On Saturday evening I drove south to Great Barrington, to hear Dr. Marc Zvi Brettler and Dr. Amy Jill Levine speak about the Jewish Annotated New Testament at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire. (For background, here's the article I just wrote for the Berkshire Eagle: Jewish scholars give perspective on the New Testament.)
When I arrived, shortly before six, the parking lot was full; I had to drive further down to the overflow parking lot! The place was totally packed -- hundreds of people were present. (Midway through the event, someone asked any Christians present to raise their hands -- I'm guessing about a quarter of the room was Christian.)
Our speakers were introduced by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman, a member of Hevreh and also a member of the Berkshire Minyan which meets at Hevreh. The evening was co-sponsored by Christ Church Lutheran, St James Episcopal, Congregation Beth Israel, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, and the South Berkshire Friends Meeting.
"On this Saturday night I am struck by the fact that we are sitting together on a kind of bridge in sacred time. Saturday night marks the end of the Jewish Shabbat and precedes the Christian Sabbath. Resting on this bridge together, we are graced with a unique opportunity," said Rabba Stern-Kaufman. The Jewish Annotated New Testament, R' Stern-Kaufman said, "deepens the possibility of understanding and healing" between Judaism and Christianity.
Marc Zvi Brettler
When many people see the title of the book they think that this is a controversial book, noted Marc Brettler. The first blog entry he saw about the book began thus, "Without having read it, and I can guarantee you I never will, I can guess it's a new bold attempt by the rabbinic Talmudists to undermine the faith." (Looks to me like this is actually a comment on someone else's post.) Meanwhile, the first review on Amazon read, "It is evil for Christians to try to convert Jews...why don't you people leave us in peace?" You just can't win, he joked. But more seriously -- "we just could not find a better title for the book!"
Oxford University Press discovered long ago, he explained, that Bibles sell well. Fifteen years ago OUP was revising its standard college and church Bible, the New Oxford Annotated Bible, and the main editor contacted Brettler, saying that he wanted someone to be involved who was not Christian, in order to ensure that the newer editions would not draw the spurious distinction between the Old Testament God of law and war and the New Testament God of grace. A few years later came the Jewish Study Bible, in which the Hebrew Bible was commented-on by Jewish scholars -- it was remarkable, Brettler noted, that there were finally enough Jewish scholars for that volume to happen!
After he finished co-editing that, he said to his editor, partially in jest, "what would you think about a bunch of Jews getting together to do the New Testament the way we just did the Hebrew Bible?" It took his editor a few years to talk the rest of OUP into it, but here we are.
Edited to add: I've just had a lovely email exchange with an editor at OUP, who offered a gentle correction to the previous sentence of this post. He writes: "When I proposed the Jewish Annotated New Testament, the issue among my colleagues was not whether to commission and publish it – everyone agreed on that, once they saw the positive academic reviews – but rather whether it was a book for general readers or only for academics. Most of the people I worked with thought it would be a library and professional book, not one intended for non-experts." Many thanks to Don Kraus for the clarification!
"I think this book is important to different people for various different reasons," Brettler noted. "I am tired of hearing people talking about the Judeo-Christian heritage of America, implying that Judaism and Christianity are more or less the same thing!" He cited the book The Myth of Judeo-Christian Tradition and said he wished it were more widely-read. "Part of what worries me about this term, Judeo-Christian, is that it is often used in a pernicious sense, to exclude Muslims in various ways," he noted. And then, for a laugh, he held up the bumper sticker someone had sent him -- the fish with feet (Darwin-fish style) which reads "Gefilte."
I hope that we are able to respect each others' scriptures, which are different in a variety of ways, and that we can come to understand each others' scriptures... and get a sense for what the commonalities, as well as the differences, are.