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Generation J

Generation J by Lisa Schiffman. Harper San Francisco, (1999) US $18.00

I hadn't a clue about what it meant to be a Jew. I was lost, a Jew without a path." And so begins 35-year-old Lisa Schiffman's search. It's a search for identity, for meaning, for answers. Generation J is an attempt to sort through the confusion of being part of a generation that is willing neither to make a full return to Judaism nor to abandon its Jewish persona completely. Of being in a generation whose parents either followed religious traditions by rote or rejected them altogether. Of being a third-generation American Jew who's uncomfortable with and suspicious of any kind of organized religion, particularly her own.

In an autobiography that reads like anthropological field notes [she is a social anthropologist by training], Schiffman presents a hodgepodge of stories offering the reader snapshots of Jewish life and thought. She begins with a very vulnerable and personal narrative about interfaith marriage. Schiffman was committed to having a Jew officiate at the wedding when she married her fiance, Michael, a lapsed Unitarian. Several rabbis turned them down because they wouldn't agree to have a "Jewish home." Finally, a cantor who moonlights as both an opera singer and an actor performed their wedding ceremony.

Schiffman writes that she's still seeking validation for her marriage from the Jewish community. She interviews a Reform rabbi from New York who performs weddings for gay couples but refuses to marry a mixed faith couple. Told by the rabbi that her husband would have to embrace a Jewish life and the Jewish community (that he'd have to set a seder table, take their kids to Hebrew school, stand by her side while she lights Shabbat candles), she's incredulous. Schiffman knows that she is Jewish, but she has never done those things.

Questions form the backbone of this book. What does it mean to have a Jewish home? Is Judaism a religion, a culture or a race? I know I'm Jewish, but how do I know that? What does it mean to look "too Jewish?" Or not Jewish enough? Is it possible to be Jewish alone and separate from the Jewish community?

In each narrative, Schiffman asks good questions but admits to a lack of adequate answers. There is no doubt that it was for very personal reasons that she wrote this book. Schiffman is a searcher and she wants to find spiritual answers. Her questions are an attempt to sort through the confusion of the religious netherworld of American secular Judaism.

In Schiffman's definition of Judaism, we are a "dark and hairy people" who practice a "strange, argumentative, incomprehensible religion." Yet she's still inexplicably drawn to a world she hasn't experienced -- blessings over the Torah, fasting on Yom Kippur, payos and long skirts. For her, being Jewish is about being conflicted, about never being certain who you are and where you're going and what that means. It's about having an identity crisis.

This book chronicles more than the author's own exploration into the meaning of Judaism. It offers a picture into the spiritual quandary of secular Jews today within the larger Christian culture. Schiffman grew up in the largely non-Jewish town of Levittown, New York. She described the place of her birth as "home to one of the largest crosses in the Western hemisphere." She recalls a childhood incident when "Christian friends invited me to church." After standing and sitting more times than she can count, Schiffman partakes of the Catholic communion wafer and waits for a "Christlike feeling to arise" in her. It doesn't. She ponders why and then goes on.

Perhaps the most important question is the one that Schiffman failed to ask in 166 pages: Can you really find your Jewish identity apart from God?

She muses, "If Christianity's message was Follow your heart, Judaism's was Follow the directions."

"Jews, however," she says, "never follow directions without asking why.In spite of our mandate to follow the directions, millions of Jews 'the unaffiliated, secular, atheist indifferent or simply confused' are lost."

Like many in this post-assimilation generation, she looks everywhere for answers, for a solution to that lostness, with one exception -- God, the only real source for answers.

In a recent interview, Schiffman was asked, if she could add a postscript to the book, what it would be. Her answer was, "You can create your own path through religion. And if there is another book, that would be the beginning of the next one, something like, 'P.S., I'm still doing it, piecing the route together.'"1

Perhaps she should look to another book 'the Bible' it has already pieced that route together for Lisa and the rest of us.

Endnotes
1Danielle Svetcov, Generation J (San Francisco Examiner Magazine, 12/12/99) p. 32

Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People -- Longer Version

Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005.

In this book, Mark Kinzer is writing largely to the church, asking Christians to consider a radical new vision of the relationship between the church and Israel. Kinzer is concerned with the problem of supersessionism—the view that the church has replaced Israel in the purposes and plan of God and is now heir to the covenants and promises. He reasons that if we reject supersessionism, we are left with the question of how the church and Israel can both be God's people. Kinzer's own answer to this question unveils a theology that is profoundly defective and indeed, unbiblical.

First, a quick survey of the contents: Chapter 1 is an introduction to principles of interpretation, while the next two chapters demonstrate how the New Testament affirms continued Jewish practice on the part of the apostles and the early believers, as well as the ongoing place of the Jewish people in God's purposes. Chapters 2-3 are the best part of the book. One might contest Kinzer's interpretations of several passages, but on the whole he paints a correct picture of the New Testament as a book that is positive towards the Jewish people. However, one problem does surface that influences all else: the assumption that the practices of the apostles should remain normative for us today, and that those who question this are supersessionist in their thinking.

With the fourth chapter, Kinzer begins to propose his new ecclesiology" (doctrine of God's people ). He presents a series of if-then statements, paraphrased as follows:

(1) if Israel still plays a role in the purposes of God, then the people of Israel—and especially the remnant of Jewish believers—must live according to the distinct Jewish practices that identify Israel (i.e. the practice of the apostles and early believers)

(2) if Jews are to observe Jewish practices, then they must do so corporately (since Israel is a nation, not just individuals)

(3) if they are to do so corporately, then there must be a distinct Jewish subcommunity within the "ekklesia" with its own congregations and community (because how else can Jews live in a way that identifies them corporately as Jews?).

Each statement is open to question—but it is typical of the book's approach that questionable conclusions serve as the basis for further conclusions.

However, there is more. After covering a history of supersessionism in Chapter 5, there comes (in Chapters 6-7) what many will see as the most radical departure the book makes from biblical theology, Kinzer asks what we should make of the past 2,000 years of Jewish traditions. He concludes that Israel's "no" to Y'shua is really a "hidden participation in the obedience of Israel's Messiah" (p. 225). He believes that though Israel has rejected Y'shua , he (Y'shua) "continues to live among them—though in a hidden, obscure fashion" (p. 233). Some readers will find Kinzer himself rather "hidden and obscure" in this section. But as he unpacks it, what he is really saying is that Jewish tradition is God's way for the Jewish people at this time: "a divinely sanctioned religious tradition appointed for the purpose of preserving the Jewish people…" (p. 258).

Furthermore, Kinzer tells us that the New Testament upholds the validity of oral tradition, and he argues that according to the Bible, the entire people of Israel can confer halakhic authority. He goes on to say that since the entire Jewish people recognized rabbinic tradition by the early Middle Ages, that tradition actually carries more weight than the traditions of the Pharisees in the first century. Though Kinzer is not saying that the Oral Law is divinely inspired, he is saying that it is God's intended way for the Jewish people and His means of preserving them, and that indeed, to live as a Jew therefore means living according to this rabbinic tradition.

The final two chapters give a history of Jewish missions and messianic Judaism and then Kinzer lays out practical steps the Church should take to advance his ideas.

So much for the summary. Kinzer's book is the most sophisticated theological treatment from the messianic movement in recent years. It is stimulating, generally clearly written, and in the earlier chapters particularly, there is a great deal of thoughtful and valuable material on the practices of early Jewish believers and the New Testament's high view of the place of Israel in the purposes of God.

The book is so full of serious problems, however, as to make this an unsatisfactory and indeed unbiblical solution to the problem of supersessionism.

The first problem is that Kinzer's starting point for addressing supersessionism is that of contemporary, non-evangelical scholars for whom Judaism is as "valid" as Christianity and missions to Jews are inappropriate. As Kinzer points out, we all approach the Bible from our own presuppositions and we have to take those into account. The presupposition of this book however, is that the only coherent alternative to supersessionism is one based on prevailing Jewish and non-Jewish post-Holocaust scholars. This is evident in his initial description of what non-supersessionism entails: that "the Jewish people remain in covenant with God, with their own distinct calling and way of life intact despite their apparent communal reject of Yeshua's divine mediation." (p. 12). He begins with this description, and unpacks it according to the prevailing mainstream, post-Holocaust, theological agenda.

The second problem, and one of the most crucial, is that many of the exegetical arguments cannot bear the weight brought to bear on them. I will give two examples. Kinzer tells us (pp. 92-95) that the Book of Hebrews indicates that only certain parts of the Mosaic Law have been "changed" by the death of Y'shua: namely, the laws pertaining to the Temple, priesthood and sacrifices. All the other commandments that can be, and were, continued without the Temple remain. (He mentions particularly circumcision, Sabbath, and dietary laws). But he does not explain how the Law, being an integral part of one covenant, can be broken up as he proposes. If it cannot, that invalidates his argument; if it can, the door is open to "changes" in other aspects of the Law. Surprisingly, Kinzer doesn't treat Hebrews 8, which speaks of the covenant in a more comprehensive way.

A second exegetical example: Kinzer's treatment of Galatians 2:7-10 (pp. 160-165), in which Paul states that he is the apostle of the uncircumcision, and Peter is the apostle of the circumcision. Kinzer equates this with two distinct spheres of activity and community, leading to the conclusion that Jewish and non-Jewish believers should have their own separate congregations and communities. Actually, the case can be made that both Paul and the others evangelized both Jews and Gentiles, and that the churches Paul founded often consisted of both Jews and Gentiles (which fact Kinzer allows for, but doesn't take sufficient account of.) There is a great deal more that can be said about this, but the point is, Kinzer's conclusions here outrun the biblical evidence.

The third criticism is that Kinzer's conclusions ignore large swaths of biblical material, including:

(1) The nature and effect of sin. Kinzer would, of course, admit that Jews sin just as everyone else does. But there is no discussion at all of the effects of sin on religious systems (Judaism included). There is no discussion of Romans 1-3, which speaks to the subject of sin among Jews and Gentiles alike. And if we are saying that Israel is still in the covenant, one wonders where the discussion of covenant curses (and blessings) comes in—a discussion that is surely relevant even for those who believe passionately in the present purposes of Israel in the plan of God. Whether or not God has used rabbinic tradition to preserve the Jewish people, as Kinzer argues, does not determine whether that tradition should be challenged or contradicted. One supposes that God has used Buddhism to preserve the Thai people and African tribal religions to preserve the Zulus, but that does not mean that God looks with favor on those religious systems. In God's common grace He uses many things to preserve society; but simultaneously there is the prophetic call to repentance. Which brings us to:

(2) The entire prophetic aspect within the Old Testament itself. The prophets were, so to speak, "divine pests"; a continual voice from within Israel itself challenging the nation to turn back to God. One wants to know if Kinzer thinks that the Northern Kingdom's "no" to the divinely ordained worship in Jerusalem somehow reflected Yahweh's "yes" to that kingdom as He remained "hidden" in their midst.

(3) The missionary activity of Paul and the other apostles, not only among Gentile but also among Jews. Kinzer does not like the term "missionary" which he defines as a message brought from outside, rather than from within. That is clearly not the biblical meaning of "mission," but terminology aside, the apostles did proclaim Jesus as the only way of salvation among both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore we need to ask: If Kinzer believes that the apostolic practice of observantly keeping the Law is normative for all time, why does he not believe the same for the apostolic practice of mission? And while Kinzer rejects the missionary impulse as coming from "outside" Israel, did not the prophets bring an "other" word to Israel from God the Wholly Other who only condescended to dwell among Israel?

(4) A biblical theology of covenants. It is interesting that Kinzer only speaks of "the" covenant by which he (and most other modern theologians) mean the Sinai covenant. No discussion is offered of the relationship between the Abrahamic, Sinai, and New covenants. Surely one direction of overcoming supersessionism without concluding that all is well in the Jewish community, is to consider the differences in the covenants with Moses and with Abraham.

Other criticisms can be offered: (1) Kinzer largely ignores the contributions of evangelical scholars towards non-supersessionism—which he has a responsibility to do, since he apparently accepts evangelical theology regarding the person of Y'shua and the nature of God; (2) his terminology is often vague when he uses words like "validity" (which can mean anything from Kinzer's "it's fine, it's God's way, hands-off"—to "offering respect," which even a supersessionist could agree to); (3) Kinzer's view of the ekklesia effectively ignores the tens of thousands of Jewish believers who are in churches. They do not integrate well into his theology, even though he makes mention of them in his final few chapters.

What then does Kinzer suggest are the obligations of (predominantly Gentile) churches? He suggests three (pp. 308-309):

(1) "foster respect for Judaism and the Jewish people," particularly, he says, in the light of Chapter 6 of his book: that is, Judaism as God's ordained way for the Jewish people. Translation: Judaism is God's way for the Jews, therefore it is not to be challenged as a belief-and-behavior system in any way, nor is the church to conduct missionary work among the Jews.

(2) "urge Jews in its [the church's] midst to fulfill their covenantal responsibilities and live as observant Jews." Kinzer recognizes that there are tens of thousands of Jewish believers currently in churches with more to come. His recommendation is that ideally, churches should encourage such believers to align with healthy local messianic congregations, where such congregations exist. But, he acknowledges, there may actually be no way for Jewish believers in churches to fulfill their obligations to live Jewishly—a less than ideal, but nevertheless realistic, situation, he says. For Kinzer, the Jewish obligations include living in community with other Jews and according to rabbinic tradition. Thus, by his definition of living Jewishly, it would be impossible for Jewish believers to live in a fully Jewish manner apart from a messianic congregation.

(3) "Dialogue…with the Messianic Jewish movement" and "encourage development in a postmissionary direction." Translation: encourage messianic Jews to stop "missionary" work and live according to rabbinic tradition.

This three-pronged program is not something most Jewish believers, nor evangelical Bible scholars, would consider to reflect faithfulness to the Scripture. To be sure, supersessionism, especially where it has led to anti-Semitism, has been a blot on the church (though also left out of discussion is the possibility that someone can sincerely believe that the Church has replaced Israel, and yet foster a genuine love for Jews). That so many scholars across the theological spectrum are continuing to rediscover the Jewishness of Y'shua and the positive views of the Jewish people as portrayed in the New Testament is welcome indeed.

However, that is not enough for Kinzer. Towards the end, he summarizes his program along the lines of five principles:

  1. the perpetual validity of God's covenant with the Jewish people;
  2. the perpetual validity of the Jewish way of life rooted in the Torah, as the enduring sign and instrument of that covenant;
  3. the validity of Jewish religious tradition as the historical embodiment of the Jewish way of life rooted in the Torah;
  4. the bilateral constitution of the ekklesia, consisting of distinct but united Jewish and Gentile expressions of Yeshua-faith;
  5. the ecumenical imperative of the ekklesia, which entails bringing the redeemed nations of the world into solidarity with the people of Israel in anticipation of Israel's—and the world's—final redemption.

All of these could be interpreted in a wide variety of ways ("validity" is a notoriously ambiguous word!); it takes the entire book to unpack what Kinzer really means by them. As he does so, he surveys the history of Jewish missions, Hebrew Christians, and Messianic Jews and concludes that to date, no messianic movement has embodied all of his principles. For him, that is a deficiency; others will have another opinion.

Once the vagueness in terminology is unpacked, it's quite clear what Kinzer's proposals mean. They would not only put an end to any proclamation of the Good News among the Jewish people but would proclaim that salvation, or divine acceptance, is readily available to all Jews through Y'shua regardless of what they believe or don't believe about Y'shua. This kind of theology has been applied to world religions in general, so that some believe Y'shua saves Hindus, Buddhists, etc. through their religion. Kinzer may not articulate things quite that way, but he is close. Is this what the "mature Messianic Judaism" has come to? We hope not.

Postmissionary Messianic Judaism reminds us of critical issues that the Messianic movement has not dealt with in sufficient theological depth and should continue to address: issues of why Jewishness is important; how it is to be lived out and transmitted; how Israel and the Church relate to one another. But Kinzer's final result is nothing more than modern theological trends that are influenced more by ecumenism and inclusivism than by biblical theology. Jewish and Gentile believers alike would be better served by voices that reject the bad fruits of supersessionism while simultaneously affirming the need for proclaiming the Good News to Jews and Gentiles—and in the context of a body of Jewish and Gentile believers that is far more unified in actual practice than Kinzer allows for. What is needed now are those messianic Jewish voices that can address these theological issues in a more biblical manner.

I predict that this book will be warmly received among the ecumenical, dialogue-minded set and thoroughly critiqued by evangelicals who understand its full implications. My concern would be for those, whether in the messianic movement or in the evangelical church, who may eagerly agree with the call for "validity," seeing it as a simple affirmation of the Jewish people and Jewish believers, without understanding the full weight of Kinzer's thinking.

Indeed, there are some lively times ahead for the messianic movement.

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Irreconcilable Differences? part 2

Given the polar opinions regarding Some Messianic Jews Say Messianic Judaism is Not Christianity: A Loving Call to Unity" we thought we'd present two reviews of Stan Telchin's new book from two of our staff members.

Stan Telchin—in his usual pastorly fashion—is responding to what he sees as unhealthy trends within the Messianic movement. In his new book, he gently lays out the problems together with biblical reflections on what it means for all believers to be "one new man."

Beginning with a list of thought questions on pages 23-25, Telchin covers his purposes in writing before offering a history of Christian anti-Semitism as one factor that led to the rise of "Messianic Judaism."

Telchin does not paint the entire Messianic congregational movement with one brush. I counted at least five places where he disclaims that his remarks apply to all congregations (pgs. 27, 64, 85-86, 96, 133). "I am not opposed to all Messianic congregations," he writes on page 27, "but I am opposed to Messianic Judaism." While one might wish that he'd more specifically defined that term, he offers plenty of descriptions.

Telchin accurately distills some trends within the Messianic movement: (1) the insistence of some that the single most important way for expressing one's Jewish identity is to join a Messianic congregation (pp. 55-56); (2) the problem of seeking acceptance from the larger Jewish community and how that informs one's views of identity and practice (p. 63); (3) the problem—and it is a problem, given the movement's stated objectives—of why there are so many non-Jews in Messianic congregations and so few Jewish believers (ch. 6); (4) the loss of emphasis on reaching Jewish people with the gospel (pp. 99-100).

Telchin goes on to study biblical passages relating to "one new man" and concludes with an exhortation to beware of dividing our hearts between God and anything else.

Some have reacted with an unseemly defensiveness to this book. But if they're one of those congregations whom Telchin says he is not addressing, why be defensive? And if they represent those to whom his remarks are addressed, why not take them under advisement and respond with equal grace? After all, the subtitle of the book is "A Loving Call to Unity." And it's a timely one, as well.

For more from our Jews for Jesus newsletter, see David Brickner's article "Why I Support Messianic Congregations".

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A Jewish Cowgirl?

I was handing out literature at O'Hare Airport a few weeks ago when a young woman dashed by me . She was about 22 years old and was wearing jeans, a cowboy hat and boots. I don't want any of that garbage!" she yelled.

I smiled as I raised my voice to respond . "Are you against Jews or against Jesus? " I asked.

She kept walking, but turned quickly toward me and said, "I'm Jewish, and I hate Jesus,"

Quickly, while she was still in earshot (she had slowed her pace), I responded , "Why hate Jesus for what some have done in His name? What if someone took your hat and robbed a bank while wearing it? Should people blame you?" She stopped, flashed a relaxed smile, and walked on.

A few minutes later, a man who had overheard this interchange came over to me. He congratulated me on the way I had handled the girl. As we talked, I discovered he didn't know Jesus personally, though he occasionally attended church. My conversation with the cowgirl gave him a few things to think about, too.

Within minutes, another man came over. This man was a Christian, and it was good to have someone come by who was encouraged by all he had just seen.

I'm sure there were many others who were affected by that brief encounter . Often, one conversation leads to many others (not to mention the unseen effects ). Pray for this cowgirl, who was unwittingly used by God to help spread His Word.

""\r\n"Outtakes Issue No.3"
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That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist

Sylvia Boorstein. San Francisco: Harper, 1997. 170 pages. $20.00, cloth.

Reviewed by Garrett Smith and Matthew Friedland.

That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist sounds like it might be a comment made by a Jewish comic from the Catskills. However, the essentially serious message of this latest book by Sylvia Boorstein is summarized by the subtitle, On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist." Boorstein, a Jew who has been practicing Buddhism for twenty years, is the founder of a meditation retreat in California. In addition, she teaches Buddhism at various retreats each year. She grew up in a strongly Jewish home in Brooklyn—both religiously and culturally—but as she neared adulthood, she became far less religious. In recent years Boorstein has become what she would call a "devout Jew." Much of her odyssey is based on how she attempts to reconcile her Jewishness and her Buddhism.

One of the reasons why this is a noteworthy book is that a significant number of Westerners studying Buddhism are Jews. I (Garrett Smith) know this first-hand, since before I became a believer in Jesus, I spent time at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand. I recall meeting many other Jewish people during my stay. We spoke openly of both our Jewishness and our desire to learn Buddhism. Boorstein's perspective is that Buddhism expresses a truth about the nature of life, whereas being Jewish refers to our identity. Most JUBUs (1) would agree.

In a strange way, many of the struggles Boorstein undergoes parallel those experienced by Jewish believers in Jesus. She seeks to integrate her Jewishness and her non-traditional beliefs. At an interfaith conference, she faces members of the Jewish community, wanting them to understand that she is still Jewish, and passionately so, even though they may think otherwise.

Boorstein's argument throughout the book is that, no matter what she believes, her Jewishness is never compromised. For her, Buddhism is a philosophy which accurately portrays the nature of life: namely, that our suffering comes because of our desires and wants and the nature of life. We can live peaceful lives by simply ceasing to strive. This philosophy is something different from her understanding of her Jewishness. Jewishness to her is cultural; it is a question of identity. She is a Jew.

Therefore, Boorstein can practice her Buddhist beliefs in a Jewish framework and find a sense of peace and joy and reconciliation. She uses the Bible, various rabbinic sayings and Jewish liturgy to express her Buddhism. For example, below is her handling of Psalm 121 as found on page 79 of her book.

For followers of Y'shua, Boorstein's views pose serious problems. The author does not believe in the Jewish Scriptures as a revelation of the Creator God to his Creation, but rather as a holy book or spiritual guide for the Jewish people. It is seen as a cultural interpretation of essential spiritual truths. She does not embrace the historicity of the Bible nor the personhood of God as the Bible expresses it. She regularly twists the plain meaning of Scripture to conform to her philosophical outlook.

For Boorstein, God is not personal but more a description of a state of mind or the source of all things in an impersonal sense. There is virtually no belief in a God who is Creator, personal, holy, and before whom we are accountable. There is no sin and no need for a Savior. There is no belief in a Messiah, much less one called Jesus.

Boorstein's amalgamation of Buddhism and Jewishness is mostly utilitarian; its main purpose is to achieve personal peace in this life. For instance, Buddhism would agree that anger is bad, not because it is an offense before a holy God, but rather because it is personally detrimental.

What then can a believer learn from this book? It is quite helpful in understanding the recent trend, small though it may be, of Jews turning to Eastern philosophy. In fact it can aid any believer who has Jewish friends involved with Buddhism, Eastern thought, or New Age movements. For such a friend who insists that one cannot be both Jewish and a Christian, one might effectively ask why one can be both a Buddhist and Jewish. For those who agree that one can be either Buddhist or Christian without abandoning one's Jewishness, the question might then focus on the uniqueness of Jesus as compared to the person of Buddha.

The style of That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist makes it very easy to read. It essentially weaves anecdotes of three to four pages in length which offer different insights on the Buddhist-Jewish connection. Most of the book uses storytelling and lessons. There is a lot of name-dropping. Boorstein recounts her meetings with a number of noted rabbis to discuss her beliefs. She speaks of teaching Buddhism to rabbis at some of her seminars. She reminisces about her conversations with the Dalai Lama. There is a liberal sprinkling of Hebrew phrases throughout the book as well as mention of the Scriptures and of Jewish liturgy.

For related articles, read Garrett Smith's personal testimony, "Out of the Flowing Water". Then read the article "Jewish Buddhists: A Meld of Mezuzahs and Mantra?". For further material that responds to Buddhism from a biblical viewpoint, see Beyond Buddhism: A Basic Introduction to the Buddhist Tradition by J. Isamu Yamamoto (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1982)—unfortunately now out of print but available through libraries or by trying online bookstores.

(1) A term used by recent writers on this subject to refer to Jewish Buddhists.

A Jewish Translation of Psalm 121 A Buddhist Translation of Psalm 121
1. I lift where will my help come from? 1. Look at Nothing. Everything is revealed.
2. My help is from God, Who created heaven and earth. 2. Rest in the radiance of Natural Mind.
3. May God not permit your foot to waver, may your Guardian never slumber. 3. The joy of your discovery will strengthen your dedication to unwavering mindfulness.
4. Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. 4. Because the perfection of emptiness, as the Source of creation, is always, always, accessible.
5. God is your Guardian, God is your shelter at your right hand. 5. Whenever this is clear to you, wisdom and compassion will guide you.
6. The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. 6. You will be safe.
7. God will guard you from evil; God will protect your soul. 7. Your actions will be impeccable.
8. God will guard your going out and your homecoming from this time forth and for all the future. 8. Untroubled by fear and confusion. You will be peaceful and happy always.
—From That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist, p.79

Garrett Smith serves on staff with Jews for Jesus. Matthew Friedland served with The Liberated Wailing Wall, Jews for Jesus' traveling Jewish-gospel music team.

A Rabbi Talks With Jesus: An Intermillennial, Interfaith Exchange

Jacob Neusner. New York: Doubleday, 1993. 154 pages. $9.00, paper; $21.00, cloth.

In this book, I explain in a very straightforward and unapologetic way why, if I had been in the Land of Israel in the first century, I would not have joined the circle of Jesus' disciples."

So begins a significant book by prolific author Jacob Neusner. He has already followed it up by a similar book concerning the apostle Paul. But this title is perhaps the more intriguing.

Neusner spends the rest of the book explaining what he means: at key points in the Sermon on the Mount, he tell us, Jesus contradicted the Torah or spoke from a non-Jewish frame of reference. These remarks are nothing new, although the tendency in recent years has been for Jewish scholars to see more Jewishness, not less, in Jesus' teaching. But the way Neusner differs from other Jewish scholars of Jesus is, to use one of his own favorite terms, "stunning." For Neusner sees clearly that the issue at stake is not Jesus' teaching per se but, more foundationally, his person, his identity. Parting company with many other Jewish scholars, he insists that Jesus, as we come to know him from Matthew's Gospel (he does not deal with other New Testament books) is not simply a miracle worker or a great rabbi. He is portrayed as something much more. Indeed, one must take the entire "package," the entire portrayal, and ask: is this person God, and so worthy of claiming the allegiance that the Torah claims? Neusner's response is an emphatic no. But like the great Yiddish writer Sholem Asch, Neusner understands that one must accept him or reject him as given*—one cannot take the parcels that one happens to like. In the jargon of Jesus scholars, Neusner believes that the "Jesus of history" and "the Christ of faith" are one and the same—and one must choose for or against.

Writing from the standpoint of a fictional first-century inquirer, Neusner holds that some of Jesus' teaching is indeed quite Jewish. In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, Jesus insists that we not merely refrain from practicing adultery and murder, but that we also refrain from even coming close. This, reflects Neusner, is similar to the rabbinic method of "putting a fence around the Torah," hedging it with additional prohibitions designed to keep one from transgressing the actual divine commandments (p. 24).

But, he continues, side by side in the teaching of Jesus, we find non-Jewish ideas: "Do not resist evil," for instance, which contrasts with the Jewish ideal of actively struggling against evil. Moreover, the Sermon is not addressed to "all Israel," as the Torah given at Sinai was, but to individuals: so it neglects the Torah's frame of reference. Likewise, Jesus' teaching against public display of piety appears, says Neusner, to replace corporate public prayer with private prayer in a non-Jewish way. In the midst of this discussion, Neusner observes that "we now recognize that at issue is the figure of Jesus, not the teachings at all" (p. 31)—for who is this who teaches "with authority" and seems to stand above and over the Torah?

And so it goes on. What is troubling is not what Neusner says but what he leaves out. What is missing is any discussion of the larger context beyond the Sermon on the Mount: of how Jesus in fact saw his message as directed to all Israel; of Paul's views about the body of believers and any relationship that has to the teaching of Jesus. Missing also is the larger context of the rest of the Hebrew Bible: only the Torah is brought into play, not the prophets, with their idea of the remnant within the larger nation and their expansion of the promise in Genesis 12:1-3 of Abraham's blessing of the nations. And what about the relationship between the New Testament and the Old? Jesus' words "I have come to turn a man against his father" in Matthew 10:35 are reported as a contradiction of the commandment to honor parents—but there is no mention of the fact that Jesus was quoting Micah 7:6 nor any notice of the role that verse plays in mainstream Jewish conceptions of the messianic age. No wonder some of Jesus' teaching seems non-Jewish to Neusner: he has limited the playing field.

Perhaps he sees no need to include all this. After all, if Jesus is not God, then Neusner cannot follow him (p. 53). Similarly one must choose either "Remember the Sabbath Day" from the Torah or "The Son of Man Is Lord of the Sabbath." He correctly observes, "Jesus' claim to authority is at issue" (p. 71).

More could be said about Neusner's chapters on the Sabbath, ritual purity, the Pharisees. He complains that Jesus makes ritual purity and morality the same thing, whereas in Judaism they are different. In other words, an unethical person could be ritually clean since morality and cleanness are different categories. But didn't Jesus know what ritual impurity was all about when the ten lepers were cleansed or when the woman with a flow of blood touched Jesus?—for not only did Jesus not become unclean as would normally happen, but the woman became healed and clean herself. The issue indeed comes back to, "Who is this person?"

For a long time Jewish believers in Jesus have said that the issue is not us—not our education, not our parentage, not whether we were raised in Israel or in America, not whether we know one tractate of Talmud or all the tractates or none of them. Neither is the issue the state of mind of religious believers or the sociology of conversion. The issue, as Neusner asks, is Jesus, Y'shua. Who is he? And what difference does it make if we find out?


*"There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jesus or reject him. You can analyze Mohammed and…Buddha, but don't try it with him. You either accept or you reject.…" Cited in Ben Siegel, The Controversial Sholem Asch: An Introduction to His Fiction (Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976), p. 148, quoting an interview with Asch by Frank S. Mead in the Christian Herald in 1944.

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Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee

Alan F. Segal. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. xvi, 368 pages. $17.00, paper.

There was a time when those who opposed Jewish evangelism saw Jesus as the bad guy," the deceiver, the one who led Israel astray. Today Jesus gets a much more favorable "review" among Jewish writers, while Paul the apostle now has the distinction of being the heavy, the villain, the one who took the good Jewish teaching of Jesus, paganized it and came up with a new religion. Jesus has undergone a "reclamation" among Jewish scholars. Perhaps Paul will too: Paul the Convert is not a bad example of a more favorable treatment of the apostle by a Jewish writer, though it still falls far short of a biblically and historically accurate picture. Alan Segal, professor of religion at Barnard College, has produced a scholarly volume which will be rough going for the general reader. But it is an important indication of a trend among Jewish writers and should be noticed for that reason alone.

Here is the key to Segal's book: Paul's conversion is not primarily theological, but sociological. Segal defines conversion as "a decision to change commitments from one religious community to another'' (p. 117), a matter of switching one's group. This is in fact a viewpoint often heard from Jewish people who are trying to fathom how a Jewish person could possibly believe in Jesus. In the case of Paul, what he switched from was participation in a Pharisaic Jewish community to participation in a largely Gentile Christian community.

There is much in Segal's book that is positive. It is the work of a Jewish scholar who takes the Jewishness of Paul seriously. This is no small thing in a field in which Jewish scholars have almost uniformly relegated Paul to the shadowy borders between paganism and Judaism.

For instance, chapter two contains the remarkable argument that the Christian idea of the divinity of Christ was part of a larger Jewish tradition in which angels and even men are transformed into virtually divine status. Although a man attaining divine status clearly falls short of the Christian understanding of the Incarnation, it marks an important step in Jewish scholarship in showing that Paul's doctrines do not have to be divorced from a Jewish frame of reference.

Again, Segal describes Paul's conversion experience as a mystical visionary one similar to the experiences of Jewish mystics of early rabbinic times. That is certainly preferable to those who see Paul's experience as epilepsy or as brought on by psychological trauma!

Along with the positive aspects of his book, Segal must also be criticized in the following areas:

1. His thesis that Paul gained his earliest Christian experience in a Gentile Christian community will certainly come as a surprise to many. For nowhere does he explain how a Gentile community came into existence before Paul began his apostolic ministry; and nowhere does he explain why a Pharisee like Saul would have been motivated to spend fourteen years in a Gentile community or allowed Gentiles to become his teachers. The scriptural record shows that it was his conversion and subsequent understanding that sent him to the Gentiles, not the Gentiles who provided him with understanding.

2. Related to this, Segal does not comprehend that becoming a Christian does not mean ceasing to be a member of the Jewish community. True enough, he states that the church was composed of both Jews and Gentiles. And also true, the church is a new, redeemed community. But surely Segal does not believe that one cannot be (for example) both Japanese and American simultaneously, that is, a member of two communities at the same time. Entering a community does not necessarily mean switching from another community.

3. In reducing conversion to a switch of social groups, Segal misses the scriptural necessity for all men to turn to God in repentance and faith. This is why he can write, "Therefore there are no second generation conversions but the children are 'socialized into Christianity'" (p. 72). He writes that for Paul "the vocabulary of repentance was inapplicable to his [conversion] experience, though probably not to the experience of the Gentile community'' (p. 134). The idea that a practicing Jew needs no repentance (see p. 20) not only sounds like it comes from the modern Jewish-Christian dialogue movement, but seems to forget that Yom Kippur exists on the Jewish calendar!

4. Segal's interpretation of Scripture is questionable at crucial points. His views on Romans 2 are idiosyncratic. He claims that Paul is not dealing with the Mosaic Law but with human law courts. His conclusion is that Jewish courts are more corrupt than Gentile ones since they should know better! His exegesis of Romans 7 rests on an alleged Pauline distinction between the physical and the spiritual that cannot be maintained; and it equates keeping the ceremonial law with being "fleshly," radically misunderstanding Paul's remark about "knowing Jesus after the flesh." Thus he interprets Romans 13:14, "put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh," to mean that Paul is advising us not to observe Jewish practices, that is, the ceremonial law (p. 252).

There is a good deal in Segal's work that helps us understand and advocate the Jewishness of Paul. He does a good job in showing that some elements generally held to be the most un-Jewish (the divinity of Christ; Paul's visionary experiences) find a place within a Jewish milieu. But he falls short especially in his approach to conversion. There is still more "reclamation" of Paul that needs to take place in the Jewish community.


Rich Robinson is editor of The Messianic Review of Books.

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Anxious for Armageddon: A Call to Partnership for Middle Eastern and Western Christians

Donald E. Wagner. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995. xii, 253 pages. $14.95, paper.

Reviewed by Jim Eriksen

I first met Don Wagner at a 1991 Conference in Cyprus sponsored by Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. It was at that conference and on a subsequent tour of Syria, Jordan and Israel that I was introduced to some of the concerns that Wagner expresses in his work. It was therefore with a great deal of interest that I picked up his recent book Anxious for Armageddon.

Wagner is the director of Mercy Corps International's Middle East Program. His book raises some significant issues that cannot be overlooked by Christians who attempt to understand the complexity surrounding the Middle East. For example, he writes about the Jewish occupation in the British Territory of Palestine from 1948 to 1949. He interviews Palestinian Arabs who give firsthand accounts of the depopulation of Palestinian villages and, in at least one case (Deir Yassin), the extermination of the entire village population. Wagner quotes several Israeli sources to support the assertion that most Palestinians fled neither of their own volition nor in response to appeals by Arab leaders but due to Zionist terrorist tactics" (p. 128). Although Wagner would assign the motive for leaving to a sinister plot, it cannot be doubted that some 660,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and villages, in almost every instance without compensation, during this period.

Wagner also addresses the issue of human rights abuses during the military rule of the occupied territories and talks about the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ). His criticisms of the ICEJ are warranted. He correctly notes that the ICEJ has taken a political position, abandoning the Christian gospel (the ICEJ has agreed not to engage in "proselytism").

However, it is just at this point that Wagner's work suffers. For despite his just criticism of the ICEJ, Wagner's alternative approach suggests an equally untenable position, though for different reasons.

Wagner's work is problematic in several respects. First, he selectively includes certain historical events while omitting others. For example, Wagner states that "in 1936 the Palestinians launched a series of boycotts, strikes, and demonstrations" (p. 142). The preceding sentence seems to indicate that this was a result of frustration over a "British-Zionist alliance." However, what Wagner fails to include is the events that led to the "boycotts, strikes, and demonstrations." Specifically, in April of 1936, Qassamite groups (religiously and nationalistically motivated groups inspired by Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam) robbed and murdered three Jews. This was followed by retaliation against two Arabs that resulted in a widespread Arab boycott. Thus, in Wagner's attempt to weave a great conspiracy between Christian Zionists, British authorities and Jewish Zionists, he omits vast amounts of historically relevant material. He simplifies matters to the point of historical distortion.

Second, just as Wagner engages in poor history, he suffers the same weakness in his theology. The first several chapters of Wagner's work contain a series of autobiographical events. By chapter two, the reader discovers that Wagner has abandoned his "futurist pre-millennialist" upbringing; he has "changed politically and theologically" into a different person. He then uses this autobiographical journey to demonstrate to the reader the "virtues" of abandoning a "pre-millennialist" view.

Wagner never states what theological view one ought to adopt; however, he does advocate replacement theology (that is, the Church replaces Israel as the true people of God). In chapter seven, he quotes from the well-known British evangelical churchman John R. W. Stott who thinks "political Zionism and Christian Zionism are biblically anathema to Christian faith" (p. 80). Although Wagner follows Stott's bold assertion with a quote from one of his sermons, Wagner does not offer a justification for adopting this view. Rather, he simply appeals to the purported ends of adopting such a view, a greater love and concern for the plight of Palestinian Arabs.

The third and perhaps greatest weakness can be found in Wagner's call for ecumenicism. He urges evangelicals to understand the complex missiological and ecclesiological issues and join in cooperation with such organizations as the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). By pursuing this goal, Wagner displays a willingness to overlook central issues (e.g., the imperative to evangelize). Although dialogue should take place, the evangelical community cannot work with the MECC when it opposes direct evangelism of Muslims or Jews.

Wagner virtually ignores the Messianic believers in Israel as part of the "Church" in the Middle East. He makes a passing reference to them but dismisses Jewish believers as not a topic for his work. Apparently, Wagner does not see the importance of supporting the entire (Palestinian and Jewish) Christian community. Works like Musalaha (a ministry of reconciliation that arranges gatherings of Jewish and Palestinian believers) are completely overlooked.

In conclusion, although Wagner's work contains some legitimate points, those become obscured by the clearly biased historical and theological treatment of the issue. One wonders if a "futurist pre-millennialist" can be anything but a member of the ICEJ. Of course, the fundamental concern does not lie in the titles used but in the treatment of the core issue, evangelism. Wagner notes the Coptic-Evangelical alliance as an example of evangelicals in partnerhip with the ancient Christian community in Egypt, an example I wholeheartedly agree with. The Coptic church has undergone a revival and evangelical Christians are partnering with the Coptic church for the primary purpose of evangelism, not social change!

Perhaps Wagner would have been better off entitling his work The Memoirs of Don Wagner; by doing this, he could have avoided some of the above criticism, and he might have realized that the work was not yet complete.


Jim Ericksen has served as general counsel for Jews for Jesus.

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Jewish New Testament Commentary

David H. Stern. Clarkesville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992. xxi, 927 pages. $34.95, cloth; $29.95, paper.

David Stern's massive Jewish New Testament Commentary follows through on his Jewish New Testament. It represents a Herculean effort to provide a commentary of the New Testament that works with the original Greek text and also attempts to demonstrate the first-century cultural background among the people of Israel.

As long ago as the 1930s, the Yiddish writer Sholem Asch and the Israeli scholar Joseph Klausner already broke ground when they wrote about Jesus from a Jewish perspective. Since then, the old approach of seeing the New Testament as completely Greek, divorced from any Jewish background, has largely been set aside in the thinking of many writers and scholars. But the task has not been easy. It is now time for Messianic Jews themselves to deal theologically with the issues concerning not only Jesus but Paul as well.

Stern has provided us with a great deal of Jewish background to the New Testament. For example, many of the lessons that Y'shua taught find background in the common cultural and religious pool from which he as well as the rabbis drew. The teaching of acts of righteousness" (Matthew 6:1) finds a background in the Sayings of the Fathers 2:13. The saying in Matthew 6:7 that our words be few is also found in B'rakhot 61a (pp. 30-31). The same would be true of the Lord's Prayer, all of which is at home in the Judaism of Y'shua's day (p. 32). Similarly, the Golden Rule that Y'shua cited already had an accepted part in Jewish writings, even as early as the third century b.c. book of Tobit (pp. 33-34). The citation from Yoma 39a-39b that in the forty years prior to the destruction of the temple, the scarlet cloth never turned white again is an interesting comment on the rending of the temple curtain in Matthew 27:51 (p. 84).

One cannot begin to mention the great number of passages for which Stern provides interesting supporting evidence from various facets of Jewish materials. He demonstrates adequately that the New Testament is set in a specific cultural context of the people of Israel and not in a foreign Greek context.

The development of a theology of Messianic faith is extremely important. One does not write theology in a day and perhaps not even in fifty years. We need to work at it until many of us can agree on an expression of what we believe and how we are to live our beliefs. Among the key theological questions are these:

1. The use of the term "Messianic Judaism." In explaining Messianic Judaism, Stern defines it as: "100% Jewish and 100% Messianic" (p. xv). "Messianic" draws our focus to Y'shua as the Messiah, but what does it mean to be "100% Jewish"? Is it what the traditional Jew would describe as Jewish, or is it what the Reform Jew would want to define as Jewish? Of course, Stern does make a distinction between Messianic Judaism and "non-Messianic Judaism," where the latter refers to any form of expression of Judaism that does not acknowledge Y'shua as the Messiah and Redeemer. This still leaves us with a problem concerning the term "Judaism." Perhaps, rather than trying to use the word "Judaism" and then going into a long explanation as to how one should define it, it would be best to simply speak in terms of the Messianic Jew and "Messianic faith."

2. The question of Torah. Stern insists that "Messianic Judaism recognizes that the Torah is eternal, and Yeshua did not abrogate it" (p. 240, on Acts 6:13-14; see also his comments on Acts 2:42, 12:12, 15:2-3 and Matthew 5:17). But what does he mean by Torah? He explains that by Torah, he means the written Torah, commonly known as the Old Testament, not any legalistic system (pp. 344-346, on Romans 3:20b).

Discussing Galatians, Stern writes that "some branches of Christianity teach that the ethical Law remains, while the civil and ceremonial statutes have been done away with. For Gentiles, this may seem a satisfactory solution to the problem of the Torah, but for Jewish believers it isn't so simple as that." Instead, he draws our attention to the fact that "some rules [in the Torah] were transformed by their fulfillment; this is a process found already in the Tanakh, for example, when the Tabernacle was superseded by the Temple." He relates this to the New Testament, in which the death of the Messiah fulfills the "function of the temple sacrifice for sin and either superseded it or changed it into a memorial, as explained in Messianic Jews [his name for the Book of Hebrews] 7-10" (p. 568).

Moreover, Stern tells us that the New Testament is really the Torah of the Messiah and has been incorporated into the Torah as a whole, that is, into the written Torah; the Torah of the Messiah explains fully and more completely what the written Torah hints at as a pointer to the day when Messiah will finally appear. He even translates Hebrews 8:6b as "[The New Covenant] has been given as Torah on the basis of better promises" (compare the NIV, "and it is founded upon better promises"). Indeed, Stern is quite clear on the difference between Messianic Jews and the Judaism espoused by other Jewish people when he declares that the New Testament is Torah and that there is no such person as a Torah-observant Jew unless he or she accepts the New Testament (p. 687)!

The point is that there is something about the Mosaic Covenant that is changed, but there is something of it that still remains, further explained, indeed, by the "Torah of Messiah" as Stern defines it. His observation serves notice on the rest of us that we need to wrestle with these concepts to produce a better Messianic Jewish theology.

3. Original sin. Stern offers a lengthy and valuable comment on this topic, taking some fourteen pages to discuss it (pp. 359-373), concluding, "I do not propose to construct a Messianic Jewish theology of sin in this note!" He points out a number of instances where the issue of sin is discussed in the Tanakh (p. 368) and makes a case for what is wrong with people and why they need to be justified by God or declared righteous, in order to have a new life and be one with the Lord.

As Stern suggests, perhaps the "sins of ignorance" (Leviticus 4:2) can shed light on the question. These sins are those that provide the context for the sin offering. Sins of ignorance are not those of commission or omission and they force us to ask why a person can sin and not be aware of it. Could it be that something is wrong with the inner being of a person whereby he or she can sin in such a way? Could it be that Moses provided the sin offering in order to care for the question of "who we are" (justification), in contrast to the guilt offering, which takes care of "what we do" (sanctification)? The issue of justification forces us to deal with who we are, a most important question, because of non-Messianic Jewish opposition to this doctrine and their insistence that people through their free will can achieve righteousness.

It might be mentioned that the use of Hebrew for the various New Covenant names may be baffling to Americans in general and Jewish believers in particular. For example, in Matthew 5:21 (p. 27), the Hebrew for the "Ten Commandments" is a case in point. Perhaps a glossary of how Hebrew and Greek words are pronounced might have been helpful.

A final word concerning the readability of this commentary. In general, it seems best geared to someone with formal exposure to the Bible and to theology. For instance, in discussing Matthew 23:37-39 (p. 71), Stern refers briefly to "the theology, developed later by the Church," an issue that not all readers would be conversant with.

All in all, Stern has provided us with a work that will provide a distinctive contribution to the beliefs of Messianic Jews. It will, no doubt, be the springboard for further meaningful discussions between Jewish believers in the Messiah, as well as for the Church at large.


The late Louis Goldberg was for many years the chairman of the Jewish Studies department at Moody Bible Institute. He afterwards served as Scholar-in-Residence at the New York City branch of Jews for Jesus.

Who Are God's People in the Middle East?

Gary M. Burge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993. 207 pages. $9.99, paper.

Reviewed by Jim Eriksen, San Francisco, CA.

Gary Burge wrote this book while on sabbatical from his teaching position as associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. The strength of his presentation lies in his historical overview of what he calls Israel/Palestine," a term he uses to "be fair" to all parties. Except for the mid-to-latter part of the twentieth century (see comments below), Burge's synopsis is very helpful. Burge also raises the general issue of human rights violations in the occupied territories. He gives a good analysis of the Old Testament passages addressing the "alien" or "stranger." He attempts to grapple, in a very abbreviated form, with how the Church should view Israel, both Israel the "People of God" and Israel the political entity. Burge rejects replacement theology and opts for a "middle position." This position acknowledges what he calls "Paul's double commitment": "Israel has fallen and has been utterly disobedient. Christians have been grafted into their place" and, "fallen Israel in its unbelief remains unique, honored, and beloved because of God's commitment to Israel's ancestors" (p. 143). Burge argues that this position has implications for the Israeli endeavor to acquire land and forge a nation (for example, modern Israel does not have the same mandate as those Joshua led into the land and is therefore subject to human rights standards, p. 144).

However, it is precisely at this point that Burge's "People of God" approach to Israel takes him to some rather difficult conclusions. Burge continually gives the reader personal examples, derived from his trips to Israel, of alleged Israeli abuses in the occupied territories. In addition, he attempts to cite human rights studies and international norms that may be applicable to Israel. In doing so, he exposes the weaknesses of his analysis. For example, although Israel is a signatory of various international human rights documents, it has signed with reservations; namely, it has reserved the right to derogate certain rights in times where national security is threatened. This derogation of rights by reservation is not unique to Israel; most nations make a similar reservation to preserve national sovereignty during times of unrest or war. No mention of this is made by Burge, and the reader is left to believe that Israel has refused to abide by agreements it signed.

Burge also gives a rather skewed view of the wars following the creation of the nation/state of Israel in 1948. For example, he describes the "Intifada" as "civilians" using "civil disobedience" to "thwart Israeli control and inspire international sympathy." No mention is made of the more radical groups, such as Hamas, that entertain the destruction of Israel.

In addition to the historical analysis, Burge makes an impassioned appeal to the reader to recognize that a Christian community exists among the Palestinians. Although it is important to understand that the Palestinian community is not comprised solely of Shiite Muslims but includes Christians as well, Burge overstates the case. In the Middle East, the term "Christian" is used to identify a sociological community. Being a member of the "Christian community" does not necessarily mean one is a Christian. Burge seems to overlook this and accepts everyone who is a member of the "Christian community" as a Christian.

This leads to another glaring problem, namely, the failure to mention the existence of Jewish believers in Israel. In the tenth chapter, "Evangelicals in the Land," not a word is mentioned about the Jewish followers of Jesus. Although one might argue that this is not a primary concern of the book, it shows how the generalizations made by Burge overlook areas which should be included to give the reader an understanding of the complexity of the issues.

At the end of the work, one wonders whether the author has really made enough trips and had enough "personal experiences" to convey an accurate picture of what is an extremely complex issue. However, in spite of this weakness, the book does provide some excellent analysis and acts as a counter to some other works, such as Peace or Armageddon? by Dan O'Neill and Don Wagner, that have a much weaker theological framework.

Postscript: Between the time I read Who Are God's People in the Middle East? and the writing of this review, significant events occurred in Israel. With the signing of the Peace Accord between Israel and the PLO, autonomy was granted to the Gaza Strip and Jericho. The events that unfolded both at the signing in Cairo and subsequently underscore the complexity of the issues facing Israel. Only a week after the signing, Arafat announced to his constituents that the jihad (holy war) has not ended with the signing of the accords. This prompted immediate international demands for a retraction. Arafat, who claims he was not using the term in its literal sense (as a holy war to remove all infidels from Pan-Arabia) but in a metaphorical one, demonstrates the difficulties he faces in bringing together the moderate and radical members of his organization. Burge clearly did not anticipate these events in his work, and they partly render some of his conclusions moot. But other important issues that he raises, including how modern Israel should be viewed, merit ongoing consideration in the Christian community.


Jim Eriksen has served as general counsel for Jews for Jesus.

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