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Making Wise the Simple
The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice
POD; Published: 9/14/2005
ISBN: 978-0-8028-0990-2
Price: $ 33.50
353 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6 x 9
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Too long restricted to children's storybooks and cinematic extravaganzas, the Torah -- comprising the first five books of the Bible -- is an underappreciated mother lode of divine instruction, vitally important for Christians and the church. Convinced that both those who take the Torah too literally and those who neglect it are guilty of a naïve simplicity, Johanna van Wijk-Bos presents guidelines to help ordinary Christians recover this treasure in their faith and practice.

Having lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation, van Wijk-Bos recognizes that after the attempted annihilation of the Jews from Christian Europe, it cannot be business as usual for Christianity. In light of the Holocaust, Christians must commit themselves to the restoration of just relations between Christians and Jews. This commitment to address all that fractures human relations undergirds van Wijk-Bos's call for Christians to reengage the Torah.

Making Wise the Simple points out how God's care for and engagement with the whole world in the Torah set the tone for the entire biblical story. The book pays special attention to how our treatment of strangers lies at the heart of the Torah's teaching. Without attempting a purely Jewish reading of the Torah, van Wijk-Bos reclaims the Torah as a vibrant word for the Christian community in covenant with God.

Written in a personal style conversant with current scholarship but sprinkled with anecdotes, this book is for everyone who has a hunger and enthusiasm for what the biblical text may convey, the courage to ask disturbing questions of the text, and an openness to old words that may bring forth new things, perhaps even making one wise.

Patrick D. Miller
"A comprehensive but accessible theological approach to the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and its significance for Christian faith. Maintaining a proper tension between the Torah as a direct word to Christians and as instruction heard in light of the rest of Scripture, Johanna van Wijk-Bos shows how much these books set the stage for all that follows. The reader will note particularly her emphasis on the place of the other, the weak, and the marginal in both story and law, as well as her nuanced and sensitive portrait of the God who appears, speaks, and acts with passion and compassion throughout these critical books of Scripture."
Marvin R. Wilson
"This vibrant work makes the Torah both accessible and applicable for Christians. Sensitive to the gnarled and contorted relation between Christianity and Judaism over the centuries, van Wijk-Bos challenges mistaken views of the Torah. In a very engaging and personal style, she invites her readers to explore the foundational bedrock of the Bible. As the author skillfully leads her readers through the Torah, they discover the Holy One of Israel, the God of Christians, and especially his compassionate heart for the powerless and the stranger."
Terence E. Fretheim
"Johanna van Wijk-Bos has written a clear and compelling study of the Pentateuch as a rich resource for Christian faith and practice. Devoting special attention to the Torah as instruction, she highlights its pervasive concern for showing hospitality to the stranger. Often bringing New Testament texts into a lively conversation with the Torah, she is especially alert to helpful ways of appropriating all of these texts for theological and ethical reflection."
Ellen F. Davis
"Here Torah is seen for what it is ? the theological foundation of the whole Christian Bible. Johanna van Wijk-Bos offers a coherent reading without glossing over tensions or foreclosing multiple interpretive options. Through fresh translations, insightful attention to literary form, and awareness of her own sensibilities as a reader, she provides a highly useful introduction to the pleasurable work of exegesis."
Joel S. Kaminsky
"Johanna van Wijk-Bos attempts to overcome a widespread bias of many Protestants who ignore large portions of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, because they see it as the law that stands in opposition to the truth of the gospel. Her Making Wise the Simple seeks to move the Pentateuch back into the center of Christian theological reflection. . . A biblical scholar who is both a committed Christian and a feminist, van Wijk-Bos makes a serious effort in this book to evoke a biblical theology of the Torah that speaks to contemporary concerns."
George M. Landes
"While there are several fairly recent fine treatments of the Torah/Pentateuch currently available, Johanna van Wijk-Bos's study achieves a special preeminence for at least four reasons. First, it offers a methodological tour de force, effectively combining the results of both historical-critical and literary-critical readings of the text as well as the fruits of pertinent sociological, anthropological, archaeological, and cultural studies to illumine the Torah. Second, it is the only study I know that so astutely discusses the boundaries that ought to apply to guard against uninformed, frivolous, and free-association-based reading strategies that can emerge from the plethora of methodological approaches confronting the biblical interpreter today. Third, it highlights compellingly, and with special importance for the contemporary scene, the Torah's ethical requirement of loving treatment of 'the stranger,' 'the other,' the nonethnically related person, people, or nation as an essential response on the part of anyone who would count themselves as legitimate members of either the Jewish or the Christian covenantal community. Fourth, it enhances a fresh appreciation of the Torah, especially for Christians, when these texts are listened to attentively in light of early Israelite, early Jewish, and early Christian understandings. This is a 'must-read' for all who would engage the Torah/Pentateuch for what it has to contribute to our contemporary faith."
Peter J. Tomson
"Johanna van Wijk-Bos has written an intelligent and empathetic introduction to the five books of Moses for a Christian readership. Stretching from the story of human hubris in Genesis 11 to the plea for human inclusiveness in Galatians 3, the book offers an open-minded appreciation of Mosaic law and lore that does not dodge unpopular subjects such as the laws regulating sexuality. The argument is rich and thoughtful throughout, sensitive both to 'the limits set by the ancient context' and 'the urgency of our questions.' It is written in clear and lucid language that, along with the continuous scholarly references in the footnotes, makes it pleasant and instructive reading both for students in theology and for interested general readers."
Alice Ogden Bellis
"Leading the charge against an array of popular Christian distortions of the Torah, such as that it is a book of law devoid of grace, Johanna van Wijk-Bos exposes their perversity with clear biblical evidence. The warped perceptions that she attacks do not lie at the margins but, rather, form an essential part of the common Christian identity. By stripping away the gross misunderstandings that have fed anti-Jewish sentiments for centuries, van Wijk-Bos also opens up space for the true heart of both the Torah and Christianity."
Wil Gafney
"Johanna van Wijk-Bos has done Christians, particularly clergy and clergy in training, a great service with her book Making Wise the Simple. Her description (borrowing from Jacob Neusner and John the Evangelist) of the Torah as 'God made flesh' illuminates the Torah as God-space and the site of divine disclosure in terms familiar to Christian readers. Her solemn reminder that the Shoah (Holocaust) was executed 'in Christian lands' by 'baptized' hands is one with which all Christians who teach and preach Torah 'after Auschwitz' must wrestle. Her cautions against oversimplistic translations of torah as 'law' or even 'nomos' are as timely as were those of C. H. Dodd, but without the stain of anti-Judaism. She does not romanticize the text, recognizing that the deity indulges in favoritism. Ultimately, she encourages Christians to read not as Jews, but with Jews, to discern the revelation of the Holy One of Sinai in the sacred text that is a tree of life to all who will embrace her."
G. J. Venema
"This study demonstrates why a thorough understanding of the Torah is essential for Christian faith. It shows, for example, how texts from the New Testament may enter into conversation with texts from the Hebrew Bible, taking into account the historical circumstances of both biblical and modern times. By doing so, the author does not offer a Jewish reading for Christians, as many have done before her, but paves the way for a fundamental renewal of Christian faith and practice."