Jews Reading the New Testament
Is that just another way of saying, “Jews behaving badly”? Not according to Amy-Jill Levine, the co-editor, along with Marc Zvi Brettler, of The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). “The more I study New Testament,” Dr. Levine told the New York Times, “the better Jew I become.”
Why is it the case that Jews plumb the depths of their own faith even as they read the New Testament? Writing from the perspective of Jewish scholars, Levine and Brettler put it thusly in their preface (xii-xiii): “there is much in the New Testament that we find both meaningful and compelling.” ‘[M]any of the passages in the New Testament provide an excellent encapsulation of basic, ongoing, Jewish values.” There are even passages in the New Testament Jews will find “deeply compelling” to the point of eliciting what the editors call – borrowing a phrase from Krister Stendahl – “holy envy.” The example given: Paul’s unsurpassed description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.1
The Jewish Annotated New Testament, hereafter JANT in this review, is meant to meet the needs of discrete (and occasionally overlapping) sets of readers: (1) Jews, (2) Christians, and (3) readers who approach the New Testament without any intention to appropriate what they learn within the framework of a Jewish or Christian metanarrative. JANT annotates the New Testament without attempting to persuade the reader to embrace a non-Christian perspective on the text. At the same time, it models a critical, empathetic, non-Christian reading of the New Testament at every turn.