The Jewish Annotated NT and Catholic-Jewish dialogue

July 6th press release from the USCCB reports on recent Catholic-Jewish discussion focused, in part, on a ground-breaking annotated New Testament:

The semi-annual consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/National Council of Synagogues (USCCB/NCS) discussed the publication of Amy Jill Levine and Mark Zvi Brettler’s book, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2012) at their May 22 meeting in New York City. Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary of Baltimore, and Rabbi David Straus of the Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania co-chaired the meeting.

“The publication of Levine’s and Brettler’s comprehensive work on the New Testament represents an important milestone in Catholic-Jewish relations,” said Bishop Denis Madden, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. “Never before has a group of Jewish scholars made so learned and technical a reading of the New Testament. Clearly, this new effort reflects the progress we have made since the Second Vatican Council in mutual respect for each other’s sacred Scriptures.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of USCCB, joined the meeting to extend his greetings and welcome to all the participants. He made brief remarks on the central importance of Catholic-Jewish dialogue and, in particular, of the work done between the USCCB and National Council of Synagogues. He thanked all of the members present for their continued dedication.

Professor Amy Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University gave a brief overview of her work, co-edited with Professor Marc Brettler of Brandeis University, while Jesuit Father John Donahue, professor of New Testament at Loyola University, Baltimore, offered a Catholic response. Dialogue members then discussed various aspects of biblical studies, as well as how the publication of The Jewish Annotated New Testamentmarked a deepening of understanding in Catholic-Jewish relations. Levine stressed that it is vital for Jews to study the New Testament to gain respect for their Christian neighbors, even as Christians must do the same with the Hebrew Scriptures.

Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, remarked: “This important volume is testimony not only to the enormous competence of its editors and authors, but to the spirit of dialogue that can allow Jews to read and appreciate the Jewish context of Christian scriptures.”

In my March 6th interview with Dr. Levine and Dr. Brettler, I asked about the volume’s possible effect on Catholic-Jewish dialogue:

CWR: How might Catholic readers, in particular, benefit and learn from it?  

Dr. Levine: On the general topic of Jewish-Christian relations, the Catholic Church has been in the forefront of providing guidelines on how to teach and preach about Jews and Judaism. This volume compliments these efforts. We are also attentive to matters that Jews and Catholics hold in common: the ongoing interpretation of the shared Scripture (Old Testament/Tanakh); the concern for ritual; the role of Law; the relation of the New and Old Testaments. 

CWR: In addition to being the first annotated New Testament written entirely by Jewish scholars, what are some of the other unique or notable qualities of this volume?  

Dr. Levine and Dr. Brettler: This is the first annotated New Testament that fully contextualizes the New Testament in terms of both all the relevant Jewish and Greek sources of the period; it is the first to provide the detailed information on that context, as well as on how Jews have understood both Jesus and Paul over the past 2,000 years; it is the first to be intentional about addressing matters of Jewish-Christian relations; it is the first to highlight connections both between the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible and between the New Testament and later Jewish literature. … 

CWR: How have changes in Jewish-Christian relations in the past few decades paved the way for this sort of scholarly work? 

Dr. Levine: When I first started studying the New Testament, a relative asked me why I would read such a hateful, anti-Jewish book. I asked her if she had read it. “No,” she responded, “why would I read such a hateful, anti-Jewish book?” When I first entered my Ph.D. program in New Testament, I was not permitted to teach New Testament to Masters of Divinity candidates because I am a Jew. But times have changed. We now have a significant number of Jewish scholars with expertise in the New Testament and its context—enough to produce a Jewish Annotated New Testament. We now recognize that the New Testament is essential reading for the doing of Jewish history; we can come to the table of interfaith conversation with mutual respect, and with the ability to agree to disagree. 

To show the change in Jewish-Christian relations, and especially Jewish-Catholic relations: I am the New Testament book review editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterlyand have served on the executive committee of the Catholic Biblical Association; I have done numerous programs for seminarians (Catholic and Protestant) on avoiding anti-Jewish teaching and preaching; and I have also addressed the Italian Bishops’ Conference on the relation of Jesus to Judaism. 

CWR: What hopes do you have for The Jewish Annotated New Testament as far as furthering a healthy and meaningful inter-religious dialogue?  

Dr. Levine and Dr. Brettler: Perhaps the day will come when we can all better learn about, understand, and respect our neighbor’s tradition, and in developing that respect, come to an even deeper appreciation of what our own tradition teaches. We have edited and contributed to this volume as a step toward that day.

Read the entire CWR interview.

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.