Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Write-Up: Messiah in the Passover

Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, ed.  Messiah in the Passover.  Kregel, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Messiah in the Passover contains contributions by people who are associated with Chosen People Ministries, a group of Jewish Christians who seek to evangelize to the Jewish people.  A number of the contributors have Messianic Jewish backgrounds: they are Jews who believe in Jesus, while continuing to practice Jewish customs.  Many of them have advanced degrees from evangelical or conservative Christian institutions of higher learning, such as Dallas Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Moody, and others.

This book discusses the Passover in the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels of Luke and John, and some of the Pauline (and, for liberal scholars, Deutero-Pauline) writings.  It also covers the treatment of the Passover within church history, which includes the Quartodeciman controversy over whether to observe the Passover or Easter Sunday, the phenomena of Jewish Christianity and Christian anti-Judaism, and Christian accusations that Jews murdered children in their Passover ritual.  There is a chapter about the Passover in rabbinic literature, and one on the Afikoman, which, in seders, has long been a matzo that is broken, hidden (half of it is), found by a child, and eaten at the end of the seder.  Then there are specific chapters that are devoted to the contention that the Passover alludes to Christian themes, particularly Christ’s work of atonement and redemption, and two of those chapters are sermons.  The following section includes a sample Messianic haggadah, suggestions on how to explain the Passover to children and to involve them in the celebration, and recipes for the Passover.  The book also contains a glossary, maps of the Exodus and Jesus’ final days, a list of the Jewish months and the months to which they correspond, and other helpful features.

The book has its advantages.  The authors take seriously scholarly concerns.  They are sensitive not to assume that Jesus’ last supper was a seder, for they recognize that the seder contains a number of rabbinic aspects.  Many argue that the last supper was a rudimentary form of the seder, appealing to overlaps between the Gospels’ depictions of the last supper and seders, and statements in writings by Philo and Josephus about Passover meals.  The chapters about the atonement realize that the Hebrew Bible never explicitly states that the Passover sacrifice atones for sin, though one of the chapters strenuously labors to connect the Passover sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible with atonement for sin.

Although the book’s approach to the Bible is largely harmonizing, as when it addresses apparent contradictions in the Passover rituals and the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, it does well to reject certain proposals, and also to highlight the apparent tensions.  One apparent tension that was new to me was that between Deuteronomy 16:3, which seems to command the Israelites to eat the Passover sacrifice with unleavened bread for seven days, and Exodus 12:10 and Deuteronomy 16:4, which command that none of the Passover sacrifice remain the morning after the Passover evening.

Another interesting argument made by more than one author is that the Christian Melito of Sardis in the second century C.E. referred to the Afikoman, and one even contends that rabbinic statements about it (e.g., that it is an after-dinner meal, which is forbidden) are a response to Christianity.

Brian Crawford’s engagement with Colossians 2:16 intrigued me, as one with a seventh-day Sabbatarian background.  Many Christians interpret Colossians 2:16-17 to mean that Christians need not observe the Sabbath and Jewish holy days, since they have been fulfilled in Christ.  Some Sabbatarians counter that the Sabbath has not been completely fulfilled, as it has a future eschatological fulfillment, and thus it is still obligatory for Christians to observe.  Crawford argues that the Passover will have a future fulfillment, yet he also holds that Gentiles are not required to observe the Jewish festivals.

The personal anecdotes from people about growing up in Messianic Jewish households added a tone of nostalgia.

In terms of possible weaknesses, the book was rather repetitive, in that there were cases in which the same ground was covered over and over.  Moreover, one essay suggested that Messianic Jews invite non-Christian Jews to their Messianic seders, without much recognition that many Jews might deem such seders to be illegitimate, or see them as proselytizing tools.  Another essay was a little more sensitive to this issue, as it suggested that Messianic Jews ask Jewish children’s parents before inviting them to a Messianic seder.  More than one author said that the stripes in the matzo can remind one of Jesus’ stripes, but were stripes characteristic of ancient matzah, or mainly modern mass-produced Manischewitz ones?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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