Dr. Longenecker, a professor at Baylor University who specializes in Christian origins, bolsters his already impressive reputation as an expert in Christianity in ancient Roman culture. In Stone and Story explores early Jesus worship by examining the context of first-century Roman culture as revealed in the excavations of Vesuvius. Readers enter the lives of everyday Romans in the communities of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum through the remnants of architecture, art, and household items.
Though covering a wide range of topics, the author is careful to qualify the work as less than academic but more than casual: it “selectively explores some points of the interface where the world of Vesuvian towns intersects with themes and issues evident in New Testament texts.” The text answers questions such as: How might Romans reacted to various Christian teachings and practices? In what ways did Roman religion, society, and politics influence the fledgling church? What does the archaeological evidence tell us?
In Bible study, context is critical. A resource like this, recreating historical setting, helps modern readers understand what lies behind the biblical text and shed more light on it. For instance, how does mystery devotion in Pompeii—illustrated by colorful frescos depicting drunken Bacchic revelries—impact the apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians regarding orderly worship?
New Testament students will find a wealth of historical background in these pages. But it’s the numerous black and white, sepia, and color photos of ancient art and artifacts, scattered generously throughout the pages, that make this informative work worthy of display.
I am grateful to the editors at Bible Study Magazine, where this review was originally published (May/June 2021), for allowing me to repost my review here. Each print edition features three to four reviews of recent theological works along with devotionals, feature articles, and full-length Bible studies. I encourage my readers to subscribe. You won’t find anything like it online.
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