aspects of Hellenism), the political environment of the Roman Empire, the geographical dimension of the land of Israel and the diaspora, Jerusalem, and the diversity of thought within Judaism. After this initial section the author turns to Christian beginnings, looking at the Jewishness of Jesus Christ and the early church, the mission to the Gentiles as well as Jewish believers in the land of Israel and the diaspora, along with the Jewish nature of the Church’s response to the problem of paganism (including a polemic against idolatry, sexual immorality, and concerns about martyrdom), as well as the essentially pro-law approach of the early church to the problem of gnosticism and Marcion, as well as the nature of Christianity’s debates with Judaism in the second century. After this comes a section that looks at the persistence of Judaism within Christianity in terms of the canon, the role of Jesus Christ as Messiah as well as the Incarnate word (wisdom), the Holy Spirit, conversion and baptism, as well as worship and the calendar. In all aspects viewed by the author, there are significant ways in which Christianity internalized Jewish interpretations and approaches in very strikingly similar forms.
One of the most important points that the author makes implicitly throughout most of the book and rather explicitly towards the end is that even though the leadership of the “mainstream” Christian church of the second and third centuries and later had a hostile view towards Judaism that there was a significant amount of fond fellow-felling for many Christians, often unsophisticated intellectually but full of love for their fellow believers, for many Jewish laws and customs strikingly similar to those that I keep from my own religious background. The fact that the author places philo-Semitism, a respect for biblical ways and the people of Israel, as part of a longstanding if often unrecognized aspect of Christianity, and also points out the ways in which the Roman Catholic Church took over the physical accoutrements of the priestly order in order to distance ordinary believers from the role of priesthood even as Judaism was forced to abandon the temple and priesthood because of the results of the rebellions of the Zealots and Bar Kobha. Even in its corrupt forms, Christianity owed major debts to Judaisim, debts that this book helps a great deal in bringing to the attention of readers. For that, as well as for its humane tone and excellent research, make this book an immensely worthwhile read full of intriguing research and analysis.