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Old Feb 23, '12, 9:40 pm
Crumpy Crumpy is offline
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Default Best (Jewish) commentary on Genesis

I've been reading and quoting from The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford Univ Press) in various threads.

In particular, I'm working my way through the two hundred pages of essays about Jewish bible studies that is appended to the study bible, itself.

There's an essay about Jewish commentaries on scripture. The history of Jewish Bible study is more complex than I had any idea of.

The essay just touches the highest points of many centuries of Jewish Bible study, and the trends that can be seen in it.

but, sidestepping everything else, the essay writer has a strong opinion that the best available commentary on Genesis is the Jewish Publication Society Commentary on Genesis by (Rabbi) Nahum Sarna.

I have this volume and read a couple years ago. I didn't know what to expect. This volume like many others over the centuries, spends a lot of time on the Hebrew words in the text. Apparently Jewish scholars have a bias that a commentary has to deal with the original Hebrew text. There's just too much at stake not to go to the original words along the way.

That it does, for sure, covering the nuances in the Hebrew. The text is so archaic, that it actually IS difficult to understand. The Hebrew words and concepts that are expressed tip off the age of the text and suggest things about the author(s) of the work.

One thing that I can relate that was also a surprise about the text: the number seven occurs over and over again. It's probably most prominent in the first creation account. But, there are many instances where lists of things have seven of those things. It seems to taper off as the book goes on, but there are still many echoes of the number seven.

One of the things Sarna points out is that there are many names of God in the text that are used nowhere else in the Bible. That dates Genesis, or parts of it anyway, to being much older than other books of the Bible.

This commentary is no exception to the rule, that when the occasion arises, it points out arguments against traditional Christian interpretations of the book.

Amongst other things, Jewish writers just don't "do" typology as Christian commentators do.

Of course, it is lacking all the Christian perspectives we'd expect in a Christian commentary on scripture. But, we're told, this is the best of Jewish commentaries available from a respected Jewish author.

At over 450 pages, I still see that all of my questions are not answered in the commentary.
I rejoiced when they said to me, let us go up to the house of the Lord.

Last edited by Crumpy; Feb 23, '12 at 9:50 pm.
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Old Feb 24, '12, 6:36 am
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centurionguard centurionguard is offline
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Default Re: Best (Jewish) commentary on Genesis

Interesting; I have an old Pentateuch with the Haftaroth and Prayers contained within with English and Aramaic inscriptions published in 1922, by the Hebrew Publishing Company. It was given to me by a good Jewish friend many years ago. Of course it reads left to right beginning at what we would normally call the back of the book.

I find the English translation very close to the Douay Rheims.
Strictly as matter of comparative interests would you mind quoting the source of where you purchased The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford Univ Press).

For me personally; studying Jewish scripture only enriches my own Catholic Faith even if it does as you say lack a Christian Catholic prospective.

Much Appreciated
It takes courage to live through suffering; and it takes honesty to observe it. C. S. Lewis
To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.
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Old Feb 25, '12, 4:23 am
Crumpy Crumpy is offline
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Default Re: Best (Jewish) commentary on Genesis

as of this post, it's there new for $24.14 plus tax and shipping at

The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press.

It has about 200 pages (in this book that runs over 2000 pages) of essays on various aspects of the Bible in Jewish thought. This book probably isn't everybody's cup of tea. I've had about two years, myself, and just decided to wander into these essays. They're good for at least a once-through reading. I write notes inside the back cover of the things that are most interesting to me.

The essays and study footnotes are extensive, but not exhaustive -- at least to my satisfaction. There's a lot of use of Hebrew words, so you need to develop a cheat sheet on those, and on other words that you'd find in a scholarly text.

The New Testament is, in many ways, a commentary on the Old Testament -- the Hebrew Bible -- so the scholars do look to it to compare their understanding to it.

One interesting short discussion in the essays is about what Jewish means and what Jewish esxegesis means. They have some difficulty defining it. Their analysis of the Bible does not have any special tools or perspectives, and they seem to claim only that ordinary intellecutal methods have been used over the centuries, as a general rule.

They get into the realm of "Jewish" anything when they study the Talmud and other rabbinic perspectives on the text of the Bible, particularly the collective insights about the legal requirements of the Torah.

Maybe 4-6 months ago, there was a program on EWTN that could best be described as Catholic Biblical apologetics. One of the assertions there, to bolster Christian usage of the Septuagint in the New Testament, was that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained some of the deuterocanonical books in Hebrew that eventually ended up in the Septuagint (in greek). The JSB has an essay on the importance of the DSS in Jewish exegsis, but there was no mention of finding any scrolls in Hebrew that may have been source texts for the Septuagint. Interesting.

The JSB is an extensive study bible of the Old Testament from the Jewish perspective. The next step up in analysis is a commentary like the Jewish Publication Society's Commentary on Genesis, by Sarna. I think I've seen EWTN's Scott Hahn mention Sarna (in passing) in some of his written work.
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Old Feb 25, '12, 5:27 pm
Bible Reader Bible Reader is offline
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Default Re: Best (Jewish) commentary on Genesis


Actually the Jewish Study Bible has 278 pages of additional essays -- kind of like a book in itself.

Sarna wrote a popular book on Genesis called Understanding Genesis that is much more accessible and less technical.

Some other famous Jewish (modern) commentaries on Genesis are:

  • Umberto Cassuto's two volume set. This is not listed as in-print from Amazon, but you can download it for the Kindle or find it from many other book distributors.
  • Ephraim A. Speiser's Anchor Bible volume on Genesis.

If you want to read either a religiously-focused commentary on Genesis, there are many choices (a difficult but rewarding commentary is Nechama Leibowitz's New Studies in Bereishit (Genesis)).

If you want to read medieval Jewish commentaries on Genesis, there are also many choices (a basic place to start is with Artscroll "Sapirstein Edition" translation of Rashi: Genesis, or Chavel's translation of Ramban on the Torah: Genesis, published by Judaica Press.) But there are ultimately hundreds of Jewish commentaries on Genesis in English.
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Old Feb 26, '12, 4:56 pm
Crumpy Crumpy is offline
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Default Re: Best (Jewish) commentary on Genesis

thanks for the tips on other commentaries on Genesis.

Yes, the essays in The Jewish Study Bible do mention a lot of commentaries on Genesis. I have a couple Artscroll volumes.

I just finished the essay in JSB on philosophy, which was a really insightful read. The JSB says (elsewhere) that there is no central authority in Judaism -- I interpret that to mean "no central authority" like the magisterium in the Catholic Church, which has the final word on doctrine.

What I've seen in these essays is the critical role that the (Jewish) Bible plays in defining Judaism. There's a lot of widely ranging opinion among Jewish Bible scholars, and they have been influenced "by the times" to respond to new developments in exegetical methods.

The JSB clearly states that Jewish scholars don't like to write things that would confuse Jewish readers about the difference between Judaism and Christianity. It seems that there is some self-imposed censorship to not support Christianity in any way. There are subjects that are simply not discussed -- for reasons of space or whatever.

For example, in the study notes on Is 7:13 about the preferred translation of "young maiden" rather than "virgin," the authors stake out that position rather strongly, to undercut the use of "virgin" in the New Testament to describe the birth of Jesus.

Yet, at the same time, the commenter seems to draw a blank on explaining what Is 7:13 means. If this is a prophecy limited to the Old Testament, then presumably it should be fulfilled there. The JSB does not "close the loop" on explaining it -- at least as far as I could tell.
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