Subscribe to Christianity Today
By Steven Gertz
The Lord Our God Is One
Several years ago, I joined about 50 evangelical Christian youth in Israel for a six-week study tour with the Institute of the Holy Land Studies, now renamed Jerusalem University College. Day after day we immersed ourselves in Hebrew history—charting ancient Israel's battles with the Philistines on overhead maps, learning and reciting the Jewish Shema (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one), visiting biblical sites with our instructor. We moseyed through Jewish shops along the main drag of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City, picking up Jewish prayers shawls or necklaces with Hebrew characters. We exchanged greetings of "Shabbat Shalom" with Jews at the Wailing Wall (the remains of the Temple Mount's western border), and the men in our group donned kippot (Jewish skullcaps) to offer written prayers in the wall's crevices.
When our classes came to an end, nearly everyone agreed that the experience had revolutionized the way we read Scripture (a rather typical response for Christians who've traveled to Israel). Place names no longer appeared alien to us, we better understood the symbolism hidden in difficult biblical passages, and overall, we evangelicals felt we'd reconnected with the Bible's Jewish character.
Or had we? Never once did we worship in or even visit a synagogue (if you don't count wandering around 2,000-year-old ruins). We never stayed with any Jewish hosts, never attended any Jewish festivals or celebrated Jewish holidays, never even took Hebrew 101 or visited any sites with Jewish guides. We were there as a Christian group who studied under Christian professors, read Christian commentaries on biblical archaeology, and attended Christian services—some of them Palestinian.
Not so with Mary Blye Howe. When it comes to rediscovering Jewish roots, this Southern Baptist belle has gone the distance. In her debut book, A Baptist Among the Jews, she writes, "I had read all my life of ancient Jewish rituals and lifestyles, but now I began to realize how uninformed ...