Study Guide to The Christian Zionist's Bible

Companion to JewsOnFirst's three-part video interview with Rabbi Michael J. Cook, PhD.     PDF Version

Key terms used by Dr. Michael Cook

Gospel dynamics are, according to Dr. Cook, "those skillful problem-solving techniques by which early Christians, decades after Jesus' death, remolded his image to address the needs of their day, not his."

Gospel Editors: Rewriters of some New Testament books in the centuries immediately following Jesus' death. The revisers emphasized the idea that God's covenental relationship with the Jews was broken because they rejected Jesus.

Polemics "is the practice of disputing ... significant, broad reaching topics of magnitude such as religious, philosophical, political, or scientific matters." (Wikipedia)

Jewish Well-being is a goal of Dr. Cook's work, which he deems necessary "because Jews are the ones whose welfare the New Testament has destabilized." Cook argues that only by spotting the operation of Gospel Dynamics, "articulating and explaining them to their children, and enlightening Christian friends regarding them -- can Jews exchange their sense of victimization by the New Testament for confidence that they now control this literature and can become freer of its impact in the future."

Jewish Perspectives or Mindset are terms that Dr. Cook employs to discuss unhelpful assumptions that can hinder Jews from considering Gospel dynamics.

Jews as Odometer is Dr. Cook's expression for End Times theologies' preoccupation with the Jews, especially as that theology concerns the proximity of the End Times.

Millennialism (from millennium, Latin for "thousand years"), is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" prior to the final judgment and future eternal state (the New Heavens and New Earth). This belief is derived primarily from the book of Revelations 21:1. Various types of millennialism exist with regard to Christian Eschatology, especially within Protestantism, such as Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. For a graphic representation of the terms millennialism, premellennialism, pre-millenialism (dispensationalism) premellenialism, postmellenialsim, amellenialism, see Wikipedia.

Dispensationalism is a Protestant evangelical "lens" for reading the Bible that claims to see a patterns or series of chronologically successive "dispensations," or periods in history, in which God relates to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants. The most famous system of dispensationalism was written by John Nelson Darby. Dispensationalism consists of a distinctive eschatological or "End Times" perspective. Dispensationalists believe that God will fulfill His promises to Israel at which time the Jews will see the error of their ways and convert to Evangelical Christianity -- or be destroyed.

The Rapture is a belief, primarily among conservative Protestant denominations, in a predicted future event related to the return of Jesus. These conservatives groups have replaced the traditional idea of the return of Jesus or second coming, with a new idea, the Rapture formulated in the late 19th Century by John Nelson Darby. Darby claimed that only a select group of Christians would be spared the "end times" or tribulations by being lifted into the heavens, where they would watch final battle or Armegeddon. On page 237 of Modern Jews Engage the New Testament, Rabbi Cook writes: "The Rapture is the rescue of Christian faithful via their being literally lifted off the earth to rendevous with Jesus, who descends halfway from heaven to meet [them]." This rendevous with Jesus in the heavens excludes two-thirds of the Jews, who supposedly die in terrible destructions. A remaining one third of the Jews supposedly become Christians and are saved. Ideas about the Rapture have been popularized by the Left Behind book series. (See Wikipedia.)

Centrality of Jews in the Rapture. In Christian Zionist thought Jews are central to many aspects of the Rapture. Depending on the doctrine: the Rapture will begin when all the world's Jews are collected in Israel; a small number of Jews will accept the returned Jesus while the majority burn in a lake of fire; Jews are supposed to be taken in by the anti-Christ whose activities precipitate the Rapture; the prophesied battle of Armageddon will supposedly take place in Israel.

Dr. Cook, Professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literatures at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, is author of Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment (Jewish Lights Publishing). Dr. Cook is interviewed by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of JewsOnFirst.org. The three-part video interview is available on DVD from JewsOnFirst.org. Click here to order.

Introduction

To make the most of your learning from The Christian Zionist's Bible it is important to stay engaged. Our recommendation is to pause your viewing every 10 to 15 minutes and ask yourself (or your group) three questions:

  1. What did I just learn?
  2. What confuses me or what additional questions do I have?
  3. What do I expect to come next?

The questions in this study guide are intended to help viewers develop answers that will result in mastery of the video's content.

Part 1: What do Jews need to know about the Christian Bible?

1. Does Rabbi Michael Cook think Jews are at a disadvantage because we don't understand the teachings of Jesus? (Note: Later in the video it becomes clear that this is not what Dr. Cook is arguing. Instead he suggests that an understanding of "Gospel dynamics" will empower Jews -- and others -- to understand the image and historical process that created Christianity.)

2. Rabbi Cook makes the following statement: "They (referring to leaders of the Reform Movement) have reported that their experience of teaching this material to their synagogues has been extremely salutary. That if it is done properly, intermarried couples of both parties, the Jew and the gentile benefit from it, and that, therefore, this is a type of revolution we should have thought about centuries ago except we were not in a position to do so then."

3. Rabbi Cook eschews teaching the New Testament through a "proof-texting" approach. Why? (In the book Dr. Cook explains that for missionaries, just keeping the argument going is winning it.)

4. How did the rabbis respond to the Gospels that have influenced Jews’ interest in reading or understanding them?

5. What are some of the gospel dynamics that produced the New Testament?

6. Why do Jews need to understand the Gospels now?

7. What are the passionate arguments (called a spiral of disagreements or polemics) that have emerged between Christians and Jews?

8. How does Professor Cook articulate the benefits to Jews of reading the Gospels?

9. What do you see and how do you react when you look at the symbolic personification of Judaism as “synagoga” and Christianity "ecclesia" in Christian statuary and arts? Ecclesia, representing the victorious, triumphant Church, takes the form of a proud, erect maiden, crowned and holding the cross. Synagoga, symbolizing the defeated Synagogue, is blindfolded (symbolizing blindness to the truth of the New Testament) and dejected, and her characteristic appurtenances are a broken staff, broken tablets of the Law (symbolizing the Old Testament), and a fallen crown. (See Jewish Heritage Online Magazine).

10. Professor Cook describes four Jewish responses to Jesus? What are they? Which one, if any, most closely represents your understanding of Jesus?

11. What issues did the writers of the Gospels face that may have affected their representation of Jesus and the Jews?

12. What has been your most important learning from Part 1 of this video? What confuses you? What do you expect to come next?

Part 2: Jews as God’s Odometer in End-Time Scenarios

1. Professor Cook asserts that Jews have a special role in Christian end-of-world scenarios. Can you articulate at least one of these roles?

2. How does Professor Cook define millennialist? How do the millennialists regard Jews?

3. A significant amount of the Jewish Bible is written in the "future tense." How does the use of "the future tense" contribute to at least two understandings of the future or end-of-the world? (Consider the Deuteronomic history and then consider the Prophets’ view).

4. Who are the Dispensationalists and what do they believe? Be sure to consider The Rapture.

5. How large a group are the Dispensationalists and what might their impact be?

6. How do the Dispensationalists describe the anti-Christ?

7. How do Jews fit into Dispensationalist and Millienalist views of the end of the world?

8. Where does Israel fit into the Dispensationalist world view?

9. What has been your most important learning from Part 2 of this video? What confuses you? What do you expect to come next?

Part 3: Israel in End Time Scenarios

1. How do Evangelical Christians view the following:

  1. the 1917 Balfour Declaration
  2. General Alennby's entry into Jerusalem, 1918
  3. the founding of Israel, 1948
  4. the 1967 "Six Day" war

2. How is Israel a problem for some Christians?

3. What is the theological concept of the dual covenant in Christianity that was developed after the Holocaust?

4. What are other Christian responses to the Holocaust?

5. According to Professor Cook, there is cognitive dissonance at play in Evangelicals' response to Jews. What are some examples of this cognitive dissonance and what is the effect?

6. According to Professor Cook, as much as $300 million a year is spent on missionaries to convert the Jews. What is the rationale for Christians spending so much money on this activity?

7. How should Jews respond to Christian missionaries' attempts to convert them?

8. How possible and/or advisable is it for Jews to "lower their profile" theologically?

9. Dr. Cook goes through some basic arguments that will equip Jews to handle situations such as the controvery over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. Can you summarize some of these arguments?

10. What is the Posse Comitatus?

11. What use have Christian Identity groups made of the spurious Protocols of the Elders of Zion ?

12. The Christian Identity movement is a movement of many extremely conservative Christian churches and religious organizations, extreme right wing political groups and survivalist groups. Some are independent; others are loosely interconnected. According to Professor Michael Barkun, one of the leading experts in the Christian Identity movement, this "virulent racist and anti-Semitic theology, which is practiced by over 50,000 people in the United States alone, is prevalent among many right-wing extremist groups and has been called the 'glue' of the racist right." (See also the Religious Tolerance site's definition of Christian Identity.) Is the Christian Identity movement made up of millenialists only? Does this term have other connotations?

13. Professor Cook mentions ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government). Who specifically uses this term? Which paramilitary groups? Just Neo-Nazis? Is the story about the offspring of Eve and the Serpent a story that Neo-Nazis believe? What about other groups?

14. How does Professor Cook address the question that some Jews ask: Why can’t we be a “normal” people?

15. What has been your most important learning from Part 3 of the video? What additional questions would you want to ask Professor Cook?

16. What actions are you considering as a result of viewing this video?