Most Important Background Features to Study the NT

I am in the throes of lecture prep for the fall term. I am currently working on my lecture on the Jewish and Greco-Roman background and context of the New Testament.

There is obviously a lot that could be said, and textbooks often cover quite a lot of ground. However, if you have only one hour to introduce uninitiated students to the salient events, ideas, and issues that “set” the New Testament period, what would they be?

If you had to choose five issues or subjects to talk about in one hour (regarding the background of the NT), what would they be?

(Full disclosure: I have in mind a few things, I have done lectures like these before, and I taught a course on Early Judaism last year, but I am trying to start fresh and make sure I separate the wheat from the chaff in this lecture)

BTW – I am currently reading (and enjoying) Warren Carter’s Seven Events That Shaped the NT World (Baker, 2013). I am enjoying it, but it has not been as satisfying as I had hoped. I will have a proper review of it coming soon!


7 thoughts on “Most Important Background Features to Study the NT

  1. What I might do:

    1. Overview of Judaism from ~200bce to 100ce (include Jewish sects here).
    2. Same for (Greco-)Roman empire.
    3. The interplay between Palestine and the Roman Empire.
    4. Historical Jesus and the earliest Christian communities (as background for the NT documents), from ministry of Jesus to ~40 ce
    5. Christian communities at the time NT docs were written. ~40 ce to 100 ce.

    One hour would certain keep you on task!

  2. 1. Trace the history of Palestine’s subjugation (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, brief Hasmonean rule, Rome)

    2. Trace major OT themes and their importance for the development of Christianity (e.g., Creation, Fall, Judgment, New Creation, etc.)

    3. ROME

    4. An overview of various Jewish sects in and around Palestine during the time of Jesus (in order to situate both Jesus and Paul in their thought worlds).

    5. Overview of the various literary genres at work in the NT (Are the Gospels bioi? Are Paul’s letters epistles in the truest sense? To what can we compare these writings).

    Honorable mention: Discuss current understandings of literacy in the ANE.

  3. 1. Overview of the developments within Judaism from the end of the OT through the early church period, especially discussing the meaning and practice of Jewish purity markers (circumcision, Sabbath, etc.).

    2. Characteristics of Hellenism and the Roman Empire preceding and during the NT period.

    3. The use of rhetoric, both oral and literary, in the NT period. (I add this one because of the debates between Witherington and Porter over the validity of classical rhetorical criticism.)

    4. Development in the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures leading up to the NT period, both in terms of theology and methodology.

    5. A discussion of magic, folk magic, astrology, mystery religions, etc.

  4. (1) Jewish doctrine of creation
    (2) maybe election in terms of the role Israel was to play in the world’s story
    (3) common (albeit not universal) features of Jewish eschatological anticipation . . . and how this played out in, say, mass crucifixion
    (4) intro Sad/Phar/Zealots/Essenes
    (5) Rome and Hellenization

    Honorably mention goes, ironically, to Honor and Shame

  5. The conquest of alexander the great and his program of hellenization set in motion various social, political, economic and religious dynamics that affected the 2nd temple judaism and the rise of the christian movement that it can be a central organizing idea.

  6. Honor -Shame Culture and why “turn the other cheek” would be shameful and “unmanly” behavior

    The Roman concept of “genius” and humans considered “son of the divine”

    The failure of the war for independence from Syria and the rise of “parties” with agendas that were meant to engender behaviors thought to have caused the ‘failure’

    The ‘piety’ of non-monotheistic families in the Roman med including the absence of a ‘sin’ concept

    The effect of the Patron-Client culture on people’s socializing activities

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