Book Reviews

Judaism before Jesus

The Events and Ideas That Shaped the New Testament World

Anthony J. Tomasino Downers Grove, IL 2003-10-28

Tomasino, assistant professor of biblical studies at Bethel College, Mishawaka, Indiana, has produced a fairly concise, readable history of the Second Temple period (from the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple by Zerubbabel about 516 B.C. to its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70). This period, of course, includes the intertestamental period (from the last canonical Old Testament book to the appearance of Jesus in the Gospels). Many apocryphal, pseudepigraphical, and historical writings, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls, date from the Second Temple period, and the writer has used these primary sources to reconstruct his history. He demonstrates familiarity with ancient sources, including rabbinic writings.

The book would serve well as a college or seminary textbook for study of the Second Temple period. Tomasino is an excellent storyteller; he has written this history in a fascinating way that guides readers through the intricacies of this important period easily and prepares readers for the Judaism they encounter in the New Testament. What distinguishes this work from many others that deal with the same period are its length (not too long) and its readability. Tomasino wrote with the express purpose of making this history clear to people who are not biblical scholars and who have little or no knowledge of the subject matter. “This book has been written for readers who wouldn’t know an apocalypse from an apostrophe, or a Hyrcanus from a hurricane. It’s an introduction for the uninitiated” (p. 7). It is not surprising, therefore, to find numerous definitions of words and ideas that newcomers may not otherwise readily understand. In addition the author has included many sidebars, usually not longer than a page, that concisely describe relevant topics, such as the apocryphal books, the formation of the New Testament canon, the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, the scribes, the Sanhedrin, the Idumeans, Roman emperor worship, and many more. Seven maps also illuminate the text. Each of the eleven chapters ends with a helpful summary and a list of several books for further reading. The final pages include a short compendium of Jewish history (with a chart of the most important dates in Israel’s history), a glossary and pronunciation guide, a subject index, and a Scripture index.

Tomasino wrote for readers with a conservative view of Scripture (p. 8). Yet he says Daniel is the last Old Testament book, having been written in the postexilic period (p. 76). Most conservatives will not agree with his views that the seventy years of Babylonian Captivity are to be understood typically as representing a biblical lifespan rather than literally (p. 49), or that the Jews did not know about the devil before the Persian period (p. 82). He also believes in late dates for several other Old Testament books.

Two changes would have made this treatment of the Second Temple period even better. Several times Tomasino, apparently desiring to “keep it simple,” referred to a historian without naming him (e.g., “One historian reported . . .”). It would have been helpful for the benefit of “the initiated,” as well as “the uninitiated,” to have identified the source with a footnote. Second, sidebar charts visualizing the relationship of various groups to each other (e.g., the Hasmoneans) also would have been helpful. However, these minor criticisms should not discourage the interested, especially “the uninitiated” interested, from reading this very fine work.

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Thomas L. Constable
Thomas L. Constable is a former faculty member of DTS. Dr. Constable is the founder of Dallas Seminary’s Field Education department (1970) and the Center for Biblical Studies (1973), both of which he directed for many years before assuming other responsibilities. Today Dr. Constable maintains an active academic, pulpit supply, and conference-speaking ministry around the world. He has ministered in nearly three dozen countries and written commentaries on every book of the Bible. Dr. Constable also founded a church, pastored it for twelve years, and has served as one of its elders for over thirty years.
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