As many of you already know, I am on sabbatical. Contrary to some popular ideas, a sabbatical is not a vacation, but a time for uninterrupted research, writing, and planning additions to existing courses as well as creating new courses.
One of the courses that I am creating during this time will be called “New Testament Backgrounds.” This course will deal with the inter-testamental period as well as the time of Christ up to the destruction of the temple. We will read selections from Josephus, the Dead Sea scrolls, the letters of Pliny, Philo, and other literature from the period.
With this course in mind I have been doing a lot of reading in the area of backgrounds and thought that I would recommend a few books that you might find enjoyable as well as educational. The first three are novels, but novels that are informed by good historical scholarship. The newest is called The Hitchhikers Guide to Jesus and is a wonderful book that anyone who is studying the Gospels, traveling to Israel, or just wants to know more about the background to Jesus studies should read. The second novel is called The Shadow of the Galilean Amazon Link. This is a novel about the time of Jesus and how those living at the time would have reacted to his message. A short letter explaining the historical method for the actions of the characters follows each chapter. The footnotes are great and the novel is well researched. The third novel is The Lost Letters of Pergamum and while the first two books mentioned deal with Jewish history and historical Jesus studies, this book deals more with the Roman history and society. Any or all of these three novels would be great summer reading for the person (like me) who loves stories, but wants to learn more about the New Testament.
A fourth book is not a novel but is very interesting nonetheless. It is called The Reliability of the New Testament. This book is a discussion between Bart Ehrman and Dan Wallace. Both of these men are well known in the field of textual criticism and the question asked is this “Why would God perfectly inspire a book and then allow copyists errors to creep in?” That is, in what sense can we say that the New Testament that we have today is “inspired and without error?” Ehrman is well known for his skeptical position and calls himself a “happy agnostic.” His book Misquoting Jesus made its way to the New York times bestseller list. Wallace is an evangelical who is well known and respected in the textual critical field. The discussion between the two is enlightening and at times very entertaining. If you would like to know more about textual criticism (and no real background is required to understand the book) this is a valuable resource.
Well that’s about it for the books I have been reading this week, but I’ll try to be more regular in posting things that I am reading and projects that I am working on, just in case they might be of interest to you. For now, I am heading back to the books!