The Jewish Annotated New Testament

The New Testament was and is a fundamentally Jewish collection of documents. At the time when much of the New Testament was written, most observers still regarded the new religion of Christianity as a Jewish sect. Every book of the New Testament is traditionally attributed to a Jewish writer, with the exception of Luke, Paul’s Gentile companion. All of the major figures of the New Testament, Jesus, his disciples, Paul, were devout Jews, learned in the Jewish Scriptures. The entire New Testament is permeated with Jewish culture and history.

Unfortunately as the Christians and the Jews parted ways and began to have an often antagonistic relationship with each other, this Jewish element to the Christian scriptures came to be somewhat downplayed. It was never forgotten that Jesus and his disciples were Jews, but as the Christian Church became an entirely Gentile institution, the Jewish background to the Gospels were often underappreciated and misunderstood. Yet, without knowledge of this Jewish background to the New Testament, it is impossible to properly understand the context in which Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Church lived and worked. While years of archaeological and historic research have increased our knowledge of the time just before the destruction of the Second Temple, there is much more to learn about the world of the New Testament. A study of the post-Temple rabbinical writings could provide Christians with more insight of the intellectual world in which the early Christians lived and improving relations between the Christian and Jewish communities can allow us, Christians to ask the help of our Jewish brothers in seeking to understand our own scriptures.

For this reason, I was pleased and gratified to find the Jewish Annotated New Testament. I am not certain if this work is intended more to teach Jews about Christianity or Christians about Judaism, but I believe that followers of both faiths will get a lot out of it. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is, as the title implies, a translation of the New Testament with annotations of each by made by a Jewish scholar. There are brief essays located at various points in the text explaining concepts raised by the New Testament author in better detail while at the end of the New Testament there is a series of longer essays describing various matters of the historical and religious background of the New Testament. The tone of the annotations and essays is always respectful of Christian sensibilities. The editor, Amy-Jill Levine deserves a lot of credit for putting the whole thing together.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The scholarship leans a little more liberal than I would like. I realize that not being Christians, the writers are under no obligation to believe that the New Testament is historically accurate, and, as I have said, the tone is always respectful, yet I feel that they tend to accept too uncritically ideas about the “historical Jesus” or who the true authors of various books might really be. That is a personal quibble and someone less conservative than I am might feel this tendency is a benefit.

The second quibble is more serious and involves only the Kindle edition. Not all of the links to the notes work in the Kindle. The textual links and the links annotations at the beginning of chapters and books are especially unlikely to work. I hope that Amazon will be able to fix this problem as it does detract somewhat from the enjoyment of this book.

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