Count me among the people who are elated at what the organization First Fruits of Zion is becoming. A lot of their former readers and supporters have abandoned them, at least temporarily. The reason, as I see it, is a sociological tragedy in certain movements loosely associated with Messianic Judaism. Non-Jews, having discovered Torah and the falsehood of anti-Judaic strains of Christian thought, have loved Torah so much they wished to be empowered as Israelites. So they developed theologies in which being a follower of Jesus equates with being a Torah-yoked Jew in all but name. Then, when First Fruits of Zion repented of years of supporting this form of replacement theology, many people were hurt.
As the fallout happens over the months and perhaps years to come, I think that:
(1) First Fruits of Zion’s work has greatly improved now that it is not focused on defending indefensible ideas in New Testament theology.
(2) A certain quality of writing and research is coming into FFOZ materials, especially the Messiah Journal.
(3) I am hopeful than many of the naysayers will realize FFOZ is right, will reexamine their ideas about identity, and will come to helpful conclusions. I think there are some who will wish to be part of Jewish communities and who will convert. I think there are some who will realize they never wanted to become part of the Jewish people, but to support what God is doing amongst the Jewish community and remain as non-Jews. I hope that many of these who have abandoned FFOZ will come to realize that anti-church as well as anti-rabbinic attitudes are not from God, but that the godly support all things in which it is apparent God is at work.
Well, that was a long introduction to my topic this morning: Messiah Journal 102 and Seth Dralle’s article on the emergence of Messianic Judaism in history . . .
The Messiah Journal, now with its third issue published, is one of the signs of the maturing not only of First Fruits of Zion, but also of the broader Messianic Jewish movement (in which I include non-Jewish groups looking for the right way to be part of the Jewish renewal in Yeshua). All three issues of Messiah Journal have been not only meaty reading, but practically helpful and broadening in their inclusion of ideas and personalities that will benefit Messianic Jewish readers.
Issue 102, for example, includes the following:
(1) A translation of an excerpt from Auf dem Wege by Abram Poljak, one of the proto-Messianic Jewish pioneers (1900-1963), called “The Hebrew Christian Community and the Kingdom Brotherhood.”
(2) A must-read article by Seth Dralle on “The Emergence of Messianic Judaism,” drawing from several historical sources and summarizing Mark Kinzer’s view of the history of MJ’s emergence from Postmissionary Messianic Judaism.
(3) An article defending the practice of Torah holidays by Christians as a voluntary practice and setting a context in which this is done without implying replacement of Israel.
(4) A profile by D. Thomas Lancaster of Sabbatarian Christians from Transylvania, a needed addition to our understanding of the ways Christian traditions have interfaced with Judaism in history.
(5) An excerpt from the brand-new HaYesod program about the yoke of discipleship and living the ways of God in every area.
(6) An exploration, by Toby Janicki, of the ideas of the immanence of God in rabbinic literature, later kabbalistic literature, and in the New Testament.
(7) An article on “Mystical Hermeneutics,” reacting to a charge that FFOZ is promoting kabbalah and a dangerous method of interpreting the Bible.
(8) A devotional on faith and confidence.
(9) An article on Temple history.
Seth Dralle’s Article on Messianic Jewish Emergence in History
One of the things we need more work on is Messianic Jewish history, including the history of the Hebrew Christian movement of the 19th and 20th century as well as the late 20th century emergence of Messianic Judaism.
I am aware of several experts who have collected information in this area. Jorge Quiñónez is the unofficial documents librarian of this kind of research. Jim Sibley of the Pasche Institute at Criswell College and publisher of Mishkan is also a librarian of Hebrew Christian documents. Kai Kjaer-Hansen, author of the must-read biography of Joseph Rabinowitz and a Danish theologian of note, is also an expert. Rich Robinson of Jews for Jesus has forgotten more about this history since breakfast than most of us will ever know. David Mishkin has written a helpful compendium of saying by Alfred Edersheim, which I use regularly. I’m sure I’m leaving out some other experts, for which I apologize.
Writing surveys and biographies of Messianic Jewish history is something I hope will grow and flourish. We need to know more about such figures as Joseph Rabinowitz, Theophilus Lucky, Yechiel Lichtenstein, Paul Philip Levertoff, Alfred Edersheim, David Baron, Leopold Cohen, and more.
Some of these people were writing Messianic Jewish liturgy before anyone had heard of Messianic Judaism. Leopold Cohen was feeding Jewish immigrants and teaching them to sew so they could get factory jobs during the great waves of immigration in the early 20th century. David Baron was writing a Jewish perspective on the Israelite prophets before the emergence of modern Messianic Judaism, back in the Hebrew Christian days. Alfred Edersheim may have been a little harsh on his former religion, but in other ways he remained an apologist for his people as he wrote books about Jesus and the Temple still widely read today. And the late 20th century pioneers of Messianic Judaism, such as Martin Chernoff, Joe Finkelstein, and Manny Brotman, have stories we need to know and understand.
I have been reminded more than once by my MJTI colleague and New Testament scholar David Rudolph that we need more writing and thinking about the history of the early Jewish believers. Oskar Skarsaune’s works including Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries and In the Shadow of the Temple are fine additions as is Ray Pritz’s Nazarene Jewish Christianity.
All of that brings me to Seth Dralle’s article in Messiah Journal 102. His survey of the history of MJ’s emergence is the kind of summary we need to see more of. He helps readers understand some of the factors that led to the emergence of a self-identifying Jewish movement within Christianity. He highlights a few pioneers whose ideas and examples should continue to astound us. He accounts for the historical impact of the Holocaust on the movement of Jews following Jesus. And he summarizes, using especially Mark Kinzer’s book as a source, the early days of the modern Messianic Jewish movement.
I don’t know if Seth plans to make this an area for further research and writing, but I, for one, certainly hope so.
I believe that Messianic Judaism is one crucial part of God’s work to renew the people of Israel from within. Our movement needs its backstory to move forward.
Some Resources for Reading Messianic Jewish History
Just because something is on this list does not imply that I endorse its ideas or that the ideas within are compatible with Messianic Judaism as it moves forward. For example, though I am an Edersheim fan, he took the unfortunate stance of opposing much of the religion of his birth once he came to faith in Jesus. Also, I recommend below a journal from the Christian missions movement, though I have strong reservation about that movement and its stance toward Judaism and Jewish people. Nonetheless, the resources below are indispensable.
(1) Messiah Journal 102, available from ffoz.com
(2) Kai Kjaer-Hansen, Joseph Rabinowitz and the Messianic Movement: The Herzl of Jewish Christianity. Available used on amazon at http://amzn.com/080280859X
(3) David Mishkin’s The Wisdom of Alfred Edersheim. Available at amazon here: http://amzn.com/155635939X
(4) Oskar Skarsaune’s Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Available here: http://amzn.com/1565637631
(5) Mishkan, a journal of Christian missions to Jewish people, issue 60 is about Theophilus Lucky. Available here: http://mishkanstore.org/store
(6) Mark Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism. Available here: http://amzn.com/1587431521
If you know of more resources that should be on this list, please comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org