Review: Jewish Study Bible

Below is a review from This Lamp reader, "Larry," who has promised us a series detailing some of the "academic" study Bibles currently in print. This Lamp readers who are interested in Bible translations may not be as familiar with the NJPS which is examined in this review as well. Throughout his review, Larry makes a case for why the Jewish Study Bible is of value to the Christian reader.

The Bible is a tough read. The source text is ancient, and spans millennia. It was written in foreign languages that cannot always be clearly understood even by native speakers of modern Greek and modern Hebrew. Perhaps some grow up always learning about Scripture, and others prefer to use translations in an “inductive” fashion to try to forge a fresh understanding of Scripture. But many of us benefit from annotations, lessons, and commentaries. Of course, these are available in a variety of formats – including some excellent single volume commentaries (I can highly recommend Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible (2003), Oxford Bible Commentary (2001), and the New Jerome Bible Commentary (1989), book-by-book commentaries, monographs and collections of essays, academic and popular journals, audio sermons, classical commentary, etc. But these massive collections are often daunting, and at best they require multiple books be used. What about someone who wants a single volume reference source; or alternatively desires a high-level introduction to the biblical canon?

This is the first of a series of reviews on major study Bibles. My initial reviews focus on study Bibles used in academic settings. These Bibles tend to feature critical approaches to Bible reading – a style that is well suited to secular academic studies, but only one of many ways of reading scripture. Even in secular settings of the Bible, other approaches to Scripture are studying the literary features of the Bible, studying the history of interpretation and use of the Bible, and so forth. These study Bibles do not take for granted that the readers will necessarily be reading from a religious perspective; and a person who seeks a devotional reading of the Bible may find the treatment in these works cold or alien to a religious perspective. Nonetheless, the study Bibles I will consider have a wide variety of uses:

  • they often serve as textbooks (typically at the college level, although they are not uncommonly used in some seminaries);
  • they can serve as a self-study resource for a person who seeks to learn the Bible on his or her own;
  • they are convenient reference sources;
  • they can be used in certain religious settings (for example, I understand that the New Interpreter’s Study Bible is used in some mainline denominations such as the United Methodist Church and the Episcopalian Church USA for discipleship classes); or
  • they often serve to document “semi-official” insights into translations, since they are edited by individuals associated with major translations or individuals associated with prestigious academic study societies (such as the Society for Biblical Literature.)

The genre of study Bible was largely pioneered by the influential 1965 Oxford Annotated Bible edited by Herbert May and Bruce Metzger (note that the Wikipedia attribution to Metzger and Murphy is mistaken). This 1965 volume was a relatively simple annotation of the Revised Standard Version (with Apocrypha) for college courses; its direct 2007 successor (the 3rd Augmented Edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible) has more than twice the number of pages (and those pages are substantially larger). A typical study Bible will feature book introductions, extensive annotations, additional essays and materials, glossaries, indices, diagrams and maps.The success of the genre can be seen not only by the large variety of editions available, but by the fact that the genre is now popular in circles that stretch far beyond traditional secular audiences: there are study Bibles today for Evangelicals, Traditional Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish Orthodox, and other faith-based communities. In this series, I hope to consider the following study Bibles:

• JSB: Jewish Study Bible (Oxford 2004) [NJPS]
• NOAB: New Oxford Annotated Study Bible (3rd Augmented Edition) (Oxford 2007) [NRSV]
• NISB: New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Abingdon 2003) [NRSV]
• HSB: HarperCollins Study Bible (2nd edition) (HarperSan Francisco 2006) [NRSV]
• CSB: Catholic Study Bible (2nd edition) (Oxford 2006) [NAB]
• OSB: Oxford Study Bible (Oxford 1992) [REB]
• WSP: Writings of St. Paul (2nd edition) (Norton 2007) [TNIV]
• ECR: Early Christian Reader (Hendrickson 2004) [NRSV]

I also hope to consider two especially interesting study Bibles primarily directed at specific faith communities

• TSB: TNIV Study Bible (Zondervan 2006) [TNIV]
• OSBNT: Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms (Conciliar Press Edition) (Conciliar Press 1997)

It is tempting to categorize Bibles with terms such as “conservative” or “liberal”, but these terms are too ambiguous to capture subtle distinctions. The terms are ambiguous because they there are so many issues which are captured here, a sampling includes issues of gender, issues of Jewish-Christian relations, issues of sectarian and denominational divisions, issues of formal translation versus paraphrase, issues of varying trends in scholarship, issues of contemporary politics, and issues of historical politics. I believe that use of these terms tends to reflect sloppy thinking – we all have ranked ourselves somewhere on the liberal-conservative scale, and if someone tells us that a particular book is liberal or conservative, we have a tendency to judge the book on that simple scale alone, rather than dealing with the multi-faceted issues that arise in reading texts. Once again, Wikipedia provides an example of this sort of sloppy thinking: its article on the Oxford Annotated Bible states: “The third edition . . . is considered to be much more liberal and ecumenical in approach. For example, it calls the Old Testament the `Hebrew Bible’ out of consideration to Jewish readers.” This quote is not only an example of bad writing (one only wonders who is doing the “considering”, why the unnecessary "in approach") ; it is hopelessly confused on numerous issues (the NRSV itself entitles the section “The Hebrew Scriptures Commonly Called the Old Testament”; and early editions the Oxford Annotated Bible has had the words “An Ecumenical Study Bible” on the cover) and its use of “liberal” and “conservative” is at best unclear. It doesn’t seem that this use of terminology is an issue of liberalism or conservatism, but even if it were, a Jewish reader would probably consider “Hebrew Scriptures” the conservative choice.

An overview of the Jewish Study Bible
The Jewish Study Bible
Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors
Michael Fishbane, consulting editor
Translation: New Jewish Publication Society Translation
Hebrew Scriptures: yes
Deuterocanon: no
Christian Scriptures: no
Current Amazon price: $29.70
xxvi + 2181 + 16 map pages
  • Lengthy introduction to books and major sections
  • 37 black and white diagrams and maps
  • 16 page color map section, with 9 large color maps.
  • Listing of traditional sources with mini-glossary
  • 21 page glossary
  • Index and map index
  • Table of verse differences between standard English numbering and Hebrew numbering
  • Table of Jewish lectionary
  • Hebrew calendar discussion
  • Timeline (Egypt/Israel/Mesopotamia)
  • Chronology of rulers in Egypt/Syria/Assyria/Babylonia/Persia/Roman Empire/Israel
  • Table of weights and measures
  • Bibliography of translations of primary sources
  • 278 pages of additional essays

The editors of the volume are

  • Adele Berlin (University of Maryland), who holds a named chair in Biblical studies, was head of the Meyerhoff Center, was former associate Provost. She was also a former president of the Society for Biblical Literature. She has written three biblical commentary volumes (for the Anchor Bible, Westminster Old Testament Library, and the JPS Bible Commentary series), a number of additional books.
  • Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University) who holds a named chair and chairs the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. He was co-editor of the NOAB, the author of a major textbook on Biblical Hebrew, and is well known for his teaching, which is reflected in a very nice volume he wrote called How to Read the Bible.
  • Michael Fishbane (University of Chicago) who holds a named chair in the Divinity School. Fishbane is a particularly influential biblical scholar, and arguably the most famous of three editors associated with this project.

Notes on the NJPS translation

My primary focus in these reviews is on the added value of the study Bible extras; however, the translation used in this volume has not been extensively discussed on Rick’s blog, so I’ll make some comments here on the New Jewish Publication Society translation. I’ll begin by putting that translation in context.

In contrast to Protestantism, contemporary Judaism has not on translation. Most traditional philological and theological discussions of the Bible took place in Hebrew. However, even for those Jews who have high competency in Hebrew, the Hebrew Scriptures are difficult to read, and so an ancient tradition requires study of the Hebrew together with the main Aramaic translation, Targum Onkelos. In English, early translations were primarily done by Protestants, with the KJV serving as the main resource. While the KJV showed no Jewish participation (since Jews had been expelled from England several centuries before) the translators relied heavily on Jewish philological studies, principally by David Kimhi (Radak). The KJV followed the Hebrew original in cadence, structure, and overall vocabulary, and despite its Christological interpretation of messianic passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, was perhaps the closest experience an English-only reader to get to reading the Hebrew until the translation of Everett Fox.

As a result, when the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) began its first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (which I call the Old JPS [OJPS] translation) at the start of the 20th century, it made a decision to begin from the Revised Version, a revision of the KJV. A non-English speaker, the biblical scholar Max Margolis (from UC Berkeley and at Dropsie College, now part of the University of Pennsylvania) was put in charge of the OJPS. The other translators were not noted as biblical scholars. The result hews closely to the Revised Version, and was stylistically dated even when it was published.

Thus, when the JPS decided on a new translation, it began from scratch rather than revising the OJPS translation. (For this reason, the JPS has begun promoting the use of the term Tanakh for its new translation, to avoid any suggestions that the NJPS is a revision of the OJPS. However, this term is not appropriate, because Tanakh is the Hebrew acronym for the Bible, so it is a little like a translation committee calling its translation “The Bible.” Moreover, even JPS publications as recent as 2005, Michael Caraski’s excellent Commentators’ Bible: The JPS Miqrao’t Geolot Exodus refer to the translation as the NJPS on almost every page.)

The NJPS translation is divided according to the traditional division of the Hebrew Bible – The Law (or Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses) (Torah), the Prophets (Neviim), and Writings (Kethuvim) and the books follow the Hebrew ordering. Some English readers of the Bible may not realize that the traditional Christian orderings of the Bible do not follow the Hebrew text, and that even the verse numbering has been changed in most English translations. The NJPS follows the ordering and verse numbering of the Hebrew text. (There is a convenient table in the JPS with all the verse numbers that have changed – very useful for anyone who attempts to correlate the Hebrew text with the English text.)

Harry Orlinsky, who served on both the RSV and NRSV translation committees) was chosen as the head of the translation of the Pentateuch. Orlinsky was influenced heavily by his close contact with the mainly Protestant American Bible Society and co-authored a book with Robert Brachter (who is well-known for his work on the Good News Bible, among other works.) Orlinsky and his committee’s decisions on the translation of the Pentateuch are well documented in his book on the translation: Notes on the New Translation of the Torah. Separate committees translated the Prophets and Writings. As a result, the translations of the three parts vary quite a bit in style. (The compete translation appeared in 1985, and a subsequent revision in 1999.) The style of the translation is generally what would later be called “dynamic equivalence” (mild paraphrase). Here are some examples:

Genesis 1:1-2
OJPS: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. . . . And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters
NJPS: When God began to create heaven and earth . . . . And a wind from God sweeping over the water

Several points are notable here. I quote from a Leonard Greenspoon essay on Bible translations (conveniently found in Oxford’s JSB):

“The 1917 [OJPS] version retains the wording of the KJV; it parts company with the Protestant text by replacing the upper case ‘s’ of Spirit, a reference to the Trinity, with a lower case ‘s.’ In addition to rendering the Hebrew “ruach” with “wind” rather than with a form of “spirit,” Orlinsky (in the 1985 [NJPS] version), in keeping with one line of Jewish exegesis, renders the notoriously difficult wording of Genesis’ (and the Bible’s) beginning as ‘When God began to create.’ In doing so, he excludes the theological doctrine of creation ex nihilo, to the extent that this belief is dependent on the traditional English text. Moreover, it reflects the opening of the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish, which also begins with a ‘when’ clause. It is also characteristic of Orlinsky’s approach that the literal ‘face of the waters’ yields to the simpler, more modern-sounding ‘the water.’”

In more than a few places, the NJPS loses valuable wordings. In the OJPS, Proverbs 31:10 translated eshet chayil as “a woman of valour” – a significant coining of a new phrase that follows the Hebrew closely. The NJPS translates this same phrase as “a capable wife” – a possible translation, to be sure, but one which seems to be a backwards step.

The NJPS varies in its treatment of gender issues. For example, ben adam is translated in Ezekiel as “O mortal” rather than “son of man.” Deuteronomy 24:16 changes “fathers” to “parents” – however, in general, singular references are not turned into plural references as in the NRSV, and the generic man/he/his is used in the text. The translation is only mildly gender sensitive. (The original 1985 translation made a few changes from singulars to plurals –but these were rolled back in the 1999 revision.)

The NJPS generally ignores stylistic issues particular to the Hebrew – it does not translate many initial vavs.

The NJPS is almost translated from the Hebrew Masoretic text – it does not make textual emendations in the translation proper, although it does note emendations in the textual footnotes (particularly in the Prophets). Alternative texts, such as the Septugint, Targums, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Vulgate are frequently noted in the footnotes. Perhaps the most common footnote is the painfully honest “Meaning of Hebrew uncertain” – a refreshing change from many translations that simply present the text with an unjustified certainty.

Christian readers who are comfortable with “dynamic equivalence” are likely to be mostly comfortable with the NJPS except perhaps in certain passages that have had Christological interpretations (such as Isaiah 7:14 or Isaiah 9:5 [English numbering: Isaiah9:6]) – here the translation generally follows the “plain meaning” of the Hebrew (although the JSB is careful in its annotations to note the alternative Christian interpretations of these verses.) Christian readers may appreciate the following features of the translation:

  • Unlike many Christian translations, the NJPS focuses entirely on the Hebrew text, and thus doesn’t make it play “second fiddle” to the Christian scriptures. The Hebrew text receives more careful attention than it does in many Christian translations (see the discussion in Rick’s and my recent comparison of the NASB and NRSV.) In particular, the translation of difficult passages in books such as Leviticus and Numbers, which do not always receive wide attention from Christian audiences, is often more careful.
  • The textual notes included in the NJPS tend to be rather more complete than in many Christian translations. Many idioms are noted (for example, in 2 Samuel 4:1, “his hand weakened” is noted in a footnote while “he lost heart” is used in the translation proper.) The textual notes comment on the original Hebrew words (in Roman character transliteration) and are far more numerous than in the NRSV, for example.
  • The text is an easy-reading text, with a style not incomparable to translations such as the NIV.
  • As previously mentioned the translation follows the order and verse numbering of the original Hebrew text.
  • The translation focuses on the Hebrew Scriptures as they were understood by pre-Christian readers – and thus gives perhaps a better sense of how they were understood before later Christian interpretation.
Review of the JSB
The JSB has a significant advantage over most other study Bibles – it only focuses on the Hebrew Scriptures, and thus it has room for longer notes, chapter introductions, and essays than a typical study Bible that attempts to also cover the Christian Scriptures and the Deuterocanon. For example, in a recent NRSV edition, the Hebrew Scriptures take 947 pages (62% of the total) while the Deuterocanon and Christian Scriptures take 287 pages (19%) and 282 pages (19%). Since the Hebrew Scriptures only take about three-fifths of the total pages of a typical Bible with Deuterocanons, a study Bible that only features the Hebrew Scriptures can include two-thirds more material while still staying within the same page boundaries. This extended coverage has lead to the JSB being widely adopted as a text in college settings and mainline seminaries in courses that focus on the Hebrew Scriptures.

Annotations and introductions:
As is typical in study Bibles, individual books are introduced and annotated by different editors. In the case of the JSB, all of the editors are Jewish Bible scholars although most teach at public universities (such as Michael Fox/University of Wisconsin), primarily secular private institutions (such Jon Levenson/Harvard University), or Christian seminaries (such as Marvin Sweeney/Claremont School of Theology). A number are from Israeli universities. Book introductions tend to be several pages long and more detailed than in most study Bibles. The introductions are quite good – much better than the NOAB. There are also section introductions to the Torah, Neviim, and Kethuvim, which are modified from introductions to the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetical and Wisdom Books, and Prophetic Books in the NOAB.

Annotations are generous, with many versus receiving paragraph long treatments. I have not attempted to count words, and it is not always easy to estimate the relative word count because of differing font size, but I estimate that the annotations have more words than the actual text. Christian readers may find these annotations especially interesting – some books that receive short-shrift in Christian treatments receive especially extensive treatments in the JSB. For example, Leviticus is the most heavily annotated of all the books in the Bibles, and reading the annotations opens new insights into this book, a book which often receives limited attention from other studies.

Here is are some examples of comparison notes from the JSB, NISB, and NOAB, and HSB to show the difference in annotation. (Annotations in the study Bible are often at the passage level and the verse level – in the first example I include both; I have also revised verse numbers in the NISB, NOAB, and HSB to correspond to the Hebrew):

Leviticus 14:12 [NJPS]: The priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it with the log of oil as a guilt offering, and he shall elevate them as an elevation offering before the LORD.

JSB: 14:1-32 Resuming 13:46, these vv. prescribe the steps required of the person cured to dispose of the impurity he has created. Anthropologically and sociologically these rituals have been seen as rites of passage, marking the return of the outcast to normal life in human society and in God’s presence. Rabbinic interpretation, which tended to view the person afflicted under divine sanction for wrongdoing, generally explained these rituals as acts of contrition, penance, and thanksgiving. In fact, however, they are for ridding the person and the environment of the impurity that has been generated, and the environment of the impurity that has been generated, and the afflicted person is under no disapprobation unless he or she fails to carry them out. 14:3-20 The purification of the metzora‘ and the expiation, in three stages. 14:10-20 In stage three, on the eight day, the “metzora‘ makes his offerings. 14:12 Guilt offering: The presence of an ’asham sacrifice (see 5:14-26), it prominence evidenced among other things by the elevation ritual, is a mystery, since being afflicted with the tzara‘at is not an obvious trespass against the sacred. One theory is that the metzora‘ is under the strong presumption of having committed sacrilege; otherwise why would he have been stricken (see 2. Chron. 26:16-19)? Another possibility is that the inherent sanctity of the Israelite individual (see 19:2) has been compromised, although this would be unexpected in this portion of the book. Perhaps the ’asham is brought simply to provide blood for the final removal of residual impurity a week after the initial decontamination.

NISB: 14:2-32 Once the unclean person was healed, it was reported to the priest (not the NRSV’s should be brought to the priest), who went out and inspected the person. Three ritual steps were required to return the person to health on the first (vv. 2-8), seventh (v. 9), and eight days (vv. 10-20). 14:10-20 Rituals on the eight day reintegrated the individual into full social and religious standing. 14:12-13 A lamb was offered as a reparation offering, since it was assumed that the person had trespassed on some holy space or object (otherwise why this unexplainable illness?).

NOAB: 14:1-32 Purifying after recovery. The rites here do not heal, only purify after recovery by other means (contrast 2 Kings 5:10-14). 14:10-20 While the individual’s person is apparently pure, his or her impurity has affected the sanctuary, so it must be purged with sacrifices (see 4:1-35 n.) 14:12 Elevation offering, see Num 18:11n.

HSB: 14:1-32 Three separate purificatory ceremonies are required for a healed scale-diseased person: for the first day (vv. 2-8; also invoked for houses, vv. 48-53), for the seventh day (v. 9), and for the eighth day (vv. 10-32). The constitute a rite of passage whereby the person is successively reintegrated into the community. 14:10-20 The final stage of his purification takes place the following day when he brings a reparation offering for having possibly desecrated a sacred object or space (see 5:17-19), the blood of which together with sanctified oil is smeared on his extremities to purify him (see 8:30) a purification offering (not properly sin offering) for having contaminated the sanctuary by his impurity (see esp. v. 19) and a burnt offering and a grain offering to expiate for neglected performative commandments or sinful thoughts (see 1:4)

Comments: As you can see, in this example, the JSB has the most extensive annotations (with reference to the Hebrew), the NISB is second and easiest to read, the NOAB is painfully short, and the HSB describes the section but has no annotation on the verse proper.

Psalm 89:18-19 [NJPS]:
For You are their strength in which they glory; our horn is exalted through Your righteousness. Truly our shield is of the LORD, our king, of the Holy One of Israel

JSB: 89:18-19
Horn, a metaphor for strength (see also v.25). Horn and shield, the king protects his people and leads them to victory. Depending on the interpretation, v. 19 is the climax of the expression of the kingship of God, or it is a transition to the idea of David as king. The first interpretation take the Heb letter “lamed” – rendered as of in of the LORD and of the Holy One – to be an emphatic particle “our shield is indeed the LORD . . . our king is indeed the Holy One.” The second interpretation yields “our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One” (so NRSV).

NISB: 89:18
Our horn is exalted The horn is a metaphor for strength and vigor. Here, both horn and shield are terms for the king.

NOAB: 89:18
Horn, a metaphor for strength (also v. 25).

HISB: 89:18
Horn, an image for the king.

Comments: once again the JSB has the most detailed information, correlating it carefully with the Hebrew text; the NISB is highly readable and still moderately detailed, and the NOAB and HISB are terse.

Jeremiah 7:18 [NJPS]: The children gather sticks, the fathers build the fire, and the mothers knead dough, to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven, and they pour libations to other gods, to vex Me.

JSB: 7:18
The Queen of Heaven is most likely some form of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, symbolized by the Morning Star of Venus, who represented both war and fertility (see also Jer. 44:15-30).

NISB: 7:18
Whole families worship the queen of heaven, an astral deity (cf. Jer. 44).

Queen of heaven, the title of a goddess; see 44:15-28 n.

HSB: 7:18
Queen of heaven (see 44:15-30), The Assyro-Babylonian goddess Ishtar, an astral deity associated with Venus. She was a goddess of both war and fertility.

Comments: it is a small example, but one sees that the HSB and JSB are substantially more detailed, explicitly mentioning Ishtar and Venus. The NISB is the most readable.

Annotation authorship is as follows:
  • Yairah Amit (U. Chicago/Tel Aviv U.): Judges
  • Shimon Bar-Efrat (Hebrew U.): Samuel
  • Adele Berlin (U. Maryland): Esther, Psalms
  • Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis): Psalms
  • Ehud Ben Zvi (U. Alberta): Twelve Minor Prophets
  • Michael Fox (U. Wisconsin, Madison): Proverbs
  • Nili Fox (Hebrew Union College): Numbers
  • Daniel Grossberg (U. Albany): Lamentations
  • Mayer Gruber (Ben-Gurion U.): Job
  • John Levenson (Harvard): Genesis
  • Bernard Levinson (U. Minnesota): Deuteronomy
  • Peter Machinist (Harvard): Ecclesiastes
  • Carol Meyers (Duke): Joshua
  • Hindy Najman (Notre Dame): Ezra-Nehemiah
  • Adele Reinhartz (Wilfrid Laurier U.): Ruth
  • David Rothstein (Unaffiliated): Chronicles
  • Barch Schwartz (Hebrew University): Leviticus
  • Benjamin Somner (Northwestern): Isaiah
  • Elsie Stern (Fordham): Song of Songs
  • Marvin Sweeney (Claremont): Ezekiel, Jeremiah
  • Jeffrey Tigay (U. Pennsylania): Exodus
  • Lawrence Wills (Episcopal Divinity School): Daniel
  • Ziony Zevit (U. Judaism): Kings

The annotations will not discomfort Christian readers – they tend to be historical-critical in nature and only rarely stray into theological territory. Passages that are Christologically interpreted usually have a note explaining that interpretation; invariably with a respectful tone, and usually commenting on the Jewish distinctions. There are a few, but not frequent, discussions of Rabbinic, medieval Jewish, and Christian interpretations, these most often discuss philological questions. I read some reviews on Amazon that claimed that this book used annotations with words such as “chutzpah”, but I cannot find the cited quotes in my volume. Perhaps the author of the review confused this edition with another edition.

Layout and physical design: The layout of the volume is different from the traditional standard Bibles – a typical study Bible will feature the translation on top of the page with annotations on the bottom. In the case of the JSB, the text appears in a single column on the left of the page with the annotations being on the right-hand side. (If the annotations are particularly numerous, as they sometimes are, they spill over to the bottom of the page as well, in a triple column format.) This makes for easy reading – the translation column is not so wide that it makes reading difficult; and since the annotations are generally directly to the right of the text, the eye can find them without having to search through notes on the bottom. Another consequence of this layout is that Bible tends to have considerably more white space than most study Bibles. I know Rick likes to make notes, and with the single column format, heavy use of poetry in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the note layout, there is often white space on every page. While side margins are only about a half-inch wide, but there are larger top and bottom margins.

Given the recent interest in paragraph justification on this blog, I will mention that the prose text is fully justified, poetry text is formatted as poetry, and annotation text is left-justified. Unfortunately, there is mild bleed through the pages, although this is not as pronounced as it is other study Bibles such as the NOAB or HSB (although the NISB is superior in this regard.) I especially appreciated the font used in this volume – I found it especially easy to read. The text is nice and large, textual notes are almost entirely in italics (unlike in the NOAB, where textual notes are visually similar to annotations and the text), and the annotations are in a small but readable font. Introductions are printed with slightly wider spacing (left-justified) and here was one of the places where I found bleed through especially annoying.

You can see samples of the page layout here.

In contrast, the essays at the end of the book are in traditional double column fully-justified format.

The binding is high quality cloth and well sewn and reinforced (as is typical of Oxford Bibles) and the book comes with a dust jacket.

Essays: The essays in the volume are extensive – more extensive than the NOAB. Given their length (278 pages of essays – perhaps equivalent to 400 pages of essays in a more traditionally formatted book) the essays comprise a book on their own. Several of the essays are adapted from the NOAB – as indicated below. While these essays are primarily written from a Jewish perspective, eleven of the twenty-four essays might be particularly interesting to a Christian audience – those that are of particular interest to a Christian audience are marked with an asterisk
  • *Inner-biblical Interpretation (Benjamin Sommer, Northwestern)
  • Early Nonrabbinic Interpretation (Hindy Najman, Notre Dame)
  • Classical Rabbinic Interpretation (Yaakov Elman, Yeshiva U.)
  • Midrash and Jewish Interpretation (David Stern, U. Pennsylvania)
  • Medieval Jewish Interpretation (Barry Walfish, U. of Toronto)
  • Post-medieval Jewish Interpretation (Edward Breuer, Loyola U., Chicago)
  • Modern Jewish Interpretation (S. David Sperling, Hebrew Union College)
  • *The Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Esther Eshel, Bar-Ilan U.)
  • The Bible in the Synagogue (Avigdor Shinan, Hebrew U. )
  • The Bible in the Liturgy (Stefan Reif, Cambridge U.)
  • The Bible in the Jewish Philosophical Tradition (Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Arizona State U.)
  • The Bible in the Jewish Mystical Tradition (editors)
  • *The Glorious Name and the Incarnate Torah, (Elliot Wolfson, NYU)
  • The Bible in Israeli Life, (Uriel Simon, Bar-Ilan U.)
  • Jewish Women’s Scholarly Writings on the Bible (Adele Reinhartz, Wilfrid Laurier U.)
  • Jewish Translations of the Bible (Leonard Greenspoon, Creighton U.)
  • *Religion of the Bible (Stephen Geller, Jewish Theological Seminary of America)
  • *Concepts of Purity in the Bible (Jonathan Clawans, Boston U.)
  • *Historical and Geographic Background to the Bible (Michael Coogan, Stonehill College; Carol Newsom, Emory) [partly adapted from NOAB by editors]
  • *Languages of the Bible (Steven Fassberg, Hebrew U.)
  • *Textual Criticism of the Bible (Michael Coogan, Stonehill College; Pheme Perkins, Boston College) [adapted from NOAB by editors]
  • *Canonization of the Bible (Marc Brettler, Brandeis; Pheme Perkins, Boston College) [adapted from NOAB by the first author]
  • *Development of the Masoretic Bible (Jordan Penkower, Bar-Ilan U.)
  • *Modern Study of the Bible (Michael Coogan, Stonehill College; Carol Newsom, Emory) [adapted from NOAB by the editors]

The essays may also be interested to a non-Jewish reader who was interested in what characteristics, in any define Jewish exegesis as opposed to general scholarly exegesis or Christian exegesis. I found no remark that would be viewed as hostile to a non-Jewish audience, except perhaps in the introduction to the volume, where the editors It is clear that the selection of the essays was chosen to maximize the books relevance for a broad variety of classes, ranging from a first or second year of college survey to a more advanced audience. I learned quite a bit from the essays, and if the essays were not included in this volume but published separately in a book, I would have purchased it.

While the essays are written in an even-handed fashion, the same cannot be said of the four page introduction. It adopts a bit of a triumphalist tone that goes out of its way to distinguish this as a Jewish study Bible, rather than an ecumenical Bible. I was put off by the introduction, which is not representative of the entire volume, and would recommend that readers simply skip it. The volume includes a rich set of extras, but of special note is a rather good index (to the annotations and essays – I find this more useful than a concordance) and an extensive glossary. In fact, the glossary is so good that I would recommend starting with it – it covers a variety of Near Eastern terminology, biblical terms, and technical terms. Also of note is an annotated list of terms (pp. xix - xx) and a useful bibliography of sources in translation (although the editors tend to steer readers away from Orthodox Jewish translations, such as those from Artscroll.)

The volume has a set of color maps typical in many study Bibles, and also has a number of diagrams and maps in black and white.

A Christian audience for the JSB?
The JSB clearly is designed to have value for Jews from the Reformed, Conservative, and “new school of interpretation” Modern Orthodox movements for Judaism. Indeed, those who seek to admission to the five year rabbinical program at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America are advised to master this book to pass the Bible examination required on admission. It is not likely to Jewish audiences who prefer more traditional approaches to the Bible. But what about non-Jewish audiences? Will a Christian reader find value in the JSB?

In secular academic and mainline seminary settings, the answer is clearly yes. The JSB has been adopted by a number of secular and mainline Christian seminaries as a text – if only because its annotations and introductions are longer than those of competing study Bibles such as the NOAB, HSB, and NISB. What of an individual Christian reader? I think a reader may enjoy this study Bible for the following reasons:
  • The annotations are careful to distinguish Christian interpretations of certain messianic passages. This has special value for readers who might otherwise tend to view the Hebrew Scriptures as primarily an extended preface to the Christian Scriptures. For example, some Christian commentators treat the book of Isaiah as a fifth gospel – that is certainly a way of reading Isaiah, but it is hardly the only way of reading Isaiah. Perhaps in reading this work, one can see alternatives – and even if a Christian reader finally decides to stay with a traditional Christian reading, he or she will have learned alternative ways of understanding the material.
  • The annotations, introductions, and especially essays contain extensive material on Near Eastern culture, which can inform the reader hoping to understand the culture of Jesus and the gospels. The extensive annotations to the Pentateuch can help inform the reader of the role that the Torah played for Jesus and the Apostles.
  • To a large degree, contemporary academic analysis of the Bible (as represented by organizations such as the Society for Biblical Literature.) Especially when one is reading from a historical-critical perspective, the distinction of sectarian divisions is largely erased. To the extent that the reader is in sympathy with this perspective, why not read from this book.
  • As discussed above, the NJPS translation may appeal to the reader. If it does, there are several editions, two of which offer special features – the JSB and a bilingual Hebrew-English edition. The JSB is a relatively inexpensive way to acquire the NJPS translation, and has the benefit of the additional notes and essays.

Final thoughts

The JSB is one of my favorite study Bibles – it is one of two study Bibles (the other is the NISB) that I would recommend to a wide audience – especially an audience interested in the Hebrew Scriptures. The extended annotations make it especially valuable, and I find myself frequently consulting it, even though I have been reading the Bible for many years. While clearly intended for a Jewish audience, it will also serve well for Christian and other non-Jewish audiences..

Coming up next: “The benchmark” – the New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Augmented Edition.