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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Introduction: What Is “The Jewish Study Bible”?

MORE THAN TWENTY‐FIVE CENTURIES have passed since an anonymous Jewish poet wrote an elaborate and lengthy prayer that included this exclamation:

O how I love your teaching! It is my study all day long (Ps. 119.97 ).

These two themes—the love for Torah (teaching) and dedication to the study of it—have characterized Jewish reading and interpretation of the Bible ever since. The love is the impetus for the study; the study is the expression of the love. Indeed the intensity with which Jews have examined this text through the centuries testifies both to their love of it—a love combined with awe and deep reverence—and to their intellectual curiosity about it. That tradition of impassioned intellectual engagement continues to the present day.

The tradition of biblical interpretation has been a constant conversation, at times an argument, among its participants; at no period has the text been interpreted in a monolithic fashion. If anything marks Jewish biblical interpretation it is the diversity of approaches employed and the multiplicity of meanings produced. This is expressed in the famous rabbinic saying: “There are seventy faces to the Torah” (Num. Rab. 13.15 and parallels), meaning that biblical texts are open to seventy different interpretations, with seventy symbolizing a large and complete number. Thus, there is no official Jewish interpretation of the Bible. In keeping with this attitude, the interpreters who contributed to this volume have followed a variety of methods of interpretation, and the editors have not attempted to harmonize the contributions, so an array of perspectives is manifest. In addition, we do not claim any privileged status for this volume; we can only hope that it will find its place among the myriad Jewish interpretations that have preceded and will follow. We hope that Jewish readers will use this book as a resource to better understand the multiple interpretive streams that have informed, and continue to inform, their tradition. We also hope that The Jewish Study Bible will serve as a compelling introduction for students of the Bible from other backgrounds and traditions, who are curious about contemporary academic Jewish biblical interpretation.

Jews have been engaged in reading and interpreting the Bible, or Tanakh, since its inception. Even before the biblical canon was complete, some of its early writings were becoming authoritative, and were cited, alluded to, and reworked in later writings, which themselves would become part of the Bible. Jewish biblical interpretation continued in various forms in early translations into Greek and Aramaic, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in rabbinic literature, and in medieval and modern commentaries; it continues in the present. We therefore have kept in mind two overarching goals in the commissioning and editing of the study materials in this volume. 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. Thisdesire 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 breadth of this engagement, as well as its depth, should not be underestimated. In fact, as a group, the contributors reflect divergent Jewish commitments and beliefs, which infuse their commentaries. They 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.

Although there is no single notion of Jewish biblical interpretation, our contributors share some commonalities:

  • • They view the Tanakh as complete in itself, not as a part of a larger Bible or a prelude to the New Testament. For all of them, the Tanakh is “the Bible,” and for this reason The Jewish Study Bible uses the terms “Tanakh” and “the Bible” interchangeably.

  • • We avoid the term “Hebrew Bible,” a redundancy in the Jewish view. Jews have no Bible but the “Hebrew Bible.” (Some Christians use “Hebrew Bible,” a sensitive substitute for “Old Testament,” to distinguish it from the Greek Bible, or New Testament.)

  • • They take seriously the traditional Hebrew (Masoretic) text of the Bible.

  • • They take cognizance of and draw upon traditional Jewish interpretation, thereby placing themselves in the larger context of Jewish exegesis.

  • • They point out where biblical passages have influenced Jewish practice.

  • • They call attention to biblical passages that are especially meaningful in the life of the Jewish community.

Just as there is no one Jewish interpretation, there is no authorized Jewish translation of the Bible into English. In fact, translation has always been less important in Jewish communal life than in Christian communities, because public liturgical readings from the Bible have always been in Hebrew, a language understood until recent centuries by many within the community. For Jews, the official Bible is the Hebrew Masoretic Text; it has never been replaced by an official translation (like the Vulgate, for instance, which is the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church). Nevertheless, because many Jews since postbiblical times did not understand biblical Hebrew, translations into vernacular languages were made. For contemporary English‐speaking Jews, the best and most widely read Jewish translation is the most recent one commissioned and published by the Jewish Publication Society, begun in 1955 and completed in 1982, with revisions to the earlier books incorporated in the 1985 edition, and with a revised and corrected second edition in 1999. That second edition of the translation (NJPS Tanakh) serves as the basis for this volume.

There is no single way to read through the Bible—this is reflected in the variety of orders found for the biblical books in manuscripts and rabbinic texts. In fact, some may prefer first to read background material about the Bible, and only then to read the text. For this reason, we have taken an expansive approach in offering numerous essays that explore many aspects of the Bible and its intepretation. Some of these are of the type found in other study Bibles, exploring issues such as canon, the history of the biblical period, and modern methods of studying the Bible. Others reflect the specific interests of The Jewish Study Bible, including essays on the history of the Jewish interpretation of the Bible, Jewish Bible translation, midrash, and the Bible in the Jewish philosophical, mystical, and liturgical traditions. Each essay is self‐standing, and there is often overlap between them. As a whole, however, theyconvey the important place of the Bible within Judaism, and many of the varieties of uses that this text has found throughout the ages. We hope that, along with the annotations, these essays will introduce a wide audience to the world of Jewish tradition as it relates to the Bible. (A brief introduction to the essays, pp. 1827–28, sets out their arrangement and aims in greater detail.)

For each book of the Bible, our contributors have provided an introduction that sets it in its context—its original setting, so far as that can be determined; the wider corpus of which it is a part; its genre; and its place within Judaism—and provides an overview of the issues involved in reading it. Like many traditional rabbinic texts, the main text, here the NJPS translation, is surrounded by commentary, or more precisely annotations, often quite extensive, that comment on specific points in the text but also bring the reader back to the larger issues raised in the introduction and elsewhere. These annotations frequently refer to other portions of the biblical text, and further insight can be gained by checking these references and reading those texts and their associated annotations.

Besides the essays described above, the volume has further information. A timeline lists rulers in the land of Israel and the surrounding empires during the biblical period. A chart of weights and measures gives modern approximations to the quantities specified at various points in the text (these are usually explained in the annotations as well). A table of chapter/verse numbering differences between the Hebrew text and standard, non‐Jewish English translations, will be of help to those who come to this volume from a different translation tradition. A list of biblical readings provides the citations of texts for use in the synagogue. A glossary, explaining technical terms in biblical studies, various literary terms, and numerous words specific to the Jewish interpretive tradition, provides further information for the technical vocabulary that was sometimes unavoidable. An index to the entirety of the study materials—book introductions, annotations, and essays—keyed by page number, facilitates pursuing particular topics through the full range of the study materials. Finally, a set of full‐color maps and a map index present geographical background for the events detailed in the text, the annotations, and the historical essays.


In order to produce a work of this length and complexity, many people must play a role. We especially wish to thank Dr. Ellen Frankel, chief executive and editor‐in‐chief of the Jewish Publication Society, who first suggested this publishing project to Oxford University Press, and Prof. Michael Fishbane, the academic advisor to JPS, who participated in the initial planning and whose scholarly dedication both to the biblical text and to the tradition of Jewish interpretation served as a model for our endeavors. We are grateful to JPS, and particularly to the Board of Trustees of the Society, for agreeing to make their translation available for this study edition.

We are also mindful of all the scholarship that has gone before us, and on which we have relied throughout the volume. In particular, we have followed the model of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, and have, with the permission of Oxford University Press, adapted some of the excellent auxiliary materials in that work for use in this one. The introductory essays to the three canonical groups, Torah, Neviʾim,andKethuvim are expanded versions of the essays written for the Annotated: “The Pentateuch” (Marc Z. Brettler), “The Historical Books” (Marc Z. Brettler), “The Poetical and Wisdom Books” (Marc Z. Brettler), and “The Prophetic Books” (Carol A. Newsom). The essay on “The Canonization of the Bible” is adapted from the essay “The Canons of the Bible” (Marc Z. Brettler and Pheme Perkins). The essay on “Textual Criticism of the Bible” is adapted from “Textual Criticism” by Michael D. Coogan and PhemePerkins. The essay on “The Modern Study of the Bible” is adapted from “The Interpretation of the Bible: From the Nineteenth to the Mid‐twentieth Centuries” (Michael D. Coogan) and “Contemporary Methods in Biblical Study” (Carol A. Newsom). The essay on “The Historical and Geographical Background to the Bible” is partly based on “The Ancient Near East” (Michael D. Coogan), “The Persian and Hellenistic Periods” (Carol A. Newsom), and “The Geography of the Bible” (Michael D. Coogan).

In addition, the editors would especially like to thank: The editorial staff at Oxford University Press in New York, especially Jennifer Grady and Miriam Gross, who handled the complex and demanding editorial process with care; James R. Getz, Jr., and Sheila Reeder, who checked many cross references and other internal matters in manuscript and made numerous improvements in the study materials; Leslie Phillips, who designed the volume and oversaw the producton process; Katrina Gettman, who copyedited the manuscript and imposed order on our many and varied editorial decisions; Peachtree Editorial and Proofreading Service, who proofread the entire text and kept the process on schedule; Kate Mertes, who prepared the index to the study materials; and Christopher B. Wyckoff, who drew up the bibliography in “Translations of Primary Sources.” We are particularly thankful for the guidance, erudition, and encouragement of Donald Kraus, executive editor in the Bible department at Oxford University Press, U.S.A.; he conceived this volume, and his creative and experienced hand may be seen on every page. We also thank the contributors, from whom we have learned so much, and hope that they will be pleased with the whole, to which each contributed an invaluable part. Both editors, coming from different perspectives, have read every word of every annotation and essay, often more than once. Our editing sessions became wonderful opportunities for serious discussion between ourselves and with our contributors on a wide range of fundamental issues in biblical and Jewish studies. We invite our readers to partake of the fruits of this productive collaboration, the seventy faces of the Torah that await them in this volume.

We are completing our work on this volume as we approach the holiday of Shavu‘ot, the time when, according to postbiblical Jewish tradition, the Torah was given to Moses. The volume is being published close to the holiday of Simḥat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Torah, when the annual liturgical reading cycle of the Torah is completed and immediately begun again. As we have worked on this Bible for the last three years, we have gained even greater respect and appreciation for the “gift” of the Bible and for the never‐ending, ever‐renewing Jewish interpretive traditions. We share with even more profound conviction the sentiment of the psalmist with whose words we opened this introduction:

O how I love your teaching! It is my study all day long.



June 2003

Sivan 5762

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