The Jews in the Time of Jesus, An Introduction

By Stephen M. Wylen
New York : Paulist (1996). viii + 226 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 320-320

The author, a rabbi, has produced an eminently readable introductory text on Judaism during the NT era. He presents information about the various personalities, political, social, and religious division within Judaism, as well as a sort of “extended glossary” of various Jewish subjects (e.g., the festivals, 97-103) with their relevance to NT backgrounds.

This work has many excellent points to commend it. The summations of the relationship of the Jewish people to the various Gentile political power structures around them (i.e., Hellenism and the Roman Empire). The summary of the Maccabean era is also quite useful for the beginning student. The author provides an excellent annotated bibliography and the subject index is quite serviceable. He is obviously well read, yet the work seems somewhat flawed in that it has no footnotes or citations, and even in the long block quotes the citations are often not complete.

A reader needs to remember one key issue: the author is not sympathetic toward Christianity or the NT. Regarding the NT he states, “When using the New Testament as a source for the life of Jesus, we must note that it was written by people who did not know Jesus personally. . . . [T]he gospel writers themselves were not especially interested in the details of the life of Jesus” (111). The author believes that the NT is essentially at the same level of the Mishnah and Talmud (7), and that the writers were basically preparing “documents of faith” (111) and had no real desire to be historically accurate.

This book is useful because it exposes the reader to a thoroughly Jewish perspective on NT studies. However, the rejection of the NT as a credible source of information (much less as an inspired and inerrant source) should alert readers to view this book and its material cautiously.