I have yet to purchase a copy of the recently released Jewish Annotated New Testament, but plan to do so. I am looking forward to rummaging through its pages. It is edited by two fine Jewish scholars, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler.
Levine, who teaches New Testament at Vanderbilt Divinity School is a practicing Jew who grew up among Roman Catholics in Massachusetts. She has worked to build bridges of understanding between Jews and Christians, which includes understanding the New Testament in its Jewish context. Jesus and his disciples were Jews and there has been an unfortunate narrative woven throughout Christian history which has attempted to minimize or downright eradicate the Jewish context from the New Testament.
Fortunately within the past few decades, the Jewishness of Jesus and his contemporaries has found new life among Christian scholars of the New Testament, and now this annotated Bible from a Jewish scholarly perspective will continue to put the New Testament back into its rightful Jewish context. Jay Phelan, senior professor of Theological Studies at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, notes that "many Christian readers of the New Testament forget that it was written for people who were Jewish and who didn't see themselves as part of a new religion."
For those Christians opening the pages of this Bible thinking that it is a Jewish scholarly attempt to "disprove" Christianity will find something different. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that the annotations are written by Jewish scholars who are not Christian. They may not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but that does not mean that they fail to appreciate the life and ministry of Jesus, nor the New Testament documents which were written mostly (if not exclusively by Jews) who had come to believe in Jesus as God's Anointed One. Indeed, the very publication of the Jewish Annotated Bible demonstrates such an appreciation. Amy-Jill Levine observes that studying the New Testament has made her a better Jew. "It provides me deeper knowledge of Jewish history," she said. "I also find much of the New Testament profound and compelling, from the parables of the Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, and Sheep and Goats to Paul's lovely comments on love in 1 Corinthians."
Rabbi Mark Shiftan notes the advancements that have been made in Jewish and Christian relations. "You've got Jews who can sit and learn about the New Testament and not be afraid of it," he said. "And you've got Gentiles gathering in a synagogue to learn about Judaism because it was Jesus's faith."
I applaud this endeavor. There is nothing contradictory in believing that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lord and Savior of the world (as I do) and working for a better understanding between Christians and Jews, which will in turn result in a better understanding of ourselves as Christians and Jews. Christian scholars have poured over the pages of Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) for centuries. Jewish scholars are now working through the pages of the New Testament. I for one am glad to welcome them to that endeavor.