Book Review: The Complete Jewish Study Bible

The Complete Jewish Study Bible:  Insights For Jews & Christians, Illuminating The Jewishness Of God’s Word, edited by Rabbi Barry Rubin

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Bibles.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As someone who reads and reviews Bibles on a regular basis [1], there are often a few approaches I have when it comes to examining a Bible for its usefulness.  How does the text read?  What sort of extra features and commentary does it contain about the material?  How does the Bible approach the essential unity of the scriptures concerning the high place of God’s law and the importance of faith and obedience among believers?  Does the book address and deal with the essentially Hebraic nature of the writers of both testaments [2]?  How does the book address textual issues and a long history of faulty translation of material, especially in such matters as the Johanine Pericope of 1 John 5:7-8 and the problematic interpretation of the Pauline epistles so common within the Protestant world?  To be sure, not every reader will share these concerns, and some readers will have many other concerns that do not reach my own consciousness, but in reviewing this Bible in particular, I feel it necessary to state at the outset what sort of questions and concerns I have going into it, because a book that promises to provide insights to Jews and Christians and an explanation of the Jewishness of the whole Bible is setting a high bar for itself.  This book manages to deliver on its promises, providing excellent commentary and a text that is both rigorously translated and also challenging to readers who may be used to translations that simply seek to provide a few varying words within a text that operates from a consistently Hellenistic approach.  That sort of Hellenistic approach will not be found here, and those readers who are looking for it are likely to be disappointed.

The contents of this book are varied and somewhat complex.  Given the tension within the notes between an evident desire to point out the Jewishness of the Bible to the extent of making references to the Mishnah, Talmud, and various rabbinic interpreters like Rashi and the use of a capitalization of Adonai (Lord in most English language translations) to point to the use of the YHVH divine covenantal name as well as references to God in the New Testament and an equally evident desire to point out the Messianic nature of various Hebrew prophecies, this Bible’s committee meetings must have been fascinating to participate in.  A few notes about the contents of the book are necessary.  For one, the order of the books in the Hebrew scriptures are done according to the order of the Tanakh, not the order of most English Bibles, and on the tops of the pages the Hebrew name of the book (if there is one) is on the left-hand side of the open Bible and the English name is on the right-hand side, so one will have to get used to turning to Tehillim (Psalms) or Messianic Jews (Hebrews).  Additionally, many Hebrew idioms make their way onto the main text in sometimes surprising ways.  Witness, for example, the quotation of Psalm 110:4 in Hebrews 5:6:  “You are a cohen forever, to be compared with Malki-Tzedek.”  Or, for another example, look at the pointed translation of 1 Timothy 1:8-11a:  “We know that the Torah is good, provided one uses it in the way the Torah itself intends.  We are aware that the Torah is not for a person who is righteous, but for those who are heedless of Torah and rebellious, ungodly and sinful, wicked and worldly, for people who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral–both heterosexual and homosexual–slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone who acts contrary to the sound teaching that accords with the Good News of the glorious and blessed God.”  This is a translation that packs a lot of punch, including a focus on transliterating rather than translating important Hebrew words like Shalom for peace where they appear in the New Testament.  In addition to thorough cross-references as well as frequent commentaries on the Jewishness of what biblical authors say, the editors of this Bible also manages to include a variety of helpful and thoughtful larger discussions that seek to overcome a lengthy and misguided legacy of anti-Semitism among those who saw in the biblical debates between Jesus and Pharisees warrant for their own hatred of the Jews, rather than the record of an internecine struggle among those who were fighting over a shared legacy of religious belief and practice.  The result is a Bible that has a rigorous textual basis and also manages to confront many of its readers with their own assumptions and lack of knowledge about what the Bible actually means.

Ultimately, this Bible does precisely what the Bible should do, and that is throw down the gauntlet and confront contemporary believers with the high ethical demands of God’s ways and the essential unity of the Scriptures, even if frequently the Old and New Testaments have been pitted against each other in both Jewish and Hellenistic Christian circles.  This Bible will be of most obvious appeal to messianic Jews, Jews looking at a fair-minded New Testament to better understand Christianity, and those Christians who are looking to overcome a legacy of misguided and mistaken interpretations of Pauline epistles in a way contrary to their intent and meaning.  The book gives far more credit to rabbinic sources that many Christians will be fully comfortable with, and far more credit to Christian interpretations of messianic scriptures than Jews will be comfortable with, but the ethnically demanding and intellectual rigorous nature of this translation, and the way that it prompts the reader to have a more intimate understanding of the essentially Jewish nature of the New Testament makes this a translation I plan on using for Bible Study as well as following along in Sabbath services for quite some time.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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12 Responses to Book Review: The Complete Jewish Study Bible

  1. Reblogged this on Hendrickson Publishers Blog and commented:
    Nathan Albright offers his thoughtful perspective on The Complete Jewish Study Bible in this review:

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