November 26, 2011
UNDERESTIMATING THE CHARISMA:Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament (MARK OPPENHEIMER, 11/25/11, NY Times)
So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus's birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that "early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil." He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a "magos."
Because the rationalist Philo uses the Greek word "magos" derisively -- less a wise man than a donkey-whisperer -- we might infer that at least some educated Jewish readers, like Philo, took a dim view of magi. This context helps explain some Jewish skepticism toward the Gospel of Matthew, but it could also attest to how charismatic Jesus must have been, to overcome such skepticism.
This volume is thus for anybody interested in a Bible more attuned to Jewish sources. But it is of special interest to Jews who "may believe that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion," Drs. Levine and Brettler write in their preface. "This volume, edited and written by Jewish scholars, should not raise that suspicion."
Jews who peek inside these forbidding covers will also find essays anticipating the arguments of Christian evangelists. Confronted by Christians who extol their religion's conceptions of neighbor love or the afterlife, for example, many Jews do not know their own tradition's teachings. So "The Jewish Annotated New Testament" includes essays like "The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics" and "Afterlife and Resurrection."
Of course, the important thing is that they don't know it because of the reaction to Christ.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2011 6:25 AM
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