New Testament edition meant for Jews, Christians

Jewish-annotated edition a best-seller on Amazon religion lists

Marc Z. Brettler, the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies

It is not often that a bunch of professors’ scholarly work on an ancient religious text shoots past the thrillers, diet fads and self-improvement books that dominate the rapidly changing best-sellers list.

But that’s what happened over Thanksgiving break with the just-published book The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” edited by Marc Z. Brettler, the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis, and Amy-Jill Levine, the University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt.

The book peaked at number 31 of Amazon’s top 100 in all categories, and while it then settled back a bit it was still number one yesterday in both the “Bible and Other Sacred Texts” and “Christian Reference” categories. It also was the subject of a feature story last weekend in the New York Times.

The editors will hold a book party and discussion at Brandeis at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 in the International Lounge of Usdan Hall. Father Walter Cuenin, head of the Brandeis Interfaith Chaplaincy; Rabbi Elyse Winick, the Jewish chaplain, and Barry Shrage, director of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston also will speak. 

“I had this idea after ‘The Jewish Study Bible’ was published,” says Brettler, referring to a similarly organized work that came out in 2004 and won the National Jewish Book Award. “People were excited about that, and I thought it would be interesting to try another such project. The New Testament seemed to be the logical book to do next.”

More than 30 people, all Jews, contributed introductions, annotations and essays to the new book.

“I wanted more Jews to read the New Testament and understand the majority religion in America,” Brettler said. “It also is important for Jews to know their history, and the New Testament is important to that, since the first Christians were Jews.”

But, Brettler said, “I knew Jews shied away from reading the New Testament" both because othey thought New Testaments from Christian publishers sought to proselytize and because the New Testament is deeply connected in the Jewish psyche with anti-Jewish attitudes. Because all the contributors to the project were Jews, he said, he hopes Jewish readers would feel more comfortable reading the volume.

Brettler also believed there would be a receptive Christian audience for the work. “Many Christians understand that some references in the New Testament have played a significant role in Christians' attitudes toward Jews. It is important for people to be able to talk about problematic passages in a candid and non-apologetic fashion,” he said. “Also, there has been a lot of interest among Christians about the Jewish background of the New Testament. There is much misunderstanding about this issue, and this volume talks about it in a systematized and scholarly way.

Brettler earned his bachelor’s, masters and Ph.D. degrees from Brandeis and has been teaching here for 26 years. In addition to co-editing “The Jewish Study Bible,” he wrote “How to Read the Jewish Bible” and other books and articles, many of which focus on metaphor and the Bible, the nature of biblical historical texts, gender issues and the Bible and the reuse of the Bible in later Jewish culture.

Levine’s other publications include The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus,” “The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us, co-authored with Douglas Knight; she edited Historical Jesus in Context and the 14-volume Feminist Companions to the New Testament and Early Christian Writings.”

A self-described Yankee Jewish feminist, Levine is a member of an Orthodox synagogue, though she notes that she “is often quite unorthodox.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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