Review of Meredith Gould, Ph.D Why Is There a Menorah On the Altar?

Published by Seabury Books, Why Is There a Menorah On the Altar is a book devoted to help Christians understand the deeper history of Christian worship (primarily in the liturgical tradition) in light of the Hebrew/Jewish roots from the days of Moses to early Christian times.

Dr. Gould, who as she writes in the Forward, is “a Jew in identity, a Christian in faith, and a Catholic in religious practice,” takes us through the rituals/ordinances/sacraments that have been a part of the Christian faith for centuries.

Beginning with a chapter on ‘Reading Scripture’ in which she delineates the differences between exegetes, Theologians, and Religious Study Scholars and unpacks the variations and history of the development and translation of the Bible, Gould provides a very useful introduction to lay persons about the Bible and how to read scripture in a meaningful and helpful way.

Chapter 2 focuses on the history and development of what is know as the liturgical year as compared to the calendar year. Within this discussion, she also provides a very helpful historical time-line of the development of the two Jewish sects featured in the New Testament – the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The remaining chapters, 3 through 6 focus, respectively, on worship, baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. As Gould addresses each topic, she takes the reader on a journey back into the Old Testament and points out possible points of origin for the various parts of today’s liturgical worship. For example, in the chapter on baptism, Meredith provides us with a broader perspective on the symbolism and use of water in the Biblical story beyond mere hygiene and points us to its use as a deeply spiritual substance.

Interspersed throughout the chapters (and primarily at the conclusion of each chapter) Gould shares a short personal story related to the chapter subject. In each of them, she evidences a clear and passionate faith and pursuit of God. I also benefitted, as will the reader, on her Jewish perspective. This came through in her discussion of the discussions between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees as “debating Torah.” (Page 25)

Why Is There A Menorah On The Altar is a book that takes the often tangled web of Christian history and development and untangles it with an enthusiastic but serious approach that creates a good starting point for further reading and discussion on each of the topics presented. This book would be of great use in a study, in both the parish and college settings, about the development of the major Christian faith practices, and, the faith journey of one person and how those practices have aided that journey.

Now, in the interest of self-disclosure and integrity, Dr. Gould is a person that I have networked with through the social networking site, Twitter (www.twitter.com) this past year. She graciously (and serendipitously) sent me a copy of this book last month for my library.

So, in light of this self-disclosure, I say, “Meredith, first of all, thank you for your book. I enjoyed it and appreciated your self-disclosure and thoughts in this book. Now, when, and if, you do a revised edition, I would encourage you to include looking at the broader Protestant views and thoughts of the topics that you addressed as I believe that this book is worthy of a larger audience. And second, I encourage you to write of your faith journey as I think that it will resonate with a large audience.”

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Jim Kane

I am a hubby to my wife of over 30 years, dad to two university students, caregiver to his mom, a minister, cat dad to Hanna who we adopted from our local animal shelter, a life-long aviation fan, and a reader and blogger. I began this blog in 2008 and post my book reviews, messages to my congregation, prayers, and other things as well. Thank you for stopping by!

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