Perspectives on Our Father Abraham: Essays in Honor of Marvin R. Wilson

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Marvin R. Wilson has devoted much of his life to bringing Jews and Christians into dialogue with one another. His seminal text, Our Father Abraham — perhaps more than any other book -- has clearly shown a generation of Christians the Jewish roots of their faith.

Perspectives on Our Father Abraham is a collection of thoughtful articles honoring Marv Wilson on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. Nineteen Jewish and Christian scholars -- friends of his and experts in their own fields -- here offer various studies related to the patriarch Abraham. Readers will profit from these engaging, even groundbreaking, studies of Abraham both in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and in other ancient and contemporary traditions.

More than simply a Festschrift, this book encompasses a uniquely broad range of traditions having to do with Abraham. It also succeeds in the task that Wilson has always encouraged -- bringing Jews and Christians together in fruitful dialogue.

William B. Barcley
Rebecca Gates Brinton
R. Judson Carlberg
Roy E. Ciampa
Gordon D. Fee
Roger J. Green
Ted Hildebrandt
Steven A. Hunt
David Klatzker
JoAnn G. Magnuson
David Mathewson
John N. Oswalt
Elaine Phillips
A. James Rudin
Mark L. Sargent
H. G. M. Williamson
Lauren F. Winner
Edwin M. Yamauchi
David J. Zucker

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Craig A. Evans
-- Acadia Divinity College
"Students, colleagues, and friends have assembled an outstanding collection of studies in honor of long-serving and widely respected Marvin Wilson. Perspectives on Our Father Abraham, a title that alludes to Wilson's landmark study, is a fitting tribute to a first-rate scholar and beloved classroom teacher. Everyone interested in biblical studies, the relationship of Jews and Christians, and, especially, the figure of Abraham in tradition and history will love this book."

Tremper Longman III
-- Westmont College
"Perspectives on Our Father Abraham is a remarkable volume honoring a remarkable and influential teacher and writer. With a focus on Abraham, biblical scholars and clergy present insightful and provocative views that are sure to challenge and inform the readers of this volume. I highly recommend it."

Sonia Schreiber Weitz
-- The Holocaust Center, Boston North Inc.
"Continuing to fill our lives with his great wisdom and envisioning beautiful possibilities along the way, Marvin Wilson builds bridges of love between Christian and Jewish communities. As for me, a survivor of the Shoah, Marv restored my faith in humanity, and for that I am eternally grateful."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802869531
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 397
  • Sales rank: 912,396
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 3.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven A. Hunt is professor of New Testament at Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

Foreword R. Judson Carlberg Carlberg, R. Judson



The Life and Legacy of Marvin R. Wilson Roger J. Green Green, Roger J. 1


Abraham and Archaeology: Anachronisms or Adaptations? Edwin M. Yamauchi Yamauchi, Edwin M. 15

Abraham's Experience of Yahweh: An Argument for the Historicity of the Patriarchal Narrative John N. Oswalt Oswalt, John N. 33

A Song of Our Father Abraham: Psalm 105 Ted Hildebrandt Hildebrandt, Ted 44

Abraham in Exile H. G. M. Williamson Williamson, H. G. M. 68


And the Word Became Flesh---Again? Jesus and Abraham in John 8:31-59 Steven A. Hunt Hunt, Steven A. 81

"The Tomb That Abraham Had Purchased" (Acts 7:16) Elaine Phillips Phillips, Elaine 110

Who Are Abraham's True Children? The Role of Abraham in Pauline Argumentation Gordon D. Fee Fee, Gordon D. 126

The Law and the Promise: God's Covenant with Abraham in Pauline Perspective William B. Barcley Barcley, William B. 138

Abraham and Empire in Galatians Roy E. Ciampa Ciampa, Roy E. 153

Abraham, the Father of Many Nations in the Book of Revelation David Mathewson Mathewson, David 169


"They Are Loved on Account of the Patriarchs": Zekhut Avot and the Covenant with Abraham Elaine Phillips Phillips, Elaine 187

Sarah: The View of the Classical Rabbis David J. Zucker Zucker, David J. 221

"Go to the Root of Your Own Life": Some Contemporary Jewish Readings of the Abraham Saga David Klatzker Klatzker, David 253

Elizabeth Boush's "Sacrifice of Isaac": An Eighteenth-Century Object Lesson for Today's Church Lauren F. Winner Winner, Lauren F. 273

Our Brother Abraham: The "Sacrifice" in Films by Tarkovsky and Majidi Mark L. Sargent Sargent, Mark L. 290

Evangelicals and Jews: The Unfinished Agenda Rabbi A. James Rudin Rudin, Rabbi A. James 311

Following Abraham into the Twenty-first Century: Building Christian-Jewish Relations Today JoAnn G. Magnuson Magnuson, JoAnn G. 323

"The Other Woman": A Collaborative Jewish-Christian Study of Hagar Rebecca Gates Brinton Brinton, Rebecca Gates 339

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First Chapter

PERSPECTIVES ON Our Father Abraham

Essays in Honor of Marvin R. Wilson

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2010 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6252-5

Chapter One

The Life and Legacy of Marvin R. Wilson

Roger J. Green

Marvin R. Wilson. The name will be familiar to countless readers who pick up this book. The facts of his life only begin to tell the story, and so those facts must of necessity be followed by a look at the deeper meaning of his life and work and of the contributions that he has made to Christian higher education, to the broader Christian and Jewish communities, and to his family, friends, students, and colleagues. But it is impossible to study the man and his message without the biographical context, and so here is where we begin.

Marv is a true New Englander, born in Stoneham, Massachusetts, on July 17, 1935, the second child of Marion and Malcolm Wilson. Marion was a music supervisor in the school system in Providence, Rhode Island, among other places, and Malcolm and his brother worked in Boston for N. S. Wilson and Sons, a family business that manufactured and imported various products such as oils and chemicals and that had been first incorporated in 1916 by their father. Marion and Malcolm's first child, Malcolm, was three years older than Marv, and the two brothers grew up in a loving and supportive Christian family in Winchester, Massachusetts.

Public school was not for Marv. He wanted his high school education to be in a Christian school, and so his parents consented and Marv attended what is now known as Lexington Christian Academy. He was both a good student and an accomplished basketball player. He served as captain of the basketball team, and the pictures from those days clearly demonstrate his pride in being part of the team. His interest in sports would follow him throughout his life, in later years more as a fan than as a participant. His education at Lexington Christian Academy prepared him well for entrance into Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where he finally settled as a history major and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957.

However, the love of his life would not be a Wheaton graduate, but a Gordon graduate, class of 1957. Pauline Rose Berfield, the eldest daughter of Rose and Lloyd, grew up in Revere, Massachusetts, was attracted to Gordon College, and spent half of her college life on the Fenway and the other half in Wenham, Massachusetts, after Gordon purchased the present property and moved to the latter location in 1955. Pauline's younger sister, Phyllis, followed her to Gordon and graduated in 1962. Marv and Pauline, who prefers to be called Polly, had known each other since about the age of eleven during Sunday school days at the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cambridge, and their friendship matured. On June 15, 1957, one week after graduation, Marvin R. Wilson and Pauline R. Berfield were married in the church where they met. Their life together began rather inauspiciously by sharing work at a summer camp, Sandy Hill in Maryland, and they would continue to work at Brookwoods Camp in New Hampshire for the three following summers. Marv was being prepared to work with high school and college students even then.

Marv was clear about the direction in his life, and at the end of the summer he enrolled as a student in Gordon Divinity School, then located in Frost Hall on the campus of Gordon College. He received his Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1960, and then moved on to Brandeis University, where he received the Master of Arts degree followed by the Ph.D. in 1963. In the meantime a daughter, Deborah Ann Wilson (now called Tassa Rose), was born on November 21, 1961, and like her mother and aunt eventually became a graduate of Gordon College. Marv was ordained at the Cornerstone Baptist Church to the teaching ministry. During one of the summers while completing his degree at Brandeis, Marv worked for the Tavilla family. Marv could not have known how important that family would be to Gordon College many years later as one of the Tavilla sons, Stephen, served on the Board of Trustees of Gordon College from 1987 to 2004, with emeritus status from 2004 to 2008. Tavilla Hall, a lovely dormitory, stands on the campus of Gordon College as a living tribute by Stephen Tavilla in honor of his parents on behalf of the entire family. Marv was pleased to speak at the dedication of Tavilla Hall.

So by 1963 all was set for a new direction in the life of the Wilsons. The family was established, the degrees were all in hand, and Marv was ordained. The question remained, however, where to go. Marv could not possibly have realized at the time that a small Christian college in Barrington, Rhode Island, was looking for an Old Testament professor. As it turns out Marv was pursued by the president, Howard Ferrin, and especially by the dean, Terrelle B. Crum. The Wilsons packed their bags and moved to Barrington, Rhode Island, to begin teaching in the fall of 1963. Their commitment to that college was so strong that when they added a Saint Bernard dog to the family they named the dog Barrington.

Other colleagues joined Marv and Polly, and the time at Barrington College became special for all concerned. The family that was created there was a warm and supportive Christian community of learning that is still fondly remembered by faculty and students alike. Among those joining Marv on the faculty was Bill Buehler in 1964, recently returned from Basel, Switzerland, where he was the last American student to earn his doctorate under Karl Barth. And in 1970 — and here is where full disclosure is both desirable and critical — the writer of this chapter joined the faculty. Both Bill Buehler and his wife, Marlyn, became close friends and colleagues of Marv and Polly, as did I and my wife, Karen, whom I married in 1973, Marv officiating at that wedding along with my father. Other names bring back pleasant memories for those who knew Barrington College at that time — the Hummels, the Gregorys, the Fullams, the Oswalts, and others.

We taught and at times worshipped together, were all involved in a Sunday evening Bible study, and laughed and cried with each other. Our life together was fulfilling in every way. Outside of the college Marv and Polly found a wonderful place of worship at the Barrington Baptist Church, Pastor David Madeira and his wife, Annalise, becoming good friends. The Wilson membership remains in that church to this day. And in the midst of a very busy schedule Marv occasionally found time to preach and teach outside of Barrington College, and for a period of time was the interim pastor at the Warren Avenue Baptist Church in Brockton, Massachusetts.

Perhaps the most important influence that Bill and Marlyn Buehler had on Marv was to suggest that he see a movie that had recently been released entitled Fiddler on the Roof. They could not have imagined the impact the movie would have on Marv Wilson. His penchant for wanting to learn about all things Jewish may have begun while he was a student at Brandeis University, but it was greatly enhanced by seeing that movie. We have all lost count as to how many times Marv has seen the movie and/or the play (although Marv could easily provide that detail!), but it must be well into the twenties or thirties. Marv knows every song, every conversation, and every nuance of Fiddler on the Roof.

Marv initiated a new course while at Barrington College, and this course — still entitled Modern Jewish Culture — has been his signature course lo these many years. Marv decided to teach the course partly because as students in his Old Testament classes naturally asked questions about Jews and Judaism, Marv found himself constantly turning to his Rabbi friends to answer those questions. By his own admission, neither seminary nor graduate school had prepared him for the learning and research that was necessary for the construction and implementation of that course. But nothing has given Marv more joy than teaching Modern Jewish Culture. Stories abound to this day from students who have taken that course throughout the years, and it is probably fair to say that for most of them it was their first exposure to Judaism and their first opportunity to worship in synagogues of various Jewish traditions.

Marv has often recounted that he was a bit nervous at the maiden voyage of this course in summer school at Barrington College in 1964. As he entered the classroom on the first day, he learned that one of his students was a Jewish woman of Hasidic background. The irony was not lost on Marv, as this woman sat in his class learning about her own tradition from an evangelical Christian!

Marv's lifelong adventure of learning about Jews and Judaism and how to relate all of that to evangelical Christianity had begun — and what an appropriate beginning it was. If the Jewish proverb is true that "study is the highest form of worship," certainly no one better embodies that truth than Marv Wilson. His course in Modern Jewish Culture (as well as his countless other courses taught so passionately throughout the years) is a model for what Christian higher education is all about.

But those of us who taught with Marv at Barrington College were soon to learn that the days of our community life together with the Wilsons were about to come to an end. Little did we know that the dean of Gordon College, Richard Gross, had been trying to get Marv to leave Barrington and come to Gordon College since 1970. Truth be told, however, Marv did not want to leave Barrington. The teaching environment with colleagues was wonderful, the students were engaged, and the community was all that could be asked for, especially, for example, when Polly suffered a long illness and faculty, staff, and students alike rallied to support the Wilson family in ways still remembered today.

But in 1971 Marv was sure that it was the leading of the Lord to leave Barrington and move to Wenham. Marv and I had adjoining offices separated by a door that was always kept open. The memory still lingers of the moment Marv came through that door and sat down with me to explain that he was leaving Barrington College. And as difficult as it was for the Barrington community to let go of the Wilsons, we all knew that it was best for them. And so the move ninety miles north of Providence took place in the summer of 1971, and Marv Wilson has served at Gordon College with distinction since then, surrounded by friends and family. In 1985 Barrington College merged with Gordon College, and beginning with that merger Marv's years at Barrington College were recognized as years of service to Gordon College. In 2008 Marv completed his forty-fifth year of service to Barrington College and Gordon College, and that was a good time to remember many of his accomplishments during his tenure at those two institutions.

It will come as no surprise that Marv and Polly made many lifelong friends at Gordon College, and the names of the Grosses, the Askews, the Bishops, and the Carlbergs come to mind, as well as countless others. And Marv has gladly and warmly welcomed new members of the department of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries as the department has changed and expanded. When Marv moved to Gordon College, Harold J. Ockenga was the president of both the college and Gordon Divinity School, and when he resigned to become the president of the newly merged Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Richard Gross became the president of the college. He was followed by Jud Carlberg. Both have spoken about what Marv's friendship and counsel have meant to them during their tenures as president. Happily for all concerned, as the years went by Marv was joined by two of his friends from the Barrington days. Bill Buehler was invited to teach at Gordon in 1981. And in 1985, at the time of the merger, the writer of this chapter gratefully accepted the invitation to join the faculty of Gordon. So the Wilsons, the Buehlers, and the Greens were together again, sharing both friendship and vocation.

Marv served as department chair for an unprecedented twenty-five years, eight years at Barrington College and then seventeen years at Gordon College until 1988. His outstanding teaching at the college has been recognized by students and colleagues alike as he has been awarded the Faculty of the Year award a total of five times between the two institutions. He was named the first incumbent of the Harold J. Ockenga Chair of Biblical and Theological Studies. He inaugurated Gordon College's Holy Land Pilgrimage and took fourteen trips to Israel with Gordon College alumni and other friends of the college. And in keeping with his delight in introducing Jews and Christians to each other for mutual conversation, he also traveled to Israel with Rabbi Sam Kenner and with both Jews and Christians to see the Holy Land together and through the eyes of the other. However, as was the case while teaching at Barrington College, Marv has been wholly engaged outside of the college with speaking and teaching, and for several years, as he had done while teaching at Barrington, he taught at the Evening School of the Bible at Park Street Church.

Marv Wilson is a prodigious writer, and this introductory chapter could not do justice to everything that he has written. However, two projects come to mind that are especially worth mentioning. First, Marv instituted, along with his friends Marc H. Tanenbaum and A. James Rudin, at that time both associated with the American Jewish Committee in New York, a series of conversations between evangelicals and Jews. What evangelical Christians and Jews have in common, especially with their mutual appreciation for the authority of the First Testament, perhaps surprised both the Christians and Jews at that first conference in New York City on December 8-10, 1975. Evangelicals at the conference were pleased with the appreciation that the Jewish leadership demonstrated for evangelicals, and the ice was broken with the Jews present at the conference when they discovered, to their amazement, that some of the Christian delegates were fluent in Hebrew, and that evangelicals had an abiding respect for the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith.

The Jews and the Christians ate together, prayed together, and studied together. However, genuine and serious dialogue includes differences, and the atmosphere of those conversations was such that differences, especially concerning Jesus Christ and his life, ministry, death, and resurrection, were not overlooked or ignored. Dialogue done in love became the hallmark of those discussions, and honest disagreements were acknowledged. Mutual respect allowed the conversations to continue, and several books have been published as a result of those conferences as Marv's conversations with the Jewish community have continued throughout his career. The title of the first book, Evangelicals and Jews in Conversation: On Scripture, Theology, and History, clearly demonstrates the breadth of Marv's interests throughout these many years.

However, Marv's great lifelong achievement that stands above all his other writing is his book entitled Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, now having exceeded twenty printings. Marv had been gathering a great deal of material for this book, especially from his several years of teaching his course on Modern Jewish Culture. And finally in 1987, while on a six-month sabbatical at Tyndale House at Cambridge University, he was able to write the text for this book, which he dedicated to Polly for the support that she had given those many years. Eerdmans published the work in 1989. The publishers get it right when they advertise the book as "personal and passionate." Still in print, the book has taken on a life of its own. The book is translated into several languages, and as recently as the fall of 2007 Marv was invited to speak in Florence, Italy, at the inauguration of the translation of his book into Italian.

Many stories abound about this book, but a favorite has to do with two young people whom the book brought together in marriage. Each was reading the book separately and one day noticed the other also reading it. They introduced themselves to each other and began to speak about the book and their common interests. Ultimately their interests led them beyond the book to marriage.

Marv received a phone call in his office one day, and Gordon College's Stillpoint records the call as well as Marv's reaction this way: "When the phone rang in Professor Marvin Wilson's office one day in 1995, a man on the other end of the line told him he loved his book Our Father Abraham and wanted to make a film about it. The caller laid out an impressive vision for the project. 'I thought the call was a joke from a colleague on campus,' Dr. Wilson says. 'That kind of offer doesn't usually happen in real life. It took more than an hour for me to be convinced that maybe it wasn't a joke.'" The caller was one Jerry Krell of Auteur Productions in Maryland. He and his friend, Meyer Odze, had produced programs for PBS, HBO, and the Arts and Entertainment Network. Jerry Krell convinced Marv that he really did want to produce a documentary for PBS based on some basic themes in the book, and eventually the project was entitled Jews and Christians: A Journey of Faith.


Excerpted from PERSPECTIVES ON Our Father Abraham Copyright © 2010 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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