Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Book Review: Jesus and his World

A test of a good book is whether it is unputdownable. On receiving the volume under review, having taken it out of the envelope, I was through the introduction and into the main body of the text before I had realised. The writing style is informative and helpful, and the material so fascinating that this was a book most definitely enjoyed which will be profitable for Bible context throughout the rest of my ministry.

In Jesus and his World, Craig Evans seeks to open the specialised field of Biblical archaeology to the wider world. After an excellent non-technical introduction to the theory and practice of Biblical archaeology, providing clarification of details we find in the text through discoveries and digs, Evans lays out the ‘solid evidence from the first century’ for the existence of Jesus contra the minimalists.

The five main chapters lay out the findings of archaeologists in relation to the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth: the town of Sepphoris near Nazareth; the synagogue; reading, writing and literacy; ruling priests and the temple; and finally Jewish burial traditions. The overall impact of the chapters provides a vivid depiction of what life was like in the experience of Jesus, his disciples and contemporaries.

Each of the chapters is well researched, and presents the material in a simple and straightforward way. There are plenty of photographs to help illustrate the findings, as well as text boxes summarising the key points, which give the complete picture to the reader. The interested reader who wishes to explore further is also guided to additional resources and publications.

The book gently corrects some of the myths and false assumptions we’ve probably all heard or even used in preaching and teaching over the years. For example, ‘Recent excavations in and around Nazareth... suggest that the village in the time of Jesus may not have been a sleepy, isolated place, as many have imagined it.’

There are also useful allusions to the text, illustrative of the setting of some of Jesus’ utterances: ‘The smallness of the private dwellings, along with small windows, is probably presupposed in a saying like this: ‘What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.’’

As Evans declares: ‘The chapters of this book have attempted to place Jesus and the Gospel narratives into a more detailed context, in the light of archaeological excavations and the material culture these have uncovered.’ He has certainly achieved his aim. My only complaint was that it ended too quickly. I would have preferred a little bit more in each of the chapters, such was the quality of the writing, and the appreciation of his insights.

Having enjoyed this book, it’s definitely one that I would warmly recommend for all those wishing to discover more of setting and context of Jesus’ life and ministry. Evans is a good guide, in this well-written and easy to follow book. Biblical archaeology has certainly been made more accessible through his work.

This review was written for publication in SEARCH, the Journal of the Church of Ireland, with the book provided by them.

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