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Jewish Journal

JewishJournal.com

November 26, 2011

Jewish perspectives on the New Testament

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/jewish_perspectives_on_the_new_testament_20111125/

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Prologue of the gospel of St. John from the Clementine Vulgate. Photo by Wikipedia/Jastrow

A new book of essays provides Jewish perspectives on the New Testament:

In The Jewish Annotated New Testament, eminent experts under the general editorship of Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Z. Brettler put these writings back into the context of their original authors and audiences. And they explain how these writings have affected the relations of Jews and Christians over the past two thousand years.

An international team of scholars introduces and annotates the Gospels, Acts, Letters, and Revelation from Jewish perspectives, in the New Revised Standard Version translation. They show how Jewish practices and writings, particularly the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, influenced the New Testament writers. From this perspective, readers gain new insight into the New Testament’s meaning and significance. In addition, thirty essays on historical and religious topics—Divine Beings, Jesus in Jewish thought, Parables and Midrash, Mysticism, Jewish Family Life, Messianic Movements, Dead Sea Scrolls, questions of the New Testament and anti-Judaism, and others—bring the Jewish context of the New Testament to the fore, enabling all readers to see these writings both in their original contexts and in the history of interpretation. For readers unfamiliar with Christian language and customs, there are explanations of such matters as the Eucharist, the significance of baptism, and “original sin.”

All of the scholars belong to the small cadre (not cabal) of Jewish experts on the New Testament. Mark Oppenheimer writes about the book for The New York Times:

Jewish scholars have typically been involved only with editions of the Old Testament, which Jews call the Hebrew Bible or, using a Hebrew acronym, the Tanakh. Of course, curious Jews and Christians consult all sorts of editions, without regard to editor. But among scholars, Christians produce editions of both sacred books, while Jewish editors consult only the book that is sacred to them. What’s been left out is a Jewish perspective on the New Testament — a book Jews do not consider holy but which, given its influence and literary excellence, no Jew should ignore.

So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus’ birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that “early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil.” He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a “magos.”

To an extent, the alternative perspectives on the New Testament remind me of the Jesus Seminar, except “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” is not about Jesus revisionism but about providing a Jewish perspective on Christian texts.

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