Book Review: Harvey, Richard 2009. Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach. Studies in Messianic Jewish Theology

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Richard Harvey is Academic Dean and Tutor in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at All Nations College near London. According to Harvey, Messianic Judaism (originally Hebrew Christianity; p. 10) currently includes about 150,000 Jewish believers in the Messiah Jesus Christ (p. 2). Although this is a relatively small number, the Messianic movement is politically and spiritually explosive and significant from a missiological perspective on church building. Other messianic movements, also called insider movements, from other religious contexts (e.g., in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism) measure themselves or are measured against this Jewish movement. Official Judaism usually rejects this movement as non-Jewish (e.g., the Central Council of Jews in Germany).

Harvey examines eight types of messianic Jewish theology (pp. 267-277):

Type 1 Jewish Christianity, Christocentric and Reform (Baruch Maoz);
Type 2 Dispensational Hebrew Christianity (Arnold Fruchtenbaum);
Type 3 Israel Nationality and Restoration (Gershon Nerel);
Type 4 New Testament Halacha, Charismatic and Evangelical (Daniel Juster, David Stern);
Type 5 Traditional Judaism and the Messiah (Mi-chael Schiffmann, John Fischer, Ariel Berkowitz);
Type 6 Post-missionary Messianic Judaism (Mark Kinzer, Richard Nichol, Tsvi Sadan);
Type 7 Rabbinic Halacha in Light of the New Testament (Joseph Shulam);
Type 8 Messianic Rabbinic Orthodoxy (Elazar Brandt, Uri Marcus).
He discusses these eight types through five thematic blocks:

1. God’s nature, agency, and attributes (can the one God of Israel and the Christian Trinity be the same?)

2. The Messiah (Messianic Jewish Christology)

3. Torah in theory (the meaning and interpretation of Torah in light of Yeshua/ Jesus)

4. Torah in practice (Messianic practice of the Sabbath, food regulations, and Passover/Easter)

5. Eschatology (the various models used in the movement to describe the future of Israel).

After the author’s recommendation, Chapter 9, “Conclusion: The Future of Messianic Jewish Theology,” provides a comprehensive summary that describes his findings and places them in Jewish theological contexts. There he mentions again all problem areas and connecting points of the eight presented Messianic Jewish theologies and gives an insight and outlook on the possible developments of this movement with regard to global Christianity.

Some Jewish anthropologists (e.g., Devra Jaffe among Messianic gatherings in Philadelphia and Houston 2000; p. 23), Jewish sociologists (Elliot Cohen, Jewish Buddhist examines Jewish backlash 2004; pp. 26-27), and non-Jewish religious scholars (e.g., Bulent Şenay Islamic theological historian on the theology of the movement 2000; pp. 19, 188) have also examined and described the Jewish Messianic movement. Harvey’s inclusion of these perspectives provides insight into the perception of this movement from public, critical Jewish, and critical as well as approving Christian perspectives. In sympathetic Christian circles, the movement is interpreted as contextualization (Glasser, Fuller Seminary; p. 35), rediscovery of origins (re-discovery), or (re)union of the body of Christ (Hegstad, Norwegian Lutheran; p. 37).

Prominent unresolved problem areas include Jewish monotheism versus the dogmatic biblical Trinity (pp. 49-50, 66-67 Maoz “person-like Trinity”), the understanding and position of Jesus Christ in the Hebrew Bible as well as Jewish tradition (e.g., Kinzer p. 47), Jewish halakhic food regulations (kosher vs. treife), and finally the observance of the Sabbath and other Jewish festivals (p. 188).

The measure of the range of perception and interpretation on these areas demonstrates closeness to or rejection of Jewish worship within Messianic Jewish groups. Harvey’s merit is to have elicited the eight types and related them to one another. With regard to the discussion of bringing the Jewish people back into the fold, the most recent proclamation of the Protestant Church on the Year of Reformation (November 2016), under the impression of Lutheran anti-Judaism, rejected any involvement in attempts to convert Jewish people. It remains to be seen how Messianic Judaism will deal with such demarcations.