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Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism Paperback – July 28, 2015
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"Reading Romans in Context is of great value to the reader who is coming to the world of Second Temple Judaism for the first time. Light is shone on various possible interrelationships between Paul and his world, such that the reader will find much that is of use heuristically when reading Romans in context." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
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Top Customer Reviews
Although the book is a collection of 20 relatively short (seven or eight page) essays written by separate authors, it doesn't read that way. There is remarkable consistency in the organization, rhetorical approach, logical flow, and even the illustrations among the various chapters. Each essay addresses a small section of Romans, in canonical sequence; comparing and contrasting that section with a religious or historical text from the Second Temple era that contains similar themes and ideas, and ultimately helps us understand better how Paul incorporated those familiar elements in his premises, arguments, and conclusions.
The pattern of each essay is regular. First, the author(s) states the basic theme of the section and describes how it fits into the surrounding context. Next, the extra-biblical text is introduced and analyzed for relevance, and then compared and contrasted with Paul's writing to see how he used familiar vocabulary and cultural context as connection points for his argumentation. In each case there is considerable overlap, but Paul eventually makes a rhetorical turn to demonstrate or highlight how the Christ event changed, or even reversed, our understanding of God's work and objectives in history and eschatology.
In addition to providing deeper insight into Paul's writing in its cultural context, the book serves another valuable purpose. It provides a broad, nontechnical introduction to the important and ongoing dialog about the relationship between Paul and Second Temple Judaism. Delving into this topic by engaging directly with the writings of Wright and Sanders starts the initiate down a long and daunting path that stretches back to Schweitzer, Luther, Augustine, and even Plato, with numerous rabbit chases along the way. The opening introductory chapter and successive collection of essays in this book shortcut that path significantly, and it serves as an effective launching pad for this journey. Additional resources listed at the end of each chapter provide even further help in that regard. There is also a comprehensive glossary of potentially unfamiliar terms that are common to this subject at the back of the book, and when those words occur in the running text they are highlighted in bold font.
A corollary benefit of this approach to putting Paul in context is the interaction with a wide range of important apocryphal, apocalyptic, and historic texts that are not commonly read or studied by nonspecialists. During the course of the book, the reader encounters books that include the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Jubilees, Sirach, The Epistle of Enoch, the Greek Life of Adam and Eve, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the writings of Philo and Josephus.
The contributors to this work are an emerging group of Pauline scholars from Durham University and it is exciting to see them standing on the shoulders of their masters, helping us peer further into the mind of Paul. This book is definitely not some esoteric rehashing of previous material. It is obvious that they have not only learned well, but they are challenging their teachers and starting to surpass them. We can look forward to some fresh advances from them in this field.
In summary, this book provides a framework for deeper understanding of the book of Romans at multiple levels of discourse by introducing readers to, and then examining, Paul's use of cultural semaphores that would connect implicitly with his audience. And further, it does it in a way that is interesting, informative, balanced, and readily understandable even to those who are new to the subject. Beyond its value for personal study, I think it would also make an excellent study guide for the book of Romans in a group setting.
The authors had a good understanding of Paul's teachings and used the comparison to add insights and nuances to our understanding of Romans (not to reinterpret them). I found the essays interesting, especially the one on distinctive food habits. I didn't have any trouble following their arguments. There was a glossary in the back, but the terms were defined well enough in the text that I never needed to use it. I'd recommend this book to those interested in this topic.
Phrases and themes that were studied were: "son of God," God's wrath and divine justice, circumcision and covenant identity, "works of the law," "righteousness of God," the faith of Abraham, suffering of the righteous, death through Adam, slavery to sin or to righteousness, the Law's role, evil desires, human glorification linked to death, why God blesses or curses a person, righteousness by law vs. by faith and one's ability to keep the Law, Gentile inclusion, right living--self mastery vs. divine enabling, how one should interact with the government, distinctive food habits, God's role in our giving to the poor, and women in church ministry and leadership.
I received an ebook review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.