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Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Jewish Study Bible

Today I glanced through the Bibles section of the CBD catalog which we receive. I noted The Jewish Study Bible for sale and thought to myself how good it is to see such a Bible, with study notes from Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish scholarship, in this catalog from a large Christian bookstore. The Jewish Study Bible uses the most recent version of the Tanakh, produced by the Jewish Publication Society. A number of my Bible translation coworkers appreciate this Bible translation and refer to it as one of their translation resource tools. I believe that the early church hurt itself so badly before and near the time of Constantine's embrace of Christianity (and, obviously thoughout much of history since then) when it cut itself off so much from its Jewish roots. Anti-Semitism can fester in Christian churches which do not pay adequate attention to the Jewish foundations of their own faith. Too often Christian translations of the Bible make little, if any, reference to Jewish biblical scholarship during the translation process. Such a loss!

We simply cannot understand much of what Jesus said and Paul wrote if we are not aware of how very Jewish those things were. We cannot understand the metaphors, idioms, and indirect speech forms that Jesus employed so often unless we study them within their original Jewish context, as they were spoken in a typical rabbinical fashion. I want to thank this blog's frequent visitor and commenter (Anonymous) for continuing to stimulate my thinking in this area until I decided it was time to blog a bit on the deep Jewishness, not only, of course, of the Hebrew Bible, but also of the New Testament. There is much more that could be said on this topic which is directly relevant to the production of better translations of the Bible, but I am running late tonight and I need some sleep. I hope we can return to this topic in the future.


At Mon Jul 10, 03:43:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Mon Jul 10, 07:27:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

this comment is so large now that I fear it will be rejected by our good moderators

Nah, we don't do such things! :-)

At Mon Jul 10, 11:05:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

I almost bought one of the Jewish Study Bibles (I believe it is published by Oxford isn't it?) about a year ago. It is still on my list of things to get. I was thinking about coupling it with a small N. T. such as the ISV or something similar, so I could take it to church with me. 'Cause, there is a "complete Jewish Bible", but it is rather suspect. The JPS has done a great job over the years though. I have used the NJPS and the original JPS in studying, and find it useful.

Wayne, you mentioned that:

We simply cannot understand much of what Jesus said and Paul wrote if we are not aware of how very Jewish those things were.

This is, of course, very true, However, we must also keep in mind the extreme differences between what Jesus taught, and much of the typical Rabbinical teaching of the day as well. I think Edersheim brought this out quite well in many of his writings. I believe that stressing similarities and differences is imporant. It helps to create respect.

On the whole Anti-Semitism thing, No race, sex or creed is safe from persecution. History has taught us this.

At Mon Jul 10, 12:25:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Mon Jul 10, 02:44:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

The Complete Jewish Bible is a paraphrase by David Stern of the Protestant Bible, with some Hebrew terminology thrown into the New Testament portions.

You are correct.

...I think that Bible translators and commentators have a special responsibility to present this material in the clearest and most honest way possible.

You mean the Biblical text I assume? This is true, many new Bibles are translating blanket terms such as "The Jews", and others similar to it, in a more accurate fashion based on modern scholarship and the understanding of passages. Newer translations routinely use things such as "the high council", the "pharisees", the "leaders", the "jewish leaders", and things like this to try to portray somewhat more accurately who is probably intended. Thoughts on how culture or race relates to who you are are changing dramatically, which is probably why, as a young lad growing up, anti-semitism or anti-jewishness, never even occurred to my young brain.

Regarding Edersheim, while his work was groundbreaking for its day, it is also seriously flawed on matters of fact.

He is from quite some time ago, really when a lot of this type of information was starting to come out in a palatable fashion. It is a given that his work will contain errors, even some that are grievous. Doesn't mean the man's work was wholesale bad. You have to use old books/research such as this, and even most new books/research in a responsible fashion. Cross check ideas, verify theories, substantiate facts, etc. I will look into the first book that you mentioned. I have read a few volumes on Judaism, history of the Jewish people, and even a few books that were strange, to say the least (Jesus The Heretic by Lockhart I believe).

Thanks for your recommendation.

At Mon Jul 10, 03:03:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon, it seems to me that Hebrew seems to be harder to learn than Greek simply because of its writing system, which is very different from our western one. I learned Greek writing very quickly, because I was already familiar with most of the letters from mathematics, and with the rather similar Cyrillic alphabet (for I had learned Russian at school). But it has taken me very much longer to be able to read Hebrew writing fluently. However, I would reckon that apart from that factor Hebrew has actually been easier to learn than Greek.

At Mon Jul 10, 07:32:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

"The Jewish Study Bible" is indeed the Oxford University Press volume; it shares some content with "The New Oxford Annotated Bible. (My copies also share a bookshelf; along with the "Oxford Annotated" RSV, "The HarperCollins Study Bible," the "New Jerusalem Bible," and the "JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh" and a UBS Greek New Testament, at hand for quick reference.)

As I pointed out in a review on Amazon a couple of years ago, "The Jewish Study Bible" draws on traditional commentaries, but is itself modern and "critical" (e.g., use of references to JE and P in explaining a passage).

For those unfamiliar with the major medieval Jewish commentators (many best-known by acronyms; Rashi, Rashbam, Ramban, Radak, etc.), the chapter in "Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts" (edited by Barry W. Holtz, 1984) may still be the most convenient and attractive introduction to them, and their various approaches.

Robert Alter more recently has been calling attention to the comparatively neglected post-medieval Jewish commentators, some of whom he regards as acute literary critics, although from a cultural point of view their influence has been minor.

At Mon Jul 10, 10:26:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Mon Jul 10, 11:10:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

Since I was specifically talking about a "convenient and attractive introduction" for the complete novice, I stand by my statement. Your own experience with the essays in Holtz suggests that they do indeed have considerable appeal, which for this purpose may be more important than a lack of depth.

Yes, I would agree that Walfish on Medieval and Breuer on Post-Medieval interpretation in JSB are excellent factual surveys. They are also extremely compressed, and dry in an encyclopedia-article way, which I think many readers will find a less-than-engaging string of names and dates.

Alter doesn't (so far as I recall) provide a comparable survey of the later (sixteenth-to-nineteenth-century) traditional-minded commentators. But from time to time, in the context of books and translations, he cites particular readings of passages which suggest that some of them have yet to be appreciated as literary critics; a matter which Breuer doesn't raise, and which I haven't seen elsewhere, either.


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