In preparation for my exam at 10:00, I thought I’d compile a brief discussion of the books that were assigned for New Testament.
First, obviously, we have a Bible. For this course we use the Harper Collins Study Bible, which has excellent introductory essays and detailed, careful notes. It includes a huge amount of Apocrypha as well. They use the New Revised Standard Version translation (NRSV.)
For an introduction to cultural background, we used a book titled History, Culture and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, a two volume work by Helmut Koester. The second edition was published in 1995. As far as explaining cultural background, the book was useful, but I did not read as much of it as I should have, partially because our professor requested that we buy the wrong volume. The majority of the readings came from the volume that was not on the “purchase” list, and on only rare occasions was I devoted enough to get it out of reserve from the library. Ah well. We pick our battles, I suppose. (So for those of you who may want to know a secret to the Intro to New Testament: buy Koester 2, not Koester 1: or both if you so desire, they appear to be fairly fundamental works in NT.)
The work that I paid the most attention to, other than the Bible itself, was Graham Stanton’s The Gospels and Jesus by the Oxford Bible Series (also 2nd edition.) It’s first edition came out in 1989, meaning that it is somewhat dated, but it was revised in 2002. The drawback to these dates mean that it doesn’t have access to some of the most recent work, and this shows most in its section on the other gospels: gospels like the Gospel of Judas, obviously do not get any mention, (first published finds in 2003.) I can’t figure out why Mary Magdalene’s gospel isn’t mentioned, potentially because it’s so gnostic and fragmentary that scholars may think that it only points to understanding gnosticism? Not sure on that one.
Stanton’s work is important just because it is so simple and straightforward on the issues of scholarship. He really details in clear and yet imaginative detail the main themes and concerns of the evangelists. In addition to that, he accurately frames scholarly debates for non-specialists, creating a truly introductory text. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stanton because not only did he provide information, but he also provided how we know it, who said it first, and who told him that he was wrong.
We also used a tiny little book called A Very Short Introduction to Paul also by the Oxford press. They have a number of these tiny books that introduce just about anyone to just about anything. It’s a delightful little read that really frames Paul in his context, shows his genius, and gives details about his life that experts have been able to pull out of his letters and Acts. I recommend it.
Last, we used the Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation, which is a collection of interpretive essays that put the New Testament in the frame of various personalities and perspectives. We used this text as an introduction to the different ways that one uses this Biblical text, once we get past the textual criticism and start to dig deeper into what the texts actually mean. I probably paid the most attention to the section on Feminist Interpretation (Thank God someone feels the need to acknowledge that this exists at University of Chicago!!!). Which gave a clear, informational overview of feminist’s concerns and goals when they approach the New Testament.
Overall, I enjoyed these texts for their value as introductory course materials. They gave me what I thought I deserved to know from an introductory text and did not go overboard to assert any points and did not engage in any kind of scholarly polemic. Stanton and the Cambridge Companion in particular are going to be excellent continuing resources for me as I go forward in studying New Testament, and I would recommend these books to those who want a legitimate but not too intense explanation of the core of New Testament studies.
On the whole, I feel thoroughly introduced. 🙂