I confess that I am among those Jews about whom Professors Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler write in the introduction to their recently published The Jewish Annotated New Testament who tend to “believe that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion.” My experience with Christian missionaries and proselytizers of all sorts has made it very difficult for me to see the Christian Bible as anything other than a tool for persuading me to give up my own religious tradition as obsolete at best. I realize this is not rational. The book is a book, nothing more; it’s the Christians who have tried to put the book in my hand or who have brought quotes from it to prove to me the error of my ways who deserve the suspicion and distrust that I feel. Nonetheless, like any irrational belief, this one has been hard to shake, and I have tried, even assigning portions of the New Testament in one of my literature classes as a way of forcing myself to read it. I read it; I taught it; but it left a bad taste in my mouth and I have not picked the text up again.
I am thinking about this because The Jewish Annotated New Testament got a write-up in The New York Times this weekend, and it seems that even Jewish Biblical scholars have developed the habit of not dealing with the Christian holy book in their work. As Mark Oppenheimer, the article’s author writes:
As any visitor to the book expo at the [American Academy of Religion] conference discovered, there is a glut of Bibles and Bible commentaries. One of the exhibitors, Zondervan, publishes hundreds of different Bibles, customized for your subculture, niche or need. Examples include a Bible for those recovering from addiction; the Pink Bible, for women “who have been impacted by breast cancer”; and the Faithgirlz! Bible, about which the publisher writes: “Every girl wants to know she’s totally unique and special. This Bible says that with Faithgirlz! sparkle!”
Nearly all these Bibles are edited by and for Christians. The Christian Bible comprises the Old and New Testaments, so editors offer a Christian perspective on both books. For example, editors might add a footnote to the story of King David, in the Old Testament books I and II Samuel, reminding readers that in the New Testament, David is an ancestor of Jesus.
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, many 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 generally 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.
He is, of course, correct. No Jew should ignore the New Testament, especially for the irrational reasons that have led me to do so for most of my life, and so it is nice to know that an edition of that text now exists which uses as an editorial and critical framework a perspective that counts me as an insider.
Cross-posted on It’s All Connected.