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Home page> Resources> Jewish-Christian Relations> SIDIC Periodical> 1968/1>W. W. Simpson | R. Schimid | A. Roy Eckardt

SIDIC Periodical I - 1968/1
Biblical Studies (Pages 03 - 07)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Remarks on Several Bibles
W. W. Simpson | R. Schimid | A. Roy Eckardt


«Easy access to sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is named after seventy men; and she has always given a place of honor to other translations, Eastern and Latin, especially the one known as the Vulgate ».
Dei Verbum, No. 22

Some of the more widely-used editions of the Bible are here mentioned, as regards their manner of presenting the Jewish people and Judaism.

1. Note on the Jerusalem Bible.

With so much to be thankful for in the Jerusalem Bible it seems ungracious to devote even so short an article as this to a mainly critical approach. Let gratitude therefore (and it is veryreal) be assumed from the outset. My purpose in drawing attention to phat I am firmly con, vinced are quite unintentional, and indeed quite unrealised, shortcomings, is to enhance rather than diminish its value.

No doubt because I have been so long concerned with relations between Christians and Jews, and with a traditional Christian tendency to under-estimate and indeed to misrepresent Judaism, I have become somewhat hypersensitive; but since the Vatican Council schema on the Church and the Jewish people has emphasised the importance of our recognising both our close kinship with and our indebtedness to the revelation of the Old Testament and the witness of the Jewish people, I cannot help feeling that the « built-in » commentary falls short from time to time in this respect.

Take, for example, the opening paragraph of the Translator's Preface where the Old Testament is referred to as « Christianity's adopted child ». It is clear from the context that nothing derogatory is intended. Nevertheless, the phrase, so easily used and no doubt unquestioningly accepted, reflects an attitude to the Jewish Scriptures which assumes that from the time of the emergence of the New Testament and the Christian Church they ceased to have any interest or validity in their own right. It suggests some kind of post-natal reversal of the maternal role.

Had this phrase stood in isolation it might have been accepted as merely a facon de parler Unfortunately, however, the sensitive reader may detect further evidence of this perhaps unconscious attitude in the commentary itself, both in things stated and in things omitted. This matters for two reasons. First, it does grave injustice to Judaism both as an historic and a contemporary faith. Secondly, and in consequence of the first, it deprives the Christian of rich insights into his own faith.

The following examples, cited almost at random, were noted in the course of a careful reading of parts of the Pentateuch, and a few related passages from other parts both of the Old and New Testaments. They are not intended to be exhaustive, nor, I repeat, is it suggested that the commentator had anything but the most charitable and scholarly intention. Indeed, the most unfortunate aspect of the too-often tragic story of Jewish-Christian misunderstanding is that the Christian has been and still is entirely unaware of the measure of his guilt.

This is reflected, for example, in the commentary on the opening verses of the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Here, in a reference to the exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, St. Paul is using a rabbinic method of interpretation in which he had been schooled from his earliest youth. This fact, of importance as well as interest for the Christian reader, is not mentioned. Instead, we have a note on " typological " (or less accurately " allegorical ", Gal. 4:24) meanings in the Old Testament » which accepts that « the purpose in the events intended by God was to prefigure in the history of Israel the spiritual realities of the Messianic age ». These « " typological " meanings », the commentator adds, « though not consciously intended by the authors, are nevertheless valid and necessary for the understanding of Scripture ».

This method of interpretation is, of course, familiar in Jewish as well as Christian circles. It needs, however, to be used with caution in both, and particularly in the Christian where the temptation to regard the history of the Old Testament period as having no validity in its own right, and no message save for the Christian, too often proves almost irresistible.

Thus, for example, a note on Exodus ch. 12 deals with the institution of the Feast of Passover. After giving the reference to related passages in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and explaining how what was « primarily a pastoral festival » came to be associated with the celebration of a « great historical occurrence » in the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, the note adds that « the Jewish Passover hence becomes a rehearsal for the Christian Passover, the lamb of God, Christ, is sacrificed (the cross) and eaten (the Last Supper) within the framework of the Jewish Passover (the first Holy Week) », etc. This is a perfectly familiar and very natural Christian interpretation. What is sad is that it leaves the reader with the impression that the Jewish Passover has little or no validity or message in its own right. No mention is made of its tremendous influence, both past and present, in the life of the Jewish people themselves.

Another illustration of the same tendency may be seen in a note on the fourth Commandment in Exodus ch. 20 vv. 8-10, where after explaining, very properly, that « the Sabbath is a weekly day of rest dedicated to Yahweh who rested on the seventh day of creation », adding that it « is of very ancient origin but gained particular importance after the Exile and became a distinctive mark of Judaism », it concludes, with sad inaccuracy, that « a legalistic outlook took the joy out of the observance, leaving only a burden which Jesus was to remove ». True, there were those who made a burden of it. There have been Christians who have done the same with Sunday. But those who know just how joyous the Jewish Sabbath can still be can only regret such a note as this.

In similar vein is a brief note heralding the first appearance of the Pharisees in the Gospel story where they are described (Mt 3:7 note e) as « a Jewish sect, rigid observers of the Law: undue attachment to the oral tradition of the Rabbis led, however, to an extravagant and artificial casuistry ». We are left, alas, with the familiar stereotype, and no hint of the tremendously powerful and creative influence of Pharisaism at its best (we all have our poorer sides!) in preserving Judaism as a living faith embodied in a way of life. Any desire to understand them better is in no way helped by the failure to include Pharisees or Pharisaism in the Index of Biblical Themes at the end of the volume.

Two other examples of failure to avoid traditional pitfalls in the Christian interpretation of Jewish teaching and in the « Christian » attitude to Jews may be seen in a comment on the lex talionis in Exodus ch. 21 v. 25, and in the treatment of the cry of « the people » in Matthew ch. 27 v. 26 (« his blood be on us and on ourchildren »). On the first, the note reads simply « This lex talionis, cf. Lv 24:19-20; Dt 19-21, prevents excessive revenge by laying down a punishment equal to the damage, cf. Gn 4:23-24. Jesus will impose forgiveness instead, Mt 5: 38f ». There is no suggestion here of the extent to which this injuction represents an advance over earlier non-Hebraic codes, nor any indication of the immense pains to which the Rabbis went in their teaching to spiritualise this fundamental principle of equity in justice. Nor is the situation remedied or helped by the note on Mt 5: 38f which explains that « this deals... with an injustice of which we ourselves are the victims: we are forbidden to resist it by returning evil for evil in the way laid down by the Jewish law of talio (v. 38) ». Then, as if aware of the dichotomy thus implied, the commentator goes on to explain that « Christ does not forbid us to resist unjust attack in due measure (Jn 18:22f), still less to strive to eliminate injustice from the world ».

The second example reflects a complete absence of any indication of awareness of the crimes which have been committed against Jews throughout the centuries in consequence of a too literal application of these words and the failure to explain and interpret the situation which led some Jews (not « the Jews ») to behave as men have done before and since in moments of political crisis and great national fervour. All the commentator has to say in this connection is: « Traditional O.T. phrase 2 S 1:6, 3:29; cf. Ac 18:6, by which they accept responsibility for the death they demand ».

These are but a few instances, chosen, as I said earlier, almost at random. I quote them to illustrate the need to be on our guard against such potentially serious causes of misunderstanding if we are to develop that new understanding and mutually enriching relationship with our Jewish neighbours for which the Vatican Council Declaration pleads.

W. W. Simpson

2. Notes on the Protestant Bible.

Recent American Protestant Bible translations, notes, and commentaries pay little attention to the moral issue of the way in which Jews and Judaism are to be represented. There is little awareness or evident concern with the problems of anti-Judaism and anti-semitism. In a very brief survey we can only refer to a few crucial New Testament passages and their treatment in selected publications.

MATTHEW 27:25. In this cause celebre, « all the people » of the traditional King James version becomes « the people » in the New English Bible and « the whole crowd » in the Phillips New Testament. While the Interpreter's Bible, widely used among American pastors and teachers, identifies the verse as representative of « the anti-Judaism of later Christians » (as does the Harper's Annotated Bible Series), it then adds, curiously, that while « all the people were not apostate as Matthew's record implies », yet « Jewry was faithless and cannot be acquitted of blame ». The Harper's New Testament Commentary — Matthew emphasizes that « few Jews » shared in the decision and « later generations must not be blamed ».

JOHN 10 : 24-39. The HABS restricts « the Jews » here and elsewhere to « the Jewish authorities », in contrast to most Protestant translations, which retain without change or comment John's unqualified phrase « the Jews ». (The HABS points out, respecting 19:7, « there was no such law. »). The Oxford Annotated Bible asserts that « the Jews charged Jesus with political treason ». The IB says that « his enemies » found Jesus in Solomon's portico.

In its commentary upon ACTS 12:1-25, the Anchor Bible states unreservedly: « The Jews persecuted their Christian countrymen whenever it was possible. As they had killed Jesus, so they stoned Stephen to death and in the followingextensive persecution of the church, they had tried to discipline the disciples by imprisonment and death ». (For a criticism of this general claim, cf. the analysis by D. R. A. Hare, a Presbyterian New Testament scholar, « The Relationship Between Jewish and Gentile Persecutions of Christians », « Journal of Ecumenical Studies », Summer 1967, pp. 446-456). Of Acts 15:10, the same volume of the AB maintains that « the Law cannot save Jews or Gentiles, but the grace of the Lord Jesus can save both ». (Does Judaism, in fact, teach that the Law possesses soteriological power?)

ROMANS 9:3-20. The Harper's New Testament Commentary — Romans alleges: « The Old Testament proves that the Jews, and a fortiori all other men, are guilty before God. The guilt of the Jews is now proved (from the Prophets and Writings), the further we know that the law condemns them, too ». However, we are advised that « the law » is the same as « the practice of religion ». Of Romans 11: 7-12, the OAB attests that « the resistance to the gospel on the part of the masses of Jews is providential; God has hardened their hearts for a loving purpose, namely, that the Gentiles might have an opportunity to hear and receive the gospel ». (The PNT consistently capitalizes « Law » in the Pauline epistles, where many other versions use « law »).

SECOND CORINTHIANS 3 : 14-15. The OAB comments: « In Christ one sees the transiency of the old and knows the freedom and glory of the new ». For the IB, Paul clearly infers that only Christians « accurately interpret » the Old Testament, although elsewhere it applies the « hardening » to men in general. (Of Hebrews 8:13, the IB comments that « the old trembling fear of judgment is replaced by a faith that is confident »).

FIRST THES SALONIANS 2:14-16. The IB seeks to clarify, and perhaps soften, this extreme passage: « While Paul sweepingly refers to " the Jews ", he undoubtedly has in mind the Pharisaic group... for they were the leaders of the people ». The commentary goes on to criticize Christian Pharisaism.

A. Roy Eckardt

3. Die Heilige Schrift des Alten and Neuen Testaments. Verlag der Zwingli-Bibel, Zurich.

the following comment on « Pharisees »:

The Zurich Bible is the German translation most widely diffused among Protestants in Switzerland. It is also used by many Catholics. It gives the text with very few notes, which reduces the possibility of making positive or negative observations on Judaism; but the many cross-references to parallel passages between the Old and New Testaments make clear the connection between them. In an appendix it clarifies some leading ideas. The comments are factual and presented without animosity against Judaism. The editors' care for exactness (within the strict limits of the exposition) will be self-evident from The Pharisees — (literally, the separated ones) were a trend among the Jewish people which became more and more influential in the last two centuries before Christ. They insisted on the most meticulous observance of the Old Testament laws besides inaugurating a great number of « traditions » (cf. Mk. 7: 3-13) by which life was ruled and restricted at every step.... These teachings in turn constituted the starting point for unnecessary prescriptions (as for instance Mt. 23:23 ).... The Pharisees separated themselves from the rest of the people who could not observe all these regulations....

Though their number was hardly more than 6,000 they constituted an authoritative body because no one else could apply the Law of God to daily life. In the New Testament we meet hardly anything but the negative aspects of their character. But we must not forget that the foundation of it was their earnest piety which Paul also had inherited from them (cf. Phil. 3:5, Acts 23:6).

Prof. R. Schimid


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