In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (2002) is another book that radically changes our understanding of the history of Christianity. I don’t think it’s suitable for a Bible class or small group study, but it’s an important work for the serious Bible student. It’s not a light read.
The author does a remarkable job of showing how very Jewish the early church was in its thinking — for centuries. Of course, over time the church was taken over by Greek influences, but in the early centuries, the church was deeply rooted in Judaism, even as the church became largely Gentile.
For example, the author notes how Acts describes Paul going from city to city teaching “God fearers,” who were Gentiles who already had become worshippers of the God of the Old Testament. And we can’t help but notice how, even when writing to a predominantly Gentile congregation, Paul argues his points from the Old Testament, presuming that his readers know their Torah.
The author notes that even centuries later, the church leadership felt compelled to order the members to stop attending synagogue with the Jews, because many Christians were evidently worshipping with their Jewish neighbors.
When we understand this background, we are better prepared to deal with the scholarship of N. T. Wright, James Dunn, and E. P. Sanders, who are dramatically enriching our understanding of the New Testament by interpreting the scriptures in light of new studies in the Jewish roots of Christianity.
Unlike Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, In the Shadow of the Temple doesn’t attempt to help us understand particular passages in the Bible. Rather, it’s more about the cultural background of the Bible and how that background affected the early church.
It’s a 444-page book, rich with insights I’ve seen nowhere else. It’s a good book for those who enjoy, for example, N. T. Wright’s more scholarly works.