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A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament
A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament
A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament
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A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament

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An in-depth look at the Christian scriptures—from a Jewish perspective.

Many Jewish people know the New Testament only through snippets of verse heard at a Christian wedding or funeral, or through a chapter read in literature class. Many are completely unfamiliar with the meaning or messages of Christian scripture and therefore hold strange or startling judgments about it.

A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament introduces the text to Jewish readers. Samuel Sandmel applies scholarly criticism and provides historical background to the writings of the New Testament, revealing how the sacred literature of other religions can provide fresh perspectives on one’s own beliefs.

Without compromising his Jewish identity or encouraging any traditional Jewish stereotypes of the New Testament, Sandmel offers an enlightened view of Christian beliefs and encourages readers to acknowledge their common humanity with people of all religions. (Previously published by KTAV Publishing House, 1974, ISBN 0-870682-628.)

Release dateOct 5, 2012
A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament
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Rabbi Samuel Sandmel

Rabbi Samuel Sandmel was professor of Bible and Hellenistic literature at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, and was author of many highly regarded books in the field of Jewish and Bible studies.

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    A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament - Rabbi Samuel Sandmel

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    A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament

    Philo’s Place in Judaism

    The Genius of Paul

    The Hebrew Scriptures: An Introduction to Their Literature and Religious Ideas

    We Jews and Jesus

    Herod: Profile of a Tyrant

    We Jews and You Christians: An Inquiry into Attitudes

    The First Christian Century in Judaism and Christianity

    The Several Israels

    The Two Living Traditions: Essays in Bible and Religion

    Old Testament Issues (editor)

    The Enjoyment of Scripture

    Alone Atop the Mountain (a novel about Moses)



    Table of Contents






              I.  A Description of the New Testament

             II.  The Historian’s Approach

            III.  The Jewish Background

           IV.  From Judaism into Christianity



            V.  The Background of Paulinism

           VI.  Paul

          VII.  Paul’s Doctrine of Christ

         VIII.  The Church and the Law of Moses

            IX.  The Epistles of Paul

             X.  Pauline Christianity and Greek Religion



            XI.  The Gospel Process

           XII.  The Gospel According to Mark

          XIII.  Beyond the Gospel According to Mark

          XIV.  The Gospel According to Matthew

           XV.  The Gospel According to Luke

          XVI.  The Historical Jesus



        XVII.  Catholic, Johannine, and Pastoral Epistles

       XVIII.  The Epistle of James

          XIX.  The First Epistle of Peter

           XX.  The Epistle of the Hebrews

          XXI.  The Johannine Epistles

         XXII.  Revelation

        XXIII.  Acts of the Apostles

       XXIV.  The Gospel According to John

        XXV.  The Pastoral Epistles

       XXVI.  Jude and Second Peter



     XXVII.  The Genius of the New Testament Faith

    XXVIII.  Epilogue



    About the Author


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    Preface to the Third Edition

    To the best of my knowledge, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament remains the only book written by a Jew about the entire New Testament. This was true in 1956 when the book was first published, it was true in 1974 when my father noted this fact in the introduction to an augmented edition of the book, and it remains true today. Jews have written extensively on Jesus, Paul, Christianity, and on other various aspects of the New Testament, but no other Jew has written a book on the New Testament as a whole. Certainly, the interest in this subject remains high in the Jewish community and beyond. Current events, such as the Pope’s visit to Jerusalem and the publication of Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity,¹ both in 2000, and the release of Mel Gibson’s controversial movie The Passion of the Christ in 2004, regularly increase Jewish interest in Christianity and its foundational texts.

    Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1911, Samuel Sandmel was the child of Eastern European immigrants. His father escaped Tsarist Russia and the pogroms at the turn of the twentieth century. My father grew up in St. Louis and attended public schools. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Missouri, where he studied philology. He entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1932 and was ordained a rabbi in 1937. After a brief stint as a congregational rabbi, he became the director of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations at the University of North Carolina and Duke University. There he met and married my mother, Frances Langsdorf Fox. He also met and came under the influence of Harvie Branscomb III, who was then the dean of Duke Divinity School. When Branscomb learned of my father’s desire to pursue an advanced degree in Old Testament,² he urged him to focus instead on New Testament. Branscomb, who was well versed in the languages of the period and steeped in rabbinic literature and Jewish scholarship, understood that my father brought an expertise to the study of the New Testament that few Christian scholars at the time possessed.

    In 1942 my father left Hillel to become a Navy chaplain in World War II. Following the war, he directed the Hillel Foundation at Yale where he also completed his doctorate under Erwin Goodenough, whose seminal work in Judaism in the Greco-Roman world greatly influenced not only my father but all subsequent scholarship on Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity. In 1949, Harvie Branscomb, who had become the chancellor of Vanderbilt University, appointed my father to the Hillel chair of Jewish religion and thought, a position that Branscomb himself helped to create and that was, at that time, one of the few chairs in Jewish studies at any American university. In 1952, Nelson Glueck brought my father to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion³ where he served as professor of Bible and Hellenistic literature as well as provost and dean of the Graduate School. He retired from HUC-JIR in 1978 to become the Helen A. Regenstein Professor of Religion at the University of Chicago. Shortly after moving to Chicago, my father became ill. He died on November 4, 1979.

    During his career, my father wrote numerous books and articles for both scholarly and popular audiences.⁴ His scholarship and, perhaps more important, his ability to speak honestly but without rancor, helped him become an internationally recognized pioneer in interreligious dialogue. Krister Stendahl, a Protestant scholar, former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, and a pioneer of Jewish-Christian dialogue, wrote of him, Samuel Sandmel was a gift of God to both Jews and Christians. It was given to him to help change the climate and even the agenda of Jewish-Christian conversations.

    Many Jews involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue concentrate on pointing out those aspects of Christian texts and Christian theology that lie at the heart of the Jewish-Christian tragedy. My father did not shy away from this, but he was equally committed to teaching Jews how to approach Christianity with respect. This book, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament, marks his first major effort in this regard, which along with We Jews and Jesus (1965, 1973) and We Jews and You Christians (1967) forms a kind of trilogy. We Jews and Jesus was written for those thoughtful Jewish people who seek to arrive at a calm and balanced understanding of where Jews can reasonably stand with respect to Jesus.⁶ This is not a book about the historical Jesus. Indeed, my father believed that it is impossible to recover the Jesus of history, because the Gospel accounts obscure him with layers of later legend and theology (see chapter XVI, The Historical Jesus). It is, rather, about what Jews have thought concerning Jesus throughout history and how contemporary Jews, with the benefit of historical and scriptural scholarship, might think of Jesus today. As the title suggests, We Jews and You Christians was written for a Christian audience in an effort to give an answer to a question very often put to me by Christians: What is the attitude of you Jews to us?⁷ The book concludes with a remarkable, and I believe, largely overlooked Proposed Declaration: `The Synagogue and the Christian People’ that in many ways presages Dabru Emet. That two of these books are written primarily for Jews and one primarily for Christians is a bit artificial. My father addresses both Jews and Christians in all three and, indeed, both Jews and Christians have read all three books and learned from them. A fourth book, The Genius of Paul, though more academic than the other three, deserves mention because,