Customer Reviews: The Jewish Annotated New Testament
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on January 6, 2012
As an evangelical, born-again Christian with several close, Jewish friends, (many of whom are orthodox,) I knew immediately which scriptures to scrutinize the moment my copy arrived. Frankly, I was astounded. The perspective is obviously, unapologetically Jewish. Make no mistake, this commentary was NOT written by scholars who believe Jesus was the Messiah. But if your mind is big enough to set that aside, these scholars will enrich you with information, details and an historical perspective worth 50 times the cover price of the book. Balanced, fair, and containing no vitriol at all, this volume can be held up as an example of the brilliance that is possible when fair-minded men and women seek to understand the beliefs of a group other than their own. I highly recommend it. I would happily have paid the cover price merely to have read the preface to the Gospel of John. Well done! Again I say, Well done!
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on December 3, 2011
Those of us who are involved in interfaith dialogue will recognize that this book will be a classic reference work for anyone seriously interested in Judaism in the first century. The editors have done an extraordinary service to both New Testament scholarship, and to correcting the misunderstood relationship Jesus had with his own Judaism. To say "Jesus was Jewish" is one thing, but this important book squarely places him at the epicenter of his people, in one of the most tumultuous periods in Jewish history - only a few decades before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. As a congregational rabbi myself who does a lot of interfaith work this book stands out as a reference work I will be proud to recommend to my rabbinic colleagues, to pastors, and to congregants in both churches and synagogues who want a fresh perspective on the Christian Scriptures through the annotations of Jewish scholars. Readers might also be interested in Dr. Levine's other important study of Jesus: The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
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This review addresses the text, but it will make a point of describing how well the volume succeeds as a Kindle book. It gets five stars, in spite of blemishes, because the scholarship is first-rate and the perks one gets from the Kindle platform add enough value that you really get your money's worth. In a way, the only sign that the point of view is "Jewish" is that there is no bias to any Christian theology, such as Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, or Pentecostal.

The intention for publishing The Jewish Annotated New Testament, according to its editors, Amy-Jill Levine and Mark Zvi Brettler is to recognize the growing understanding between Jewish and Christian traditions, and to help further that understanding. It may be worth noting that both editors are at the top of their fields. Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar, is literally a household name among the faculty and students at my seminary. Mark Zvi Brettler is an Old Testament specialist.
The Translation is the NRSV, the most popular Protestant "Scholarly" translation. Therefore, the best yardstick for evaluating it would be the Harper/Collins Annotated (NRSV) Bible. There is only one other major contemporary study Bible on Kindle, and the problems it has are a lesson that the Bible is a difficult book for a generic e-reader to handle. However, I have found reasons to prefer this over dedicated biblical software such as Bibleworks.

The "active" Table of Contents is good by Kindle standards, easy to reach, and gives you access to each book, essay, and appendix. This is much better than the ESV, but it stops too soon, in that once you come to the beginning of the book, it is tedious to scroll down to reach, for example Romans 8:8. With the ESV, you could enter a book and verse number, and go to that verse. I tried a few tricks in the search line, but none worked.

The maps are especially good, in that there is one customized to each Gospel, giving the location of only the names which appeared in that Gospel. But you will not find the brilliantly colored maps which are a fixture at the back of paper Oxford University Press Bibles. But, several of the potentially very useful charts, such as a "Timeline" and a "Table of Rulers" was in the text as a picture, and the text in the picture was so small, I simply could not read them. No amount of jiggery-pokery with font size would enlarge them. This is unfortunate, since some of these tables are the most useful to have in a study Bible. Oddly, other tables were done in "native" Kindle text, and these were fine.

The glossary was very nice, and for those items I checked, were as accurate as a one sentence definition can be. The search function is the primary reason I buy Kindle editions. Here, it works as well as in most books, but a second weakness is that if you query, for example, "son of man" and go to one of the results, if that phrase is in a longer book, you have no clue about which book you found. All you see is a mass of numbered verses which, if you are not familiar with the Bible, can leave you cold. The footnotes, on the other hand, were nicely done. If a verse had a footnote, its verse number was in a highlighted color. Clicking on them brought up the notes, but only the notes on that page.

The sidebar essays are nicely done, especially for the fact that they are all listed in the active "Table of Contents". So, if I want to read about "diatribe", I click on that and it takes me to Romans Chapter 2, which is exactly where I expected to go. This little essay describes "diatribe" better than anything else I have read on the subject, by being brief as well as accurate. The sidebar on "the virgin birth" was similarly concise, yet deep enough to get all the main issues included.
The introductions to the books, especially the Gospels, are marvelous distillations of scholarship we are familiar with in a seminary. One may think this is where these essays would look different from those written by a Christian. In fact, they are virtually identical to what I would expect from a Christian scholar. The only error I found was in a characterization of Shylock in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", but then, that isn't in the Bible.

The list of sources at the beginning of the book, and the bibliography at the end were, like everything else, concise and helpful. They have the concomitant benefit of being searchable, if you happen to want a list of all of Cicero's major works. So, if you happen to want to compare what the gospels and Cicero said about tax collectors, you could look up Cicero, find him in the notes, then go the text to which the note points. Then, the problem of where are you (see above) kicks in.

It is just a bit annoying that Kindle does not yet support Hebrew, Greek, or Arabic alphabets. The transliterations are ok, especially if you don't know Hebrew, but if you do know Greek, it is nice to see the Greek to be sure the transliteration is reasonable.

In spite of its weaknesses, there are several good reasons for getting this edition on the Kindle. My main ones deal with things you cannot do with dedicated Bible software such as Bibleworks. With this, I can highlight and add notes to my heart's content, feeling no regret that I am marking up a "Bible". I can comment on NT lectionary passages on which I write, and find those comments three years from now, when the same passage comes around again. It's almost a shame that you can't have two copies, so you can mark them up in two different ways. This way, you can find all those passages which you consider especially important to something you wrote, or just generally unusual or inspiring, the way I came across the passage in Hebrews 1:6 - 7, which is remarkable suggestive of ayah's in the Qur'an:

6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." 7 Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire."

This is better as a Bible Commentary than it is as a good electronic Bible text, but it is good enough, and the "perks" which come with the Kindle should sell you on the idea. And, I like the idea of keeping the Old and New in separate volumes for the Kindle, since the combined Bible is too unwieldy for the Kindle paradigm yet.
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on March 2, 2012
Every once in a while, a popular periodical will run a story about the state of biblical illiteracy common among the general populace -- including the church-going faithful. The common joke is that the Bible is the most revered never read book, or the best selling least read book, in the history of the printed word.

Not any more.

Oxford University Press has recently published "The Jewish Annotated New Testament", which will prove to be an invaluable introduction into the amazing world of modern biblical studies.

Amy-Jill Levine (Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN) and Marc Z. Brettler (Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University) have just edited this mixture of introduction to quality New Testament scholarship, reference book and devotional scripture that should be obligatory reading for every Christian, New-Atheist, academic, or just anyone interested in the Bible.

The volume offers the full text of the New Testament heavily annotated with the best in current biblical scholarship, with an intense (but not exclusive) interest in how our accumulated knowledge of Jewish history, culture, and religion -- especially in the context of the first and second centuries CE Roman world -- can further help us understand the development and impact of the writings of what came to be collected and known as our New Testament.

Most Christians in America feel a certain kinship with Jewish people as co-inheritors of a common religious legacy, but not often are these shared faith genealogies explored thoroughly. Reading the New Testament through Judaism-colored glasses will certainly fill an emotional, as well as intellectual, void for both sides of this ecumenical dance.

In the editors' preface, they cite three main reasons for the production of this work: 1) "[T]his volume highlights in its annotations and essays aspects of first- and second-century Judaism that enrich the understanding of the New Testament: customs, literature, and interpretations of the biblical texts..."; 2) "[W]e 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..."; and 3) "[T]he 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 texts."

The Biblical Text

The New Testament text included here is the New Revised Standard Version, which could be summarized as the latest iteration of the King James Version except with modern English and including all of the manuscript and linguistic advances in academic studies of the past 400 years. The translation committee pithily summarizes their entire approach with the motto: "As literal as possible, as free as necessary."

And it shows. For those raised with the King James Version, this translation is familiar enough to be easily recognizable, but with the freshness of a less archaic and more understandable phraseology. For those accustomed to interlinear translations (where the English words appear under the Greek text), there is surprisingly little loss in its faithfulness to the original language. Most Latter-day Saints, as well as KJV Christians, might be amazed at how much more alive the New Testament will read with this translation alone.

Not only does the NRSV offer a more accurate and scholarly translation, bringing modern readers closer to the original authors, but it also allows for greater comprehension through a contemporary English.


But the NRSV translation isn't even the most important contribution here. This New Testament is heavily annotated (by the size and font of the average footnote, I would guess at least 10 times more so than your common Bible) with much more than simple cross-references or minor elucidations. Most of the notes include brief scholarly explanations of cultural or historical contexts, many of which expound on first century Judean traditions. Discussions on textual criticism and manuscript traditions also enrich our grasp of the complexity of this scholarly field.

Footnotes abound and, as can be easily gleaned from the examples [cited in the full review, see below], are of high quality of scholarship, help elaborate in the mind of the novice the historical context of the authors penning these religious tractates, and in many instances offer novel insights even for academics. The emphasis on discussing the Jewish cultural milieu pays
off tremendously.

Extra Commentary

Aside from these footnotes, longer explanations and discussions are taken out of the footnotes section and laid out in inserts among the texts, which make for a more interesting and enticing reading experience, and allows for a more detailed and thorough examination. A few examples of the inserted material include these excellent discussions: `The Virgin Birth' (Mt 1), `Eschatological Elements in Matthew' (Mt 24), `Pharisees and Tax Collectors' (Mk 2), `Jesus' Synagogue Sermon' (Lk 4), `Pharisees in Luke' (Lk 5), `Parable of the Good Samaritan' (Lk 10), `Stephen's Speech' (Acts 7), `Grafting of the Olive Branch' (Rom 11), `Sexual Mores' (1 Cor 7), `Paul and the Rabbis on Moses' Radiant Face' (2 Cor 4), `Christian Hymn' (Phil 2), `Slavery
in the Roman Empire' (Philem), `The High Priest in Jewish Tradition' (Heb 5), and `Suffering Under Persecution' (1 Pet 2).

Unsurprisingly, all eleven inserts on Revelation, more than any of the other commentaries previously, make a profound impact on the reading of the concomitant biblical text, allowing it to shine with incredible new clarity (`Oral and Written Prophecy', `Christ as a Manifestation of God', `The Letters to the Seven Congregations', `So-called Jews and their Synagogues of Satan', `John as a New Ezekiel', `The Numerology of Revelation', `The Heavenly Temple Cult', `Chaos Monsters', `Names Inscribed on the Body', `Woman and the Symbolism of Pollution', `A Holy
City without a Holy Temple').

Book Introductions

Aside from the footnotes and the commentary, every book of the New Testament opens with a 10-30 paragraph introduction to the current state of scholarship regarding said book, often with background discussion into its individual history and the history of the scholarship surrounding it. Every introduction is written by a different scholar, allowing for a variety of voices and styles, which is refreshing and informative. Almost every book includes a map specific to it, which is particularly helpful when studying each individual text more in depth, because it makes it easier to visualize (and understand) it and its author in their particular context -- and not conflate the texts into meta-narratives that are modern constructions completely foreign to the
original authors. The Acts of the Apostles alone carry a total of six maps progressively concurrent with its narrative, which makes following it a lot easier and a lot more comprehensible.


But the annotated footnotes, the scholarly introductions, or the explanatory inserts aren't even the most important contributions here. Included as appendices are 30 short essays (88 pages of double-columned very small-font texts) that offer densely packed, content-rich scholarly introductions into New Testament studies from a Judaic prism. The essays alone (which could have -- given different fonts and formatting -- easily been sold in a 200-250 page book by themselves) are worth both the price and the reading effort of this book. They offer keen insights for the more knowledgeable readers and an amazing earth-shattering new view of scripture for the novice.

Some of the essays that stand out include (but are not limited to) the following examples: `Common Errors Made About Early Judaism' (which essay, arguably, should be included in every single Bible in the Christian world), `The New Testament Between the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Literature', `Jewish History 331 BCE-135 CE', `The Law', `Food and Table Fellowship', `Jewish Movements of the New Testament Period', `Messianic Movements', `Jewish Family Life in the First Century CE', `Paul and Judaism', `The Canon of the New Testament', `Midrash and Parables in the New Testament', and `Jewish Responses to Believers in Jesus'.

The essay that stands out as the most important for the general lay Christian audience, as mentioned above, is the one written by head editor Amy-Jill Levine, where she discusses misconceptions Christians have accumulated over two millennia regarding Judaism, especially Judaism in the First Century CE. This essay is not only important for academic interest but also from a humanistic stand-point, seeing as these errors have, at different points in the history of Christianity, fueled some racism (even to this day) and even some atrocious acts of persecution, discrimination, and violence. In this essay, Dr. Levine briefly discusses five reasons whence these misconceptions have arisen or continue to reappear, and the ten most common Christian errors about early Judaism, followed by masterful and factual debunking of said myths: 1) The Torah (Law of Moses) is a heavy yoke or burden; 2) Jews follow the Torah in order to earn God's love (or a place in heaven); 3) Purity laws are both burdensome and unjust; 4) Judaism was misogynistic and Jesus liberated women from oppression; 5) Jesus forbade divorce in order to protect women because "the rabbis" allowed men to divorce wives for the flimsiest of reasons; 6) Jesus ministered to "outcasts" and "marginals"; 7) All Jews wanted a militant Messiah and rejected Jesus because He wouldn't revolt against Rome or deliver Israel; 8) God had become a distant heavenly "King", and Jesus invented a more personal heavenly "Father"; 9) Jesus objected to the "temple domination system" that overtaxed the population; and 10) Judaism was narrow, clanish, and exclusivistic, while Jesus invented "universalism". In my adolescence and young adulthood I was taught every single one of these ten misconceptions, most -- if not all -- of them from official Church publications. Unburdened by these centuries-old mistakes, the New Testament texts shine with fresh new understanding.

Tables, Glossary, and Index

The last 50 pages include tables on historical timelines of rulers and dynasties, Jewish calendars and weights/measures tables, concordance tables between Jewish and Christian Bibles, guides to ancient texts and translations including the Mishnah/Talmud/Tosefta, a very useful (but small) glossary, and a small (but reasonable) index.


Reading the New Testament annotated with these Judaism-related insights was a delight, and offered a profound new understanding of individual texts, especially the Gospels and some of the more polemic letters. The Gospels, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, and Revelation hadn't been this fun and engaging to read for a long time. The binding and the paper density are very comfortable, considering a book this large, which all make for an excellent reading experience. The only regret I felt was the font size, especially for the essays, which was a bit too small at times, and might be an issue for older readers. My impression was that a more interesting book might have excluded the NRSV (which can be easily and cheaply bought separately, and which many avid Bible students already own) to make room for more essays and larger fonts, even after including the notes that refer back to the NRSV text. Nevertheless, a case must be made for the obvious joy of reading the New Testament texts with such informative and insightful footnoting already there within eyesight.

All things considered, "The Jewish Annotated New Testament" is an amazing work in that it manages to offer an incredibly thought-provoking introduction to the novice Bible student (and I have the impression that the vast majority of Christians will be blown away by a brand new volume of scripture opening to them), while providing keen insights and wonderful reference tools to anyone save the most experienced professional biblical scholars, and perhaps even then.

For the full, unedited review, which includes long excerpts and examples of interesting passages, look out for: ["The Jewish Annotated New Testament Association for Mormon Letters"]
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on October 11, 2013
The 2012 Presidential election brought to public awareness the terms `low information voters' and `high information voters'.

Low information voters are those who follow friends, family or tradition in how they vote. High information voters pursue, devour and question as much information as possible. They are truly `informed' voters - and proud of it.

The same principle applies to faith. There are those who `believe' because their friends believe or because that's the way they were brought up. The follow, literally, the faith of their fathers (though technically, it's usually the faith of their mothers).
They believe, not because of their fierce, unrelenting passion or their probing questions, or even in anything in particular; they believe what other people believe; they follow, conform and, above all, do not question or challenge commonly accepted doctrines.

The high information believer, on other hand, leans on, pursues and sometimes even discards accepted truths and understandings, digs deep, and thinks deeply about what faith is, has been and could be.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament is for those of any (or no) faith who take faith seriously.

Besides the verse by verse annotation, which adds depth and heft to familiar Gospel stories and parables, the truly astonishing aspect of this collection is the set of essays which explore and define various aspects of the faith and traditions that gave rise to what we now define as Christianity.

If you are, or want to become, a high information believer (or even skeptic) you won't find better Jewish and historical contextual essays than these.

Here are just a few essay titles to stir your thinking; `Jewish Movements of the New Testament Period', `Paul and Judaism', `Jewish Miracle Workers in the Late Second Temple Period', `Jesus in Rabbinic Tradition', `Jesus in Modern Jewish Thought' and `Paul in Jewish Thought'.

In short, this book will strengthen, stir and challenge your faith like no other.

We can `believe' in anything from the Tooth Fairy to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but solid, mature, informed faith takes real work and commitment. Real faith is built on something solid and is durable and makes a difference in one's life and community.

Faith may be personal, but is rarely private. What we build our lives on matters and the more we know about our own roots of faith the stronger our own faith will be.

Christianity, in spite of the pop culture, slogan-filled, sanitized version most of us see today, is firmly rooted in a belief system that has stood the test of time. The more we know of it, the better off all of us will be.

At some level, for example, we all recognize the historical reality that Jesus was Jewish.

But few of us have any sense of what that might mean. If anything, we imagine that Jesus came to rid us of the Law.
This is far from true. In fact Jesus emphasized the inadequacy of the Law.

The Law prohibited murder and adultery; Jesus tells us that even the thought - or fantasy - of murder or adultery is a sin (Matthew 5:21-22).

We like to imagine Jesus as philosophically above the fray of politics of his time; not true.

Jesus was fully aware - and enraged by - the political and theological oppression and corruption of his time.

He, like every Jew of his era, knew full well that the term `king of the Jews' was inherently incendiary.

The Roman Empire was no friend of the Early Church - or of established Judaism. Any religion - or primary allegiance was seen as real or potential rebellion if not treason.

Crucifixion, we tend to forget, was specifically reserved for enemies of the state. The `bandits' crucified on either side of Jesus were not petty thieves; they were what we would now call `freedom fighters' or even terrorists.

Most Christians take as a given that God's sovereignty was at work placing Jesus in First Century Palestine, but most of us isolate Him from that setting and imagine Him as one of us.

We rarely picture Jesus as a despised minority and a member of a religion in near-constant rebellion against the Roman Empire.

And we tend to `soften' the term `son of Mary'.

In a patriarchal culture, being called the son of one's mother was no compliment.

Somehow we have become accustomed to conflating ignorance with faith.

This text is a necessary corrective to such a fantasy.
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on February 2, 2012
I was very excited to add this item to my Kindle Library. Unfortunately, the Kindle Edition is severely lacking in functionality and I returned it the same day. I assume most people appreciate having annotated Bible commentary on a Kindle device because of the ability to quickly access the text, footnotes and comments. Although the Kindle version has a table of contents, there are no links to the individual chapters within the individual New Testament Books. This means you can only access the first chapter of each book and than flip through each page until you get to the desired chapter and verse. This is completely unacceptable for Bible study material. I gave the content four stars based on other comments because I did not want to be unfairly critical of the content, which appears to be excellent. But I would give the Kindle version one star and would not recommend it to anyone until this problem is fixed.
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on December 25, 2011
On the publication of "The Jewish Annotated New Testament," editors Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler are to be commended for having compiled a study volume which compares well with such other efforts as the New Oxford Annotated Bible and the HarperCollins Study Bible. The difference is that the annotations and annotators are explicitly Jewish in viewpoint and authorship. Thus it may better inform modern readers, including Christians, by drawing on the familiarity of those continuing in the religious tradition Christ himself knew.
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on February 4, 2012
A Jewish look at documents written by Jews for what became one of the worlds most dominant religions. There's no way to seriously grasp the full meaning of the NT without grasping their essential Jewishness. This book is the solution to that approach.
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on November 27, 2012
So: In content, I find this book reasonably interesting. I appreciate the perspective of a New Testament with annotations from modern and contemporary Jewish points of view. Other reviewers have raised some very interesting points about the book's approach and scholarship; I'm just a layperson so won't get into that.

What disappointed me about the Kindle addition was how it was formatted. All of the notes require you to click / tap on each tiny verse number. (I'll try adding a screenshot to the product images...) It's very, very hard and tedious to get to the annotations in the first place, which is the entire point of why I bought this book: the annotations! The publishing house needs to create a [Kindle] format that uses footnotes or other in-page notes rather than endnotes. It's far too tedious to read this text in the Kindle version.
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on February 28, 2013
The New Testament was and is a fundamentally Jewish collection of documents. At the time when much of the New Testament was written, most observers still regarded the new religion of Christianity as a Jewish sect. Every book of the New Testament is traditionally attributed to a Jewish writer, with the exception of Luke, Paul's Gentile companion. All of the major figures of the New Testament, Jesus, his disciples, Paul, were devout Jews, learned in the Jewish Scriptures. The entire New Testament is permeated with Jewish culture and history.

Unfortunately as the Christians and the Jews parted ways and began to have an often antagonistic relationship with each other, this Jewish element to the Christian scriptures came to be somewhat downplayed. It was never forgotten that Jesus and his disciples were Jews, but as the Christian Church became an entirely Gentile institution, the Jewish background to the Gospels were often underappreciated and misunderstood. Yet, without knowledge of this Jewish background to the New Testament, it is impossible to properly understand the context in which Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Church lived and worked. While years of archaeological and historic research have increased our knowledge of the time just before the destruction of the Second Temple, there is much more to learn about the world of the New Testament. A study of the post-Temple rabbinical writings could provide Christians with more insight of the intellectual world in which the early Christians lived and improving relations between the Christian and Jewish communities can allow us, Christians to ask the help of our Jewish brothers in seeking to understand our own scriptures.

For this reason, I was pleased and gratified to find the Jewish Annotated New Testament. I am not certain if this work is intended more to teach Jews about Christianity or Christians about Judaism, but I believe that followers of both faiths will get a lot out of it. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is, as the title implies, a translation of the New Testament with annotations of each by made by a Jewish scholar. There are brief essays located at various points in the text explaining concepts raised by the New Testament author in better detail while at the end of the New Testament there is a series of longer essays describing various matters of the historical and religious background of the New Testament. The tone of the annotations and essays is always respectful of Christian sensibilities. The editor, Amy-Jill Levine deserves a lot of credit for putting the whole thing together.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The scholarship leans a little more liberal than I would like. I realize that not being Christians, the writers are under no obligation to believe that the New Testament is historically accurate, and, as I have said, the tone is always respectful, yet I feel that they tend to accept too uncritically ideas about the "historical Jesus" or who the true authors of various books might really be. That is a personal quibble and someone less conservative than I am might feel this tendency is a benefit.

The second quibble is more serious and involves only the Kindle edition. Not all of the links to the notes work in the Kindle. The textual links and the links annotations at the beginning of chapters and books are especially unlikely to work. I hope that Amazon will be able to fix this problem as it does detract somewhat from the enjoyment of this book. Other than that, I can say that the Jewish Annotated New Testament is a much needed resource for any Christian or Jew.
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