The Jewish New Testament
Among new books recently brought to my attention, perhaps the most unusual is this one: The Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford University Press, 2011). As well as Levine and Brettler, 48 other Jewish scholars contribute to the volume.
Essentially, it’s a copy of the New Revised Standard Version of the NT, with introductions to each NT writing and a running commentary on the contents of each writing (with “sidebars” on topics deemed of particular interest or curiosity to Jewish readers).
In addition, at the end of the volume there are 18 essays that will be of interest to any reader. Indeed, the first essay “Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made about Early Judaism” (Amy-Jill Levine) seems more relevant (and perhaps directed) to non-Jewish readers. Others of these essays address Jewish history of the NT period, various aspects of Jewishness (e.g., the Law, Synagogue, Family Life, Food/Table-Fellowship) , and other topics relevant to understanding the conceptual world presupposed in the NT (e.g., Jewish movements of the time, “Divine Beings”, Afterlife and Resurrection, Judaizers, Jewish Christians, Messianic movements, etc.).
The editors’ principal aim is to encourage Jews to read the NT, not (of course) as their own “scripture”, but as scriptures of many of their neighbors, and as the origins of themes and images in much music, art and literature. Curiously, the editors don’t mention another important reason to study the NT texts: In a number of ways they throw valuable (in some cases unique) light on the Jewish matrix from which they sprang. That is, the NT includes valuable historical sources for understanding Judaism of the “second temple” period. Moreover, in its earliest stages, the young Jesus-movement was an eruption within the broad and diverse Judaism of that period.
I’ve agreed to take part in a part in a panel discussion of the book later this year, so I’ll save further comments for that occasion. But I can heartily recommend this volume . . . to Jews and non-Jews alike.