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.
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.