Levine: Short stories by Jesus

Last year, I bought a copy of Amy-Jill Levine’s new book, Short Stories by Jesus – the enigmatic parables of a controversial rabbi (HarperOne, New York, 2014) and have been meaning to post a review of it every since I started using it. I find that the perspective of Jewish scholars on Second Testament writings often helps me to shake off what I have ‘always known’ about the texts and allows me to see something different and I like Levine’s writing. She is one of the contributors to  Coogan, Michael David, Marc Zvi Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. The new Oxford annotated Bible  (Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) and one of the editors of Levine, Amy-Jill and Marc Zvi Brettler eds. The Jewish annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible translation. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) but this is the first extended writing of hers that I’ve read and I’m glad I bought it.
The introductory chapter talks about ‘How we domesticate Jesus’s provocative stories’ and the conclusion addresses ‘The power of disturbing stories’. In between, she deals with Luke’s trio of parables on lostness; the Good Samaritan; the Kingdom of Heaven is like Yeast; the Pearl of Great Price; the Mustard Seed; the Pharisee and the Tax Collector; the Laborers in the Vineyard; the Widow and the Judge; and the Rich Man and Lazarus. In each case, she looks at how the elements of the parable are understood from a Jewish perspective, highlights traditionally anti-Semitic interpretations of the stories when appropriate and offers new perspectives.
The text is easy to read, aimed, I think, at an intelligent lay reader rather than a specifically academic readership. It nevertheless has useful notes (unfortunately, they are endnotes, rather than footnotes, but the book itself is not expensive – around $25 for the hardcover and $18 for the paperback through BookDepository.com, and you can’t expect everything). It would be quite suitable for undergraduates and I am certainly finding it useful for my doctoral work.
I don’t always agree with the conclusions she draws, but that’s not unusual for me. I would thoroughly recommend it.

What language did Jesus speak?

The language that Jesus spoke has been a matter of interest amongst scholars for quite some time.  My first serious introduction to the issues was in Stanley E Porter’s  “Did Jesus Ever Teach in Greek?” (1993,  Tyndale Bulletin 44(2): 199-235) and the response by the late Maurice Casey  “In Which Language Did Jesus Teach?” (1997, Expository Times 108(11): 326-328), although I am sure there was much written before this. As Seth Sanders reminds us over at USC Annenberg’s Religion Dispatches, it was recently the subject of a short exchange between Pope Francis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sanders’ article provides an overview of the complexities of the issue which I found fascinating. It is well worth a read.

My thanks to Jared Calloway at Antiquitopia for pointing it out.