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New Testament Background: Selected Documents: Revised and Expanded Edition Revised ed. Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060608811
ISBN-10: 0060608811
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Editorial Reviews

Review

For over thirty-five years, C. K. Barrett's The New Testament Background: Writings from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire That Illuminate Christian Origin has provided an exhaustive collection of source material from the political, religious, and social landscape of the New Testament. Far more than a history of first-century cultures, this is a compendium of the texts and documents that shaped that history. Now updated to include the revolutionary discoveries of recent decades such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi, The New Testament Background includes everything from the work of towering historical figures such as Aristotle, the Caesars, and Josephus to the letters and legal documents of everyday people. Jewish, Gnostic, and Pagan religious literature complete this vivid picture of the Mediterranean world at the time of the first Christians. -- Midwest Book Review

From the Publisher

C.K. Barret's classic work presents 280 ancient writings that bring the spiritual world of first century vividly to life.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Revised ed. edition (October 13, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060608811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060608811
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Many have the idea in their minds that Christianity simply appeared in a vacuum, or that Christianity began when one's church was built. However, Jesus was born into a much different world than ours today. We must also remember that the New Testament writers and Church fathers were writing under different conditions as well, and these influences are seen in their writings.
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.
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Format: Paperback
A resource this expansive can only be successfully created by a scholar of the first rank. Fortunately, C.K. Barrett is such a scholar. He has written top commentaries on many of Paul's letters, as well as the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John.

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
Papyri
Inscriptions
Mystery Religion
The Philosopher and Poets
Jewish History
Rabbinic Literature and Rabbinic Judaism
Qumran
Philo
Josephus
Septuagint
Apocalyptic
Mysticism

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.
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The book is basically a collection of quotes from contemporary authors -Jewish, Christian or pagan - living in the decades during and after the rise of early Christianity. A novice would not understand the usefulness of this book, but for someone like me who has a deep interest in the early beginnings of the Semitic faiths, this book is very useful indeed, as it contains certain quotes often used in Christian texts but obscure to track down its source (such as quotes from Epicurus or Josephus, for example). I would certainly recommend this book for those who know well enough the historical context of Christianity and wishes to use this book in order to track down (and gain) such references.
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New Testament Background: Selected Documents: Revised and Expanded Edition
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