Friday, February 24, 2012

Article on Jewish Annotated New Testament

In this coming week's edition of the Catholic paper Our Sunday Visitor there is an interesting article, by Carl Olson, dealing with the recently published The Jewish Annotated New Testament from Oxford University Press. The article includes an interview with one of the volume's editors, Amy-Jill Levine. I own Oxford's Jewish Study Bible, which has provided some wonderful insights for my class on Thursday nights. Perhaps this new volume might need to be included in my library as well. The translation used for The Jewish Annotated New Testament is the NRSV.

Below is a snippet from the article that I found interesting:

“The Jewish Annotated New Testament” reflects the co-editors’ desire, first, to encourage Jews to open the New Testament and read it without fear or prejudice, especially when it comes to passages that might seem anti-Jewish.

“We felt that Jewish readers might be more comfortable reading the New Testament if it dealt explicitly with such issues,” the co-editors told OSV, “and if the annotations and essays were written entirely by Jews, so it was clear that the volume was not intending to proselytize.”

A second audience is Christian readers who wish to learn more about the first-century Jewish context in which Jesus lived and the Gospels and other New Testament books that were written. Some specific examples: “how Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood the parables; how Jesus’ interpretation of Torah and his ethical teachings fit within first-century Judaism; how proclamations of Jesus’ divinity could be accepted by early Jews, and how understandings of the ‘messiah’ change over time.” To this end, the volume often highlights the common roots shared by Jews and Christians, but without glossing over or ignoring the significant differences between Jewish and Christian beliefs.

The third group consists of secular readers who “want to understand the New Testament in its historical context.”

You can read the whole article here.


Theophrastus said...

I have this book, and have commented on it here and on my blog.

I think it does contain a lot of useful material, but the notes are often kept short limiting their usefulness (the length is about the same as the 4th edition of the NOAB, which this volume is typographically similar to.)

I was planning on using it as part of your Philippians study. But I think this is definitely a secondary reference book -- not as useful as Oxford's Jewish Study Bible.

owen swain said...

I was very interested until reading Theophrastus's note. Now I think I need to look up those other comments and consider the O.JSB.

Carl E. Olson said...

I have both the Jewish Study Bible and the Jewish Annotated New Testament (of course, since I wrote the OSV column mentioned above), and I think they are very much companion works. Actually, if anything, I think the notes for JANT are possibly more expansive than those for the JSB. There is some variation from book to book, as might be expected, but most pages contain nearly as much (or more) commentary text as Scripture text (in terms of word count), possible due to the annoyingly small sans serif typeface. That said, I also think it is a secondary reference work, but a very good and helpful one at that.

owen swain said...

Appreciate that additional info Carl.

Anonymous said...


I've just got Jewish Annotated New Testament this week. So far I only read sidebars, introductions to the Gospels and am going through essays. It's too early to pass a judgment but I rather won't be overenthusiastic about it.
Theophrastus's note says aptly everything about this NT. Useful but short. I hope for many insights when reading NT itself together with notes.

Certainly it provides an interesting perspective on the New Testament and its world. Let's hope it's just a beginning of such endeavors.

As I'm quite interested in Jewish roots of Christianity so I purchased JANT without much deliberation and don't regret it (extra bonus: now I've got NT NRSV).

Small drawback in JANT: text is without headings which are only in the notes.

Tim I think you should like it and find it useful.


Theophrastus and Tim you both praise Oxford's Jewish Study Bible for it's usefulness but it doesn't seem to be heavily annotated. Are you able to convince me to spend say $30 in order to purchase it? I'm not eligible for free shipping as I'm not from US ;-)


Timothy said...


Thanks for the comments and perspective. I thought u had referenced you as the author, but alas I did not. I'll make sure to note that.

Timothy said...


I think the JSB has a fair amount of annotation, including a number of helpful essays on interpretation, history, and archaeology. If you can view some pages and get a feel of the volume, I would do that. Perhaps you could get a used copy? I would second what Theophrastus and Carl said in regards to it being a secondary resource. However, I think it would be very useful, alongside a competed Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and Catholic Study Bible from Oxford (if corrected).

Pomeranian Catholic said...

I perused the volume and I actually wasn't too impressed. I didn't find anything that I hadn't already read in a Catholic or generic Christian commentary, and the material in this book didn't go near as deep as those. There also seems to be a love affair going on with higher criticism of the Rudolf Bultmann variety, which makes sense because obviously you can't have a strictly Jewish commentary that's perfectly okay with Christian claims, but the end result was more an apologetic for modern scholarship than classical Jewish thought. Sadly, this book is simply a reformed/liberal Jewish look at the New Testament, which for all intents and purposes is the same thing you could find in free pamphlets passed out by Unitarians on any college campus.

In sum, is the information contained in this volume useful? Definitely. But there's much better, cheaper, and higher quality places to find it.

Theophrastus said...

I don't think the comparisons between the Jewish Study Bible (JSB) and the Jewish Annotated New Testament (JANT) are well-founded (even though they share a common publisher, Oxford, and a common editor, Marc Brettler.)

First, compared with a typical study Bible, the JSB contains vastly more annotation than is typical for the Hebrew Bible, while the JANT contains similar or slightly less annotation than is typical for the New Testament. Compare, for example, the annotations in Leviticus in the JSB to your favorite study Bible. I'm pretty sure you will find JSB to stronger here than most generic academic study Bibles. In that sense, the JSB is providing something that single-volume study Bible's do not usually provide.

The same point can be made about the accompanying essays at the end of the book -- the JSB has almost 300 pages of additional essay material (this does not include introductions to individual biblical books or sections) while the JANT has almost 100 pages of additional essay material. The books cost almost the say at Amazon ($23.74 for the JANT, $24.14 for the JSB) but you are getting more for your buck with the JSB.

Finally, I detect a difference in material written by believers versus non-believers. I am not saying one type of writing is more scholarly or more accurate than the other, but speaking for myself, I would rather read material written by believers (even if it is written in a historical-critical fashion.) By definition, the JSB writers are all (or almost all) believers in the Hebrew Bible, while the JANT writers are non-believers in the New Testament. Thus, in a sense, the JSB is an "insider's view" while the JANT is an "outsider's view." (Of course, Christian commentators believe in the Hebrew Bible as well, but in a different way: for example, the laws in the Pentateuch are historical relics to some Christian commentators, while they are binding laws to some Jewish commentators.)

I hope this clarifies my remarks above. I do think the JANT is an interesting volume (although it is a bit of an oddity). If you have the time and interest to read it, by all means do so -- but I suspect that you will find other commentaries more useful.

Anonymous said...

Theophrastus and Tim,

Yes indeed, in comparison to other study Bibles I've checked the JSB provides more annotations. Also the essay material with its 300 pages is almost like an extra book attached to this Bible. Now I'll reconsider obtaining it.

Great thanks to you both!
Your opinions on this blog are always very much appreciated and were very helpful for me in making purchasing decisions.