Niels Peter Lemche
Professor, Faculty of Theology
Department of Biblical Exegesis
University of Copenhagen

Amy-Jill Levine is surely on target when she urges Jews to study the New Testament (“What Jews [and Christians too] Should Know About the New Testament,BAR 38:02). Her essay provides us with wonderful information and perspectives about its history and how we Jews might view it. Surely, most of us have avoided it knowing that frequently Jews appear in it as the spawn of the devil. Levine makes the worthwhile point, however, that much of the New Testament is a recapitulation of Jewish ideas and, with open minds, we can appreciate much that is there.

There are two sticking points at which Jews gasp and usually recoil. One is the ubiquitous trashing of Jews. The other is the claim of Jesus’ divinity. In dealing with both, Levine wants us to understand that such claims were part of perfectly reasonable understandings, well within the context of its original environment and that thusly, we should not take them too seriously.

On the face of it, that seems reasonable. After all, we believed in slavery at one time and do not now. We ignored and violated Native American treaties for well over a hundred years, and we found arguments not to elect Catholic presidents. Understanding the history of such ideas provides us a sense of accomplishment; and, as we Jews understand the ideas of the New Testament, the distress will dissipate. But, there is that damned fly in the ointment.

Fundamentalists claim that the Bible is inerrant. Levine assures us that “modern” churches no longer accept hostility toward Jews as valid. But there is still that tension in the written word. If nothing else, it is very unpleasant knowing that on Sundays we are put down, but are now reassured they did not really mean it. Do religious leaders tell their congregations not to take the offending words seriously?

Levine’s article is interesting and valuable, but I wish she had not worked so hard to make it palatable to Jews.

Bertram Rothschild, Ph.D.
Aurora, Colorado

Amy-Jill Levine responds:

Thank you for your kind words. For your critiques, I also thank you, because they offer opportunity for clarification.

First, the New Testament does not have a “ubiquitous trashing of Jews” (no more than the Tanakh [the Hebrew Bible] has a “ubiquitous trashing of gentiles”). The problems of New Testament polemic are deep enough without exaggerating them.

Second, I was not working hard, or working at all, to make the text “palatable”; I have no interest in justifying polemic. Rather, I want to make readers aware of the polemic, show the harm its interpretations have caused, and provide information on how it might be addressed.

Third, I stated, “most modern churches, recognizing the tragic effects of how this language has been interpreted, reject anti-Jewish teaching.” Most, not all. Nevertheless, the efforts numerous Christians have made in addressing the tragic history of anti-Jewish exegesis should be acknowledged; more, it should be celebrated. Ironically, the most anti-Jewish sermons come not from Fundamentalists, but from liberal Christians—but that is another article.

Finally, I did not say that those who issued the polemic, whether in antiquity or today, “did not really mean it”; nor did I say that the issues should be dismissed. What is conventional—Ezekiel’s prophetic rhetoric; Josephus’s political carping; John’s theological invective—is also serious, sometimes deadly so. Therefore we do the history to understand the texts in their own context and to show how they have been interpreted over time. Here the Jewish Annotated New Testament contributes to this discussion.

You may know your Biblical archaeology, but you don’t know your lead.

What Is It?” in the May/June 2012 issue states that the weight of the decorated lead weight is “nearly two pounds.”

A cubic inch of poured lead weighs 0.39 pounds. The volume of the weight is given as 3.5 by 2.6 by 0.3 inches or 2.73 cubic inches. Simple multiplication of 2.73 cubic inches by 0.39 cubic inches/pound gives a value of 1.06 pounds or just slightly over 17 ounces, not “nearly two pounds.

Will Ebersman
Los Angeles, California

Amos Kloner confirms that the lead weight weighs 804 grams (1.77 pounds), not too far from the “nearly 2 pounds” that we stated. The measurements we gave are approximate because the two sides of the weight differ in their dimensions. The thickness of the tablet also varies. For exact dimensions, see Amos Kloner’s report cited in the BAR discussion.

We did make an error regarding the finders of the weight. It was discovered by Amos Kloner and Yair Tzoran.—Ed.

Godly Humor

Re: Cartoons in BAR. Even God has a sense of humor. Look at some of the dumb things he lets humans do!

Cathryn Strombo
Superior, Montana

Cleverer than He

The only problem I have with the cartoon feature is the fact that most of your readers seem to be much smarter than I am when it comes to thinking of captions.

Patrick Cronan
Rocheport, Missouri

I have been wanting to write to you for many years—and finally managed to do so. I have been getting BAR for more than 30 years. I have both enjoyed it and have learned a lot from it. Also I have greatly appreciated the stands you have taken for the integrity in the archaeological community. You have a strong sense of justice and are always willing to pursue it.

When I graduated from college in 1971 I planned to become an archaeologist in the field of U.S. colonial history. But then events in my life led me to church work and I became a Lutheran pastor in 1976.

On the whole I believe that the findings of Biblical archaeology mostly back up the Biblical record in both testaments. My faith in Jesus is not primarily dependent on the accuracy of historical details in the Bible, but it is certainly nice to know that the Bible is at least a reasonably reliable reflection of events from the times in which it was written.

Charles M. Horn
Kenton, Ohio



For a more detailed examination of this problem see “Dates, Discrepancies, and Dead Sea Scrolls,” The New Christian Advocate, July 1958, pp. 50–54.