Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Testament Historical Fiction

I just finished a great book for gaining a deeper understanding of the gospels, Shadow of the Galilean, by Gerd Theissen. It is a fictional narrative following an upper-class Jew in the first century as he seeks to find out information about various religious movements in Israel, culminating in a search for Jesus. Theissen is a well-respected critical New Testament scholar, and every chapter is intended to give the reader an insight into a particular aspect of the culture. Often those insights are particularly important for understanding the gospels because they are not intuitively understood from a twenty-first century perspective. For instance, he helps to show the humanness and motivation of the Pharisees, which is all-too-easily lost in modern gospel re-presentations (Mel Gibson, for instance). He also makes sure that the reader understands how Jesus' teachings have a deep political resonance when set in the context of the first century. The narrative format allows evangelicals to easily appropriate his insights into the gospels without stumbling over points Theissen thinks are inauthentic -- there is plenty of ambiguity which allows the reader to decide what does or does not seem authentic. I will not be able to read the gospels again without reflecting on the insights gleaned from this book.

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