There’s a delightful story at the beginning of Taylor Marshall’s book The Crucified Rabbi. As a young Episcopal priest Taylor went to visit a woman in hospital who turned out to be Jewish. He said some prayers with her and then, as he was leaving, saw that the rabbi was waiting. The rabbi was happy for him to remain for further prayers with the woman. Taylor wondered why the rabbi asked the woman what her mother’s name was. The rabbi explained that Jews always ask the mother of the person to pray for them and with them since a mother’s intercession is especially powerful.
Details like this help us understand the Catholic faith more fully. It does so because, of course, the Catholic faith grew from the Jewish religion. Jesus and the apostles were Jews and the early Christian customs and worship practices would all have developed from Judaism. The Jewish background, first of the ministry of Christ the Lord, and then St Paul and finally, the establishment of the Catholic faith in Rome make up the content of Dr Taylor Marshall’s excellent trilogy.
I first met Taylor when he was working with the pastoral provision office and my paperwork was going through Rome to obtain the necessary dispensation from the vow of celibacy to allow my ordination as a Catholic priest. Taylor is himself a former Episcopal priest, now a Catholic. He’s developed a career as an academic and writer and blogs away happily at the very popular blog Canterbury Tales.
In his three books Taylor uncovers a wealth of fascinating information about the early church and its links first in the Jewish religion and culture and then in ancient Rome. His books weave together a solid Biblical foundation and knowledge–showing how the Old Testament not only sheds light on the New Testament, but also on the foundation of the Catholic Church.
This is very important because there are two attacks on the Catholic Church that Taylor’s work helps to defend against. The first attack is from Bible Christians who believe all the distinctive Catholic customs, beliefs and practices are late accretions–pagan additions to a simple Biblical faith. I have written on the problems with this kind of primitivism here. Taylor shows that instead of the Catholic distinctives being pagan accretions they are natural developments from the Jewish roots of early Catholicism. Prayers for the dead, veneration of saints, liturgical worship, vestments, candles, bells and books for worship, a tabernacle and temple–all of these are natural and historical links with Judaism.
The second attack on the Catholic faith is from liberal scholars like Geza Vermes who have made an industry out of “Jesus the Jew”. While the Jewish Jesus industry has unlocked some interesting facts about the time and context of the gospels, the conclusions of their scholars are ultimately negative because of their liberal and destructive assumptions. Taylor Marshall gathers much of the good information about the Jewish context of the gospels and the early church and interprets it in a positive way to show how the Jewish background did not contradict the development of the early church, but harmonized with it.
These three books are written in an easy and readable style. Here is scholarship for catechists and teachers to learn more about the dawning of our Catholic faith. The Crucified Rabbi, The Catholic Perspective on Paul and The Eternal City are also excellent resources for budding apologists. They provide the answers to Evangelical Christians who are searching for the Biblical roots of the Catholic Church and show the way to a deeper and more expansive understanding of historical Catholicism. As such they will strengthen your faith and your appreciation of the Mass, the gospels and your prayer life.
The books are available on Taylor’s website here.