There is an ancient Jewish saying: "When the Jews return to the land of their fathers, they will return along a bridge of papyrus." An Aramaic proverb speaks of something similar: "Safra sayafa," "the book is a sword." The thinking person appreciates literary studies. When we wish to give others what is most precious to us from our hearts, we take hold of the pen. Personally love for Israel was kindled in my heart in the summer of 1947. And since the beginning of my student days in 1948 I have tried to read everything that, within my limitations, I have been able to find on the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity. This bridge of books also led in time to an extended period of service in Israel. I was able to buy cheaply from a rabbi who had come to a Christian conviction, shortly before he died, a comprehensive set of rabbinic literature, which has since been the joy of many a long evening.
Later, when for seven years I was principal of the Helsinki Bible School, I always checked in my secret treasures what Jewish tradition tells of different problems and concepts. I do not feel that I myself am one of the "real manna-eaters" to whom the Torah was first entrusted -- however, over the years has matured the conviction that Christian faith was born on Jewish soil and only by discovering these hereditary "roots" of our faith can we understand the Gospel in the correct light.
When, then, in Israel I wrote in Hebrew two books about these discoveries of mine, entitled "The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinic Literature" and "The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinic Literature," they have, to my surprise, already reached six printings. At the same time, from them has grown a correspondence of more than ten thousand addresses and long letters. Most amazement has been caused by the fact that only a handful of readers have expressed indignation -- which one could indeed regard as understandable and even justified. Nevertheless, a literary approach always creates more moderate attitudes.
Soon after the publication of these Hebrew books I received the request to interpret Paul, too, in the light of Jewish sources. Only now, after more than forty-five years sailing on the shoreless sea of Jewish literature, have I ventured into the rocky waters of Pauline scholarship. It is Paul who has been to both Christian and Jewish scholars, as it were, a thorn in the flesh. He has delighted and angered his readers. Jesus indeed is accepted, more often than not. He created a "sect" within Judaism, in Hebrew "kat" -- but Paul turned it into a new "religion" or "dat". Where does this view come from? And have experts in the field given a correct picture of Paul?
In this study we wish to investigate the life of the Apostle Paul and his teachings in the light of Jewish sources. What factors affected his development as a man? What kind of basic education did he receive? What can we know about contemporary interpretation of the Law? What kind of teaching methods were then prevalent? And what is most important: Is there cause to "rehabilitate" Paul to his former standing?
We approach our subject with great caution. The book of Malachi says, "For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction --because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty" (Mal. 2:7). And Jeremiah writes, "If you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them" (Jer. 15:19). The rabbis explain that Jeremiah did not need to fear his opponents, for just by bringing them God's Word "they could be restored to the good way." Christian theology is in a state of ferment. The Bible-believing scholar is regarded nowadays as an "exception among theologians". Perhaps acquaintance with the Jewish roots of our Christian faith can restore our confidence in God's Word. For this reason I have constructed my "bridge of papyrus" back to the origins of our faith.
Heinola, 23rd June, 1994 Risto Santala