Review: The New Testament in Antiquity

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Authors: Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick and Gene L. Green

Do you know why Jesus did not write his autobiography era book outlining his theology?  It was because all the teachers of this time gained popularity by the number of students they attracted, not the number of books they wrote.  None of the great teachers of that era wrote books–they left it to their students to do compilations of their teaching.

That’s the sort of background information you’ll get from The New Testament in Antiquity, by Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick and Gene L. Green, a trio of professors from Wheaton College and Graduate School.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter dedicated to the Jewish homeland in the time of Jesus.  Various geographical zones are described and illustrated, and all main players (Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes) are profiled.  This chapter, along with the rest of the book, is filled with interesting quotes from inscriptions and early sources which they call “Notes from Antiquity.” Here’s a note that explains why Jesus told so many fish stories around Capernaum on Galilee’s north shore: “Numerous underground springs feed the sea, but many of these are geothermal springs, giving areas of the lake less preferable mineral water.  However, the northwest corner has an abundance of fresh water springs attracting large number of fish.  This area was called Heptapegon (Greek for “even springs”).”

Another of these interesting notes reveals the true nature of Barabbas.  The authors tell us that, “Each of the men crucified with Jesus as well is Barabbas, the man released during Jesus’ trial, is called a lestes (Mark 15:27; John 18:40).  Josephus uses this word for Zealot leaders who either robbed victims (cf.  Luke 10:30) or fought in uprisings.  Luke says that Barabbas had participated in an “insurrection in the city” (23:19), which suggests he had engaged in social banditry as a form of revolt.  The best modern translation may be that Barabbas was a terrorist.”

Not only is the book filled with nuggets like this, it is also replete with color maps and pictures that give place and face to the text.

This is a beautifully designed book. It will help college and seminary students understand New Testament foundations, and it is filled with the kind of information that will add interest to sermons.  It is also a great book for Christian friends to give or receive as a gift, and for family Bible study which involves older children.

Its only weakness is that much of the good stuff is lost amid the kinds of outlines and introductory material commonly found in reference Bibles.  Nevertheless, there is enough interesting and valuable information in this book to make the purchase a worthwhile one.

The New Testament in Antiquity
A Survey of the New Testament within its Cultural Context

Zondervan Books
$49.99, 480 pages, hb
Copyright 2009
ISBN: 978-0-310-24495-0

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