Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Romans -- An Intimidating Epistle?

An Introduction to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

(Written in 2017.)

In the Revised Common Lectionary, Paul's Letter to the Romans is especially the Epistle for Year A (2017, 2020, etc.).  For twenty Sundays in that church year the Lectionary assigns readings from Romans.  This introduction is intended to orient hearers and readers to that challenging scriptural writing.  
Outline of this Introduction: 

      A.  Romans is a famous and history-making Biblical book.  
      B.  Romans is a “Letter” with an  “Epistle” inside.  
      C.  The Epistle (1:16-15:13) is a series of “topics” that Paul often addressed.  
      D.  Statement of the Gospel.  
               1.  First Argument:  All have sinned.    
               2.  Second Argument:  Justification by faith.  
               3.  Example:  Abraham.  
               4.  Two Corollaries to Justification by Faith.  
               5.  Third Argument:  Freed from Sin and Death.  
               6.  A Special Case:  Dying to the Law.  
               7.  Conclusion:  Life in the Spirit.  
      E.  Israel:  Resisting but chosen.  
      F.  Consequences:  Instructions for living in mutual love.  
      G.  Benedictions and Greetings (chapter 16).  
      H.  Some Words about Commentaries.  

 This picture shows a sheet of a papyrus manuscript.  Paul’s scribe would have written on a scroll, rather than a separate page like this.  However, this shows what scribal Greek looked like:  the writing is in capital letters with no punctuation or spaces between words.  Only a trained reader could recite it easily and smoothly.  ~~~~

The earliest surviving copy of Paul’s letters – collected long after his own time – is the papyrus codex P46, copied around 200 CE and containing major fragments of Romans 5-16.  The earliest complete copies of Romans are in the great parchment codices created by the newly-wealthy churches in Alexandria, Egypt, in the mid-to-late fourth century CE – such as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  

A.  Romans is a famous and history-making Biblical book.    
Romans can be intimidating.  When Romans is mentioned among knowledgeable Christians and Biblical scholars, a certain awe and solemn respect usually sets in.  Besides being a daunting writing on its own part, many have heard about the great historical figures and moments associated with the book.  
Augustine.  In the later fourth century CE, the Latin rhetorician Augustine converted to Christianity and led the fight in Latin-speaking Christendom against the heresy of Pelagius (that good works are required for salvation) and persuaded the Western churches to adopt Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith.  In later centuries, the churches regularly wandered back to the works theology, but Augustine’s position remained the official theology.  
Luther.  Very famous is Martin Luther’s great struggle in the sixteenth century – first for his own personal faith, then for the churches of northern Germany – to recover the doctrine of justification by faith in Paul’s writings.  Luther opposed the church’s practice of selling pardons (“indulgences”) to sinners and generally recognizing that “good works” are required for salvation.  His recovery of Paul’s gospel from the letters to the Romans and the Galatians split Western Christendom into Catholics and Protestants for the following five hundred years.  
John Wesley.  In the early eighteenth century, the Church of England was in the spiritual doldrums, from which John and Charles Wesley, among others, were suffering.  At the climax of his spiritual struggle, John had his “Aldersgate Experience.”  He heard a reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, and things fell in place for him.  Wesley’s awakening was the spark that began the evangelical revivalism of Britain and its American colonies – known in American history as the First Great Awakening.  
Karl Barth.  In the midst of Europe’s horrendous World War of 1914-18, the Swiss preacher Karl Barth set off an explosion of his own:  he published his commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  European Liberal Protestantism had thoroughly domesticated the God of the scriptures and presented him [God] as the gentle Father of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth.  Liberal theologians had busied themselves with discovering the “historical Jesus,” and had completely lost sight of the God who is actually GOD.  In Paul’s Romans, Barth found a reminder for European Christianity of that gospel about the real righteousness of God!  
B.  Romans is a “Letter” with an  “Epistle” inside.  
The Epistle to the Romans can also be intimidating at first hand.  Start reading in the 2nd or 5th chapters, and you are likely to wish for some help.  Some parts of Romans are more difficult to understand than others.  It is best to start with the parts that are easy to understand.  
For discussion purposes, I distinguish between the “Letter” to the Romans and the “Epistle” to the Romans.  (This is not a theory of composition; it is an insistence that different parts of the writing have different purposes.)  
The Letter is the opening and closing of the book, 1:1-15 and 15:14-32.  There Paul talks to the Romans about himself, his mission, and what he hopes for from the Romans.  (Romans 16 is a special case.  It may or may not have been addressed to the Romans.  See the discussion near the end of this review.)  
The Letter is written to the Christians of Rome far in advance of Paul’s expected visit to them.  At the time of writing, Paul was preparing for a hazardous trip to Jerusalem on important church business, which would require the better part of a year.  (According to Acts, it ended up taking almost three years.)  The hope Paul shares with them is that Rome can become the base for a future mission in the western part of the empire.  This was the main business of the “letter,” to make himself known to and cultivate future relations with Christians already well established in the imperial capital.  
This “business” of the letter did not itself require the long exposition of the gospel that makes up the Epistle.  The Epistle contains neither personal stuff about Paul nor any instructions specific to hearers in Rome.  Modern scholars have debated why Paul decided to go on at such length about justification by faith and the on-going life in Christ that results from it, as well as his discourse about why Israel has resisted the gospel.  
Many have pointed out that this was a turning point in Paul’s career.  The letter was written in Corinth in the spring of 57 or 58 CE.  Paul was finishing about eight years of intense missionary activity in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia (now western Turkey and Greece).  At Corinth he was waiting for the arrival of contributions from the Greek churches for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem.  After going to Jerusalem, Paul would continue on to Rome.  
During the weeks of waiting in Corinth Paul dictated the letter and the Epistle.  It was a time of reflecting back on the work God had carried out through him in the Greek world, and perhaps especially on the issues that had been most important in getting across the gospel to those (mainly) non-Jewish believers in Jesus.  
It is also likely that Paul decided to spell out his version of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that his Roman hearers would know exactly where he stood on many controversial and still-developing topics of the Christian proclamation.  Many of them had undoubtedly heard about him, but perhaps through rumor and hearsay.  They should hear from his own presentation just what they were being asked to share in and support!  Thus he decided to include an Epistle in his letter.  
C.  The Epistle (1:16-15:13) is a series of “topics” that Paul often addressed.    
The Epistle (sometimes called a “Treatise”) has a few major parts, not tightly related to each other.  
  • 1:16-8:39, the major statement of the gospel, in several parts, from justification by faith to the consummation in God’s love for the believer. 
  • 9:1-11:36, Paul’s troubled discussion of Israel’s failure to accept the gospel message.  (The discussion is about “Israel,” not “the Jews.”)  The climax speaks of the “mystery” of Israel’s eventual return to God. 
  • 12:1-15:13, selected topics about living the new life of the gospel, cast in the form of instructions what to do – not very appropriate to congregations Paul had neither founded nor visited.  One topic – on “weak” and “strong” believers – is expanded at length.  
Speaker vs. Writer.  European interpreters of Paul have always talked of him as a writer.  These interpreters themselves have been people of letters, frequenters of libraries, publishers of books, their entire mental culture imprinted by Guttenberg’s gift to civilization.  In reality, of course, Paul was a speaker – a preacher, a lecturer (Acts says he lectured for two years in Tyrannus’ “school” in Ephesus, Acts 19:9-10).  It is true that his opponents claimed that his letters were more impressive than his personal presentations – II Corinthians 10:10-11 – but there is overwhelming evidence that his charismatic preaching got powerful results – for example, in First Thessalonians and Galatians.  
What we see in the Roman “Epistle” is a lecturer’s succinct statements of the “topics” (Greek, topoi) that he had to speak to repeatedly in his preaching and teaching.  In full lecture context, each of these topics would/could be expanded at whatever length was appropriate to a specific occasion.  
D.  The statement of the gospel, 1:16-8:39.  
This part is a relatively sustained argument that moves from justification by faith to the awesome statement of the believer’s inclusion in God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Each stage along the way is a selection of “topics” which Paul dictated to the scribe.  The topics flesh out the main arguments:  
1.  First argument:  All people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 1:18-3:20.  
    • First, a standard Jewish argument that the people of the nations are idolaters and should have known better from contemplating the creation, 1:18-25.  [Terminology:  the “people of the nations” is the correct translation of what is commonly called “Gentiles,” which is a Latin word meaning “the nations.”] 
    • This is continued by an equally standard Jewish argument that idolatry leads to homosexuality, 1:26-27, and to every other crime in the exhaustive lists of Greek rhetoricians, 1:28-32.  
    • A third “topic” is an imaginary dialogue with a Jewish spokesperson who stands in judgment on those idolatrous peoples of the nations, 2:1-11.  The punch line is the universality of the last judgment:  “There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek” (2:10, NRSV). 
    • The next “topic” turns entirely to the Jew and counters any claims to privilege because they possess the “law” and circumcision, 2:12-29.  Again, with or without the law, “God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all” (2:16). 
    • The argument ends with a somewhat meandering summary, 3:1-20.  The Jews have no advantage because “both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin” (verse 9).  A chain of Bible verses prove that all have sinned (verses 10-18), and the last word is that no one can be justified in God’s sight “by works of the law” (3:20, RSV and NIV).  
2.  Second Argument:  One is justified by faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law, 3:21-31.  
    • [Many scholars in recent times insist this should read “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” the famous subjective genitive.  On this reading, Jesus is the subject rather then the object of the implied verb “believe/keep faith in.”  For some purposes this may be important, but the traditional rendering is certainly easier for the average reader to understand.] 
    • This passage is very tightly packed.  Almost every sentence could be expanded at length, and the next few chapters simply develop some of what is stated here. 
    • All “are now justified by his grace as a gift” (verse 24, NRSV).  “Justified” means declared innocent in God’s final judgment, and that happens because one belongs to Jesus Christ, not because one has done any “works of the law.”  Salvation, or acceptance before God, cannot be earned by keeping the law – or by buying indulgences! 
    • The argument is mainly in the judicial language of justification, but one clause introduces sacrificial language:  God made Jesus “a sacrifice of atonement [Greek hilasterion] by his blood” (verse 25, NRSV), though here this topic is just mentioned, not developed.  
3.  Example:  Abraham was justified by his faith before either circumcision or the law came in,    4:1-25.  
    • This was certainly a topic Paul had to discuss repeatedly because it was a strong point for his opponents.  (He used another version of this topic in Galatians 3.)  Abraham was promised a great people, but was also commanded to circumcise all his males as a “sign” of his covenant with God (Genesis 17:9-14).  To be included in the promises to Abraham, all males had to be circumcised. 
    • Paul’s counter-argument trumps the circumcision claim by quoting Genesis 15:  Abraham “believed [had faith in] the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness,” a statement made two chapters before circumcision comes up!  Thus, Paul proclaims, faith came before circumcision, not to mention the law of Moses.  
4.  Two Corollaries to Justification, 5:1-21.  
    • The passage 5:1-11 is not a “topic.”  It is a rambling sequel, as if Paul didn’t quite know where to go next.  First, the justified can boast, but they should boast in the character development their new life will lead them through (verses 3-5).  Paul marvels at Jesus dying for others, “but God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” – so that we will “be saved from the wrath” (verses 8-9, NRSV). 
    • Without introduction, a “topic” begins on Adam, Sin [note the capital], and Death.  The primary discussion here is on Sin and Death, which came into the world through Adam.  (Sin as a “power” first appears in 3:9, but the main discussion begins here.)  The passage runs variations on the contrast between Adam and Christ.  “Just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (verse 18).  (A brief statement of this topic is also found in I Corinthians 15:20-22.)  
5.  Third Argument:  The Justified are freed from Sin and Death, 6:1-23.  
    • The first topic is that “we” have died to sin, 6:1-14.  The believer dies with Christ in baptism and rises with Christ to “walk in newness of life” (6:4).  You have been given a new life; now live that way (verses 12-14). 
    • A second topic plays on the language of slavery (verses 15-23).  “Now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.  The end is eternal life” (6:22).  
6.  A Special Case:  Dying to the Law, 7:1-25.  
    • Romans 7, “the most difficult chapter in the Pauline canon” (E.P. Sanders) has three topics, one relatively simple, two pretty controversial.  The overall argument is that death to Sin (chapter 6) is paralleled by death to the Law. 
    • Topic:  analogy from widowhood, 7:1-6.  A married woman is under the law until her husband dies; then she does not sin if she takes another lord! 
    • Topic:  relation of Law to Sin, 7:7-13.  This topos uses the first person singular and the past tense.  “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died...” (verse 9, NRSV).  Much discussed is the “I” – personal Paul or representative voice?  Most likely Paul speaks of himself coming to his bar mitzvah, when as an adolescent he became responsible to keep the law.  Adam’s experience with the “commandment” in Genesis 3 is also probably in view.  Main point:  “For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (verse 11). 
    • Topic:  the agony of the divided self, 7:14-25.  “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.... in fact, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (verses 15-16).  This intense confession raises one major question:  First person singular and present tense – who is the I?  Is this Paul’s personal experience, and if so when – before his conversion or in his on-going Christian life?  Or is Paul speaking as “everyone,” as typical experience of believers before Christ (most likely) or after becoming a believer?  Commentators are very divided.  Let the reader decide!  (I am inclined to think Paul describes the struggle of a good Pharisee apart from Christ – such as he was before Damascus.  The present tense is very powerful in this passage.) 
    • In this same topos there is a passage that, at least in modern times, must have spoken to many adolescent believers, struggling with the rampant urges of sexuality:  “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (verses 22-23).  (How many senses does the word “law” have here?)  
7.  Conclusion:  Between Justification and Consummation, life in the Spirit 8:1-39.  
    • Chapter 8 is not a sustained argument; it is a set of topics, each treated briefly, each declaring some feature of the present blessings and future glory of the justified. 
    • The justified now live “in the Spirit” rather than “in the flesh,” 8:1-13.  The exhortation is to act accordingly (verses 12-13). 
    • A “topic” on the Holy Spirit praying through the faithful is used twice, verses 14-17 and verses 26-27.  “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (verse 26). 
    • There must have been several “topics” concerning “the glory about to be revealed to us” (verse 18).  Here Paul develops one such topic – about how the “creation” itself is waiting for the revealing of the children of God, 8:18-25. 
    • Occasionally, the apostle contemplated the mystery of God’s overall plan, which here produces a “topic” about predestination, 8:28-30.  The sequence of salvation is:  predestined – called – justified – glorified (verse 30, RSV and NIV, much more literal than NRSV). 
    • The chapter – and indeed the whole presentation of the gospel since 1:16 – has an awesome peroration:  “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”  No powers, high or low, natural or supernatural!  We live toward a truly awesome consummation in “the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord,” 8:31-39.  
E.  Israel:  Resisting but Chosen, 9:1-11:36.  
·        Chapters 9-11 are a self-contained unit.  It opens with a solemn avowal of Paul’s true feelings (9:1-5) and closes with ecstatic praise of God’s wisdom and a benediction (11:33-36).  C.H. Dodd  believed it was a separate sermon, incorporated by Paul at this point in the Epistle.  Its subject is “Israel,” mentioned 14 times while “Jew” or “Jews” is used only twice.  Through the ages most commentators have thought a new subject begins here.  
·        In recent times, however, some commentators have argued that these chapters are in fact the climax and most important part of the Epistle.  Neil Elliott (The Rhetoric of Romans, Fortress, 2000) argues that there was growing anti-Judaism in many parts of the Roman empire and Paul wanted to urge that non-Jewish Christians of Rome not share in that movement.  They should not look down on their fellow (now minority) Christians who were born Jews.  (See also Elliott’s notes in the 3rd and 4th editions of The New Oxford Annotated Bible.)  It is clear that Paul cared a lot about “Israel” in 57 CE, but an anti-imperial reading of Romans 9-11 is pretty forced.  
·        The contents of this little meditation on God’s plans for Israel has three parts, probably each a separate topos:  
               1) God chooses whom God chooses and rejects whom God rejects, so live with it! 9:6-29.  Israel has been “hardened” toward the gospel so the nations can be justified by faith.  
               2) Nevertheless, people are responsible for their choices, and Israel has failed to make the right choice about the gospel, 9:30-10:21.  This includes a sermon outline on a text in Deuteronomy about God’s word on one’s lips and in one’s heart (10:5-17).  
               3) Yet a remnant of Israel has accepted the gospel (as in Elijah’s time), and God has not voided the past promises to save Israel, only postponed them, 11:1-32.  A topos on an olive tree with branches lopped off (Israelites) and other branches grafted in (the nations) concludes with a warning to the “new branches” not to boast over the old branches (11:17-24)!  
               The whole unit ends with a hymn-like exultation and benediction (11:33-36).  
F.  Consequences:  Instructions for living in mutual love, 12:1-15:13. 
·        The third part of the Epistle also has fine opening and closing statements.  The opening is a magnificent conception of the believer’s life as dedicated to God:  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  [This is a topos capable of great unpacking by playing on Jewish traditions of sacrificial worship.]  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds...” (12:1-2, NRSV).  The closing is a chain of Biblical prophecies of salvation for the nations (15:9-12), followed by a benediction:  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith, so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13, Common English Bible translation).  
·        For the following sections we need a word about Paul’s use of Lists.  In all his letters Paul rattles off lists of sins, household duties, body parts, pieces of armor, and so on.  We would typically put these in bullet points or check lists.  Clearly Paul had memorized collections of related terms or phrases which he could expand or abbreviate as occasion required.  They were part of his standard rhetorical equipment.  
·        Paul instructs the hearers of this Epistle (he speaks as if they were his usual audiences in Asia and Greece) concerning their common life:  

            1) Be modest, no matter which function in the life of the church (a body with many members) you perform – and we get a list:  prophet, minister [deacon], teacher, exhorter, fundraiser, leader, angel of mercy (12:7-8, NRSV modified). 

            2) Next we get a list of 21 attitudes and actions that should characterize their common life, starting with “Let love be genuine...” and ending with “ not claim to be wiser than you are” (12:9-16).  If the hearers complied, this would be a pretty model community! 

            3) This chapter ends with a little topos on vengeance.  Leave revenge to God; you  should return good for evil.  That will make your persecutors feel miserable!  As for you, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).  
·        The next chapter (13) concerns relatively public conduct by believers. 

            1) Obey the municipal and provincial authorities, whom God put there to prevent crimes.  Therefore, don’t commit crimes, pay your taxes, and keep the peace, 13:1-7. 

            2) Avoid debts – except the love you owe your neighbor.  The main items of the Ten Commandments – adultery, murder, theft, and coveting – are obeyed if you love your neighbor, 13:8-10. 

            3) In addressing personal morality and life-style, Paul gets a running start:  “You know what time it is...” It is still dark, but the dawn of the great Day is at hand.  “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness” – and he has a little list:  reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling, and jealousy (verse 13, NRSV).  “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (verse 14).  

·        This part of the Epistle has one long discourse, 14:1-15:6.  It begins, “Welcome those who are weak in faith...” and it is about those who observe special dietary rules (like not eating meat) and sacred times (like Sabbath-keeping).  This is an example of a topos developed at considerable length.  The basic instruction (topic) is contained in 14:1-3:  “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them [both]” (verse 3).  Everything after that is exhortation and special pleading.  Commentators have concluded from the fact that 29 verses are devoted to this single subject that it was an important issue in the Roman churches.  
·        This was an old topic for Paul.  Eight or nine years earlier he had been alienated from the church of Antioch over this issue, when Peter and Barnabas had stood against him (Galatians 2:11-14).  In his Asian and Greek churches Paul obviously kept fighting for congregations that did not discriminate against either strict (weak) constructionists or loose (strong) constructionists concerning older religious taboos.  Paul here dictated an impressive sermon in favor of tolerance among loving neighbors, with principles important for much later times.  However, in so far as this was an issue between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians (as it is usually understood), this was not an issue specific to Roman Christians, whether this speech was deliberately addressed to them or not.  
·        The final word of the Epistle is a reiteration, with abundant scripture proof, that God has sent good news to the peoples of the nations, 15:7-13.  Christ bridges both Jews and the nations:  “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised [Israel/Jews] on behalf of the truth of God [to fulfill God’s old promises] ... and in order that the nations [“Gentiles”] might glorify God for his mercy” (15:8-9, NRSV).  
G.  Benedictions and Greetings:  Chapter 16.  
  • A few copies of Romans ranging from the third to the tenth centuries, as well as quotations in early church fathers, differ about the inclusion and/or placement of the benediction now found in English Bibles at 16:25-27.  There is a scholarly consensus that Paul did not write it.  (It is another textual addition that was too good not to be “true,” like Jesus’ “Forgive them...” saying from the cross.)  The mellifluous clauses of this benediction sound more like a quotation from Hebrews than anything Paul wrote.  However, the liturgical traditions of the Church have been enriched by it! 
  • Chapter 16 is another matter.  [The scholarly treatment of this chapter in the last hundred years is a case study in how critical opinions go in and out of fashion in professional scholarship.]  The first half of the chapter (16:1-16) is overflowing with people Paul greets with very personal references.  How does Paul know so many people in Rome, which he has never visited?  By the middle of the twentieth century the majority of critical scholars had adopted the view that chapter 16 was not addressed to Rome (which is never mentioned) but was more likely addressed to Ephesus, where Paul had just worked for three years and where some people mentioned in chapter 16 were known to have been with him (Prisca and Aquila), people who were probably still in Ephesus at the time of this letter.  In the later process of collecting and editing Paul’s letters, this originally independent letter of reference and greetings was copied at the end of the same scroll as the epistle to the Romans. 
  • Twenty-first-century scholars have mostly abandoned this Ephesian theory for chapter 16, even though there has been no change in evidence on the matter, only in opinions and hypotheses.  The single strongest argument that chapter 16 was originally addressed to Rome is the fact that it appears at the end of the Roman letter in the codex manuscripts (not scrolls) of the third century and later.  The issue is currently magnified because some recent scholars, attempting to stretch the information that can be teased out from the meager documents, have read between the lines of chapter 16 and reconstructed a lot of information about the church(es) of Rome.  It is obviously a very subtle business, and as usual, when things get hypothetical, scholars tend to find what they would like to find.  Paul’s comments about his co-workers, relatives, and friends in chapter 16 are surprising and intriguing, but they probably do not tell us a great deal about the actual congregations in Rome in the years before Nero first persecuted the Christians so violently.  
H.  Conclusion.  
There are many reasons why the Epistle to the Romans may be intimidating to an average reader of the Christian scriptures.  
  • It is famous:  It has been recognized as perhaps the single most important writing in Christian history. 
  • It is difficult:  It has passages that leave the most competent interpreters divided – perhaps wondering if Paul himself was clear about his meaning! 
  • It is long, but incomplete:  It covers a very large range of subjects, yet still omits several major topics of the Christian religion, such as the sacraments, the end times, and any explicit discussion of the relation of Jesus to God.  
Nevertheless, Romans is undoubtedly most important because it declares in power and at length its central message that God accepts people by grace, giving them the chance to start new no matter what’s in their past.  
Romans assumes, along with the rest of the New Testament, that the judgment of God is near at hand, and thus the central issue is where people stand in that judgment.  To be justified is to stand innocent before God as that judgment impends.  Romans further develops a few highlights of how “justified” people live, and from those hints, Christianity has developed an extended religious life (or several life options!).  But the foundational question is always, How do you stand before God?  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” that the gospel of grace has been revealed! 

I.  Some Words about Commentaries.  
Just a few, from my shelves.  
Before 1970.   A watershed in the interpretation of Paul set in during the 1970s.  E. P. Sanders (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 1977) argued powerfully that the Judaism of Paul’s time did not believe that salvation could be earned by “good works.”  A reinterpretation of Paul was necessary.  At the same period the historical reliability of Acts, as a source about Paul, was (again) seriously questioned, and the (genuine) “prison letters” of Paul were assigned to Ephesus rather than to the (later) Roman imprisonment.  (This made Romans the latest genuine letter of Paul to survive.)  Also, a wave of anti-imperialist interpretation of all things early Christian led to some radical revisions of Paul’s discussions of Rome.  On all this, see James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul, most recent edition, Eerdmans, 2008.  
Calvin, John.  The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and the Thessalonians, “Calvin’s Commentaries”; tr. Ross MacKenzie; Eerdmans, 1961.  This commentary was done early in Calvin’s career, before Geneva.  Calvin is a remarkably modern commentator, when translated into current American English.  He valued brevity and concision.  He had a little tongue-in-cheek praise for his friend Bucer’s commentary:  “Bucer is too verbose to be read quickly by those who have other matters to deal with, and too profound to be easily understood by less intelligent and attentive readers.”  (Page 3.)  
Godet, Frederick L.  Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, tr. A. Cusin, revised American edition by Talbot W. Chambers; reprint by Zondervan, 1956 [original French 1879, American translation 1883].  This is a remarkably cogent commentary, with excellent analyses of the movement of the arguments.  Godet was a prominent teacher and theologian in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel.  He had studied extensively in Germany and in the 1840s became the tutor and then chaplain to the crown prince of Prussia.  In 1873, the Swiss government essentially took over the Protestant churches of Neuchâtel, and the Evangelical Church of Neuchâtel was formed as an independent church.  Godet became the professor of New Testament at its seminary.  His substantial commentaries on John, Luke, Corinthians, and Romans were translated into English and have been valued by conservative Protestant readers. 
Sanday, William and Arthur C. Headlam.  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Scribners 1915 [original 1895].  This was the first New Testament volume to be published in the then new International Critical Commentary series.  It set a high standard for volumes to follow in that series.  It is very much a scholar’s volume; Greek is almost a necessity.  
Denny, James.  “St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Eerdmans reprint, 1956, Vol. II, pp. 555-725 [original about 1902].  Denny was a professor at the Free Church College in Glasgow, Scotland.  With his colleague A.B. Bruce, he taught the first generation of seminary students to read the New Testament in the light of historical criticism. 
Barth, Karl.  The Epistle to the Romans, tr. of 6th German ed. by Edwyn C. Hoskyns; Oxford University Press, 1933 [original 1918, fully revised 1922].  This is a theological work, not an exegetical work in any usual sense – in spite of Barth’s claim in the Preface to the English translation.  While doing this review I browsed through my old copy and was surprised to re-discover my extensive underlining and marginal notes from fifty to sixty years ago.  As with the Church Dogmatics (Barth’s 14-volume life work begun in the 1930s), one has to work hard to enter Barth’s language world.  The Romans commentary was a warm-up to the great Protestant Summa of the twentieth century.  
Dodd, C. H.  The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, “The Moffatt New Testament Commentary”; Harpers, 1932.  A very engaging commentary.  Dodd had a flair for relating Paul to modern readers.  Paul Tillich cites this commentary as the kind systematic theologians need for their work (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, pp. 35-36).  
Scott, E. F.  Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, S.C.M. Press, 1947.  This is a little book (125 pages) I just acquired from the used book market.  E. F. Scott was a professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York, in the heyday of Protestant Liberalism (the 1920s and 1930s).  Though written long after retirement, the book is still vigorous, and the thought still shows the old passion and generosity of the best Liberal preachers.  
Knox, John.  “The Epistle to the Romans,” The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX; Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1954, pp. 353-668.  John Knox was an influencial teacher at Union Theological Seminary of New York (1943-1966), starting when Reinhold Neibhur and Paul Tillich were on that faculty.  Knox was one of the first scholars to insist that Paul’s history should be reconstructed from the letters without assistance from the book of Acts (Chapters in a Life of Paul, Abingdon, 1950).  Much of his early research had been about the collection of Paul’s letters, and he viewed Romans 16 as a separate document, attached at a late stage to the Pauline collection.  
Barrett, C. K.  The Epistle to the Romans, “Harper’s New Testament Commentaries”; Harper and Row, 1957.  Barrett was appointed in the 1950s to one of the most renowned chairs of New Testament interpretation in Britain, at Durham University (occupied in the nineteenth century by J. B. Lightfoot).  He produced a major commentary on the Gospel According to John, and then in rapid succession, in the popular Black’s/Harper’s series, commentaries on Romans, I Corinthians, and II Corinthians.  These are well written, for the non-specialist, similar to Dodd’s work in the previous generation.  Barrett later capped a long career with the 2-volume commentary on Acts in the ICC series.  
Bruce, F.F.  The Letter of Paul to the Romans, “Tyndale New Testament Commentaries,” 2nd ed., Eerdmans, 1985 (1st ed. 1963).  Bruce re-wrote this work after some new Bible translations had come out (NEB, NIV, GNB).  Conservative in his theological leanings, Bruce was an excellent exegete, and here does some perceptive analyses of the arguments in Romans.  
Since 1970.  The last forty years of Paul scholarship is reviewed in James D. G. Dunn’s recent, Beginning from Jerusalem, Vol. II of “Christianity in the Making,” Eerdsman, 2009.  He summarizes the discussions and sketches his own reading of Romans on pp. 863-932.  
Cranfield, C. E. B.  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ICC series, 2 vols.; T&T Clark, 1975, 1979.  Replaces the old Sanday and Hedlam classic, continuing the meticulous scholarship and reputation of the series.  
Dunn, James D. G.  Romans 1-8 and Romans 9-16, “Word Biblical Commentaries”; Word, 1988.  As is usual in this series, includes massive bibliographies on all points of view.  This is Dunn’s early treatment of Paul in the “New Perspective.”  Dunn is “new,” but does not get carried away by the more radical new tangents in Paul interpretation.  
Fitzmyer, Joseph A.  Romans, “The Anchor Yale Bible”; Yale University Press, 1993.  Fitzmyer was a leading member of a group of American Catholic Biblical scholars who rose to the challenge of the Papal Encyclical Divino afflante spiritu (1943) and Vatical II (1962-65).  They created an impressive body of Catholic scholarship on the New Testament.  (Others of the group were Raymond E. Brown, John P. Meier, and Daniel J. Harrington.)  In the 1980s Fitzmyer did the marvelous commentary on Luke in the Anchor Bible series, and later also Acts in the same series.  He had done the short commentaries on Romans in The [New] Jerome Biblical Commentary, editions of 1968 and 1990.  The Anchor Romans is a very full work, especially with exhaustive bibliographies.  Fitzmyer is balanced in judgment, on controversial issues giving long lists of scholars who line up on different sides of a particular dispute.  (If you really just want Fitzmyer’s reading of Romans, you might do better to read the New Jerome Biblical Commentary  articles on Romans itself and on “Pauline Theology.”  
Two brief treatments of Romans in Study Bibles of this period warrant mention here.  One is Leander E. Keck’s intro and notes to Romans in The HarperCollins Study Bible, both the 1st edition (1993) and the Revised edition (2006).  Keck knows how to use the succinct annotation-format very well, and his cross-references are consistently useful.  The other is Neil Elliott’s intro and notes in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, both the third (2001) and fourth (2010) editions.  Elliott bases his notes on his aggressive anti-imperialist reading of Romans, and these notes give the reader a good feel for this approach to Paul.  
Moo, Douglas J.  The Epistle to the Romans, “New International Commentary on the New Testament”; Eerdmans, 1996.  This commentary is one of the best esteemed recent works by Evangelical scholars.  Moo taught for two decades at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and since 2000 at Wheaton College Graduate School.  His discussion of the complicated issue of the “purpose” of Paul’s “treatise” in Romans is very balanced and cogent, in the present writer’s opinion.  
Wright, N. Thomas.  “The Letter to the Romans,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X; Abingdon Press, 2002, pp. 393-770.  N.T. Wright has become a very popular writer on New Testament history and theology.  His writing is forceful and aims for a strong impact on the casual reader.  This commentary was written at the time that Wright was in the midst of his major trilogy on “Christian Origins and the Question of God.”  
Jewett, Robert.  Romans:  A Commentary, Hermeneia series; Fortress, 2006.  Bob Jewett taught for many years at Garett Theological Seminary in Evanston, becoming an internationally recognized specialist on the history and chronology of Paul’s letters.  This Hermeneia volume is the climax of a long career.  Here Jewett has maximized the information that can be tweaked from Romans, especially chapter 16.  He reconstructs the circumstances of the Roman apartment churches and also (new in interpretations of Paul) the cultural and political situations of Roman rule in Spain.  Some reviewers have thought that he slights the actual theological content of Romans in favor of the social-scientific and imperial-idealogical studies he pursues.  It is an aggressive and challenging (if rather hypothetical) approach to Romans.  
Longenecker, Richard N.  The Epistle to the Romans:  A Commentary on the Greek Text, “The New International Greek Testament Commentary”; Eerdmans, 2016.  This is another large-scale  commentary (1140 pages) culminating a life’s work.  (His first book on Paul was published in 1971.)  Longenecker, an Evangelical, taught for many years at Wycliffe College in Toronto, now retired.  In this volume he has a very circuitous writing style that suspends his main point until many qualifying phrases and parentheses have been squeezed in.  Difficult reading.  He claims a somewhat distinctive approach to what constitutes the “focus or central thrust” of the main body of the Epistle:  he thinks that “focus” is in the language of chapters 5-8, rather than Justification by Faith or Israel.  These chapters would have spoken more effectively to the non-Jewish majority of the Roman Christians because they minimize language specific to Jewish traditions.  

Sanders, E.P.  Paul:  The Apostle's Life, Letters, and Thought, Fortress Press, 2015.  While this is not a commentary as such, it is an appropriate work to conclude this review.  Sanders was particularly responsible for the "New Perspective" on Paul that started in the 1970s, and this is a sweeping summary of where he has arrived forty years later.  As always, Sanders takes a rigorously historical approach to Paul, emphasizing, among other things, that Paul, in his letters, engages in arguments, and that the conclusions at which Paul thinks he has arrived are what is really important.  The consecutive arguments of Romans are analyzed and discussed on pates 615 to 705, the equivalent of a small-size commentary.  

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Jewish Study Bible

The Jewish Study Bible:  
A Modern Reading of the Ancient Scriptures 
[Written in 2011, for Protestants for the Common Good.] 
Judaism has had its Rabbinic Study Bible since the second generation of printing in Europe (1516).  Most recently, for English-language readers, The Jewish Study Bible presents the Jewish Scriptures as the product of Israelite times but also as reverently set in the long history of Jewish life and liturgy. 

Outline of the Review
            From Hebrew to English
                        Earlier Study Bibles:  Hertz
                        The New JPS Version 
            The Jewish Study Bible (2004) 
                        Marc Brettler
                        Adele Berlin 
                        Goals of the Study Bible
                        Arrangement of the Biblical Books
                        Transitional Introductions 
            The Biblical Books 
                        The Contributors and the Books
            The Essays 
                        The Ages of Jewish Interpretation
                        The Bible in Jewish Life and Thought
                        Biblical Backgrounds
                        The Gem of the Essays:  The Religion of the Bible

The Rabbinic Bible, the Miqra’ot Gedolot (the Great Readings), was first printed in Venice in 1516, giving the Hebrew text of the Bible surrounded by the Aramaic translation (the Targum) and the Medieval commentaries of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and others.  A second edition was published in 1525.  These were the Hebrew Bibles the Reformers and early Protestant scholars read and used in place of the Latin Vulgate to translate the Old Testament into the colloquial languages of Europe.  
The picture below shows a page from a Rabbinic Bible printed in Poland in 1907, shown on page 1875 of The Jewish Study Bible. 

From Hebrew to English 
The Hebrew-Aramaic Great Bibles have continued as the mainstay of Jewish Bible study through the Guttenberg era.  (The Miqra’ot Gedolot I purchased at Hebrew Union College in 1960 is a 10-volume work from Pardes Publishing House in New York dated 1951.)  The main texts are in the Semitic languages because Jewish worship and study is in Hebrew, though other languages of the people have also accompanied Hebrew since the days of Aramaic and Greek.  Thus, in time the need came for English-language versions of the Jewish scriptures to accompany the Hebrew and Aramaic.  Here’s how Max Margolis described that time (somewhat dramatically), in his Preface to the 1917 translation of the Masoretic Text:  
The greatest change in the life of Israel during the last two generations was his [Israel’s] renewed acquaintance with English-speaking civilization.  [The Jews had been banned from England in the 14th century.]  Out of a handful of immigrants from Central Europe and the East who saw the shores of the New World, or even of England and her colonies, we have grown under Providence both in numbers and in importance, so that we constitute now the greatest section of Israel living in a single country outside of Russia.  We are only following in the footsteps of our great predecessors when, with the growth of our numbers, we have applied ourselves to the sacred task of preparing a new translation of the Bible into the English language, which, unless all signs fail, is to become the current speech of the majority of the children of Israel.  
(The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, Jewish Publication Society, 1917, “Preface,” p. vi.)  
As Jews settled into American culture, the ubiquitous King James Version (KJV) of the Bible came along with the language they learned.  Soon, however, an alternative to the Christian version of the scriptures was needed, and by the middle of the nineteenth century there was published a Jewish translation of the Bible that became very popular in the United States, published by an immigrant from Germany named Isaac Leeser.  He put out a Hebrew-English Torah in 1845, and the Twenty-Four Books of the Holy Scriptures in the 1850s.   
These were basically just Jewish adaptations of the KJV, and by the end of the century American Jewish scholars wanted a more current English version.  After some false starts, the Jewish Publication Society finally released in 1917, The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, the work of a seven-man editorial board that had spent seven years on the project.  (See Margolis’ account in the “Preface,” and the Jewish Study Bible article, “Jewish Translations of the Bible,” pp. 2013-14.)  
Earlier Study Bibles:  Hertz.  In the course of the twentieth century, the JPS translation of 1917 provided the English text for Jewish study Bibles.  The Soncino Press in London was especially prolific in Hebrew-English works on Bible and Talmud, including The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, ed. J.H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, 1st ed 1936, 2nd ed 1960.  The format of this work, going back to ancient times, gives the Hebrew text of the weekly readings of the Torah accompanied by the English translation.  Rabbi Hertz wrote introductions to each of the readings and gave verse-by-verse commentary on the entire Torah, plus commentary on the prophetic readings that traditionally accompany each weekly Torah section (the “Haftorahs”).  He also gave Additional Notes on scholarly topics along the way, such as, “Israel in Egypt—The Historical Problems,” and “Reward and Punishment in Judaism.”  (The Soncino Press published, in the following decades, a series of commentaries in matching format on the rest of the books of the Hebrew Bible.)  
Rabbi Hertz’s commentaries were conservative in their Biblical scholarship, and reflected the popular piety and morality of Britain in the early twentieth century.  
Cohen.  In the 1950’s, Soncino found it appropriate to issue an alternative edition of their Pentateuch, called The Soncino Chumash, ed. Dr. A. Cohen, 1956.  (“Chumash” is a nick-name for “the five fifths” of the Torah, thus penta-teuch, five-scroll work.)  This work had the same format as Rabbi Hertz’s, but instead of having commentary from the Chief Rabbi, the commentaries were selections from the classic Medieval Jewish commentators, Rashi (11th century French), Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th century Spanish), David Kimchi (12th century Spanish), Rashbam (12th century French), Nachmanides (13th century Spanish), and Obadiah ben Sforno (16th century Italian).  
The result is a large volume of succinct samples of Jewish interpretation of the Torah by its great classical commentators.  
Plaut.  More recently, after the Jewish Publication Society had published its new Torah and Nebi’im translations, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reformed Judaism) has published The Torah:  A Modern Commentary (1981), ed. W. Gunther Plaut.  The format is the same as the Hertz and Cohen volumes, Hebrew text with English translation arranged in weekly Torah units, accompanied by running commentary and little essays on special topics.  
This edition has two noteworthy additions:  Each Torah unit is followed by a section called “Gleanings,” which are little quotations or vignettes of homiletic relevance to the topic of that reading.  Also, enhancing the scholarly value of the work, there are five essays written by William W. Hallo of Yale University, one on each book of the Pentateuch, examining its ancient Near Eastern background:  “Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Literature,” and so on.  These are excellent essays.  
(It should be mentioned that in the Plaut Torah, the book of Leviticus receives completely different treatment from the other four.  It is introduced and commented on by a separate specialist in the sacrificial and holiness systems, Rabbi Bernard J. Bamberger, deceased at the time of publication.)  
The New JPS Version.  Beginning in 1953, the Jewish Publication Society projected an entirely new English version of the Hebrew scriptures.  (The Christian world had just come out with the Revised Standard Version.)  It was a slow process, involving different groups of scholars on each of the three parts of the Jewish Bible:  the Torah coming out in 1962, the Prophets (Nevi’im) in 1978 (though a few books were published separately earlier), and the Writings (Kethuvim) in 1982 (though Psalms and Job had earlier separate editions).  Finally, a revised complete work appeared as Tanakh (Torah-Nevi’im-Kethuvim) in 1985, supplemented by minor revisions in 1999.  In 2000, JPS issued the very convenient JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, printing the leading scholarly Hebrew text (the Leningrad codex of BHK and BHS) alongside the 1999 revision of the NJPS translation.  
Broadly, the NJPS translation occupies a middling position on the spectrum of translation styles:  it is less word-for-word that traditional English versions, but not so idiomatic as to be paraphrastic.  It is only a little more thought-for-thought than the Revised Standard Version or the New Revised Standard Version.  Mostly, this translation makes no accommodation for inclusive gender, such as turning masculine singulars into plurals, as in Psalm 1:1 (“Happy is the man...” NJPS; “Happy are those who...” NRSV).  
This version has a generous use of the footnote, “Meaning of Heb. uncertain,” which is unfortunate in that it doesn’t even suggest the nature of the problem—such as divided testimony among versions, as some other recent English versions do.  
The Jewish Study Bible (2004) 
The Jewish Study Bible is published by the Oxford University Press—not the Jewish Publication Society, which brought out the various editions of the NJPS translation.  The Study Bible was a project of Oxford—in fact a spin-off of Oxford’s flagship Study Bible, the New Oxford Annotated Bible, 2001 edition.  One of the Associate Editors of the NOAB 3rd ed. (2001) was Marc Z. Brettler, and he serves as the editorial link between the Oxford Annotated Bible and the Jewish Study Bible.  
Marc Z. Brettler.     
Marc Brettler is a fixture of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.  He did his undergraduate study there with high honors, went on to a Ph.D. in 1986, after which he served on the Brandeis faculty in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies as an Assistant, Associate, and then (1999) as full professor.  He served as Chair of the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from 2001 to 2006, and as Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies since 2001.  He has received awards for outstanding teaching as well as for publications, especially in Jewish adult education programs.  
His doctoral dissertation was published in revised form as, God is King: Understanding an Israelite Metaphor (SJSOT, Sheffield, UK, 1989), and later works continued  presenting ancient Israelite writings to modern, historically-conscious, readers.  In the late 1990s he was appointed Associate Editor for Old Testament (excluding Prophets and Apocrypha) of the Third Edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible (Michael D. Coogan, editor, 2001), and continued in that role for the Fourth Edition in 2010.  This OAB editorial work involved him in presenting serious Biblical interpretation at a popular but academically demanding level.  It also qualified him preeminently for editing a Jewish Study Bible with standards comparable to those of the OAB editions.  
Between the two editions of the Oxford Annotated Bibles, Marc published a work aimed particularly at Jewish readers who wanted a critically based introduction to the Jewish Scriptures.  This was How to Read the  Bible (Jewish Publication Society, 2005), which was then republished by Oxford for a wider audience and titled How to Read the Jewish Bible, 2007.  This publication is a general introduction to the Jewish Bible, an ideal preparation for reading The Jewish Study Bible.  
Marc Brettler’s most  recent continuation of serious Study Bible editing is a joint venture with Amy-Jill Levine, of Vanderbilt University, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Oxford, 2011.  (The bookseller blurb:  An international team of scholars brings out how Jewish practices and writings [particularly the Septuagint] have profoundly influenced New Testament writers. Too, there are 30 essays on such topics as Jesus in Jewish thought, parables and midrash, and Messianic movements. An illuminating, unusual approach. 700 pages, hardcover. Oxford University.)  
Adele Berlin.  Marc Brettler is only the Co-Editor of The Jewish Study Bible!  In alphabetical order, as listed on the title-page, the first Co-Editor is Adele Berlin.  
If Marc Brettler is a fixture of Brandeis University, Adele Berlin is a fixture of the University of Maryland.  Having gotten a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s, Ms Berlin was appointed to the English faculty at the University of Maryland in 1979.  There in time she served on “Area Groups” for Literary Theory and Mythology and Folklore, but she also had a joint appointment in Jewish Studies and herself developed the program in Biblical Studies.  She was eventually appointed Robert H. Smith Professor of Hebrew Bible, and has recently received emeritus status.  
Early publications were Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Sheffield, 1983), The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Indiana, 1985), and interpretations of the Biblical books of Zephaniah (Anchor Bible, 1994), Esther (Jewish Publication Society, 2001), and Lamentations (Westminster John Knox, 2002).  She served on many editorial boards and in professional societies, being President of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2000.  Among her activities at Maryland, she served as Director of the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies, chair of the Senate Faculty Affairs Committee, chair of the Internal Review of the Women's Studies Department and Program, and she held the position of Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs in 1994-1997.

Serving as an elder statesman for the Study Bible project was the Consulting Editor, Michael Fishbane, who had served on the Brandeis University faculty from 1969 to 1990, and since then has been Nathan Cummings Professor of Jewish Studies in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.  An early landmark publication was Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, Oxford 1985.

Goals of the Study Bible.  The overall goal of the Study Bible is to present a full and academically responsible reading of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings interpreted by Jewish scholars.  In their Introduction the editors state two goals more specifically:  
The first goal is to convey the best of modern academic scholarship on the Bible, that is, scholarship that reflects the way the Bible is approached in the university.  This desire comes from a strong conviction that this approach does not undermine Judaism, as leading figures of previous generations had argued, but can add significant depth to Jewish belief and values.  
The second goal is to reflect, in as broad a fashion as possible, the range of Jewish engagement with the Bible over the past two and a half millennia.... [The contributors to the Study Bible] employ state-of-the-art scholarship and a wide range of modern approaches; at the same time, they are sensitive to Jewish readings of the Bible, to classical Jewish interpretation, and to the place of the Bible in Jewish life.  In this respect they are actually quite “traditional,” in that Jewish interpreters have a long history of drawing on ideas and methods from the non-Jewish world in which they lived and incorporating them into Jewish writings.  (Pages ix-x.)  
To some extent, the second goal—to keep the Bible focused within Jewish life—is carried out in all parts of the work, with interpretation of particular Biblical passages constantly referring to post-Biblical Jewish traditions and practices.  However,  this goal is especially served by the series of Essays at the back, of which more below.  
The book is organized into two parts, the Biblical books, with their introductions and running annotations, and twenty-four Essays on the Bible in Jewish history and other background materials.  
Arrangement of the Biblical Books.  
The editors make a point in their Introduction that the Jewish Bible is not just a shortened version of the Christian Bible.  The Jewish Bible is complete in itself, has an integrity of its own, and it is that integral Jewish Bible that the contributors always have in view.  That Jewish Bible consists of three parts:  Torah, Prophets (Nevi’im), and Writings (Kethuvim).  The common acronym for the Bible in Hebrew is TaNaK, which is the unity of these three parts.  
By the time of Rabbinic Judaism (first century of the Christian Era), the Scriptures were judged to consist of twenty-four scrolls.  (Greek-speaking Judaism in Egypt had a different, longer list.)  Five scrolls made up the Torah, the Law of Moses.  Eight scrolls made up the Prophets, commonly divided into the Former Prophets (historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve—all twelve on only one scroll).  The latest in history, and the most conglomerate group, were the eleven scrolls of the Writings.  Since all these were separate scrolls, there was no precisely fixed order of the writings.  The order of the Writings used in the Study Bible is Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Five Scrolls, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah (one scroll in Hebrew-Aramaic), and Chronicles (also one scroll).  
(A Note on Scrolls.  “The Scriptures” in New Testament and early Rabbinic times consisted of a large collection of scrolls, requiring considerable cabinet space in which to store the separate scrolls, arranged according to the preferences of the custodian of each particular library.  For the size and character of these scrolls, see pictures of the big Isaiah scroll from Qumran, 1QIsaa.  NOTE:  See the Isaiah Scroll in an unroll-it-yourself presentation at:  Isaiah Scroll .)
People used to the traditional Protestant Bible will have some re-orienting to do.  The prophets are in the middle of the book, not the end.  The Psalms are in the last third, not the middle.  Ruth is toward the back, in the Five Scrolls, not after the book of Judges.  Daniel (not originally a prophetic book) stands between Esther (last of the Five Scrolls) and Ezra, appropriate to its actual Second Temple historical context.  And Chronicles appears at the very end, not as a supplement following the books of Samuel and Kings.  
Transitional Introductions (by editors) 
While introductions to the Biblical books are written by individual contributors, the larger units of the Bible—and sometimes special units in it—are introduced by Marc Brettler and Adele Berlin.  The Torah (7 pages), the Nevi’im (11 pages), and the Kethuvim (5 pages) have general introductions by Marc Brettler covering matters concerning the larger unit.  
For example, the Torah introduction has sections entitled, 
Terminology, Contents, and Traditional Views of Authorship;
Modern Source Theories; 
Compilation and Redaction of the Torah.  
The introduction to the Nevi’im has sections on, 
Terminology and Content;  
The Historical Books and Historiography [sacred histories]; 
The Former Prophets and the Deuteronomistic History; 
The Historical Books and Historicity [sources for historians]; 
The Latter Prophets and Their Order; 
The Nature and Composition of the Prophetic Books; 
The Phenomenon of Prophecy.  
The introduction to the Kethuvim contains the following comments.  
Kethuvim has no central theme or idea, in the way that the Torah (or Hexateuch) might have the land promise and its fulfillment as its center, or the Prophets as a whole might illustrate the significance of heeding the mediated divine word.  In fact, with the exception of Psalms and the five scrolls, which have significant liturgical uses, Kethuvim has not received much attention within Jewish tradition.  (Page 1279.)  
Berlin and Brettler also provide a brief introduction to the “Five Megillot (Scrolls).”  These five little works, though small, are traditionally counted as separate items and not lumped together as were the twelve smaller prophets.  The five scrolls have been arranged differently in different textual traditions, but eventually they were given a liturgical order, the order in which they are read during the year at Jewish festivals and observances (starting with the First of Nisan in the spring, see Exodus 12:2).  That order, given in the Study Bible, is:  
Song of Songs, read on Passover in April; 
Ruth, read on Shavuot (Weeks, Pentecost) in May-June; 
Lamentations, read on the Ninth of Av (Fall of Jerusalem) in July-August; 
Ecclesiastes, read on Sukkot (Booths, Tabernacles) in September-October; 
Esther, read on Purim (March).  
The Biblical Books  
The Contributors.  The twenty-four books of the Bible (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah are each single books for interpretation purposes) are introduced and given running commentaries by twenty-one scholars.  The credentials, institutional bases, and particular religious affiliations (Conservative, Reformed, Orthodox) are not given in the Study Bible.  There is no List of Contributors; they are identified simply by name—no titles—at the end of each Introduction to a book, and in the Table of Contents attached to their respective books.  Many of these are prominent scholars, likely to be recognized by people relatively familiar with current Biblical scholarship at large.  
At considerable risk of important omissions, the present writer will single out a few contributors and the books they have written about.  
Genesis.  Jon D. Levinson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School, where he has taught since 1988.  Levinson focuses on the literary and theological character of Genesis, but his Introduction has a summary on its historicity, and its general orientation can be taken as typical of the approach and spirit of The Jewish Study Bible.  
Because the action of the primeval story [Creation to Abraham] is not represented as taking place on the plane of ordinary human history and has so many affinities with ancient mythology, it is very far-fetched to speak of its narratives as historical at all.  In the case of the succeeding three large sections of the book, the matter is more complicated... At best, we can speak of accurate local color, although this may mean only that the Israelites knew something about the lands in which they placed their legendary forebears... Negative evidence, however, is not necessarily evidence of a negative, and historians are likely to continue examining the reports of Israel’s Mesopotamian origins and Egyptian sojourn for the foreseeable future. (Page 11.)  
Exodus.  Jeffrey H. Tigay, Emeritus A.M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania.  Tigay has taught at Penn from 1971, right after receiving his Ph.D. from Yale.  He also teaches in the Jewish Studies Program at Penn.  
On the structure of the Exodus narrative, Tigay makes the first major break in the book at 15:21—as is common in modern treatments of the book.  This seems particularly unfortunate in a work especially attentive to Jewish tradition, because it is clear that the ancient text made the big break at Exodus 13:17.  The narrators completed their summary of the sojourn in Egypt and the religious observances related to it prior to 13:17, and at 13:17 the characteristic actions of the wilderness period begin (guidance by cloud and fire, murmuring that the exodus was a bad thing).  Most of all, in the context of the Jewish Study Bible, the break for Sabbath reading comes at 13:17!  Both the original editors of the text and the later liturgists saw the major break in the narrative at 13:17.  
On the other hand, the traditional Hebrew text makes no special break at 15:21 at all.  The only traditional ground for breaking there is to include the Red Sea victory in the story of the Exodus, thus keeping it in the Passover Haggadah.  
Leviticus.  Baruch J. Schwartz, A. M. Shlansky senior lecturer in Biblical History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, noted for his work The Holiness Legislation (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1999), emphasizes the interpretation of Leviticus, with the Holiness Code as a separate stratum of the Priestly work, in the context of the whole narrative structure of the Priestly Work, Exodus 25-Numbers 10.  
Deuteronomy.  Bernard M. Levinson (who also did Deuteronomy in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd and 4th eds.) holds the Berman Family Chair in Jewish Studies and Hebrew Bible and is also Professor of Classics, Near Eastern Studies, and Law at the University of Minnesota.  His interpretation of Deuteronomy is rigorously historical, seeing the work and its historical background as pivotal in the development of Israelite religion.  
Historical Books.  Among those treating the historical books are Carol Meyers (Joshua), Grace Wilson, Professor of Religion at Duke University, teaching there since 1977.  She was a Brandeis alumna, receiving her Ph.D. in 1975.  
Yairah Amit, Professor of Biblical Studies at Tel Aviv University, Israel, does Judges.  Professor Amit is prominent for her treatment of literary criticism and Biblical narratives.  
Ziony Zevit, Distinguished Professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages at the American Jewish University (University of Judaism), Rockville, Maryland, does the book of Kings.  Prof. Zevit is noted for his mammoth The Religions of Ancient Israel (Continuum. 2001).  He views Kings as a work originally created in the age of Josiah (640-609 BCE), the deposit of a major religious revolution in Israelite religion, but updated by later writers.  
Prophetic Books.  Marvin A. Sweeney, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Claremont School of Theology, did two major prophetic books for the Jewish Study Bible, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  (He was later to do Isaiah for the New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th ed.)  He had already published King Josiah of Judah: The Lost Messiah of Israel (Oxford University Press, 2001), developing at length the historical context of the two books he treats here, and more recently he has written a major commentary on the book(s) of Kings for Westminster John Knox (2007).  
The Scroll of the Twelve, titled in the JSB, “The Twelve Minor Prophets,” is treated by a single contributor, Ehud Ben Zvi, Professor in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta.  A recent publication has continued his focus on the Scroll of the Twelve:  Two Sides of a Coin: Juxtaposing Views on Interpreting the Book of the Twelve/the Twelve Prophetic Books (Analecta Gorgiana, 2009).  In the JSB, Ben Zvi provides a four-page introduction to The Twelve as a separate collection.  
The Psalms.  The book of Psalms has been reserved by the editors to themselves for introduction and commentary.  This is particularly appropriate because one of Adele Berlin’s specialities has been the treatment of Israelite poetry.  (See her publications listed above.)  She also contributed the Essay on “Reading Biblical Poetry,” on pages 2097-2104.  Their Introduction is straightforward, with numerous references to later Jewish traditions about the Psalms.  They are appropriately reserved on the topic of genre, which was a mania of late twentiety-century Psalm study.  
One comment seems questionable, however.  “Praise is the quintessential nature of psalms, and hymns of praise are the most common type of psalm in the Psalter” (page 1283).  By any usual count, laments far outnumber hymns in the Psalms.  It is true that laments often have elements of praise in them (“In You our fathers trusted; / they trusted, and You rescued them,” Psalm 22:5, Hebrew verse numbering), but these are only rhetorical elements in an intense complaint and outcry for deliverance. 
Other Kethuvim.  On other books, this reviewer was disappointed in the treatments of Daniel and Chronicles.  
One is not likely to question orthodox scholarly orientations in the annotations of a study Bible, and thus Daniel is still treated with the first literary chop being between chapters 1-6 and chapters 7-12.  Just phenomenologically, if one can escape the genre-mania for a moment, the major literary chop in Daniel is that between Hebrew and Aramaic languages, that is, chapters 2-7 and 1 + 8-12.  The Aramaic Daniel is an integral and balanced composition with an A-B-C-C’-B’-A’ structure, matching up pairs of episodes according to major issues in Second Temple religious life:  
A and A’.  The Four Ages leading up to Israel’s Deliverance, 
            Nebuchadnezzar’s Four-Metal Statue, Daniel 2, 
            Daniel’s Four-Beast Political Decline, Daniel 7;
B and B’.  World Kings Who Violate God’s Boundaries, 
            Daniel’s Three Friends in the Fiery Furnace, Daniel 3,
            Daniel in the Lions’ Den, Daniel 6; 
C and C’.  World Kings Overcome by Arrogance, 
            Nebuchadnezzar’s Madness, Daniel 4, 
            Belshazzar’s Feast, Daniel 5.   
In the case of Chronicles, one could wish for more clarity on the structure of the work, given in six short lines at the end of the Introduction (page 1717).  The genealogies of I Chronicles 1-9 are clearly minor preliminaries to the great block of David materials in I 10-29.  David is clearly important as Preparer of the Temple, though the Chronicler also loves huge numbers of fighting men mustered for the wars of the Lord.  One has to go into the subheadings of the annotations to find the main structural achievements of the Chronicler.   
The Essays 
Much in the treatments of the Biblical books is not unique to the JSB.  The contributors present the best academic work current in the discipline, as taught and published by Jewish scholars.  The Essays, however, in part at least, present major topics that are distinctively Jewish.  The blocks of Essays are, 
            Jewish Interpretation of the Bible, pages 1827-1919.  
            The Bible in Jewish Life and Thought, pages 1920-2020.
            Backgrounds for Reading the Bible, pages 2021-2104.  
The ages of Jewish Interpretation begin with the Bible itself, “Inner-biblical Interpretation” (Benjamin D. Sommer), where, for example, Daniel 9 contains a re-interpretation of verses in Jeremiah 25 and 29.  There is then “Early Nonrabbinic Interpretation” (Hindy Najman), that is, such works as Jubilees, the Greek translations, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, and Josephus.  Then Classical Rabbinic Interpretation (Yaakov Elman), Midrash and Midrashic Interpretation (David Stern), Medieval Jewish Interpretation (Barry D. Walfish), Post-medieval Jewish Interpretation (Edward Breuer), and Modern Jewish Interpretation (S. David Sperling).  These are substantial essays, averaging 13 pages each, and provide significant orientation for readers unfamiliar with general Jewish history.  
The Bible in Jewish Life and Thought contains eight essays, the last of which is the history of Jewish translations of the Scriptures into the local languages of Judaism down through the ages, with special emphasis on the new translation used in the JSB (Leonard J. Greenspoon, 16 pages).  Other essays cover the Bible in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Esther Eshel), the Bible in the Synagogue (Avigdor Shinan), The Bible in the Liturgy (Stefan C. Reif), The Bible in the Jewish Philosophical Tradition (Hava Tirosh-Samuelson), The Bible in the Jewish Mystical Tradition (editors and Elliot R. Wolfson), the Bible in Israeli Life (more below), and Jewish Women’s Scholarly Writings on the Bible (Adele Reinhartz).  
Here the Essay on The Bible in Israeli Life, by Uriel Simon, is particularly interesting.  (This is a shortened version of an article published in Hebrew in 1999 and republished in the journal Modern Judaism, 19.3, also 1999.)  The article discusses with some urgency how the use and interpretation of the Scriptures have shifted since the creation of Israel in 1948.  
The essay begins, “The Bible, once at the center of the cultural scene in Israel, has become marginalized; its magic has faded” (page 1990).  The sections of the essay have the following titles:   
Early Days:  The Holy Scripture of Secular Zionism 
Method of Interpretation:  Derash Claiming to Be Peshat [“plain” meaning] 
The Crisis of Secular Zionism Undermines the Validity of the National Midrash 
Existential Peshat as a Possible Response to Current Needs 
Here are two significant quotes from the appeal in the final section:  
[The historical interpretation of the Bible by secular Zionism] can protect us from the fundamentalism that uncritically embraces biblical norms (such as political violence) in utterly changed circumstances....  
[On the other hand:]  The time of arrogant peshat, professing to be the supreme, exclusive, scientific truth, is over; the time has come for peshat which, though conscious of its advantages—rigorous discipline, rationality, consistency, independence, immediacy—is also acutely aware of the attendant disadvantages—clinging to the past, exclusive attention to the rational, and aversion to ambivalence.  This [new] peshat, far from disdaining midrash, recognizes its contribution.  (Page 1999.)  
Biblical Backgrounds 
Nine Essays provide broad information about the historical backgrounds of the Biblical writings.  As the editors explain in the introduction to this section, several of these are revised versions of essays included in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed.  
(It should be mentioned here that the JSB also contains at the back Tables and Charts for Timelines, Rulers, Weights and Measures, Calendar, Table of Biblical Readings, and lists of differences between chapter and verse numbering that differ from common Christian Bibles.)  
The editors themselves have provided the main historical essay, “Historical and Geographical Background to the Bible.”  The view of the historicity of Israel is moderately “maximal,” tying specific events and periods to archeologically-based data as much as possible.  At least major features of David’s era are recognized as historical, and the dynasties of the Divided Monarchies are firmly set in the larger international context.  The later periods are treated at more substantial length, the Persian and Hellenistic periods.  The historical coverage stops at the Maccabean period.  
Other “Background” Essays deal with Concepts of Purity in the Bible, Languages of the Bible, Textual Criticism, Canonization, the Development of the Masoretic Bible, and Modern Study of the Bible, largely adapted from the NOAB.  
The Gem of the Essays:  The Religion of the Bible 
In this reviewer’s opinion, the Essay by Stephen A. Geller on the Religion of the Bible is the best article-length survey of the religion of Israel generally available to students.  This is as close as we have come, in brief compass, to an adequate explanation of how early Israelite religion can have been a typical ancient Near Eastern religion and at the same time have produced the distinctive religious orientation that created the Bible as we find it.  This is the history of the critical turn that brought ancient Israel into the Axial Age (though this latter point is not explicit in Geller’s essay). 

Stephen A. Geller (not to be confused with an M.D. of the same name) is the Irma Cameron Milstein Chair of Bible at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.  He graduated from Cornell University in 1960 and Jewish Theological Seminary in 1965, later getting a doctorate from Harvard University in 1976.  His essay shows a maturity in dealing with both literary issues and religious issues also reflected in an early more substantial work:  Sacred Enigmas:  Literary Religion in the Hebrew Bible (Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1996).  [This book is currently selling online for $107 to $191.]

The basic viewpoint of Geller's essay is stated at the beginning:  "Biblical religion was a minority, dissident phenomenon, always at odds, as the Bible itself states, with the actual religions of the small kingdoms of Israel and Judah" (page 2021).  The whole essay is too complex to easily summarize, but here is its outline:  

        Israelite-Judean Religion [pre-“Biblical” religion], 6 pages.
Biblical Religion, 4 pages
            Revolution or Reform?
                        1.  Monotheism
                        2.  Centralization of worship 
                        3.  Myth vs. history 
                        4.  Individualism  
                        5.  Text religion and canon 
                        6.  Forms of piety 
The Development of Biblical Religion:  From Prophecy to Text , 1 page
Deuteronomic-covenantal Religion, 2 pages
Priestly-cultic Religion, 2 pages
Other Traditions of Biblical Religion, 4 pages
            The Liturgical Tradition [Psalms] 
            Prophetic Tradition in Biblical Religion 
            The Wisdom Tradition 
Conclusions and Synthesis, 2 pages 
This review has been mainly descriptive, with only a few evaluative comments along the way.  In case it hasn’t become clear, it is this reviewer’s assessment that this is a superb piece of scholarship and as fine an introduction and reading companion to the Jewish Bible as can be found.  Christian readers can get a better presentation of their own “Old Testament” here than in most books offered by their own confessions.  
That assumes, of course, that one is open to a historical-critical reading of the Scriptures.  As the Essay on the Bible in Israeli Life indicated in passing, literalist-fundamentalist readings of the Bible are apt to end up praising violence and warfare as having divine sanctions—because many Biblical texts present God as commanding and sanctioning death and slavery to non-elect human groups. 

The Jewish Study Bible, on the contrary, is a beacon of hope because it shows that top-level scholars in all sorts of institutional and religious settings are presenting Biblical traditions in humane, compassionate, and religiously sensitive ways.  It expresses the profound conviction that historical truth is ultimately supportive of the deepest grace and blessing of the God who chose and keeps Israel.