Book Reviews


Frederiksen, Paula. Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism. New York: Doubleday, 2008. PDF Print E-mail

Frederiksen, Paula. Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism. New York: Doubleday, 2008.

Horner, Barry. Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2007.

The subtitle of Paula Frederiksen’s recent book Augustine and the Jews caught my eye before anything else: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism. I had just finished reading Barry Horner’s Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged, which traces Christian anti-Judaism back to the great Church fathers, who wrote in the fourth and fifth centuries. After all, as both Horner and Frederiksen make clear, it was Augustine who established the idea of Israel as a witness people, whose exile throughout history testifies to the truth of God’s word. Israel’s exile demonstrated throughout the Roman world of Augustine’s day the consequences of rejecting Messiah, even as Scripture foretold. Augustine’s defense of the Jews, then, is his insistence “that Jews were not a challenge to Christianity but a witness to it. In their allegiance to their ancestral practices, he asserted, the Jews unknowingly confirmed the church’s claim to their scriptures.”2

Augustine expressed this understanding of Israel in what Horner calls his “famous, yet obviously mistaken, interpretation of Ps 59:12 (59:11 in Christian Bibles), ‘Do not kill them [the Jews]; otherwise, my people will forget. / By Your power, make them homeless wanderers.’”3 This interpretation eventually led the Church to ensure that the Jewish people were not destroyed, but also that they did not prosper or increase. Frederiksen, however, doubts that Augustine himself would have intended such an application of his words. Just as the rhetoric of some passages of the Gospels, particularly in John, has been misapplied to fuel anti-Semitic attitudes and actions in the Christian world, which John himself, and surely Yeshua, would never have intended, so Augustine’s rhetoric fueled the idea that Jews should “survive but not thrive” in the Christian world.4

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Colonna, S. J., Carlo. Gli Ebrei Messianici: Un segno dei tempi. Verona, Italy: Edizioni Fede & Cultura, 2009. PDF Print E-mail

Colonna, S. J., Carlo. Gli Ebrei Messianici: Un segno dei tempi. Verona, Italy: Edizioni Fede & Cultura, 2009.

This is the first book on the Messianic Jewish movement of which I am aware to have been written by a Roman Catholic. The author, Fr Carlo Colonna, is a Jesuit priest serving as spiritual guide to a Catholic charismatic community, the Comunità di Gesù, in Bari, Italy. Under the leadership of Matteo Calisi, this community has in recent years hosted a series of annual conferences, on themes as diverse as ‘Justice and Peace,’ and ‘Praise and Worship.’ In 2004, they launched an annual ‘Dialogue’ between Catholics and Messianic Jews, with invited Messianic speakers, mostly from Israel and the United States. Fr Colonna has been part of all these meetings and in this book he shares what he has learned over the last five years. He is a theologian well versed in Catholic spirituality. This double expertise characterizes his book and gives it a particular value.

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The Koren Sacks Siddur, with English Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Koren Publishers: Jerusalem, 2009. PDF Print E-mail

The Koren Sacks Siddur, with English Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Koren Publishers: Jerusalem, 2009.

In 1981, Koren Publishers (Jerusalem), which was founded by the artist and typographer Eliyahu Koren, released its first siddur. This siddur is laid out in such a way as to stimulate visually a sense of the flow and dynamics that correspond to the content of the prayers themselves. Twenty-eight years later, the American Jewish community is taking significant note of the Koren Siddur through the publication of a Hebrew- English edition with a new translation and commentary by the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Lord Jonathan Sacks.

The motivation for creating another Orthodox Hebrew-English siddur comes, in part, as a response to the dominance of the Haredi, or Ultra-Orthodox community, in the publication of traditional materials, most notably ArtScroll-Mesorah Publications. The compilers, translators, and commentators of these works have a tendency to leave out much of the sensibilities of the Modern Orthodox community and, more strikingly, the implications of prayer in the diaspora vis-à-vis the State of Israel. There are four main areas in which the Koren Siddur stands apart from its predecessors and contemporaries both qualitatively and quantitatively.

First, there are a number of features in the layout and typography of the Koren Siddur that assist the user while praying. The facing English translation on the righthand side of pages is a feature that may be unusual for some, as most siddurs have facing English translations on the left side. Nevertheless, this unique feature allows the Hebrew side to be the first side viewed while turning pages. For those who pray primarily in Hebrew, this small adjustment in translation placement can “smooth out” the praying experience.

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Sparks, Kenton L. God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Derek Leman   

Sparks, Kenton L. God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Setting the stage for his own stance toward Scripture, Kenton Sparks begins by noting three approaches to navigating faith and Bible: secular, traditionalist, and constructive. Secular approaches do not regard the text as Divine at all. Traditionalist approaches de-emphasize the human element and tend toward harmonization and acceptance of early authorship. Constructive approaches integrate critical observations of errors in Scripture with faith in the Divine authority of the Bible, an approach that Sparks also calls “believing criticism.” Constructive approaches have not produced any persuasive consensus as yet, as Sparks details in his fifth chapter.1 Yet his own goal is to offer a constructive approach that works.2

In order to set his approach to hermeneutics in a philosophical base, Sparks reviews epistemology through the centuries. In broad strokes, he defines pre-modern epistemologies as inquiry restrained by the boundaries of tradition.3 Modern epistemologies are characterized by a full-blown suspicion of tradition.4 Finally, postmodern epistemologies he divides into two approaches. Anti-realism views reality as “nothing other than an invention of human culture.”5 Practical realism, on the other hand, sees tradition as a useful tool for grasping reality.6

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David Berger, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference PDF Print E-mail
(Portland, Oregon: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001.)

Without a doubt, the central argument of David Berger's The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference will strike a Messianic Jew differently than your average Orthodox rabbi or layperson, who are presumably Berger's intended audience. For many of us, a particular line of debate about the Messiah is old hat: how a person who appeared to leave the stage of history at his death (resurrection notwithstanding) cannot be the Messiah; how the unredeemed state of the world means that, according to the unanimous Jewish interpretation of the messianic idea, the Messiah cannot have come. Indeed, we have heard it all too many times. 

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