From the Exile to Christ

Werner Foerster, Fortress, 1964, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        It’s an old book, but it remains one of the best sources of ancient inter-testamental Jewish history (the first German edition came out in 1940!). Foerster gives quick snapshots of Jewish social cultural and religious developments from the first major exile (587 to Babylon) to the occupation of Palestine by Romans in Jesus’ time.

        This summary of life of the Jewish community under Babylonian, Persian, Syrian, Greek and Roman forces shows the strength of the Jewish community in maintaining their religious and cultural identity in the face of nationalistic oppositional forms. Foerster also summarizes major Jewish initiatives (the Essene community of the Dead Sea Scroll family, the Pharisees, the Zealots) and the role of the Hasmonean dynasties (Herod and his sons). Chapters briefly sketch the Palestine of Jesus’ time (Roman administration, the social system, the economic situation). Of special interest is his summary of Messianism and its relation to Torah.

        Foerster does a good summary of G-d’s mercy and grace; ‘Judaism cannot let go of the divine compassion’ (p 221). And his brief reference to Jamnia underscores the role that the Jamnia conclave played in granting insight and strength to the community (particularly with reference to the canon) after the shock of the 70 CE war and the destruction of the temple. ‘Even after Rom’s victory the expectation of its imminent fall and the hope of Israel’s elevation remained as strong as ever’ (p 115). A good book deserving continuing attention.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.