Book Notice: Into the World of the New Testament

Book Notice: Into the World of the New Testament April 6, 2015

Daniel Lynwood Smith
Into the World of the New Testament: Greco-Roman and Jewish Texts and Contexts 
London: Bloomsbury, 2015.
Available at Amazon.com

By Ben Sutton, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia.

Dan Smith has provided a companion to reading the New Testament. As such he has intentionally diverged from traditional textbooks that provide extensive discussions of authorship, date, genre, and literary conventions. Instead, his aim is to provide examples of Ancient texts that parallel the books of the New Testament. In this way the student will learn by comparison instead of by synthesizing scholarly discussions. Smith is quick to point out that this volume does not replace the more extensive discussions of authorship, etc. Rather, as an introductory level book it invites the student into the world in which the New Testament was written, not contemporary discussions.

After an opening chapter that orients the reader to what exactly a “testament” is, including a discussion of why there is an “Old” and “New” testament, Smith moves into chapters on Jewish and Roman backgrounds. Especially helpful in these chapters is a comparative examination of “kingdom”, “god(s)”, and church gatherings in relation to Roman associations.

Smith then moves on to chapters covering the primary cast of the New Testament. Ranging from Jewish groups—John the Baptist and other “wilderness” and desert traditions—to Roman rulers. The selections from non-New Testament writings on Herod are especially helpful. Not to be missed is the Jewish background of Jesus. Josephus and select passages from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are highlighted as providing reflections on Jesus as a miracle worker, Messiah, and wise man. The remaining chapters in this section cover the usual suspects: the Twelve, Jews (and Judaisms), and Paul. Lucian’s comments on Christian prisoners are an excellent inclusion to reflection on Paul’s incarceration.

The last group of chapters covers prominent cultural norms from the 1st century that are more or less present in the 21st century. Crucial in this regard is a discussion of honor and shame in relation to the crucifixion. Another chapter covers the contours of religious practice in the context of polytheism vs. monotheism, including an overarching emphasis on faith. The final chapter uses excerpts from Marcion and the Apostolic Fathers to cover issues related to the canon. There is finally a helpful glossary for students unfamiliar with terms related to the primary sources in biblical studies.

At a time when secondary literature proliferates, this is a welcome introduction. It will provide students with an excellent familiarity with comparative primary sources that enliven reading the New Testament itself.


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