Holy Envy

The Jewish Annotated New Testament Edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler Oxford University Press, $35, 700 pp.

The intrepid Harold Bloom once called the New Testament the greatest act of plagiarism in the history of literature. That might sound hyperbolic; but if you include, along with the Hebrew Scriptures (the Tanakh, in Jewish usage), the vast Jewish inter-testamental literature not included in the Jewish canon of the Bible (“outside books,” as the rabbis called them), it’s a reasonable assessment. Indeed, almost every verse in the New Testament finds some sort of echo or parallel in the Tanakh or other ancient Jewish literature, including the much later Talmud. Such echoes surely help explain why Christians have written commentaries on the books of the “Old Testament” for two thousand years. Now, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Jewish scholars—fifty of them—take their turn at bat. It’s a magnificent achievement, comparable in its way to the Jerome Biblical Commentary, written by Roman Catholic scholars in the heady days after the Second Vatican Council. I cut my biblical teeth on the JBC and still revere it, but the Jewish commentary under review is much more user-friendly,- appealing to a broader and biblically less sophisticated audience.

First let me describe its structure. The text reproduces the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, the closest to the Greek of any modern translation. Each book comes with a brief introduction addressing standard issues of date, authorship, provenance,...

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About the Author

Frank Oveis was an editor of theological and religious books at Seabury, Crossroad, and Continuum for thirty-four years before his retirement in 2007.