In the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, Christian scholars portrayed Judaism as the dark religious backdrop to the liberating events of Jesus’ life and the rise of the early church. Since the 1950s, however, a dramatic shift has occurred in the study of Judaism, driven by new manuscript and archaeological discoveries and new methods and tools for analyzing sources. George Nickelsburg here provides a broad and synthesizing picture of the results of the past fifty years of scholarship on early Judaism and Christianity. He organizes his discussion around a number of traditional topics: scripture and tradition, Torah and the righteous life, God’s activity on humanity’s behalf, agents of God’s activity, eschatology, historical circumstances, and social settings. Each of the chapters discusses the findings of contemporary research on early Judaism, and then sketches the implications of this research for a possible reinterpretation of Christianity. Still, in the author’s view, there remains a major Jewish-Christian agenda yet to be developed and implemented.
“In general, however, Christian scholarship—taught in seminaries and preached from the pulpit—portrayed Judaism as a whole as the dark religious backdrop before which were played out the liberating events of the life of Jesus and the rise of the early church.” (Page 2)
“The Psalms of Solomon are more explicit in defining the terms ‘righteous’ and ‘sinner.’ According to Psalm 3, the righteous one is not a person who never sins, but one who acknowledges his or her sins and God’s righteous judgment of them and who atones for them by means of prescribed rituals. The sinner, by contrast, allows sins to pile up without dealing with their consequences.” (Page 43)
“First, the commandments of the Torah are not simply collections of laws; they are an integral component of a covenantal structure. Second, concern about the Torah is not limited to the Pentateuch; the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole are pervaded by the imperative to obey the divine will or its implications, whether or not one appeals explicitly to the Torah.” (Page 32)
“In summary, the texts under consideration reveal a technique of making one’s theological point not by means of propositional statements but through the tendentious retelling of traditional stories preserved in the texts that came to be authoritative Scripture.” (Page 15)
“how do—or should—these developments lead us to rethink the origins of Christianity?” (Page xv)