Walter Riggans. Crowborough, England: MARC/The Olive Press, 1995. 428 pages. ú10.99 [British sterling], paper.
Readers of Walter Riggans’ previous books, Jesus Ben Joseph and The Covenant With the Jews, will, at first glance, be surprised by the sheer size of this new volume. Its weighty appearance alone gives the impression that this is likely to be a major work. In more than 400 pages Riggans has neatly woven together a wide range of ideas, problems, questions, personal experience and even Jewish jokes in a way that addresses a real audience and their real issues.
Yeshua Ben David is written, as the author notes, for all followers of Jesus” whether Jewish or not. It is especially aimed at those who are grappling with what Riggans calls the “contemporary resurgence of a strong and specifically Jewish rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus” (p. 9). The book is deliberately arranged in two interlocking parts: the first is what Riggans in his preface calls the “macro issues.” These include an overview of common Jewish objections to the gospel. This is familiar territory to anyone involved in witnessing to Jewish people but covers issues that can easily confuse those less used to them.
Chapter by chapter, Riggans deals skillfully and clearly with the charges that are often leveled at those who would share their faith in Jesus with Jewish people. He grasps the nettle of the accusation of missionary deception, and gives a concise and sympathetic overview of the problem of the history and legacy of Christian anti-Semitism. He responds with cogent arguments to the Jewish notion that “Christianity is okay for non Jews,” and he grapples sensitively with the thorny and often unresolved problem of how Jewish identity relates to faith in Jesus.
In the second part of the book, Riggans explores in detail specific biblical texts and their Jewish and Christian interpretations. The highlighted passages are Genesis 3:15, Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:5 and Psalm 22:17. Riggans’ declared aims in this section are that an understanding of the exegesis of such Scriptures should be more than “simply an academic exercise.” He contends that these discussions of specific disputed passages should be understood in the light of the first part of his work. As he points out, the issues addressed are too important to be lightly or carelessly handled, since the issue of the Messiahship of Jesus “is a very real question which impacts on many millions of people” (p. 11). Many, if not all, of the messianic prophecies explored by Riggans in the second part of the book will be familiar to Jewish believers in Jesus, especially to those with any experience of sharing Jesus with our people.
Yeshua Ben David is attractively presented, with a title certain to catch the eye. The subtitle is Why do the Jewish people reject Jesus as their Messiah? which is meant to clarify the main thrust of the book. Unfortunately, it may be taken as a negative all-encompassing statement by some Jewish readers. In this event, the line on the back cover, “Why do so many Jewish people reject Jesus?” may be a better mirror of what Riggans sets out to achieve. This is a minor point, but one that will affect the casual observer’s impression of the book.
This work will not prove light reading for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. For this reason as well as for ease of reference, more sections and sub-headings in the text would have made this very readable book easier to digest. The footnotes are excellent. An illustration or two, a detailed index and a more comprehensive bibliography would add to its usefulness as a study tool.
Riggans is not Jewish. Yet he spent nine years in Israel and, more recently, has been living and working with Jewish Christians in the United States and Britain. So this book is not just theoretical. It is obvious throughout that his understanding of the issues is born out of his own interaction with and love for Jewish people over the years. Riggans’ work is solidly undergirded with his own faith and conviction that Jewish people should know the truth about Jesus. Though academically sound, it is no mere academic exercise, and in this lies one of its great strengths.
Yeshua Ben David will be a useful and practical addition to the library of a pastor, missionary or general reader. It provides a helpful bridge between basic reading on the subject and more serious scholarship. It should become a well-thumbed companion and reference book for anyone who is actively sharing their faith in Jesus with Jewish friends or relatives. Yeshua Ben David does not claim to hold all the answers, but will streamline the questions and help believers to focus on the important points. If it helps Christians to share their faith, and Jewish people to know Jesus, then Riggans’ purpose in writing will have been fulfilled and his heart’s desire achieved.
Caroline Hewitt has served as a missionary with Jews for Jesus in the London station.