What will a Jewish reading of Genesis teach us?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has just completed a five-volume series on the Torah under the heading Covenant and Conversation. The blurb from the first volume, on Genesis, comments:

In this first volume of a five-volume collection of parashat hashavua commentaries, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks explores these intersections as they relate to universal concerns of freedom, love, responsibility, identity, and destiny. He fuses Jewish tradition, Western philosophy, and literature to present a highly developed understanding of the human condition under Gods sovereignty. Erudite and eloquent, Covenant & Conversation allows us to experience Chief Rabbi Sacks’ sophisticated approach to life lived in an ongoing dialogue with the Torah.

Philip Seddon offers this review of the first volume.


What makes this book so wonderful and stimulating, so astonishing and humbling, even given Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ 30 previous books, including, most recently, Morality. Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times? Here are five areas that struck me (‘five’ for the Torah…)

1. His articulate, thoughtful, deeply educated writing. To my shame, I was completely unaware of these commentaries on the Pentateuch/Torah, published from 2009-2019, and concluding with Deuteronomy last year. But I found Genesis moving and revelatory—not cerebral and intellectual, but conceptually rich, coupled with an artistic precision in choice of words, tone and style. He quotes Shakespeare as easily as Rashi or Maimonides. It is simply beautiful writing, spiritually profound, and theologically and philosophically gripping.

2. His scriptural study ‘from the inside’, from within. He writes as a believing Jew, with his mind in his heart (as in Eastern Orthodoxy!). He does not defend this or that theory, or engage with any ‘documentary hypothesis’ of four (or dozens of) sources; he reads texts ‘in their literary wholeness’ (as Richard Hays has expressed it recently). He writes with a sense of Scripture, not about texts or history somewhere else ‘out there’; rather, he inhabits the text he is studying. He practices Cranmer’s prayer to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’.

The Torah is not just a book to read; it is a book to live by (229).

He exemplifies the fundamental Jewish commitment to study. His introduction to the new Jewish (Koren Sacks) Siddur (Prayer Book) powerfully demonstrates Judaism’s indivisible unity of study and prayer.

The history of Judaism is a story of the love of a people for the Book of Boοks, the Torah…In prayer we speak to God. Through Torah, God speaks to us. Praying we speak, studying we listen…For Judaism, theology becomes real when it becomes prayer. We do not talk about God, we talk to God.

There is no artificial split between theology and spirituality.

3. His meticulous examination of the text. The text cries out, “Expound me!” as the rabbis said (338). So words not only have meaning, but multiple meanings; brevity and delicacy in one place is balanced by ambiguity and complexity elsewhere. Excavation always yields fresh finds, whether at the personal or the universal and moral level, for ‘multiple ambiguities are not accidental, but integral to the text’ (156, 280). The meaning of passages ‘does not lie on the surface of the text, but discloses itself only to those who listen to what is going on beneath the worlds’ (209–210).

4. The unbroken line of rabbinic tradition of what we could call ‘Rabbinic scriptural reasoning’, the single story of interpretation, by contrast with the divided and hardened competing histories of interpretation in Eastern Orthodoxy, Western Catholicism and Western Reformation Christianity. Unlike a former generation’s mockery of endless conflicting rabbinic authorities, there is deep respect for the prayer and thought of generations of ’the wise’. In a Christian context, this would be the approach of a Christopher Seitz, Brevard Childs, Ephraim Radner or Hans Boersma, of Ressourcement—returning to the original sources and foundations with a grasp of the full tradition.

5. Study of the biblical text turns into personal testimony. He describes most movingly, for instance, ‘walking into the presence of God’.

[W]hen we are alone, afraid, vulnerable, close to despair …we can find our lives flooded by the radiance of the divine. Suddenly, with a certainty that is unmistakable, we know that we are not alone … Jacob, in flight, trips and falls—and finds he has fallen into the waiting arms of God. No one who has had this experience ever forgets it (183).

This is perhaps the most moving element. He is reading the same texts that are our inheritance, but that so many Christians now ignore, dismiss or arrogantly discard—to our loss, in such precision and breadth that his expositions never fail to be life-breathing.


So much for the  overview. What of the detail? The book is arranged in twelve sections (sing. Parasha, plural Parashot), one for each of the weekly portions of the Torah read by Jews. Under each Hebrew heading, he tells you where he is going to go in that section; but while there is forward movement through Genesis, there is plenty of revisitation of previous sections to draw out greater subtlety, clarity and ambiguity, respectively. Again I pick out five areas of fascination.

I

Right at the start, Sacks sets out  his critical thesis:

Genesis … is philosophy written in a deliberately non-philosophical way …  [P]hilosophy is truth as system. Genesis is truth as story, … philosophy in the narrative mode…

enabling complex philosophical propositions to emerge in the art of story-telling (6, 282). This is a vital corrective to the banal view that because the Bible tells stories, we should tell stories, too. But, as Ken Bailey used to say, parables are not stories but time-bombs; and while stories are universal, and the style may seem naive, the message is deep, because ‘Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live?’ (16).

Genesis is Judaism’s foundational work, a philosophy of the human condition under the sovereignty of God (6)…God … created the universe in freedom, and … by making man in His image, He endowed him with freedom too (346).

Like Eastern Orthodoxy, Judaism takes a more generous and non-judgemental reading of ‘the Fall’, and Sacks repeatedly takes the opportunity to speak about the freedom, and the freedom of choice, that God freely bestowed on his creation.

Tragedy gives rise to pessimism. Cyclical time leads to acceptance. Linear time begets optimism. Covenantal time gives birth to hope (353).

II

Rather than explaining modulations of language in terms of the J, P or E documentary strands, he highlights the different theological functions of the different words for (e.g.) God: Elohim (in Jewish tradition, Elokim; or sometimes G-d) and YHWH (in Jewish tradition, Hashem, ‘the name’). He says, ‘Elokim refers to divine justice, Hashem to divine compassion’; ‘the difference between Elokim and Hashem  is the difference between the God of Aristotle and the God of Abraham’ (38-39). Hashem is God as ‘person’, the ‘Thou’ who speaks to us and to whom we speak. Unlike the god of the philosophers, the God of Abraham is a personal God’ (9).

Elokim is God as we encounter him in nature. Hashem is God as we encounter him in personal relationships…Elokim is the aspect of God to be found in creation. Hashem is the aspect of God disclosed in revelation’ (288).

And then in the next sentence he pulls back the curtains to show that while the encounter with God in creation is universal, ‘God as we hear him in revelation is particular.’ He has an enviable knack for moving from exegesis to metaphysics in a single swoop.

In another context, speaking about divine and human wisdom, he also offers some typically fine pithy sayings:

Hokhma (wisdom) is the truth we discover; Torah is the truth we inherit … Hokhma discloses God in creation. Torah is the word of God in revelation. Hokhma is ontological truth (how things are); Torah is covenantal truth (how things ought to be) (290).

This is all extremely helpful.

III

His study of the tower of Babel is brilliant. He notes the word-plays of l-v-n (brick) and n-v-l (confuse); the phrase ‘the whole earth’ which frames the narrative; the plays on sh-m (sham: there, or shem, name, and shamayim, heaven), making it a story about the proper relationship between heaven and earth, with glances back to  Genesis 1. The builders of Babel, he notes,  wanted to make a name for themselves, ‘to build an abode in heaven … a mistake many civilisations have made, and the result is catastrophe’ (49–55).

Picking up George Steiner’s comment on the short journey from Nietzsche to the Holocaust,  he observes that:

Only when God is God can man be man … Babel was the first civilisation, but sadly not the last to begin with a dream of utopia and end in a nightmare of hell…Those who cross those boundaries and transgress these limits make a name for themselves, but the name they make is Babel, meaning chaos, confusion and the loss of that order which is a precondition of both nature—the world God creates—and culture—the world we create (53, 55).

IV

The book of Genesis is … a set of variations on the theme of sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. The book begins with fratricide and ends with reconciliation (326).

I use bullet points to illustrate Sacks’ lovely grasp of the Genesis story.

  • In the sectional heading Lekh Lekha (lit. ‘Go … to yourself’; 65-80) Sacks offers a wonderful exploration of the ‘prepositional theology’ that John Stott would have approved of (!) to mean, ‘Go for yourself, Go with yourself, Go to yourself, Go by yourself’—in short, ‘Leave behind you all that makes human beings predictable, unfree, delimited’ (79). This is ‘chewing’ on Scripture.
  • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I discovered, delightfully shape the cycle of Jewish daily prayer on the basis of Gen 19:27 (‘Abraham got up early in the morning’), Gen 24:63 (‘Isaac went out to meditate in the field towards evening’), and Gen 28:11 ‘(Jacob encountered a place’) (‘Prayer and Conversation’, 129–134; ‘Encountering God’, 179–183). So Abraham is morning, Isaac is afternoon, and Jacob is night, representing morning, afternoon and night prayer. But at once he widens out. ‘[T]here are three modes of spirituality and we experience each in the course of a single day. There is the human quest (Abraham, morning prayer), the divine encounter (Jacob, evening prayer), and the dialogue (Isaac, afternoon prayer) (134).
  • From Jacob’s refusal to be comforted on hearing of the reported death of Joseph (Gen 37:34-35), itself picked up in Jeremiah 31:15 and Psalm 137, Sacks comments immediately, ‘Jews are the people who refused to be comforted because they never gave up hope’ (256), a lesson for those Christians who think 2,000 years is a long time.
  • On Jacob’s vision of the ladder with angels ascending and descending, Sacks not only sees that ‘Prayer is a ladder stretching from earth to heaven,’ but he extends the point with a vision of a ‘deep grammar’ of prayer, where we ‘leave earth’s gravitational field to ascend’, then ‘stand in the Presence’, then ‘bring[…] a fragment of heaven down to earth’ (185-9).
  • ‘Jacob loved, passionately and deeply. That was his strength, but also his weakness’ (251).
  • ‘In Wrestling Face to Face’ (219–228) Sacks examines vocabulary in detail in the context of the meeting of Jacob and Esau: Jacob bows down to the ground seven times (33:6-7); three times Leah and her children, and then Joseph and Rachel bow down; five times Jacob calls Esau ‘my lord’, and twice calls himself Esau’s slave; then (32:21) the word panim (face) appears four times. This is allowing the surface of the text to lead you deeper inside itself; and it is so fruitful.

V

But I close with two fine contrasting expositions. Firstly, the story of Judah & Tamar (Gen 37), which holds much more significance than usually recognised. In ‘Flames and Words’ (259–263), and ‘A Tale of Two Women’ (265–269), Sacks highlights three mesmerising points:

  1. Genesis’ repeated theme of disguise (260, 297);
  2. Tamar’s refusal to shame Judah in public; instead, ‘Tamar took her sense of shame and used it to sensitive herself to avoid shaming others’ (263); and consequently,
  3. Judah’s admission of his wrongdoing: ’Judah is the first penitent … in the Torah … This is the first time in the Torah someone acknowledges their own guilt. It was also the turning point in Judah’s life’.

As a result, Judah is the one ‘from whom the messiah will be born’ (312-3), this incident re-appearing towards the end of Ruth (4:11-12; cf. Matt 2:6!).

Secondly, the book of Genesis concludes redemptively with Joseph’s unbounded forgiveness of his brothers, and their true reconciliation. There is ambiguity in the  narrative (280), but it is Joseph’s own huge ‘turn and test’ that the text emphasises, in a triple repetition of his turning aside to weep (Gn 42:24, 43:30, 45:1–2), that draws his brothers also to repentance (306–7).

In great detail and with amazing skill Sacks shines the spotlight on these twists and turns, but always so as to highlight the humanity and optimism of Genesis and of the Judaism that Sacks represents. In its own way, however, it is also a warning to today’s revolutionary politics:

Atonement and forgiveness are the supreme expression of human freedom – the freedom to act differently in the future than one did in the past, and the freedom not to be trapped in a cycle of vengeance and retaliation. Only those who can forgive can be free. Only a civilisation based on forgiveness can construct a future that is not an endless repetition of the past’(352; cf. 327).

I dare to suggest that this series is an important gift for the church. But this is all a mere amuse-bouche to whet your appetite for reading the whole book.

(See Rabbi Sacks’ web-site for pod-casts on the Parashot in parallel to this commentary on Genesis, and much else.)


Philip Seddon studied classics and theology at Cambridge. He has taught in Nigeria, Cambridge, Nottingham, Birmingham and most recently in Salisbury on the staff of STETS which became Sarum College, combining the twin threads of Biblical Studies and Christian Spirituality He continues to teach and write in retirement, which has been tougher than expected for unexpected reasons. He was a founding member of the Grove Spirituality group, and has written booklets on Darkness, the New Age movement, evangelical spirituality, the spirituality of the Song of Songs, and the hymns of John Newton and William Cowper, and co-edited The Lord of the Journey: A Reader in Christian Spirituality

 


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25 thoughts on “What will a Jewish reading of Genesis teach us?”

  1. Many thanks for this review: fascinating, wonderful.
    To me, it is a great loss that Sacks couldn’t, doesn’t let his approach, flow through the the NT and the whole interconnected of the Christian canon and the NT flow down stream into the Torah and Genesis.
    I liked the illustration of Tamar, but how do we put that into the context of Christ: he was the one who bore all our shame, silently despising it on the cross, that we may be pardon, forgiving, and releasing, freeing from shame.
    While not very familiar with his work, it brings to mind the approach of Peter Leithard and others such as Alastair Roberts, influenced greatly by James Jordan’s “Through New Eyes” (and in the case of AR Meredith Kline) to the reading and understanding of scripture
    It also reminds a little of ” Lectio Divina” approach, which, oddly given the place was discussed on Radio 4, You and Yours, yesterday, approx 12:45 between an Benedictine Monk, and a retired CoE vicar.

    Reply
    • Thank you. – You put your finger on the irreducible mystery of ‘incomprehension’, which appears repeatedly in the OT, from the Golden Calf in Exodus to Isa 6 & Jer 1, and is picked up again in the NT in all the gospels and Paul; but of course only applies from the Christian side. If Sacks were a Christian, he could perhaps do what you wish. But on the final page, even in the final two lines, 353, Sacks explicitly says, ‘The messiah has not yet come. Until then, the story continues …’ Part of our task may be to understand Judaism as well and as truthfully as we can.

      I am only slightly familiar with the various names you refer to; but I think we need to read the Bible in three directions – from the NT to the OT (Richard Hays, ‘Reading Backwards’, to understand how the NT authors read their own Bible (our OT)); from the OT to the NT (not in a progressive ‘history of religions’ sense, but in order to see how Israel was and remains Christian faith’s rootstock); and (with double-vision) reading OT & NT mutually in the light of each other (Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church). !

      Reply
      • Hello Philip,
        I have Richard Hays book, the title, “Reading Backwards” is has a prominent place pertinent in any assessment of Sack’s writings even if Christians can benefit, it must be weighed in the balance of the New Testament and Jesus, “the scriptures testify about me” John 5: 39-40
        and the Emmaus Road scripture.
        This is also relevant, from “Jews for Jesus,” site a short article from Ruth Rosen, of June 02, 2004 explaining the meaning and and OT context and application of ” provoking the Jews to jealousy. If Ian does not permit the link it can easily be searched, under “provoking to jealousy”. Romans 11: 11, 14
        Craig Keener has an article on this, here:
        https://craigkeener.com/provoking-israels-jealousy-romans-11/

        The link is this:
        https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/newsletter-jun-2004/provoking-to-jealousy

        Reply
      • Hello Philip,
        GK Beale is another, alongside Hays and Carson (editor of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series) who embrace whole canon cross sectional and longitudinal, meta narrative, reading.
        An example would be Beale’s, The Temple and the Church’s Mission. Beale and Carson are editors “Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament” which has been endorsed by many, including, Richard Bauckham; there are others, that in another comment Christopher Shell, picked out and recommended.
        While not going into great exegetical detail, Tim Keller in his book, Preaching, brings out a number of patterns and themes running through the Bible; well worth a look, if I may say.
        Of course, two earlier proponents are Edmund Clowney and Goldsworth, to my not very wide knowledge.
        I hope this doesn’t come across as patronising. There continues to be some resistance to this approach in some quarters but it may be clear that I am an enthusiast.
        Echoes of Exodus, by Drs Alasdair Roberts and Andrew Wilson is also a good read, tracing as it does the exodus theme from Genesis through Revelation.

        Reply
  2. Amen to this review and especially the comment about the book being a gift to the Church. I came across a recommendation of the book in January, and when I read – wow! I need to read it again, and also obtain the others.

    However, reflecting Geoff’s comment, there were points where I was sad that Sacks does not know the fulfillment of the story in Jesus.

    Reply
  3. I found the Leviticus book enjoyable, although with a complicated chapter structure. Sachs also has a not of interesting stuff about Genesis in “Not in my name” especially that Abraham continued to interact with Ishmael long after the line is clearly going to descend through Isaac.
    He likes pointing out mistakes in Christian teaching, and enjoys comparing OT teaching with Greek philosophy, usually finding that the Jews got there first!
    I find little about eternity in his writings.

    Reply
    • I await my own study of Leviticus (or rather, Exodus first!) … Yes, Sacks will tend to downplay the influence of Greek philosophy, not only because of his own personal convictions, but against the often concealed conceit of Classical Studies as to the primacy of the early Greek philosophers. I recall a philosopher pointing out provocatively that the first philosopher in history was not one of the Greeks, or even any of the prophets, but Job (all depending on the date of the book)!

      Apart from that, I would not expect to find much about eternity in any commentary on Leviticus. And, in any case, ‘eternity’ has a different weight in Judaism from what it has in Christian faith.

      Reply
    • Hiya Owen, I bought Not in My Name at the same time and have finished it first.

      What an amazing study on sibling rivalry. Gripping, though the first part listing persecution stats was a tough read. Such a thoughtful sensitive reading of Esau and his Dad, then Jacob giving the blessing back.

      Of course the message – stop persecuting us, we’re all Abraham’s children is powerful although along with the denunciation of current Islamic Extremists I would have liked just a mention, even a hint of comment on the current behaviour of the state of Israel. He mentions often that Jews are hyper self critical, and in the Bible they are, but doesn’t apply that to any Jewish behaviour since.

      Will now get on with Leviticus. The introduction already has been an eye opener.

      Reply
  4. Thank you Philip

    What a beautifully written review

    Yes, as others above note, it’s a pity that Rabbi Sacks ,who moves so effortlessly and with such erudition across traditions pulls back from referring to Jesus – however given the centuries of replacement theology within the Church and indeed anti-semitism driven by the Church, hardly surprising.

    I am immediately ordering the book and cant wait to read it

    thanks again

    Reply
    • Thanks; that’s kind of you, Simon.

      I simply take up your point about the centuries of replacement theology and church-driven anti-semitism, which cannot but act as cautionary points when criticising – or lamenting – Jewish interpretations that ignore the figure of Jesus. (That’s why – somewhere in the various responses either here or on Facebook – I referred to Israel as our ‘rootstock.’) And it’s not as if the themes of forgiveness and betrayal, redemption and resistance are not also key to the Christian story!

      Thanks again.

      Reply
  5. Some very interesting comments here, and as Sacks is a conservative and believing Jew, his conclusions will naturally be closer to what Christians believe. His preference for a unified literary reading of Genesis (and presumably Torah) is perfectly understandable. In the past, Conservative Jews like Cassuto and Yehezkel Kaufmann never had any time for the Graf-Wellhausen theory (and its radical offsprings since) because it seriously undermines the historic claims of Judaism. It is interesting that youtuber Henry Abramson, who presents a fascinating series of videos of Jewish history through biography, is doing a series on Jewish/Israelite origins and his reference book is Ken Kitchen’s “On the Reliability of the Old Testament”. Historical scepticism does undermine a biblical faith!
    Judaism has faced the challenge of reconciling the Scriptures with Greek philosophy at least since the time of Philo of Alexandria, who proposed a strongly allegorical reading. Perhaps the high water mark of this attempted synthesis was Maimonides who, like Christians and Muslims, grappled with the challenge of Aristotelian rationality.
    As Jews have historically understood Torah as a compendium of 613 commandments which are then expounded in the Mishnah and Talmud, it would be interesting to see how far that approach informs Sacks’ handling of the text. And what does he say about the promise of the land to Abraham?

    Reply
    • Hello James! – Thanks for some interesting information here – not least that Ken Kitchen’s great work is being used by a Jewish lecturer. It is a formidable text.

      You are absolutely right that Jewish scholarship has always been in some process of ‘accommodation’ through the millennia; and it is the case that very large numbers of Jewish scholars now either work with modern critical scholarship, or at least recognise its existence. A glance at https://www.thetorah.com/authors offers you scores of names of Jewish scholars engaged in biblical studies – almost at random, Athalya Brenner-Idan, Devorah Dimant, Israel Finkelstein, Lawrence Grossman, Martha Himmelfarb, Jon D. Levenson, Amy-Jill Levine, Jonathan Magonet, Emmanuel Tov, Norman Solomon, Benjamin Sommer; not all Torah scholars, of course, but all engaged in biblical interpretation, and not in isolation.

      That said, Jonathan Sacks referred more than once to the 613 commandments, regarding them as ‘for obedience’. By the same token, he very clearly saw (it is very painful to write in the past sense, following his death yesterday) that the promise of a land, and the promise of children – both stated five times (‘Land and Children’, 123-127), constitute an essential part of Israel’s faith: ‘A land: Israel. And children: Jewish community’ (126); but ‘Faith does not mean passivity. It means the courage to act and never to be deterred’ (127). I increasingly ask myself what right Christians have to tell Jews that the promises made to their (and our) ancestors ‘no longer’ apply. – But this is not the place for that debate!

      Reply
    • No, I haven’t come across that one but I do know a fair bit of Don Carson’s work, and the approach you mention above- longitudinal, meta-narrative etc – is the salvation historical one that I naturally favour. Sometimes I find that conservative Jews who are otherwise very well informed can have blanks in their understanding about Christianity and specifically about Jesus and Paul. The young Jewish conservative social and political commentator in the US, Ben Shapiro, may be one of these though he has an enthusiastic following among evangelical Christians and often has evangelical leaders like William Lane Craig, John MacArthur and Ted Cruz on his YouTube show The Daily Wire.
      Jonathan Sacks is a good force in the awful desert of British public intellectual life (filled with atheists besotted with Scientism and secular “progressivism” ) because he articulates the Jewish vision of reason, ethics and family as central to the good life. How terrible that there are scarcely any Christian public voices but that is a Europe- wide phenomenon, as we are seeing with Emmanuel Macron and Islam, the current storm centre of secularism v. religion. I pray that Macron will discover Immanuel!

      Reply
      • James, I just pick up your second paragraph about the place of Jonathan Sacks in ‘British public intellectual life’. I do so because Melanie Phillips has just written of him with gratitude, and very accurately, too, not least with reference to the scarcity and paucity of Christian intellectual witness today (but Macron is doing much better as a secularist than many others!):

        ‘… the ultra-British Sacks had been educated in non-Jewish schools in London and read philosophy at Cambridge (and Oxford, I – PJS – add!).

        Having travelled, as he put it, “through philosophy and out the other side,” this background gave him the invaluable ability to show how reason and faith, science and religion were not antagonists but two sides of the same human coin.

        In his ability to set out religious ideas in words which spoke to the hearts even of those who had no religious faith, Sacks had no rival. Indeed, while he was chief rabbi it was common to hear people who weren’t Jews wistfully sigh: “If only he was the Archbishop of Canterbury”.

        This combination within himself of “Athens and Jerusalem” also enabled him to grasp earlier than most that western societies were under unprecedented assault from the moral and cultural relativism that they had unthinkingly allowed to permeate their universities and other cultural institutions. He saw in the consequent erosion of the traditional family, above all else, the seeds of the destruction of morality and the consequent fragmentation of western society’ (Those paragraphs are Copyright, Melanie Phillips).

        Reply
  6. It does seem an interesting book- word play and context from a Jewish perspective is helpful But and it’s a big but what of Christ? If he says that the whole of scripture points to him does this book do the same? Does a believing Jew (who rejects Jesus Christ) see the triune God in Genesis? Is the Son of God seen there as promised Saviour, type and sacrifice? A person with no dight may be able to tell us a lot about a painting’s size and weight but nothing about what the painting shows. By all means read this but tead it in the light of the resurrection.

    Reply
    • … Back to the fundamental problem of the largely – but not, given the lives and ministries of ‘Messianic Jews’ – absolutely unbridgeable gap between Judaism and Christianity. I can only offer one or two comments on my own experience of reading this volume.

      It is not just ‘interesting’ or ‘helpful’, but deeply spiritually, theologically, morally, intellectually and metaphysically brilliant; which therefore enables us to understand the text more richly ourselves. – He does not – and could not – say that ‘the whole of Scripture points to Christ’; on the contrary, at one or two points, but most bluntly, on the final page, and in the penultimate line, he explicitly states that ‘the messiah has not yet come’ (353); so it would be incoherent to ask him whether he sees the triune God in Genesis (to be clear: he would say, No).

      It is not that there is no forward view – I think I pointed out in the original review that there is in fact a very strong forward view and a strong thread of hope. I can only say that I have been unbelievably enriched by studying this volume, and offer this quote on what scripture points to, for a believing Jew: ‘Faith is the ability to live with delay without losing trust in the promise; to experience disappointment without losing hope; to know that the the road between the real and the ideal is long and yet be willing to undertake the journey’ (the entire sentence is in italics, 92-93).

      Reply
  7. So soon after Philip Seddon’s wonderful review/tribute to Jonathan Sacks – and on the day my copy arrives in the post – we hear of his death.
    So grateful for such a wonderful scholar and spiritual leader. The world needs such as him and we will miss him.
    May his memory forever be a blessing.

    Reply
    • Indeed, David; thanks for this comment. Maybe you have also seen my own ‘obituary notice’ on Facebook. I’m so delighted you have your own copy now. I hope you are not disappointed! …

      It is a very painful thing, so terribly soon after expressing my deep gratitude to him, to lose such a wise teacher, as you said, with so much more wisdom than many Christian hacks and would-be thinkers-of-the-shallows. I have felt myself drawn very deeply and gratefully into Judaism here in the same way that I feel drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy in other contexts (as you know – cf. Marcus Small’s question) in almost equal and incompatible measure!

      Next comes ‘Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times’, and then Exodus …

      Eternal thanks!

      Reply
  8. Just read the obit in The Times. A bit deflating, for all his exhilarating, creative imaginative writing to discover a totally conservative approach to women in faith and leadership. This was some years back. Does anyone know if he changed on this one?

    Reply

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