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Backgrounds of Early Christianity Paperback – August 19, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Currents in Theology and Mission
"The text is excellent -- rich and amazingly detailed. A standard textbook, it would also be a good addition to a parish library."

Bryn Mawr Classical Review
“This book provides a good introduction for students to the historical, cultural and religious environment of the New Testament.”
 

From the Back Cover

Having long served as a standard introduction to the world of the early church, Everett Ferguson's "Backgrounds of Early Christianity" has been expanded and updated in this third edition. The book explores and unpacks the Roman, Greek, and Jewish political, social, religious, and philosophical backgrounds necessary for a good historical understanding of the New Testament and the early church. New to this edition are revisions of Ferguson's original material, updated bibliographies, and fresh discussions of first-century social life, of Gnosticism, and of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Jewish literature.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans; 3rd ed. edition (August 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802822215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802822215
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,538 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this one on a whim, thought it might have an interesting section or two. I ended up reading the thing cover to cover.
In a field where lots of books are hard to read because they're poorly written, this one is exceptionally well organized, clearly written and easy to read.
It also covers all the subject, from Greco-Roman political history, through Hellenistic-Roman religions and philosophies, on to an excellent section on Judaism and another on early Christianity. Even if you're not an early Church buff, the book is a good introduction to ancient culture.
It's honest. It's written by a proff at a Christian university, but it doesn't slant the scholarship. For eg it gives a good accounting of both sides of the modern scholarship on the contributions of pagan Mystery Religions to the Church, and the _testimonium Falvianum_ is treated fairly -- and dismissed as a later interpolation.
Each section lists a number of books for further reading -- very useful.
A great book!!
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This book is an excellent introduction to the historical, cultural, social, economic, and political backgrounds of the times before, during, and after the beginnings of Christianity, i.e., from 330 B.C. to A.D. 330, from Alexander the Great to Constantine. It superbly complements the study of the New Testament. It has helped me attempt to make concepts in the Gospels concrete which, at first, seemed to be abstact.
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This is THE book on NT backgrounds. Ferguson gives you a broad sweep of nearely everything you need to know when studying hte NT and an extensive bibliography of additional resources for picking up the rest. I read this book early on in my carreer and still refer to it almost weekly. In the more specialized material I now study, his work is the basis that allows me to understand it. In short, if you read nothing else on NT backgrounds, read this. If your going to enter into advanced study of NT backgrounds, read this first. I even reccomend this book to 'lay' churchmembers without any theological training. It is simply the best.

The next best thing to Fergusson is C. K. Barrett, "NT Background: Selected Documents." This is a collection of excerpts from 1st Century primary sources. Still, READ FERGUSON FIRST!
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Ferguson's intent in writing Backgrounds of Early Christianity was neither to produce a history of the ancient world nor to synthesize ancient culture, philosophy, and religion in accordance with some interpretive scheme.

Instead, his desire was to craft an introductory textbook as a guide for beginning students. In the preface, he notes that limitations of writing and analysis have forced a compartmentalization (e.g., philosophy versus politics) and viewpoint (e.g., politics, religion, marriage) within his book that did not exist in the ancient world.

Ferguson ensures relevance to the New Testament with frequent references. General bibliographies for broader research are included at the beginning of each chapter. Specialized bibliographies for investigation into more narrow issues are provided at the end of each chapter. All bibliographic references are to works in English except where special circumstances apply. Footnotes are ample and well-chosen. Numerous photographs and tables enliven and clarify content.

In the preface, Ferguson deals with the issue of parallels between Christianity and ancient beliefs and practices. He denies that such similarities demand a naturalistic explanation for the rise of Christianity. This writer agrees and would go further to say that early apologists like Justin Martyr took a similar stance. Moreover, the popular Christian impulse to claim an utterly unique origin for Christianity is a self-inflicted handicap in dealing with the historical evidence. Furthermore, if Christianity were totally unique, it would likely be incomprehensible.
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Format: Paperback
This work, now in its third edition, remains the best and most comprehensive textbook available about the world in which the New Testament was born. Just about every subject you would want to know about is included, such as writing in the ancient world, apocryphal literature and Hellenist and Roman philosophy in addition to political history. It contains charts, photographs and maps. The bibliographies are excellent and not too long.

Another work, which covers some of the material but is a bit more manageable in length is Jeffers' THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ERA.
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This isn't the easiest reading book in the world. But it is a wonderful bird's eye view of the cultural, political, religious, and social world in which Christianity came into being. You learn about the Romans, the Greeks, the Jewish people, and a myriad of other peoples who populated the Roman empire. This book is essential toward an understanding of the backgrounds of early Christianity.
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I read this cover-to-cover. It was easy to read, and mostly very interesting. It is written for a wide, general audience, and does not make assumptions about the beliefs of the reader. The articles are moderately long, with nice hierarchical subheadings. I am eager to learn more about the interpenetration of Judaism and Hellenism in the actual origins and formation of Christianity.
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