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New book explores a Jewish view of the New Testament

March 19, 2012

NEW YORK

A new edition of the New Testament has done what none other has done before ― explain the core body of Christian writings through the lens of Judaism.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament, published by Oxford University Press, takes at its starting point the fact that the central figures in the New Testament ― Jesus, Mary, the apostle Paul, as well as the gospel writers ― were Jewish and lived in a Jewish cultural milieu.

The new volume, edited by American Jewish biblical scholars Amy-Jill Levine, who teaches at Vanderbilt University, and Marc Zvi Brettler, who teaches at Brandeis University, is being called a landmark for placing the New Testament text in historical and cultural context.

The book “fills a huge gap in the world of biblical interpretation,” said the Rev. William Brosend, who teaches at the School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, and who heads the Episcopal Preaching Foundation.

As one example of the annotations, the Jewish Annotated New Testament deals squarely with the issue of the Gospel of John and anti-Judaism. The editors note that the gospel has a number of explicit references to Judaism that are hostile, even though the book “draws extensively on Jewish tradition.”

They noted that “while John’s difficult rhetoric should not be facilely dismissed, it can be understood as part of the author’s process of self-definition, of distinguishing the followers of Jesus from the synagogue and so from Jews and Judaism.”

Asked by ENInews to characterize the reaction to the book so far, Brettler said it has been “overwhelmingly positive” across religious traditions, and among both conservatives and liberals. “If there has been any surprise, it is the surprised delight at how enthusiastic the response has been,” he said. 

Brettler said he has heard of groups planning on using the book for interfaith study, and some have even suggested producing a study guide for such groups. Most readers and nearly all scholars and journalists seem to “understand the book and its purposes,” he added.

“On Amazon and several blogs there have been some comments by people who never opened the book.  These range across a wide gamut, from Jews who feared that the book is a secret attempt at converting Jews to Christianity, and Christians, who had the reverse fear,” he said.

“These comments are the result of the fear and misunderstanding that the book attempts to ameliorate, and we are very happy that those who have actually opened the book have not expressed these reactions,” he said.

The book uses the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament.

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