Since the publication of Alfred Edersheim’s two-volume The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1899; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) the value of Jewish literature for gaining a better understanding of the New Testament in general and the Gospels in particular has been clear to the wider reading public. The problem scholars had in using and recommending Edersheim’s work was his sweeping use of Jewish material, especially the Babylonian Talmud, without addressing issues of dating as it might apply to the first century (especially problematic since the Talmud was compiled some five hundred years later near the end of the sixth century). The proper use of Talmudic material for New Testament studies is still debated, although no one doubts its benefit and relevance.
This edition by Neusner is therefore a welcome addition, not only because of its careful translation but also because of the explanatory commentary that accompanies each of the thirty-seven tractates. English readers previously had access to the Talmud through the translation of I. Epstein and a team of British Jewish scholars in the Soncino Hebrew/English edition. That translation remains a helpful tool, but Americans will find the clarity of Neusner’s translation a welcome improvement, and the explanatory commentary is a great help in clarifying the meaning of the rabbinic dialogue. This is the most readable and understandable translation of the Talmud available, with introductions that orient the reader to the subject matter at hand and the particular Bible verses under discussion. The availability of both the Soncino edition and Neusner’s translation in CD-ROM format is a particular benefit.