Monday, April 29, 2013


Last year I decided to occasionally review a new book. I have not done it recently, so I thought I’d just remind everyone of the three I’ve already done. These are not full-scale reviews. I focus on one issue:  Has the author(s) fairly and accurately described 1st century Jewish culture?
They are all posted on Amazon. I also posted each one on this blog as follows (since I post only once a month, they are easy to find):
May 2012 — The Triumph of Christianity by Rodney Stark

August 2012 — The Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin

October 2012 — The Jewish Annotated New Testament edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler
All are extremely disappointing. None of them convey any sense that the most important things about ancient Judaism were the fight for constitutional government, justice, and peace. Not one of these items even enters the picture for these authors.
The most disappointing is Annotated. It is essentially a work of Christian theology with a little bit of Jewish flavor to it. Maybe the single worst thing about it is that it reinforces — not with evidence, but merely by repetition of the accusation — the traditional story of Jewish leaders and Judas acting against Jesus. Nothing in Jewish history (or specifically, in Josephus) supports such an idea. None of the editors or contributing authors do anything to challenge it.
There are more details in my review. But here is one very slight point I do not mention in the review of Annotated. In their note for Matt 27:11-26, they point out that Barabbas is a name you will find in rabbinic literature, but they add that ‘Barabbas’ makes a theological point that Barabbas was a ‘son of the father’ counterpart to Jesus. They make the same point at Mark 15:1-15, claiming that Barabbas is an invented double for Jesus. This may be Christian theology, but it is not Jewish history. The name ‘Bar-Abba’ (son of someone with the title of Abba) was never used in Jewish culture to mean son of God the father. It merely designated someone who was the son of an Abba. There are at least a couple of examples of an Abba from the 1st century, and later, it became more widely used. There is even an Abba bar Abba in the Talmud. If they have any evidence that Jewish culture in the 1st century could have used Bar-Abba as a symbolic way of referring to a son of God, they certainly have not presented it. It is a small example of the way they intrude Christian theology into Jewish history, which is why I left it out of my review.
© 2013 Leon Zitzer

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