Last week we received the new Jewish Annotated New Testament. According to the preface this Bible has at least three objectives: 1) “[T]his volume high-lights in its annotations and essays aspects of first- and second-century Judaism that enrich the understanding of the New Testament: customs, literature, and interpretation of
biblical texts.” 2) the notes “highlight connections between the New Testament material and later Jewish (especially rabbinic) literature, so readers can track similar as well as distinct ideas across time.” 3) “the volume addresses problems that Jewish readers in particular may find in reading the New Testament, especially passages that have been used to perpetuate anti-Judaism and the stereotypes that non-Jewish readers sometimes bring to the text.”

Before I get to the notes there are thirty essays which cover a spectrum of topics including: Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made about Early Judaism, Jewish History, 331 BCE-135CE, The Law, The Synagogue, Jewish Miracle Workers in the Late Second Temple Period, Divine Beings, Paul and Judaism, Philo of Alexandria, Jewish Responses to Believers in Jesus, Jesus in Rabbinic Tradition, and Paul in Jewish Thought.  In addition to these full essays there are numerous maps, charts, sidebar essays and diagrams
throughout the text. The Scripture text used is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Each book contains an introduction which covers author, date, setting, structure and theme and other features which may be unique to a book. The date and authorship of the books is in alignment with liberal scholarship (i.e., Matthew is written between 80 and 90 CE, Luke is between the  late first or early second century, the Pastorals are not written by Paul). Here is a sample of some of the notes:

On the Trial of Christ:

Mark 14:53: “Chief priests, the elders, and the scribes constitute the Sanhedrin, or Jerusalem city council. It had authority over Jewish life in Judea, but Romans reserved control over some areas, especially capital punishment. For this reason, and because this trial is placed on Passover when such activities would be strictly
forbidden by Jewish law (m. Pesah. 4.1,5-6 makes clear that one may work up until noon on the day on which Passover begins at sundown), the scene is of questionable historicity.”

On the Release of Barabbas:

Mark 15:6-15: “Barabbas is Aramaic for ‘son of the father,’ and is likely an invented double for Jesus. There is no evidence that the Romans released prisoners, much less insurrectionaries, at Passover. Further, if the point is to release him for the festival, the timing is off: the paschal lamb was eaten the night before.”

The Last Supper is not a Seder:

Mark 14:12-25: “In Mark the Last Supper is the Passover meal (though not a Seder, which probably developed later, after destruction of the Temple in 70 CE), while at Jn 19.31 Jesus is crucified on the day of preparation for Passover.”

On the Last Supper in John:

John 13:1-38: “Final dinner. 1. Passover begins here on Friday night, in contrast to in the Synoptics, where it begins on Thursday (see Mt 26.17; Mk 14.12-16; Lk 22.15). This ‘supper’ is not a Passover meal—it lacks
the pascal lamb, and there is no institution of the Eucharist.”

On the tearing of the temple veil during the crucifixion:

Mark 15:38: “Was torn, Mk. 1,10; Isa 64.1. The tearing of the curtain could symbolize the presence of God’s power at the moment of Christ’s death, the access to God, or a critique of the Temple and anticipation of its destruction. (Although a curtain is made for the wilderness tabernacle [Ex 36] to separate the inner area where the ark is kept, there is no curtain mentioned in the construction of the Temple, either Solomon’s or the Second Temple).”

On the nature of Jesus’ miracles:

Mark 1:21-45: “Although there has been a tendency in the modern period to distinguish Jesus’ healings from those of contemporary Jews and others, this is a theological not a historical judgment. The miracles in the Gospels contain the same procedures, healing formulae (e.g., ‘be muzzled,’ ‘rebuked,’ v. 25, often retaining the original Aramaic, e.g., 7:34 ‘ephphatha’), and demonological lore as the magic of the ancient world.”

On the custom of Jewish hand washing:

Mark 7:3-4: “The Pharisees were known for observing traditions of the elders not found in scripture, including hand washing (an observance that acknowledged the likelihood of contact with things that were ritually unclean in the course of daily life, but that did not required total immersion), but it is probably incorrect that all the Jews observed these laws at this time. Sadducees—and most Jews?—did not follow the Pharisees in this matter. This raises the possibility that even if Jesus’ followers disagreed with the Pharisees on hand washing, they were in agreement with many, if not most Jews.

On Plucking Grain on the Sabbath:

Mark 2:23-28: “However, Mark does not accurately follow the biblical text, 1 Sam 21.1-6, making the question—Have you not read?—perhaps ironic. David acts alone in 1 Samuel, does not act from hunger, and does not enter the house of God to eat the bread of Presence. Further, the priest is Ahimelech, not Abiathar. Pharisees would also not likely be out in the fields on the Sabbath to observe behavior, so the story, like other conflict stories in the Gospels, is likely created to define the identities of Jesus’ followers and their opponents.”

On New Testament Christology:

Mark 1:9-11: “Jesus is never called ‘Son of God’ by the disciples, but he is by God, by unclean spirits (5.7), by Jewish authorities (14.61, in a question) and by a Roman soldier (15.39). In some Christian circles Son of God was elevated to include preexistence (as in the prologue to John’s Gospel, 1.1-14) and equality with God (Jn 5.18), but this only became a general view in Christian doctrine later. In Mark, Son of God was more likely
understood as the raising of a human being to a special status with God, influenced both by the model of the Davidic king and the Roman emperor (Livy 1.16).”

Galatians 4:6: “Spirit of his son, Paul distinguishes between Christ and God (1.1n; 1Cor 8.6), but not between the Spirit and Christ (Rom 8.9-10). In the fourth century the Nicene Creed distinguished God the Father, God the Son (Christ), and the God the Spirit. This Trinitarian conception is unknown to Paul and is barely attested in the NT (Mt 28.19).”

John 6:25: “I am expresses divinity and implies Jesus’ unity with God (Ex 3/14; Jn 1.1-3; 6. 20; 8.58).

John 6:38: “Jesus is not identical with God but rather is God’s agent.”

In a sidebar on “Paul and the Trinity”: “This passage [1 Cor 15.28] illustrates Paul’s understanding that Christ (the messiah) is not God, even though Christ incarnates God’s wisdom and power (1.24), imparts the Holy Spirit (6.17), and is the conduit for all existence (8.6); ultimately, ‘Christ belongs to God’ (3.23), who is both the source of all that exists in the universe as well as its purpose. This view is termed ‘subordinationism,’ although many Christians would reject such characterization of Paul’s theology.” (p. 293)

On the much-rumored “Needle Gate”:

Luke 18:25: “Eye of a needle, contrary to popular legend, Jerusalem had no ‘needle gate’ through which camels passed with difficulty.”

On Paul’s View of Women:

Galatians 3:28: “Some modern Christians have tried to read Paul as a liberation theologian, as if Paul, anticipating the struggles of our time, was opposed to the power structures of his time. But this reading of Paul
is most unlikely. On the contrary, Paul and the Pauline tradition counsel women to remain subject to their husbands (1 Cor 11.3; 14.24-35; cf. Eph 5.22-24; Col 3.18; 1 Tim 2.12; Titus 2.4-5; 1 Pet 3/1-5). Paul’s acceptance of slavery is evident in Philemon. The phrase in Gal 3.28 recurs in somewhat different form in Rom 10.12; 1 Cor 12.13, and Col 3.11, but the only distinction that appears in all four is that between Jew and Greek (Gentile), because the effacement of that distinction is the one that matters to Paul.”

On divine discipline:

Hebrews 12:5-11: “Suffering is understood as instructional discipline administered by God; cf. 2 Macc 6.12-17; Sifre Deut. 3111. This peripheral idea in the Hebrew Bible became mainstream in rabbinic literature, perhaps under the influence of the Hadrianic persecutions (132-135 CE), where it is called ‘yisurin shel ahavah.’ ‘chastisements of love’; Mek Bahodesh 10; b. Ber. 5a; b. Sanh. 101a; Gen. Rab. 42.1; cf. Heb 5:8.”

On the Conversion of Pilate:

Mark 15:14-15: “Mark places the blame on the Jews, an increasing tendency in subsequent accounts. After the dissemination of the Gospels, Pilate was even considered a convert to Christianity, and he is honored as a martyr in the Coptic Orthodox Church, his feast day is June 25. The transfer of guilt from the Romans—who crucified Jesus—to the Jews was then complete.”

There are plenty of notes here that will ruffle the feathers of conservatives. But that’s not their target audience. Even so, there is plenty here that conservatives  can learn from. The essays and notes are full of useful information which help fill out the Jewish context of the New Testament and the larger context of the first two centuries.