In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Facets of The Modern Jewish Bible

  • Introduction
  • Bible Study and Bible Scholarship from the 18th to the 20th Century
  • Israeli Identity and the Hebrew Bible
  • Synagogue Pentateuchs (Chumashim) and Jewish Bibles
  • Jewish Bibles

Jewish Studies Facets of The Modern Jewish Bible
Alan Levenson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0147


The modern Jewish Bible, as distinct from the premodern Jewish Bible, and as distinct from the larger world of Bible studies, is the product of many factors, three of which will be discussed here. First, the Jewish encounter with Bible scholarship from the 18th–20th centuries was marked by an initial commitment to the Hebrew Masoretic text and the chain of rabbinic commentary that illuminated the Bible. This factor includes the gradual scholarly acknowledgment of multiple Hebrew versions, as well as the antiquity of versions in other languages, both of which undermined premodern confidence in a pristine text. While the Hebrew Masoretic text still enjoys liturgical preeminence, conceptions of the biblical text have progressed with general scholarship. This includes incorporation of Dead Sea Scroll evidence and quantitative analysis of versions. Second, the Jewish scholarly world has experienced a sustained encounter with modern critical-historical Bible scholarship that began in the 17th century with Hobbes and Spinoza and became the dominant intellectual approach during the 19th century. This approach, often associated with the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, correlated historical developments in ancient Israel with the production of the biblical texts. Bible studies has developed greatly in the last two centuries to include a wide range of approaches, including, but not limited to, form criticism, redaction criticism, canonical criticism, and literary criticism. Additionally, advances in archaeology, cognate languages, folklore studies, and comparative religion have considerably advanced the contextualizing of the Hebrew Bible. We will refer generically to a “critical-historical approach,” which has established itself and influences scriptural traditions and religions, explicitly and implicitly. Third, the continued interaction of Jewish laity with Hebrew Bible scholarship has served to shape modern Jewish identity transnationally, and in both academic and devotional contexts.

Bible Study and Bible Scholarship from the 18th to the 20th Century

Attempts to sever academic and devotional literature, or to isolate the Bible from subsequent developments, have proven largely unsuccessful in the Jewish context, for a number of reasons. Brettler 1997 argues that neither Judaism nor Christianity can be understood without the biblical heritage. Signer 1994 argues for a distinction between Bible study, what we have called devotional approaches (following Christian usage), and Bible scholarship as practiced in the academy. Signer implies that Jewish Bible study is akin to Christian Bible study in its denominational peculiarities, and may not seek to be universally applicable, whereas Bible scholarship, even when conducted by Jews, participates principally in the scholarly discussion as defined by the academy, and may not speak to the religious needs of the Jewish community. The question of whether Bible scholarship as practiced in the academy retains distinctively Jewish attitudes and or approaches is raised in Neusner and Freirichs 1987; Greenspahn 2002; Greenspahn 2006; and Brettler, et al. 2012, among others. The particular characteristics of Jewish Bible translations are addressed in Greenspahn 2000, Greenspahn 2002, Greenspahn 2006, and Greenspoon 2004.

  • Brettler, Marc Zvi. “Biblical History and Jewish Biblical Theology.” Journal of Religion 77 (1997): 563–583.

    DOI: 10.1086/490066

    Brettler argues for beginning Jewish history courses with the biblical era.

  • Brettler, Marc Zvi. How to Read the Jewish Bible. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2005.

    An elucidation of the structure of biblical narratives.

  • Brettler, Marc Zvi, and Adele Berlin, eds. The Jewish Study Bible. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Useful interlinear comments by leading scholars on every book of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and excellent essays on aspects of the intersection of the Bible and Jewish life.

  • Brettler, Marc Zvi, Peter Enns, and Daniel Harrington. The Bible and the Believer. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199863006.001.0001

    Brettler propounds the view that a historical-critical reading of the Bible supports rather than undermines religious appreciation.

  • Cooper, Alan. “Biblical Studies and Jewish Studies.” In The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies. Edited by Martin Goodman and Jeremy Cohen, 14–25. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Surveys developments in Jewish Bible scholarship, focusing on the Leviticus commentaries of David Zvi Hoffmann and Jacob Milgrom.

  • Greenspahn, Frederick. “Does Judaism Have a Bible?” In Sacred Text, Secular Times: The Hebrew Bible in the Modern World. Edited by Leonard Greenspoon and Brian LeBeau, 1–12. Omaha, NE: Creighton University Press, 2000.

    The role of the Pentateuch rather than the Bible in Jewish worship.

  • Greenspahn, Frederick. “How Jews Translate the Bible.” In Biblical Translation in Context. Studies and Texts in Jewish History and Culture 10. Edited by Cooperman, 41–61. Bethesda: University Press of Maryland, 2002.

    Argues that Jewish translations favor the source language over the target language.

  • Greenspahn, Frederick. “Why Jews Translate the Bible.” In Biblical Interpretation in Judaism and Christianity. Edited by Isaac Kalimi and Peter Haas, 179–195. New York: T & T Clark, 2006.

    On the interrelationship of Bible studies and Jewish studies and the role of Jewish studies in the academy.

  • Greenspoon, Leonard. Max Leopold Margolis: A Scholar’s Scholar. Biblical Scholarship in North America Series 15. Atlanta: Scholars, 1987.

    Offers a portrait of the making of the Old Jewish Publication Society Bible translation (1917).

  • Greenspoon, Leonard. “Jewish Translations of the Bible.” In The Jewish Study Bible. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, 2005–2020. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Offers an important evaluation of the American Jewish Bible, especially the New Jewish Publication Society Bible translation.

  • Neusner, Jacob, and Enest Freirichs, eds. Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

    Argues that certain features, such as attention to Hebrew, knowledge of Jewish exegetical traditions, and interest in cultic and legal materials in HB, characterize Jewish Bible scholarship.

  • Signer, Michael. “How Jews Have Interpreted the Bible.” In New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 1. 65–82. Nashville, TN: Abington, 1994.

    Differentiates Jewish Bible scholarship and Jewish Bible study.

  • Sperling, S. David. Students of the Covenant: A History of Jewish Biblical Scholarship in North America. Atlanta: Scholars, 1992.

    Offers an exhaustive list of North American scholars of Jewish scholars of Jewish descent who contribute to the field of biblical studies.

  • Sperling, S. David. “Major Developments in Jewish Biblical Scholarship.” In Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Vol. 3, part 2. Edited by Magna Saebo, 371–388. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 2015.

    Sperling updates his earlier survey of the field.

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