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The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   215
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.05" Width: 6.06" Height: 0.58"
Weight:   0.7 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 1996
Publisher   Paulist Press
ISBN  0809136104  
EAN  9780809136100  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Explores the history and religion of the Jews in the late Second Temple and early rabbinic era, emphasizing those aspects of early Judaism that are significant to Christians seeking to understand the context in which Jesus lived and taught.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Wylen is right  Dec 5, 2007
Wylen is right about one thing. We live in an age of academic specialization. Unfortunately, Christian scholars who know Greek, Latin, German, French are unable to master all the Semitic languages needed to know the huge Judaic corpus. When Wylen speaks of Judaism, the book is edifying. Unfortunately, there were a couple of minor comments about Christianity that were in error. This makes me wonder a little about the integrity of the rest of the book. It is a great introduction to the subject, with much information I wish I had learned in undergrad and grad school. So this work fills a knowledge gap for Christians, or more accurately a perspective gap. Knowing how Jews view their history is an essential perspective. The author is well read on the subject of Judaism being a Rabbi. I enjoy reading a book for popular consumption by an author who has digested many tomes I have not had time to read. I recommend it with a little reservation.
Good coverage of a complicated subject  Dec 29, 2006
Rabbi Wylen gives a good overall view of the influence of the times and the state of affairs leading up to and just after the time of Jesus. There are a couple errors in dates which can be confusing for the novice. (That would be me.)

I also would have liked to see an appendix with an overall timeline in it. I'm a visual person and that would have helped me, though others might not miss it. I went to other sources for the visual timeline and pasted a copy into the back of the book for my own use. That let me make notes and changes as I needed to follow the points in the book.

A very worthwhile read.
Excellent Introduction. Beware of minor errors.  Nov 11, 2006
`Jews in the Time of Jesus' by rabbi Stephen M. Wylen is both more and less than what I wanted when I was searching for a book on exactly the subject stated in the title. It was far more than what I wanted in a description of the state of the Jews at the time Jesus lived.

It covers an outline of Jewish history roughly from the successful revolt of the Maccabees against the Seluccid (Persian) empire in around 168 BCE and the beginnings of the Second Temple era to the failed revolt against the Romans around 70 CE and the Romans' total distruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In brief, it covers Jews throughout the era of the Second Temple, but also gives glimpses of the Jews who wrote the canonical works comprising `the law and the prophets' and of the much later rabbinical tradition which created the Talmud. In doing so, the author characterizes Jewish society in the first century CE to speculate from what elements the new `Christian' sect arose and specifically the character of Jesus himself. All of this makes me especially happy I picked this book based almost exclusively on the strength of the title.

The greatest lesson I gained from the book is the realization that the Jews of 30 CE were much different than the Jews of today either in the Temple down the street or in a Temple in modern Jerusalem. Second Temple Judaism was strongly oriented towards `the Law' of the Torah, but not nearly so strongly as it became under the rabbis and the Talmud. Judaism of this age was remarkable to us in both its similarities and dissimilarities to the religions of Greece, Mesopotamia, and Egypt surrounding it. It was similar in that it attributed extraordinary importance to the one great Temple in Jerusalem and in the importance it placed on animal sacrifice, so common in the surrounding `syncretic' religions. This picture alone clarifies to me what early Jewish writers meant by `pagans' without so much as a bone of explanation about what the `pagan' religion was. It also clears up a mystery I've encountered in more scholarly books regarding a class of `God-fearers', people who professed belief in the Hebrew god, but who were not Hebrews either by nationality or by adherence to the Law of the Torah. This group becomes extremely important in the history of Christianity.

A second important lesson is the author's picture of Judaism in the early first century. I can't help but compare it to the situation in evolutionary theory where a rapid change in environment leads to a proliferation of new species. Just at the time when the Roman rule and the rule by their client monarchs, the line of Herod the Great became onerous, Judaism fractured into several different sects. The most important were the Sadduces, the Pharisees (split into a camp founded by Hillel, more liberal and tolerant, and a camp founded by Shammai, more strict on points of law), the Essenes (John the Baptist was an Essene), the `God-Fearers', and followers of Jesus, at first known as `the Son of Man'. Christianity's most important missionary, Paul of Tarsus was, it is believed, a follower of Shammai before his conversion. Modern Judaism fully developed from the Pharisees following Hillel around 400 CE, with the assembly of the Talmud.

Another important aspect of the book is that although the author is not giving us a scholarly work, he offers an excellent roadmap to research done on this period and issue throughout the last 2000 years, concentrating on scholarship in the last 200 years. The one source that stands out is E. P. Sanders who also plays such a big role in describing the role of Judaism in the background and theology of Paul.

The one thing I miss in this book is the fact that it spends very little time discussing theological differences. I take away from this book the fact that Martin Luther may not have been as far off the mark as some people paint him in comparing the Jews of Paul's epistles as similar to the indulgence-selling Roman Catholics of Luther's day. The importance of sacrifices at the Temple can't be missed. And, the central importance of following the Law also can't be missed. There is not a lot to go on here, but the book does seem to strengthen the case that Paul's theology may have had a strong Hellenistic influence. This book simply does not address that issue very well.

This book gains value by being a popular survey rather than a scholarly treatment; however, it did not devote quite as much time to scholarly accuracy and fact checking as it should have. Two errors stand out. The first is the ambiguity in the use of the terms Hellenic and Hellenistic. Strictly speaking, before Alexander, one uses the former term to describe Greek culture. After Alexander, one uses the latter term to describe Greek culture in the states founded by Alexander's generals. The author uses them as if they were synonyms, but they are clearly not the same. The second error is that the author omits the name of Marcus Aurelius from his list of Roman Emperors and misspells the name of Aurelius' son, Commodus, who succeeded him (Didn't he get out to see `Gladiator'!). Didn't the copy editor notice the glaring 7-year gap in the reign of emperors! In themselves, these errors are minor, but two simple errors I caught suggest there may be others I didn't catch.

Overall, if you are interested in this subject, I recommend the book as a worthy starting point (note that the book is subtitled `An Introduction'). This popular treatment doesn't forgive the errors, but it does warn us that if you want to do serious research on this topic, go on to works in the author's bibliography before starting to write your paper!
Not bad, but shows bias in places  Feb 28, 2005
Overall, this is not a bad book at all. It does have a slight tendency to show bias. For example, the author is completely willing to believe (with soemwhat illogical support.) that the Baal Shem Tov came up with this ideas but that everyone elese was influenced by other parts of culture. Other than this, th ebook is good and worth reading.
A Helpful Guide to Undestanding Judaism in Jesus' day  Mar 6, 2004
Knowledge of the Jewish faith is essential to any serious study of the Christian scriptures. Stephen Wylen's THE JEWS IN THE TIME OF JESUS is an essential tool in understanding the Judaism of the days of Jesus Christ. The book is written in a manner that is both academic and personal. The author is a rabbi by profession but also has a keen understanding of Christianity. His writings are meant to educate Christian readers about Judaism but at time it also confronts misconceptions about Judaism.

The topics in the book include historical details regarding the Greeks, Romans, the Maccabees, etc. While this information is informative, it is not the book's greatest strength which can be found in the way the author paints a picture of Jewish life at the time of Jesus. Rabbi Wylen pays close attention to the various groups within Judaism: The Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, as well as the other figures we find in the gospel. The book helps the reader get a sense of the world of Jesus' day and the audience to whom Jesus spoke. The information about Jewish rituals and festivals is also helpful. The book also contains a great deal of information about the Temple and its history, including the revolts which led to the break between Christianity and Judaism. This information is critical in understanding the differences between the two great faiths. We also get some wonderful information about the great rabbis of Jesus' day and in the years of early Christianity.

The book is easy to read and can be used as a quick reference for people involved in preaching, Bible study, or religious education. The book has an informative bibliography which includes editorial comments by the author. While some readers may disagree with some of his opinions, they are still helpful as Christians and Jewish people try and come to an understanding of each other.


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