Welcome to the Romans 15:8 blog for March 2022. A special welcome to new Romans 15:8 members who joined during Lent. Lent is often associated with a time of restraint, letting go and ‘giving things up’ as part of a disciplined Spirit-led life. However, Lent can also be a time for new initiatives and ‘taking things up’- and what could be better than taking up membership of the Romans 15:8 network!
Teaching Reflection of the Month
In Matthew 13:51, after Jesus has shared several parables, He asks the question: “Have you understood all these things?” This challenging question is one I have been thinking through recently. In what way and on what level have I, or any one of us, fully understood and acted upon the teaching of Jesus?
In thinking about this I came across a sermon by Helen King. Helen is a Professor of Classic Studies at the Open University, and the sermon was preached a few weeks ago at a Commemoration of Benefactors service at Corpus Christi College (Oxford). She concluded her sermon with the following words:
“We can have vast amounts of knowledge of ancient languages, or of Biblical texts*. But that doesn’t mean we have understanding. Whatever our faith, whatever our academic discipline, if we want to work towards wisdom, if we want to sell our time and energies in order to buy the field mentioned in this chapter, to buy the pearl of great price, first we need to recognize wisdom and to develop our understanding. Understanding isn’t a clever game of how much you know. It goes deeper. Understanding combines knowledge of God with experience of God and combines learning with living.
*For those of us working within or supporting CMJ (or reading this blog) we may not refer to ancient languages or academic disciplines, but we may well say that we have gained vast amounts of knowledge from studying the Jewish roots of our faith and from much travelling in Israel, CMJ conferences and dialogue with Jewish people etc.
Ministry News Update
Our thoughts and prayers have been focused significantly on the Ukraine crisis. I wrote a brief statement (see website www.cmj.org.uk ) on behalf of CMJ UK on this unfolding tragedy.
Also, this month issue 1 (2022) of News and Views has been published along with the next Olive Press Research Paper- How Does God Make Himself and His Ways Known? As always if you have any comments or questions relating to these publications, please do drop me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Regarding News and Views, the main article is titled- History Unfolding Before Our Eyes. The article gives a detailed account of the very first service which took place to welcome and celebrate the identity of Jewish Believers in Jesus within the Church. The article concludes with this paragraph- “If you are a Church leader and/or a Jewish Believer in Jesus wanting to explore issues around this service, please feel free to contact in confidence Alex Jacob via email- email@example.com . Also please note that packs containing Orders of Service, certificates and a booklet containing background information is available from the CMJ shop via the CMJ UK website.”
After Easter, I plan to follow up this invitation by phoning all church leaders who are part of the Romans 15:8 network to discuss with them how this service may be helpful to them within their ministries. I look forward to these conversations.
The Jews of Arab Lands- A History and Source Book Norman Stillman (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979)
This is a fascinating and insightful book that does exactly what it says on the tin- namely providing a history of the Jewish communities spread throughout the Arab Lands. Stillman wrote this book while he was a Professor of History and Arabica at the State University of New York. He does an excellent job of navigating the reader through twelve hundred years of history from the first three centuries of Islam up until the closing of the Nineteenth Century.
Stillman is aware that “history, like beauty, is frequently in the eye of the be holder” yet he weaves a compelling narrative and deals carefully with contradictory sources and is prepared to astutely challenge some well-established historical interpretations.
While most of the book deals with the Jewish interaction with Islamic rulers there is also helpful engagement within the realm of Jewish-Christian relations as well. Jews and Christians (plus for long periods followers of Zoroastrianism, Samaritans and other minority groups) shared a common experience of being ruled over and viewed as ‘dhimmis’.
Stillman provides a very helpful structure in dividing the history into five sections: The First Encounter between Mohammed and the Jews. The First Three Centuries of Islam. Jewry in the Islamic High Middle Ages (with a focus on Jewish communities in Tunisia, Egypt, and Spain). The Later Middle Ages (with a focus on the Mamluk Empire, North Africa, and the provinces of the Ottoman Empire). The Dawn of Modern Times (Jews of Arab Lands in the Nineteenth Century).
Along with the text, there are some key photographs (although the quality of these is poor in the edition I was reading) and some significant quotes; all of which helps the reader engage well with the unfolding narrative.
The one thing which disappointed me was that the book stops where it stops. For me, I felt I wanted to read what happened next. Namely, the rise of political Zionism and especially the implications of the Holocaust and the reestablishing of Israel as a Jewish State and how all these impacted Jewish communities in Arab Lands. I felt the lack of this analysis left me wanting more, but maybe a sign of a good book is to stimulate further study and reflection?
The second half of the book is a rich collection of sources. I felt it would have helped me if these sources could have been presented with some introductory comments and perhaps some reflective notes by the author. While some of the sources were of interest (including three directly relating to the work of CMJ) there was in my view too much material, some of which had limited value.
Overall, I strongly recommend the reading of this book, especially for those of us who tend to view Jewish life through an Israeli or ‘Western’ lens this book helps enlarge and, in some ways, recalibrate Jewish history, culture and identity.
Monthly Memory Verse
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15-NIV)