This post was spurred on by some late night reading I was doing last night. The piece was an article by Richard Bauckham in Joel Green’s volume “Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation.” Bauckham’s article was entitled, “The Relevance of Extra-Canonical Jewish Texts to New Testament Study.” Bauckham argued passionately that to really understand Jesus, and for that matter the rise of Early Christianity, we need to understand 1st century Judaism. Now maybe its just me but I have noticed that a lot of people in my generation (20’s, 30’s) are very interested in the cultural and historical setting of their faith, and their scripture. I think that’s partly why people like Rob Bell have gotten so much traction. We want to go back to then and there, we’re tired of religious sentamentalism. Its Jesus meets indie films. And you know what – we like it! But of course there’s a catch. It’s hard work understanding what went on in the lifetime of Jesus and how he fits into it. As Bauckham himself said,
“This may make the use of noncanonical Jewish literature in NT study seem a dauntingly difficult task. It is! The study of Early Judaism is a complex and constantly developing field of study, in reality composed of a variety of highly technical and specialized disciplines.”
So as one sojourner to another here are some resources that I think may help you appreciate him better in his own context. Pick these up, go find the trendiest cafe that has good coffee you can, and sit down for what I promise will be a rich journey.
Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher Wright. For my money Chris Wright’s book is the best, most accessible book for you to understand the story Jesus loved – the Old Testament. Understanding our Lord’s passion for Israel’s scriptures and how he saw himself as the fulfillment of their promise is so important. It changes the way you live with the Old Testament and it should change the way you live out his continual fulfillment of those promises in your life.
An Introduction to Early Judaism by James Vanderkam. Its hard to find a good, accessible introduction to the land Jesus lived in, but I think Vanderkam is a good place to go. You’re going to get very solid scholarship in readable terms, and you’re going to leave the book saying, wow I never appreciated how hard it was for my Lord to live out His Father’s will in his own context. Being a follower is hard, even for Jesus, but he paints the way to continue to follow in the midst of trials.
The Challenge of Jesus by NT Wright. As Bauckham’s quote above should make plain, nobody gets it all right, but this slender volume by Wright will help you try and connect Jesus to the thoughts, expectations, and dreads of Israel in the 1st century. You’ll see the political dynamism of Jesus, as well as the priestly character of his sacrifice for you and all the Israel of God. But be prepared because Wright doesn’t leave the challenge of Jesus in the past, he brings it you and I in the present.
(Photographic art by SHOPtalk, piece entitled “Vintage Camera“)