Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler are the editors of the new second edition of The Jewish Annotated New Testament. We caught up with them to discuss and ask questions related to the editing process, biblical studies, and the status and importance of Jewish-Christian relations.
In what areas, in your opinion, have Jewish-Christian relations improved, and where is there still more work to be done?
The greatest benefit is our recognition of our common histories: Jews are becoming increasingly familiar with the New Testament as a source of Jewish history, and of how selective interpretations of those texts create hatred of Jews and Judaism. Christians are more aware of the Jewish contexts of Jesus and Paul, and of how knowledge of those contexts can deepen their faith.
You mention the concept of “holy envy” in the Editor’s Preface of the first edition and discuss 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Could you speak a little bit more about what “holy envy” is and perhaps give another example or two of times you experienced it while working on this project?
“Holy envy” refers to the idea that one’s religious tradition does not contain all of the wisdom in the world, and that as we study other traditions, we find ourselves deeply appreciating those texts, practices, and ideas. We find in studying Jesus and Paul, comments that deeply resonate with us. Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 resonates across the centuries; Jesus’ parables provide brilliant examples of Jewish wisdom.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve gained through the process of working on this project, be it professional, spiritual, or personal?
Levine: Working with a co-editor who knows his material, who asks the right questions, and who makes all contributions better by his gentle but firm nudging.
Brettler: All the same things as Amy, plus for me, as a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism, this was my first serious extended engagement with early Christianity, which I now understand and appreciate much better than before.
What trends do you see in biblical studies and scholarship today?
We are moving increasingly toward readings based on our own subject positions: Korean theological readings, Womanist readings, Post-colonial readings, readings from the perspective of disability studies, and so on. These are all to the good. Yet if we lose the history, or we simply make historical approaches one of many equally valid approaches, we wind up erasing the very subject positions, the very cultural contexts, in which the figures and writers of the New Testament lived.
What do you think should be the biggest focus in biblical studies today?
We would not reduce biblical studies to one focus. All textual studies can begin with the question, ‘what does this text mean to you?’ Biblical studies then needs a few more questions: ‘What has this text meant over time?’ ‘What might it have meant in its original context?’ People who hold the text to be sacred will have even more questions: ‘what is the ‘‘Good News’ in this verse?’ ‘How would God want me to act?’ In the context of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, we would emphasize: ‘What do we learn when we hear Jesus as a Jew speaking to other Jews?’ ‘What do we learn when we recognize that Paul is a Jew speaking not to Jews but to gentiles?’
We care deeply about both the problems and the opportunities that biblical texts present, and we believe that it is always important to explore two opposing questions. First we ask how select interpretations have harmed others, whether women, people enslaved, Jews and other religious and ethnic groups, people with physical disabilities, people who choose life partners outside select biblical norms, and so on. Second, we ask how the Bible has led and might lead to flourishing and liberation?
Featured Image credit: Jerusalem Old City from Mount of Olives by Wayne McLean (Jgritz). CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.