You May Not Know Judaism as Well as You Think

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John Phelan’s evangelical guide to Jewish thought and history contains many revelations—some of them painful.

I will never forget the day I stood on the ruins of a third-century synagogue in Capernaum, just a stone’s throw from the beautiful blue waters of the Sea of Galilee. I was leading a tour of Christian pilgrims. Our guide called our attention to Matthew 23:3, a verse I had read hundreds of times but which now suddenly jumped off the page: “You must be careful to do everything [the teachers of the law and Pharisees] tell you.”

I was shocked. How could Jesus have recommended the teachings of the Pharisees when he warned against their hypocrisy in the same verse (“But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”)? How could I have missed this recommendation during decades of serious Bible study?

John E. Phelan Jr.’s Separated Siblings: An Evangelical Understanding of Jews and Judaism contains this and hundreds of other surprises. Phelan, a retired theology professor and one-time president of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, has provided Christians with one of the most engaging and comprehensive guides to Jewish thought and civilization in the last half-century. Readers are treated to detailed but delightful descriptions of Jewish terms, denominations, understandings of God, religious practices, historical events, and controversies. Phelan also uncovers new findings about the Jewishness of Jesus and Paul, and he relates the history of Zionism to the modern state of Israel.

Surprises in Store

The book is full of enlightening revelations. Christian readers will find resonance in Jewish texts they might otherwise overlook. The Kaddish, for example, is a daily Jewish prayer that begins with words nearly identical to the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “May …

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