I am beginning to read Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus by Matthias Henze.
(My preferred term is not the Old Testament. I usually use the term: the Hebrew Bible. But since Henze uses Old Testament, it may be less confusing if I do too when talking about his book.)
The introduction articulates the reason for this book. Many Christians come to the New Testament with a view of the Jewish religion that comes from the Old Testament. But the religion of the Old Testament was not exactly the religion of Jesus.
While in the New Testament, Jesus studies and teaches in the synagogues, there are no synagogues in the Old Testament. While in the New Testament, Jesus’s disciples call him rabbi, there are no rabbis in the Old Testament. While in the New Testament, Jesus is often involved in conversations with the Pharisees, there are no Pharisees in the Old Testament. While in the New Testament, Jesus expels demons and unclean spirits, there are no demons in the Old Testament (page. 1).
So to understand the religious background of Jesus, you need to study something in addition to the Old Testament.
Henze has borrowed the phrase “Mind the Gap!” from signs posted for people boarding the underground trains in London. There is a gap you have to step over between the platform and the train door. It is unhealthy to forget about the gap. He applies this to the gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament. To forget about the gap impairs your ability to understand Jesus.
He gives an overview of the borderland from the time of Jesus back to Ezra and Nehemiah, the last historical books of the Old Testament.
Ezra and Nehemiah come from the Persian era, the period after the Persian Empire allowed those exiled in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild.
After the Persian era came the Hellenistic era, which followed Alexander the Great’s conquests. The influence of the Greek culture that came with this era has major importance for the New Testament. Although there are no Old Testament books set in this period, Daniel was probably written then.
Then there was the era after the revolt of the Maccabees. Israel became independent and expanded.
Finally,full independence ended with the Roman era. This lasted through the New Testament period.
Although the Old Testament had pretty much already come into being, there was a great deal of Jewish writing going on from the Hellenistic through the Roman eras.
Henze’s book will be about these writings, which include not only the apocrypha found in some Bibles, but also material in books such as Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In regard to method, Henze says he will use these writings to help understand Jesus. He knows the distinction between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of the New Testament. But he says that talking about the historical Jesus would lead him too far off track. So he is going to use intertestamental literature to understand Jesus as presented in the New Testament.