Crucible of Faith

by Philip Jenkins, Basic Books, 320pp £23.99

“Barely acknowledged in historical writing, still less in popular perceptions.” Such, according to Professor Philip Jenkins, has been the fate of the intertestamental period, the time between the end of the era covered by the Hebrew Bible and the period in which the events of the New Testament took place and were written down.

Yet it was in these years, and particularly between 250 BC and 50 BC – which Jenkins calls the Crucible era – that the building blocks of Western religion, of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, were laid.

This was “one of the most revolutionary times in human culture”, when “a tectonic theological shift” took place, an era that “in effect created Western consciousness” and “a new universe”. This was when “angels and Judgment, Messiah and Satan, hell and demons” first fully took root in the religious mind. Without this “spiritual revolution, neither Christianity nor Islam would exist”.

To illustrate his point, Jenkins draws on a substantial body of writings that have survived from the Crucible years, but which (with the exception of the Book of Daniel) did not achieve canonical status. The Book of Enoch, for instance, depicts mighty archangels and their diabolical counterparts. It ranges “through glorious heavens and burning hells”. This was “a breathtaking departure from the Old Testament worldview”. Enoch, Jenkins asserts, contains “the first draft of hell”.

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