By Laura Thierry
Recent years have seen the entrance of a new genre into the realm of New Testament studies, namely, excellently researched and highly readable historical fiction. This happy development seeks to explore the lived experience of first-century life in a highly-engaging manner of knowledge especially suited and enjoyable to human persons, namely, stories.
One of the most recent additions to this growing body of work is Holly Beers thoroughly engaging journey through the week of a first-century woman. Set in Ephesus, it traces the life of a young woman, Anthia, into the everyday realities of her life of childbearing, marriage, work, and religion. Several elements make this book especially beneficial.
Firstly, it does not shy away from portraying elements of the biblical text that are challenging for twenty-first-century readers to grasp. For example, the reality of supernatural healing in Jesus’s name, demon possession, and the all-consuming danger of changing one’s god is clearly demonstrated. Beers invokes an enchanted cosmos—deeply aware of the realities of spiritual powers working upon the porous self. She enables her readers to dwell in it for a time, thus helping them to feel afresh the power of the gospel over every level of spiritual power and authority. While such a story can be challenging for twenty-first-century Westerners to engage, it is still the primary lived reality for the majority of the Christian world today, not to mention, of the biblical text itself. Beers deep engagement with these realities thus enables us greater insight both into the text of Scripture and into its impact upon the lives of Christians in other cultures who still live daily in an enchanted cosmos.
Secondly, Beers does not merely open up life in the first-century Greco-Roman world but opens up a specifically feminine life. She enables one to see and feel how the gospel message spoke to a world in which women, as those often most intimately involved with the tightly bound processes of birth and death, most closely connected to the life of the body, would first have heard the message of the resurrection of the body to life everlasting.
Finally, the book does a masterful job of imagining the very real though often awkward realities of the Gospel breaking into a highly stratified class culture. How could Christians show love and care for one another, the rich for the poor, in the radical equality that comes with being brothers and sisters amidst all the pressing complexities of patronage and class? While not answering such questions conclusively, Beers serves her readers faithfully and profitably by opening up these realities and bringing them to life in our imaginations, thus enabling a fuller, richer, and more truthful engagement with the Scriptural text.
Beers has included small sidebars throughout providing brief summaries of beneficial cultural and historical background. These serve the reader well in providing a more comprehensive knowledge of the world of the New Testament.
This book could function well in many contexts. It would make an excellent contribution to the bibliography for a New Testament introduction class, serve as an engaging addition to a church library, or be given to someone as a gift to read alongside Acts or the Pauline epistles. All in all, readers will find A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman to be a worthy and enjoyable addition to their reading list.
Laura Thierry a PhD candidate at Ridley College, researching medieval hagiography, Christology, and theology of the body.