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Complete Jewish Bible

Introduction

The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) by David Stern was first published in its current form in 1998.   David Stern has a Princeton PhD in Economics, co-authored one of the most important books on Surfing and is a self-confessed management failure. Later, Stern obtained an MA in Theology from Fuller Seminary.

Complete Jewish Bible is published by Jewish New Testament Publications and may be purchased inter alia from Amazon, who offer it in the Kindle and paper formats.  The Kindle format is £7.56..  It may be you have no kindle.  Amazon, very helpfully, make available a free Kindle App which is as-easy-as-pie to load onto your lap top.  As is often the case with books sold by Amazon, you may read a portion of the book you are thinking of buying.  In the case of the Complete Jewish Bible you can read the whole of his extensive Introduction and Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

If you have only ever read the NIV or perhaps the so-called KJV and never thought about the origins of the text in your hands, it would be worth reading our piece entitled Bible 1. which will give you a brief introduction to the Bible’s origins.  If you are aware of the original languages and ethnic origins of the Bible as a Jewish text proceed directly to Stern’s Introduction.  If you are a student of these matters, download the Kindle version and get on with studying it.

This review is one of a series of pieces about the Bible.  Passover People’s own view of the Bible has developed independently of David Stern with whom we differ over some matters.  These will come to light further into this review.

Translating the Bible – Politics

Translating the Bible is a Political Act.  There is no avoiding this reality and no point denying it.

Long before Stern, Jerome produced his Latin Vulgate.   The Church of Rome banned Catholics from reading the Bible .  Politics.

When William Tyndale produced his Ploughboys version he translated directly from the Greek and Hebrew creating a good bit of the English language, as we know it today, at the same time.  He also wrote two Introductions to explain his intentions.  The Church of England tried burning all the copies but demand was too great.  Politics.

For making the Bible available and accessible to sixteenth century people he was burned to death at the stake, by the Church. Politics.

Writers of the so-called KJV stole 90% of Tyndale’s work thanking Coverdale instead.  Politics

Fifteen years having passed since  publication,  it is now the twenty first century with CJB remaining controversial.  In the meantime, historical studies on Jesus and the efforts of Messianic Jews are having an impact on perception

Unusually, Stern places some opening comment before the Copyright information.   He lays out several distinctives, distinguishing his version of the Bible from other Bibles.  Read these statements first.   A detailed Contents page follows and in the Kindle version these are hyper-linked so that a quick click gets you to the portion to which you want to refer.  However, we recommend you read the whole of the Introduction.

What Stern has done is to shine the light on several processes that ordinarily have remained hidden from Bible readers other than Bible Scholars.  The Jewishness of the text is the most obvious of these.  Others include: numerous factors that impact on taking a proposition written in one language  and expressing it in another.

Typically English speakers have not been “good at languages”.  It does not occur to most English readers of the Bible that they are reading a translation, that the autographs no longer exist and that the process of translation is culturally impacted and political.

Transparency

In making these issues and many others transparent, Stern makes visible to us previously hidden debates and enables us to make a freer choice of translation for our own purposes.  Thus he also reduces the power of manipulation in the hands of translators.

However, Stern’s own choice of approach to the text, known as “dynamic equivalence”, is unfortunate.  Its weakness is exposed repeatedly as he is obliged to translate by exception rather than principle.  We make a recommendation in our conclusion.

In the course of his introduction, Stern explains the use of Lord/LORD in the Bible and speech.  He offers the orthodox, Rabbinic justification.  This is disappointing. He reveals that as far as the name of God is concerned he is with the traditionalist and autocratic view.  This position takes the view that God has issued dire warnings about using his name “in vein” and therefore, we must protect those who would do so, from the consequences of their actions.

This seems kind and considerate at first thought but it undermines character, ie persons need not exercise responsibility for their actions.  Much more importantly God gave us His name (Exodus 3:13-15) by which to know Him and distinguish Him from other God’s.  God Himself calls for His name (Psalm 135:3)to be known across the world.  It is worth noting that God Himself is not fragile, He is well able to look after Himself.  Politics again.

Stern gives himself the opportunity to address other terminological issues, eg Sin and salvation. Distinguishing unholiness from unrighteousness and redemption from atonement, terms constantly muddied by the church, would have would have been helpful.

A similar opportunity arose to distinguish ekklesia (Matt 16:18) meaning gathering or assembly from Church (kyriakos) meaning a meeting hall.  Repeated attempts have been made to suggest church has several meanings, latest of which is the clumsy “doing church”.  It is worth noting that Tyndale used the word congregation.  But there we are, more politics.

Similarly inadequately addressed is the question of a third Temple.  Do Jewish Messianics support the rebuilding in Yerushalayim or do they grasp the teaching of B’rit HaDashah that those who are “in Isra’el” (Jews or grafted Gentiles) are ourselves the New Temple (1Corinthians 3:16, 17; Ephesians 2:21), that we are its building blocks, and we the new Temple will reach our fullness eschatologically?  

It would be helpful to have an explanation of how the Jewish calendar is calculated and the dates of the Festivals in particular. Is the orthodox approach correct?  Perhaps this is also, political?

Writing and speaking allegorically is a dangerous journey.  Stern is safe while he sticks with what the text refers to as allegory but going beyond that is to flirt with Greek philosophy.  Proof-texting, etc as a way of forming doctrine, belongs to Greek classics and philosophy and is best left there.

The Jew the central political factor

It is often loudly stated that Jesus was rejected by His own; sometimes in an unplesantly ad hominem way.  This is certainly the line taken by those who wanted to remove any sign of Jewishness from following Jesus, insisting the Jew be removed from the pure Church of God; leading, among other things, to changing of names.

The aim was to create a new people of God, a religion loyal to the Roman Empire, not a society based on ethnic identity but one based on their common creeds.  It began with Constantine’s scurrilous letter to the Nicene Bishops and was continued by Jerome, Chrysostom and Augustine, all of whom made strong anti Jewish pronouncements in their writings.  Much later there was Luther whose book denouncing Jews was praised by and inspired Hitler.

In reality, there were some Jews who did not recognise Yeshua/Jesus as Messiah. However, Jews were divided into many groups: Sadducees, Pharisees, Scribes, the Priesthood, Essenes, Zealots, and other messiah claimants.  The followers of Jesus were one more of these groups.  There was no homogeneous Judaism.  Well into the post-apostolic period, the followers of Jesus remained “in dialogue” with their fellow Jews, continuing to persuade them that Yeshua/Jesus is Messiah.  See previous paragraph.

Concluding Comments

A few quick points

1. The name Complete Jewish Bible tends to restrict sales to messianic Jews, whereas, Christian churchgoers would benefit greatly from reading this  Bible.

2.  The Introduction lacks an ancient history perspective.  Isra’el and Jewish are not the same.  Tanakh is the word of God to Isra’el.  B’rit Hadashah was intended for Gentiles as well.

3. Personally speaking, I found the introduction both charming and appropriate to this very personal translation/paraphrase of the Bible.

4. A scholarly translation team including linguists, beginning with the original texts is an exciting prospect and add greatly to the value of what is being read.   2034 ce is the 500th anniversary  of William Tyndale’s “Ploughboy” edition.   Twenty years ought to be enough time in which to produce a translation,  readable and respectful to the original language texts that we possess.  In doing so, it is worth attempting to negotiate an “essentially literal” version of the Bible text.  Essentially literal translations tend to live longer because they are less attached to language that may turn out to have been of the moment.

5. The Prophecy section is exegetical and belongs in the Commentary.

6. Revelation is a letter, usual admittedly but a letter nonetheless.

7. A clear Index of names, along the lines of Koren publishers, Jerusalem Bible, will allow the full use of proper names.  A web edition would have pop-ups enabling the Hebrew to be related to the more familiar names.

8. Non-Jews may feel challenged by the second portion of the Introduction in which technical matters relating to Jewish worship practice and Jewish culture are considered.  However, it is  convenient for messianic Jewish users and educative for others.

9.  By focusing on the messianic Jewish community two questions and not addressed:

Evangelism! how are today’s people to follow Jesus without first being enculturated?   The question is particularly difficult in relation to those Jews who have become atheists.

Many Jews have been converted to being  “Christian churchgoers”.  How might this version of the Bible assist them in finding their way  into messianic Judaism.

10. Clarity that Pesach was the meal of the condemned man Yeshua, nothing else or less and that the core task of all His followers is in the Great Commission – Go and make disciples from all nations baptising them would be helpful additions.

Hopefully, a new Bible of this kind will address the above.    It must retain all of CJB’s features (order reflecting the Jewish nature of the text, the Hebrew proper names,  the Synagogue readings, the tools included, perhaps more).  

Bringing transparency to the process of Bible translation, especially about intent and method is a very helpful gift to the non-specialist.  It has brought into the light an important debate and could enable a re-thinking of the pre-suppositions and assumptions of the church.

David Stern and his publisher deserve our thanks and appreciation.

Copyright © Passover People 2013 England, UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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