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New Testament Background: Selected Documents: Revised and Expanded Edition Revised ed. Edition
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Barrett's book should give the reader a fine background into the period of the New Testament. I personally think every New Testament class should require this text, if anything as a side textbook to be consulted when necessary. Barrett saves us the work of finding the appropriate background writings on our own. He has collected them and given us pertinent excerpts.
He gives writings from the:
Roman Empire- Here he has writings from Roman Statesmen and Emperors, showing policies towards the Jews, etc.
Papyri- He translates various everyday letters, wills, and deeds in Koine Greek, perhaps showing us what the average Christian or Jew may have experienced in everyday life.
Inscriptions- here he translates inscriptions on synagogues, tombs, and other buildings.
Philosophers and Poets- Excerpts from Plato, Epicurus, the Stoics, and many others show us the prevailing pagan philosophies of the day.
Gnosticism and Gnosis- this section has writings discovered at Nag-Hammadi and from other Gnostic groups lacking Christian influence. He has divided Gnosticism (the full blown heresy of the 2nd century) and Gnosis (the developing religion perhaps addressed in Colossians) into 2 groups for clarity.Read more ›
This book is exactly what it purports to be. It provides a wealth of primary source evidence relevant to the culture and history in which New Testament arose. All of it nonChristian.
Barrett organizes the material by topic and then provides the primary evidence relevant to each. For example, for the Roman Empire he includes topics such as Augustus, Claudius, and Nero. Under the topics, Barrett provides selections from the primary evidence relevant to each, such as Suetonius, Tacitus, and Dio Cassius. He also leads off with an informative introduction to the topic.
The topics are:
The Roman Empire
The Philosopher and Poets
Rabbinic Literature and Rabbinic Judaism
Probably my favorite topic was the Mystery Religions. Given some of the wilder claims being made about comparisons between the Mystery Religions and Christianity, it is helpful to see what we really know about the former. Too often, references to what the Mystery Religions supposedly believed are to outdated secondary sources or from much later periods (which raises the more likely possibility that it was Christianity doing the influence). Barrett brings a healthy dose of reality to the situation and enables us to read what the ancient sources themselves had to say about Mystery Religions.
However, all of the sections are very helpful and valuable resources for studying the New Testament and early Christianity. Which makes this book a valuable addition your library. I highly recommend it.