Weekly Q&A: Why should Christians learn about ancient and modern Judaism?

Christianity and Judaism (modern Judaism) are sisters; their mother is ancient Judaism. The New Testament belongs to the world of ancient Judaism. As such, to understand the New Testament, we need to study ancient Judaism. We find within ancient Judaism the faith, ideas, forms of teachings, theological developments, and manner of biblical interpretation found within the New Testament; thus, ancient Judaism provides windows through which we interpret and understand the New Testament. 

Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John expressed their ideas, faith, and expectations within the context of the world of ancient Judaism. For we as modern readers of the Bible, who find ourselves separated from the world of ancient Judaism, the study of ancient Judaism enables us to better understand the words of the New Testament figures and writers.  

Even beyond the New Testament, the first century was an axial period within human history, which gave birth to Judaism and Christianity, both of which eventually influenced the foundation of Islam. To understand history, particularly the history of Mediterranean region, from the first century until now, requires us to know something about the world of ancient Judaism, which gave us many ideas prevalent within the history of the Western world that remain with us today. 

Between the world of ancient Judaism and modern Judaism stand the last two thousand years of history. A history which has witnessed the ascendancy of Christianity, and as with many siblings, the history of Christianity and Judaism has been contentious, bitter, and hurtful, especially to Judaism. 

Studying modern Judaism does not necessarily assist one in better understanding the New Testament, but it does explain how we move from Jesus, a Jew, to Judaism’s hostility towards him. It has little to do with Jesus, and mostly to do with his followers, especially his non-Jewish followers. 

Learning about modern Judaism forces Christians to confront a very ugly history of how Christians have treated the Jews, often being the source of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic attitudes and voices, which remain with us until today. 

Learning about modern Judaism enables modern Christians to understand the challenges of Jewish-Christian dialogue and interactions. Learning about modern Judaism explains modern Zionism and the founding of the State of Israel. 

Learning about modern Judaism should lead Christians to ask some theological questions of themselves concerning the Jewish people and Israel. Learning about modern Judaism, however, also provides the ability to understand Jews and Judaism, to see the world from their perspective historically, culturally, and theologically.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast


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