The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). (Amazon.com)
Aim of the Book:
This volume has been designed for those who need a broad introduction to the world “behind the text” of the New Testament. It has the feel of a textbook-encyclopedia hybrid. In other words, it might serve as the main or supplementary text for a class introducing the New Testament or it might be used as a reference tool to keep nearby when studying. The reader will find that these essays provide in-depth introductions, but only introductions. In other words, the authors invite readers to explore further which is why each chapter ends with a list of books for further reading.
Summary of the Contents:
The book is forty-four chapters long. Some chapters are quite long. Others (like Yinger’s “Jewish Education”) may be the size of a dictionary entry, i.e., about four-five pages. There is 570 + pages worth the content (including some additional resources at the end that aren’t
“chapters”), so each chapter averages out to about thirteen pages each.
The book is divided into five parts. Part 1 (Setting the Context: Exile and the Jewish Heritage) contains essays on subjects such as exile, the Hasmoneans, the Herodian Dynasty, the concept of monotheism, and Scripture.
Part 2 (Setting the Context: Roman Hellenism) contains essays on topics like Greek religion, the Imperial Cult, economics, slavery, women, children, etc. Basically, where as Part 1 is focused more narrowly on the Jewish people Part 2 broadens the context.
Part 3 (The Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism) attempts to begin a synthesis of Parts 1 and 2. Essays in this section include everything from how the Jews related to the Samaritans, how to differentiate parties like the Pharisees, Saducees, and Essenes, the function of the Synagogue, Jewish life in the Diaspora, and so forth.
Part 4 (The Literary Context of Early Christianity) contains essays on subjects like literacy, pseudonymous writings, rabbinics, early Christian writings that weren’t canonized, and the influence of figures such as Homer, Josephus, and Philo.
Part 5 (The Geographical Context of the New Testament) explores regions such as Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia, Galatia, and more.
Overall this is a very solid volume. It accomplishes what it intends to accomplish: it introduces the background of the New Testament. This is important to recognize. Even the essays on Judaism are written in light of early Christianity and the formation of the literature that would become the New Testament. Once again, this book would make a solid textbook for a class on NT backgrounds or a supplement textbook for an Introduction to NT class. It may be a bit too heavy for lay education, mostly because it covers such a breadth of topics, but religious education directors and/or small groups leaders may be able to use large chunks of the book to teach a class.
This book was provided for free by Baker Academic in exchanged for an unbiased review.