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Guest Reviewers recommend both new and favourite books...

Robin ParryRobin Parry lives in Worcester, UK, and is an editor for Wipf and Stock (an American publisher of theological books). He has written books on various theological issues.

 

 

 

 

 

Jacket
Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament
Author - Terence L. Donaldson

Paperback (18 March 2010)
Price: £12.99

Publisher: SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge)
ISBN: 978-0-281-05883-9
The issues of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism (which are not the same thing) in the New Testament are hot topics! There can be no doubt that in the history of Christianity the church often interpreted its sacred texts in ways that were anti-Jewish and often anti-Semitic. And there is little doubt too that anti-Jewish Christian theology was a key factor behind the persecution of the Jewish people. After the holocaust Christians cannot avoid the ethical questions raised by their own biblical texts.

Terence Donaldson's excellent new book is a basic but very informative introduction to the current debate in New Testament scholarship regarding whether, and to what extent, the NT is anti-Jewish.

Donaldson's aim is primarily to map the terrain so that the differing views on the subject and the reasons for them can be better appreciated. Donaldson himself is an established expert in this area of study with previous books on such issues as they relate to Matthew's gospel and to Pauline theology. He is also an expert on the attitudes of Jews at the time of the NT towards Gentiles. Yet he wears such learning lightly in this book and the text manages to cover a lot of ground without getting bogged down in all the details. As such, it is the perfect introductory guide.

Chapter 1 introduces the issues and some key terminology (anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, supersessionism). The following chapters examine the work of major NT writings.

Chapter 2 - Matthew

Chapter 3 - Luke-Acts

Chapter 4 - John

Chapter 5 - Paul

Each of these chapters considers how the texts in question define the Jesus-believing community in relation to Judaism, speculate on the social context of the books' original audiences (in order to set the community's self-definition in an historical and social context), and reflect on the rhetorical function of the books in their social context (because the way that words work will change if one places them in a different context).

With those goals Donaldson maps out the range of views that NT scholars have on the issues. His discussion is very fair and balanced (even though Donaldson himself stands at the end of the spectrum that maintains that the texts discussed are certainly not anti-Semitic, nor anti-Jewish, neither do they teach that the church has now replaced Israel).

Given the dominance of supersessionism (the view that the church has superseded Israel in God's purposes) and anti-Judaism in Christian history and theology, the big surprise for a fair few Christians will be the many fascinating new insights that various scholars have brought - insights that cast old texts in new light. Passages that Christians, through centuries of traditional interpretation, often simply assume are supersessionist are shown in new light.

The book reveals a growing trend in NT scholarship away from many traditional anti-Jewish readings of passages and towards what I would see as a more primitive and authentically NT view of Jews and non-Jews. But readers who wish to pursue such discussions will need to look elsewhere for this book is only a kick-start aimed to open up possibilities.

The goal is to try to make sense of the biblical texts in their original context (were they anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, or supersessionist in THAT context?) rather than looking at how they were subsequently interpreted by the church. But Donaldson rightly argues that we cannot ignore the later interpretations of these texts and he reminds readers that there is an inevitable ethical component in biblical interpretation.

Chapter 6 sketches some issues related to other NT texts briefly (and, inevitably, in a less satisfactory way) before offering ten helpful thesis and proposals for a constructive way forward.

In summary:

- an important topic

- a trustworthy author

- an excellent way in to the debate

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