Great books change everything about a long, dragging, late night flight.
Last night I took my place on a crowded a jet to discover we were grounded for 45-minutes due to air traffic. Normally that’s a big bummer when you are already expecting another 3 hours of flight time and the tendons in your knees are being dented by the seats in front of you. But it wasn’t such a big deal since it gave me more time to read my new historical novel, A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers. By the time the plane landed I was over 150 pages into a book that I did not put down the entire time. And that’s how good books redeem bad flights.
But to get good recommendations we need to know discerning readers and that’s why I’m glad you read this blog. Last week I asked you for book recommendations that shed light on the everyday social life and the cultural heritage of the first century Roman world to gain a deeper understanding of the complex world that frames New Testament Christian history. Your response was overwhelming. I received book recommendations through the blog comments, email, from friends on Facebook, and from followers on Twitter. It is obvious that many of you have studied this topic from quite a broad array of genres from technical textbooks to historical fiction.
For my own benefit and future reference, I compiled the book suggestions into a select bibliography. This list includes the books that I currently own (º), those that I own and have read at least in part (•), and many of the books that are now on my list of books to buy and read in the future (*). Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions! Here’s the list (updated on 4/9):
Non-Fiction, Technical and Textbooks
ºEckhard Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (IVP, 2008), 518 pages, $23 Amazon, $22 WTSB.
*Moyer Hubbard, Christianity in the Greco-Roman World: A Narrative Introduction (Baker, 2010), 344 pages, $24.99 Amazon. Read Ben Witherington’s glowing review.
*Bruce Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (WJK, 2001), 277 pages, $20 Amazon.
*Peter Connolly, The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome (Oxford U, 2000), 256 pages, op.
*Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (Yale U, 2003), 320 pages, $20 Amazon.
*Ben Witherington, The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical World of the New Testament, Vol. 1: The Individual Witnesses (IVP, 2009), 856 pages, $31 Amazon.
*Ben Witherington, The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament, Volume 2: The Collective Witness (IVP, 2010), 838 pages, $31 Amazon.
Ben Witherington, New Testament Rhetoric: An Introduction Guide to the Art of Persuasion in and of the New Testament (Wipf & Stock, 2008), 274 pages, $25 Amazon.
•F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame: The Rise and Progress of Christianity from Its First Beginnings to the Conversion of the English (Wipf & Stock, 2004), 436 pages, $36 Amazon.
Various, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Context (Zondervan, 2009), 480 pages, $31 Amazon.
Non-Fiction, Original Sources
*Jo-Ann Shelton, As The Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History (Oxford U, 1998), 512 pages, $46 Amazon.
*Elwell and Yarbrough, Readings from the First-Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study (Baker, 1998), 224 pages, $25 Amazon.
Mark Harding, Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context: A Reader (Sheffield Academic, 2003), 400 pages, $72 Amazon.
Non-Fiction, Commentaries on Acts
•Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 1997), 923 pages, $34 Amazon, $35 WTSB. Don Carson, for example, is no big fan of the socio-rhetorical commentary format, since it tends to place greater emphasis on sociological points at the expense of more important theological points. Yet he commends this one, saying it is “very good indeed,” and that “his ‘socio-rhetorical’ approach (which in this volume tends to mean no more than that the author is sensitive both to the world of the first century and to the structure of the text) is particularly suited to this sort of biblical book” (NTCS, 81).
*Colin Hemer, Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns, 1990), 482 pages, op. Clearly a commentary worth finding. Writes Carson, it is “a wonderfully erudite study of the social context of Acts, with countless insights” (NTCS, 84).
Historical Fiction, Christian
ºPaul Maier, The Flames of Rome: A Novel (Kregel, 1995), 464 pages, $11 Amazon. Maier’s novels are unique in that he begins with historical facts, real people, and true events, and then tells these stories by filling in the gaps with fictional putty. He calls this style a “documentary novel.”
*Tim Woodroof, A Distant Presence: The Story Behind Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (NavPress, 2002), 500 pages, op.
*Bruce Longenecker, The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story from the New Testament World (Baker, 2002), 192 pages, $12 Amazon, $9 WTSB.
Historical Fiction, Non-Christian
That is a wonderful list of books, a feast for any diligent reader.
Thank you for your book recommendations, and thank you for your blog readership.