Julius Scott Jr.'s work of literature Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament, is quite fascinating. The manuscript is well researched and dedicated to a number of crucial events that influenced the form of practice of both Christianity and Judaism. The author incorporates a variety of sources, both traditional and otherwise, in an attempt to reconstruct some of the critical elements in the intertestamental period that greatly influenced both of these religions for posterity. In order to better identify the central theme of this book and the author's intention in writing it, it is necessary to begin with background information about him and the scope of focus of the book to ultimately determine whether or not he has achieved his purpose with this work.
One of the most salient facets about the background of Scott Jr. is the fact that he is a Christian. The author is an emeritus professor at Wheaton College Graduate School in the biblical and historical studies. Although her explores the facts predominantly in a non-partisan way and deconstructs many of the events and prominent people in this period in such a way, it is fairly apparent that this is a book written by a Christian primarily for other Christians. This fact is an integral part of the general thesis that the author propagates throughout this work, which is that Christians can gain a better understanding of some of the fundamental aspects of this religion by studying this particular period and understanding its effects on both Christianity and Judaism. The subsequent quotation reinforces this notion.
Christians visit the Intertestamnental Judaim to grasp more fully the spiritual roots from which we sprang, & #8230;We understand more, believe more firmly, and function better as we consciously grasp the nature of and appreciate the roots of Christianity in the customs and controversies of Intertestamental Judaism (1).
One of the boons of this book is the fact that the author has structured it in a lucid, logical way. The first part provides background information regarding the setting of the Intertestamental period, which Scott maintains include the final five centuries of the BCE era and the first two centuries of the CE epoch. The second section identifies the major events that took place during the intertestamental period and considers their ramifications for Judaism and the fledgling foundations for Christianity. The third part focuses heavily on theology, both as it pertains to Judaism and to contemporary Christianity. The divisions enable the readers to get acclimated with this time period, to understand what affected the thoughts and sentiments during it, and to see who those thoughts manifested themselves from a religious perspective.
In analyzing the methodology employed by Scott throughout this work, it is necessary to see how what is most effectively termed his Christian bias manifests itself in terms of the sources he employs. The author makes a point to involve both Biblical and non-Biblical sources. Of the former, it is critical to realize that he utilizes texts from both the New Testament and the Old Testament in order to contextualize many of the events and perceptions that were most prominent during the intertestamental period. And, to his credit, he incorporates a fair amount of texts from outside the Bible such as the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a substantial amount of Hebrew literature to inform his perspective. Although there are some times when it appears as though he is purposefully attempting to combine these two stratifications of source, for the most part he is able to present a variety of perspectives that help to develop a comprehensive overview of the subject matter discussed in this work. There are also a multitude of graphic representations scattered throughout the book and its appendix that help to illustrate many of the points of Scott Jr. The author has included a bevy of maps (especially those that pertain to the geography of Palestine during this time period) tables, and figures that help to clarify certain concepts. Perhaps even more useful still are the eight appendices that conclude the manuscript. Within this part of the book the author is able to identify the contents of many of the less familiar texts that he references, as well as take up discussion of the nature of scholarly debate. Their inclusion attests to the thoughtfulness and consideration of sources that he uses which are a strength of this manuscript.
One of the most important events that Scott Jr. pinpoints as having a profound effect on Judaism during the intertestamental period is the destruction of Solomon's temple. In some way, the building of this structure and its significance in Judaism represented the zenith of this religion. Moreover, its destruction heralded the critical time period in which those of the Jewish faith effectively lost their land and were taken captive by the Babylonians. As such, the power, autonomy, and freedom of religion that the Jewish people enjoyed during the time in which the temple stood was replaced with a more desolate one in which religious and political freedom was widely sought. Thus, one of the key events during this time period is when the temple was ultimately restored and the Jews attempted to similarly restore their monarchy. It was during the time period during which the temple was rebuilt that some of the most formidable aspects of Judaism were solidified. The relevance of these aspects of this religion are important for Christians to understand because they helped to form the facets of Judaism that directly impacted Jesus -- either positively or negatively. The author reveals that there were certain parts of Judaism that Jesus made a point to acknowledge and to uphold, such as the law propagated during the Old Testament, and other parts of it that he was less supportive of (such as the partitioning of the torah during its reading in worship). The basis of this law, in many ways, was the covenant God initially established with Abraham and later continued through Moses. The subsequent quotation corroborates this fact. "The Abrahamic covenant ("I will…be God to you and to your offspring" -- Gen. 17:7) was reaffirmed through Moses at the time of the exodus and then echoed throughout the Old Testament. The Torah is inseparably bound to this covenant" (2).
In addition to illustrating the ways in which developments of Judaism during the intertestamental period affected Christ and his perspective of this religion, one of the most important themes explored within this work pertains to the apocalypse and messianic lore -- for both Christians and Jews. For the latter, Christ fulfilled the role of the Messiah and there are a number of Christians who await his return and the impending Judgment days. However, during the time period in which the original temple was destroyed and the second temple was planned, Judaism made increasing strides to clarify its viewpoint on the apocalypse and the awaiting of the messiah that will presage it. Interestingly, the author is able to weave parallels between both of these viewpoints (Christian and Jewish) to allude to the fact that the purported destruction of the world and its religious significance is a point of commonality between both religions, and one in which many people (especially Christians) attempt to exploit for their own purposes. For example, much of the book of Revelations is about the Holy Roman Empire and events that were contemporary to the author involved in writing it. In this respect, the author takes pains to denote the potential misuse of apocalyptic writing in modern times as evinced in the subsequent quotation. "Another unwarranted approach that some Christians take in reading apocalyptic literature is to be preoccupied with questions and issues about which the writers, including New Testament writers, show little concern" (3).
The strengths of this manuscript have been widely alluded to, and include the author's incorporation of a diversity of sources to present a comprehensive overview of life during the intertestamental period for the Jewish people that would eventually spawn Christianity. Additionally, the bevy of graphics, maps, and tables that the author employs helps to provide visual confirmation of some of his more salient points. Another boon of this book is the substantial amount of information that Scott Jr. is able to unveil to the reader, which effectively covers virtually all aspects of intertestamental life for Jews. This information largely pertains to things of an ecclesiastical nature. However, there is a fair amount of information presented about life in general for these people, as it shifted during the Babylonian captivity and during the tenure in which they were governed by the Roman Empire. In this respect, this is a fairly exhaustive (though not in the pejorative sense of the term) volume that is critical for understanding the developments that took place for Jews prior to the New Testament, which actually helps to explicate parts of their portrayal in the New Testament.
As alluded to earlier, the most eminent criticism of this work is the fact that the author is far from non-partisan. He…