- Vines Intertwined: A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam
Over the last two generations there has been a revolution in the understanding of the relation between Christianity and Judaism in the ancient world. Sixty years ago, the study of early Christian history was carried on almost wholly without reference to the Jews. Scholars showed great interest in the Judaism that existed prior to the beginning of Christianity, but once the Church was established, the Jews were all but forgotten. Christian scholars learned biblical Hebrew, but saw no need to master the language of the rabbis or to study the Jewish communities that existed alongside of Christians in the great cities of the Middle East.
Although it was well known that early Christian thinkers had written works in response to the Jews (for example, Tertullian's treatise Adversus Iudaeos), it was thought that these treatises were dealing with a "Scheinproblem"—an apparent, not a real, issue. With the publication of James Parkes's The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (London, 1934) and Marcel Simon's Verus Israel. Étude sur les relations entre chrétiens et juifs dans l'empire romain (135-425) (Paris, 1948), Christian scholars began to realize that the Jews were very much part of the foreground of early Christian thinkers during the formative years of the Church's history. At the same time the growing awareness in the West of the enormity of the crimes against the Jews during World War II profoundly altered Christian sensibilities toward the Jews.
Vines Intertwined, a bird's-eye view of the history of Jews before the rise of Christianity and the interaction between Jews and Christians during the first six centuries, is the fruit of more than two generations of scholarship. Sandgren's aim is neither to offer a new and overarching interpretation of this long period nor to call attention to neglected or forgotten sources. He has set out to write a survey of a vast historical period with many different players, institutions, cultural contexts, events, and ideas. For scholars in the field, the book may cover familiar terrain, but there is no book that sees things in such a long historical perspective.
Sandgren has done his homework, and he deals with a number of writings that are known only to specialists in the field—for example, the early Byzantine work "The Teaching of Jacob Newly Baptized. "He has a long section on Christians and Jews in the Persian Empire, a topic to which few western scholars give much attention. At the same time he deals with major figures such as Ss. John Chrysostom and Augustine, along with Pope Gregory the Great's dealing with Jews, Julian the Apostate, imperial laws on the Jews, the Persian occupation of Jerusalem, and the Muslim conquest. Although in his [End Page 739] account of the travails of Jerusalem he fails to emphasize that by the seventh century Jerusalem was a Christian city.
Sandgren's tone is irenic, and his judgments are fair-minded. He has no obvious ax to grind. Because of the scope of the book, the treatment of individuals and events is brief and seldom touches on the theological issues underlying the conflict between Jews and Christians. For a survey of the interaction between Christians and Jews and a précis of the modern secondary literature on many persons and events, readers will find Vines Intertwined a useful guide.