Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions

Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions September 19, 2021

D. Clint Burnett

Studying the New Testament Through Inscriptions
Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2020.
Available at Hendrickson and Koorong.

During my PhD studies I read Corpus inscriptionum judaicarum compiled by Jean-Baptist Frey (abbrev. CIJ). It was a terrific resource that showcased nearly every extant ancient inscription about Jews and Judaism from antiquity and it was very useful for my study on the spread and propagation of Judaism in the Roman empire. Frey’s collection is replaced now by David Noy and Hanswulf Bloedhorn’s newer multi-volume collection on Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis which documents inscriptions in Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Persian, Palmyrene, Parthian and Phoenician in locations such Phoenicia, Syria, Osrhoene, Dura-Europos and Cyprus.

Inscriptions provide a wealth of information for the study of ancient Judaism, Greco-Roman religion, and the emergence of early Christianity.

So Clint Burnett‘s introduction to ancient inscriptions – largely for NT study – is most welcomed!

Burnett’s book introduces inscriptions and demonstrates the proper methodological use of them in the study of the New Testament. He highlights the largely unrecognized ability of inscriptions to shed light on early Christian history, practice, and the leadership structure of early Christian churches, as well as to solve certain New Testament exegetical impasses. His case studies include inscriptions about kyrios, banquets, loyalty oaths, gematria, and offices of benefactresses, deaconesses, and overseers in Philippi. For me, a clear highlight was the study of kyrios and mara in Herodian inscriptions in Palestine. The result is that the application of the title kyrios to Jesus was probably not first done in a Hellenistic context outside of Judea, but it also means that it does not necessarily connote divinity, it was more of a royal messianic title than a divine one (see Acts 2:34-36). About Philippi and women, he concludes: “Given the roles that Philippian women possessed and the evidence from Acts and Philippians, it is probable that Lydia served as patroness of the nascent church and that Euodia and Syntyche were deacons and possibly overseers.”

The volume contains some great images of inscriptions and ends with a terrific list of written and on-line resources about ancient inscriptions.

Necessary for any complete library on NT background!

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