The Gospel of Matthew and Judaic Traditions: A Relevance-based Commentary, by Novel by Herbert Basser and Marsha B. Cohen


Christians sometimes tend to assume our Bible, especially the New Testament, was written exclusively from a Christian background. We tend to forget all of the writers, with the exception of Luke, were Jewish people subject to their own culture and its idiosyncrasies. Because of that, it is important we study our Bible taking into account the authors’ times and customs.

The Gospel of Matthew has always been object of study as a part of the Synoptic Gospels. In recent decades, the authorship of this Gospel has been the focus of many studies and discussions. In this volume (published by Brill), Basser focuses the attention on oral tradition and storytellers after the resurrection of Jesus. He states, his thesis in this volume is, “that immediately after the death of Jesus, storytellers began to relate and circulate stories of the miracles of Jesus and his core teachings” (2015, p. 1). No discussion on date, audience, or authorship is included in this volume. The only statement the author makes regarding one of these aspects is in reference to the authorship of the book. Basser states that in is work, Matthew is “a proper noun [Basser uses] to collectively denote the various authors responsible for the Gospel bearing that name” (2015, p. 1). That clearly states Basser does not advocate for Matthew as the author, or at least the only author, of the Gospel.

This commentary is unique in the sense that the main sources the author uses are from Jewish writings and tradition, some of them classic of the Jewish collection of writings. The author does not limit his work to modern and recent studies, and it can even be said that these are the exception.

In this commentary, Readers will find a commentary verse by verse, but without the author deeply focusing on grammatical and lexical issues, though Basser addresses them when necessary. That is because, as it was stated before, the focus of this commentary is on Judaic traditions and writings. The author goes chapter by chapter highlighting major themes and aspect on every chapter, preceded by an introduction and an overview of the chapter. That does not compromise the thoroughness of the commentary. On the contrary, the result is 721 pages containing just Basser’s words without the Biblical text inserted in the text.

This volume can be described as “different” taking into account the focus and purpose of this commentary compare to exegetical or theological commentaries. Basser does not align with any trend of interpretation on the Gospel of Matthew. On the contrary, he sometimes seems to go against the stream. His arguments on conflictive passages are always well-supported and his arguments are accompanied with thoroughness. Readers may agree or disagree with the author and the interpretation he does on the Gospel of Matthew, but no one can question the quality of this volume and the scholarship the author shows form the beginning to the end of this masterpiece.

The main inconvenient potential buyers of this volume may find is its price: $301  from Brill (same price through Amazon). Why is this volume so expensive? Well, if you want a top 5 car, or a top 5 TV, then you need to pay the price. Despite its price, this book is worth of consideration for serious students of the Gospel of Matthew due to the perspective the author offers in this volume.

I received a copy of this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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