Amy-Jill LEVINE and Marc Zvi BRETTLER (eds). The Jewish Annotated New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 700 pages $35.00 hardback. ISBN13:9780195297706ISBN10:0195297709.
Reviewed by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas 48207

This new commentary on the New Testament certainly adds an important voice to modern NT commentary and is essential reading not only for biblical scholars but seminarians and preachers. It also is a further step in Vatican II’s encouragement of ecumenism and condemnation of anti-Semitism. The commentaries (by a team of important scholars) summarize relevant information for each book—literary genre, style, structure, themes, theological information—but frequently add information that other, Christian commentators neglect, such as references to Jewish authorities important for understanding Judaism, as is the case with the commentary on Matthew , the most Jewish of gospels. (See footnotes in the introduction to “b.B.Metz.87b; m.Qidd.4.14; b.Pesah.66a; b.Sanh.17a; y.Seb.9.1.38d; Gen.Rab.92.7”—admittedly obscure references, but indicative of a larger world needed to appreciate Matthew’s portrait of Jesus.

The supplementary features to the New Testament by themselves warrant adding this commentary to your library: First, the tables: especially those which will be especially helpful for Christians (“Some Tannaitic Rabbis”; “Some Amoraic Rabbis” (see the glossary on Tanna and Amora); Calendar; Weights and Measures; and “Divisions and Tractates of the Mishnah, Talmud, and Tosefta”), then the eighty pages of essays.

The essays summarize historical and cultural background information about the Jewish world of Jesus and invite Christians interested in interreligious dialogue to reconsider their views or “stereotypes” of early Judaism and the historical Jesus. See co-editor Amy-Jill Levine’s opening essay “Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made about Early Judaism”, especially on the “misconceptions” that remain in “some Christian preaching and teaching.” Recently I experienced the first of her ‘misconception’ in a homily at Sunday mass – a pastor’s contrast between Jewish “law” and Christian ”grace” in explaining Jesus’ healing of the woman with hemorrhaging (her ‘impurity’ because of the law...Jesus touched her to cure her).

A couple other essays I found especially important, were: “The New Testament between the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and Rabbinic Literature” by Marc Zvi Brettler, especially Brettler’s comment that contextualizes the NT emphasis on Isaiah’s suffering servant by noting rabbinic Judaism’s widely diverse and different priorities. The essay: “The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics” by Michael Fagenblat encourages rethinking traditional Christian interpretations of Jesus words about love of God and neighbor. According to Fagenblat, the “historical Jesus was probably closer to the Jewish position” (love your neighbor as yourself was “a principle for regulating others laws”) “than to later Christian interpretation” (love God in conjunction with love of neighbor as “a substitute for the entire law.”

Other essays are christological, especially “Logos, a Jewish Word: John’s Prologue as Midrash”, which retrieves information from Philo and rabbinic theology that indicate the idea of the Trinity in the Prologue may already be present in pre-Christian Jewish accounts; or “Jesus in Modern Jewish Thought”, where the modern trajectory of Jewish christological thinking includes insights from Paula Fredriksen and Susan Heschel, the author of the essay.

The commentaries on the books of the New Testament are scholarly and concise (introductions to each book, comments in footnotes and sidebar essays on related topics scattered throughout). The Jewish viewpoint and content vary according to the book (Luke and Acts more “Christian”; Matthew, John, Paul more “Jewish”) and the author of the commentary. One problematic comment I found (in the Introductions to “The First Letter of Peter” – by Claudia Setzer, and Acts – by Gary Gilbert) was the statement that Acts was “probably written in the early second century”, although Luke-Acts is normally: dated to 80-90 C.E.

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