Book Recommendations Needed

Lately I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in Eckhard Schnabel’s incredible trio of books, Early Christian Mission (2 volumes) and Paul the Missionary. Those volumes are loaded with historic and cultural information about Paul’s missionary travels through ancient Roman cities and towns. On top of this, I have been reading several articles by Bruce Winter and have come to discover more fully the important role the cultural context factors into Paul’s mission and writings. I ordered a few of his books this morning.

And that brings me to a different genre altogether.

And this is where I need you.

I want to read more about this first century Roman world of the New Testament. I want to live in the world for a season. What was it like to live in the major cities? How was life for a common laborer or a slave? What were the philosophical influences in the air? What epic tales were woven into the common cultural heritage? What were the prominent cultural captivities and how did pagan temple life intrude? What was life like for the early Christians?

Non-fiction books are valuable for their details, but I’m also looking for some good historical fiction (with a strong stress on the word historical). Lately I’ve tried a few non-Christian authors. Harry Sidebottom is a scholar of 1st century warfare and his fictional works are good on ancient culture and battle tactics, but they’re also unnecessarily violent. Books by Simon Scarrow are set in the 3rd century, and are also quite realistic from what I’ve read, but they’re even more gratuitous.

Of Christian books, I have ordered a few books that look promising. Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series looks good (3 volumes here, here, and here), although I suspect the series will have a strong romantic theme. I also plan to read Paul Maier’s, The Flames of Rome: A Novel. It’s an older work but Maier is a highly respected Lutheran scholar so I am hopeful. Have any of you read the books by Rivers or Maier?

So that’s a brief rundown of my thinking. I am searching for books about everyday life in the NT Roman world. Other technical non-fiction books would be great, but I’m especially searching for historical fiction recommendations.

Have any?

Thanks for reading and sharing!

22 thoughts on “Book Recommendations Needed

  1. I haven’t read it yet, but my wife called Maier’s The Flames of Rome the best book she’s ever read. She also liked Pontius Pilate by the same author.

  2. Try Paul’s metaphors by David John Williams.. great insights into the world of that day.

  3. I highly recommend The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era by James S. Jeffers.

  4. John Starke added two recommendations on Twitter: (1) (2) (Eusebuis is interesting and translated by Maier)

    Also, Carson recommends the following books under cultural anthropology and sociology of the NT:

    • Bruce Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology
    • Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians
    • Derek Tidball, An Introduction to the Sociology of the New Testament

  5. • The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era by James S. Jeffers.
    • The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? by Ronald Nash
    • Pontius Pilate by Paul Maier (my wife said it totally helped her understand the time period)
    • The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers (Not a “girly” series at all. Best Christian fiction I’ve read.)
    • Imperial Legions: A Novel by Andrew Seddon
    • Quo Vadis (a classic with some Roman Catholic fasle teachings, but helpful)

  6. I HIGHLY recommend John Macarthur’s new book entitles “Slave.” It goes into tremendous detail on what life was like for an early slave. Macarthur always does his research, and I think this book is his most impressive display of his detailed study. This book really changed my view on what “slave” really meant in the first century through out time.

  7. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the interesting and always engaging blog! Everett Ferguson is a great writer on Early Christian backgrounds, including Roman backgrounds. His Backgrounds of Early Christianity is a great resource ( For primary sources in one convenient place, Jo-Ann Shelton’s As the Romans Did is excellent ( Both are non-fiction and pretty academic but still readable. Both are used in the Wheaton Graduate School for the Greco-Roman Backgrounds of the NT course (taught by Dr. Gene Green – who would be an excellent person to talk to).

  8. Tony,
    I’ve been reading two books I recommend:

    The World That Shaped the New Testament, by Calvin J. Roetzel

    New Testament Rhetoric, by Ben Witherington

    I’ve been trying to get my arms around the communication environment of the time and compare it to ours. What intrigues me is our Internet-driven shift (really, a reversion) into more of an oral-based culture, away from literacy. One upside of all this is that the we are entering a cultural and communication environment more like that of the original audiences of the Scriptures.

    Rhetoric, for example, followed a specific form and function into which the Biblical authors wrote, especially Paul. To understand Rhetoric in the Graeco-Roman period is to get a better handle on the persuasive tactics used in Paul’s letters. It also is a window into how to be more persuasive today.

    It’s fascinating to see how oral cultures are more characteristically tribal, pagan, superstitious, holistic, and often brutal…and then look ahead at the kind of communication environment taking shape around us and our kids.

    Though maybe I am being superstitious. Curious if you develop any thoughts along these lines, my friend.

  9. Thanks for the recommendations brother. I would like to put more thought into your question, as I’ve recently studied Winter’s article on the traveling orators that would have swept through large Roman cities like a traveling circus. The “entrance” tactics of the Stoics and others totally shed light on Paul’s language and approach in places like 1 Thess 2:1-12. I commend Winter’s article on this, see the link in my post. Thanks for the recommendations. I love how you think brother.

  10. I’d add the following books which I don’t think have been mentioned yet:

    * The Apostolic Fathers. Great primary source material. Among many other important things, it gives a nice feel for how Christians in the first century or so wrote and thought. (From a theological rather than historical perspective you might try Early Christian Doctrines and/or Documents in Early Christian Thought.)

    * Spreading Flame. Also see F.F. Bruce’s New Testament History (although I understand it’s been superceded by Ben Witherington’s book).

    * The Early Church. If I remember right, Chadwick is a more of a patristic scholar though.

    * Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I’ve heard good things about it, but can’t vouch for it.

    * The Ancient City, Living in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth, and The Holy Land. I love Peter Connolly’s books. I love his artistic depictions of life in ancient Rome or Jerusalem and so forth. Very good for visual learning.

  11. Oops, sorry, one correct. I just noticed that Connolly’s Living in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth and The Holy Land appear to be the same book.

  12. Thoroughly enjoyed Paul Maier’s Flames of Rome.

    Also enjoyed Robert Harris’ two historical novels on Cicero Imperium and Lustrum set in Rome in the century before Christ.

  13. Tony, in my Hellenistic Philosophy class our textbooks were “Hellenistic Philosophy”, primary sources edited by Inwood and Gerson; and our secondary source was A.A. Long’s “Hellenistic Philosophy.” Both focus primarily on the couple centuries before the birth of Christ, but I recall Long’s last chapter being about the century or two after. There may be other books that are of more direct relevance for you. Copleston’s “History of Philosophy” is always a great source. And, for free, there’s always the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is fantastic.

  14. You might want to look at the History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer, which spans the beginning of civilization to the fall of Rome. Bauer’s style is engaging and readable, and she gives an overview of all the threads of history going on during that era.

  15. Ruth Downie has written four mystery books featuring a Roman medical doctor. The first two books, Medicus and Terra Incognita, take place in Roman Britain. The third book, Persona Non Grata, is set in Gaul, and the main characters encounter a group of Christians at a nearby farm. Their encounter with Christianity is not the center of the book, but it does show how Romans (and a pagan Briton) responded to Christianity. Downie is a skilled writer – the novels are enjoyable.

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