The JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh
(Philadelphia, PA.: Jewish Publication Society, 1999), xxvi, 2038 pp. ISBN 0-8276-0656-7.
Reviewed by Scott Noegel
University of Washington

This handsome volume offers for the first time an interlinear Hebrew-English version of the JPS Tanakh. While academic students of biblical Hebrew perhaps will prefer to study the Hebrew text without such a crutch, many with less scholarly aims will find this an especially welcome study tool.

By inserting Arabic numerals into the Hebrew text (as is done in the JPS Commentary series), and by aligning the Hebrew and English texts within one line at the bottom of each page, the work’s layout facilitates rapid cross-referencing between the languages. Even the Qere-Kethib system has been adjusted to aid reading. Rather than placing the Qere in the margin, the volume places it in the text immediately after the Kethib, which appears in smaller type, thus placing the two forms in ready contrast. The type font and custom-designed Te’amim (with dotted “t”) also add greatly to the legibility of the Hebrew text.

Especially useful is the edition’s preface which offers the editors’ approach to the volume, the work’s context in the history of biblical translation, and a summary of editorial decisions. This section clarifies that the tome is primarily intended as a tool for study rather than worship, and explains the text’s source, design, alignment, treatment of scribal errors, and numerous other features.

Indeed, the editors have done a remarkable job in comparing the recent Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) edition (1997), which provides the basis for the Hebrew columns in this work, with numerous codices, correcting at least eight errors in BHS and seventeen typographical errors found in the Michigan-Claremont-Westminster electronic BHS.

The volume’s English translation is based primarily on the 1985 edition, but there have been updates, especially in the footnotes, which aim to clarify changes to the translation, or previously suggested emendations. Of interest, with reference to the notes, is the openness to literary features to which they refer. Obvious examples of word play and allusion are noted, thus edifying the editor’s note that when translating one must allow for the “artistic expression” of the original Hebrew (p. x).

Its notes also periodically offer cognate information on difficult words (e.g., lo` yismax “[He]will not spare” whose note reads: “cf. Arabic samuxa 1QIsa reads yxmw”), and historical background to aid interpretation. Thus, the note to the word “screen” in Isa 22:8 reads: “… The screen is the fortress of Azekah, at the mouth of the gateway, which was captured by the Assyrians.” The work also notes places where the Targum, Septuagint, Qumran, or other textual witnesses differ significantly.

Yet, at the same time, this is not solely an academic work. Its features meet the traditional rabbinic halakhah in terms of non-ritual format, and its notes, despite their primarily scholarly import and derivation, are judicious throughout.

This is an extremely well-produced volume, undertaken with sensitivity and meticulous care, and synthesizing scholarly and traditional needs, both in interpretation and layout. In short, it is a welcome and useful study tool that beginning students of Bible will greatly appreciate.