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Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler on the Hebrew Bible

Winner of the 2004 National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship, The Jewish Study Bible is a landmark, one-volume resource tailored especially for the needs of students of the Hebrew Bible. We sat down with co-editors Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler to talk about the revisions in the Second Edition of The Jewish Study Bible, and the Biblical Studies field as a whole.

What led to the decision to revise the Jewish Study Bible?

It has been ten years since the first edition of the Jewish Study Bible (JSB) was published. During that time our knowledge of the Bible and of ancient Israel has advanced tremendously. At the same time, a new generation of scholars has entered the field, with fresh approaches to the study of the Bible. We wanted to build on our very successful first edition by introducing our readers to new knowledge and new approaches.

How extensive are the revisions?

They are very extensive. Many books of the Bible have entirely new annotations/commentaries, by new authors, and all have been revised to reflect new scholarship. The essays have been revised, some by new authors. In addition, many new essays on a wide variety of topics have been added, ranging from topics such as the calendar to the place of the Bible in American Jewish culture.

What has changed in research in Biblical Studies since the publication of the first edition?

We now have a much broader and sophisticated appreciation of how the Bible came to be the Bible, and how its various parts were re-shaped and interpreted in ancient times. Much current emphasis is on the Persian and Hellenistic periods, when the biblical canon and its earliest interpretation were developing. The history and archaeology of these periods have given us a firmer grasp on how Jewish identity was being formed. This, in turn, helps us to better understand the development of the biblical text and its message for the audiences of those times. We recognize that there were multiple Jewish communities with differing views on certain matters, and we are sensitive to the many voices reflected (or suppressed) within the biblical books. Finally, even when scholars recognize that biblical books are composite and have a complex editorial history, it is valuable to examine the final form that an editor imposed upon them, and what this final form may mean.

Where do you see Biblical Studies heading in the next 10 years?

We are neither prophets not children of prophets (Amos 7:14). It is likely that further archaeological discoveries will help us better understand certain passages and institutions. Perhaps the debate raging about dating biblical literature will be resolved, and we will be able to better understand biblical books in their historical contexts. Finally, it is important to remember that Jewish participation in mainstream biblical scholarship began only half a century ago, and it is likely that in the coming decade Jewish scholars will find new ways of integrating classical Jewish sources with critical approaches.

What is the most important issue in the Biblical Studies field right now?

It is hard to single out just one important issue. Some of the older questions, like the history and growth of the biblical text, continue to engage scholars and they have proposed new models and new answers. A more recent development is the concern with biblical or ancient Jewish theology, a relatively neglected area until now. The general current interest in religion, religious concepts, and the importance of religious beliefs is shared by biblical scholars and has become a fruitful way to approach the study of the Bible.

Headline image credit: Rachel Preparing Bible Homework by David King. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

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