Sunday, April 16, 2017
The World of Jesus by Dr. William H. Marty (Book Review #9 of 2017)
The World of Jesus: Making Sense of the People and Places of Jesus' Day
This book is a good overview of the history of Israel from the Old Testament to the time of the first century AD told in very layman's terms, focusing on the "intertestamental period" and Jewish politics in the time of Jesus. I'm a Sunday school teacher who needed a better grasp of the context of the first century AD. I once heard John MacArthur, a hyper proponent of sola scriptura, say in a sermon "You can't understand the scene between Jesus, Herod, and Pilate without understanding first century Jewish-Roman politics." So, this is a good book to start learning. Marty teaches undergraduates and this is at that level, highly readable, I recommend it to Bible study leaders. I highlighted a whole lot in my Kindle app and then was able to put those highlights onto Evernote where I can keep them as a reference forever.
I bought this Kindle book when it was a 99 cent deal. I would not, however, pay $8.99 for it. The information comes almost entirely from the Bible, Book of Maccabees, and the works of Josephus. It's mainly for Protestants who suspect it's sinful to even pick up the Book of Maccabees, much less apply it to their knowledge about the times of Jesus. (You should at least read 1 Maccabees before this book.) Dr. Marty does not point out any potential shortcomings of those sources; his goal is a simple narrative. There are dozens of names, multiple family trees, and various figures in Roman politics to keep track of, so Kindle x-ray is essential. Disappointingly, the author provides no timelines, charts, or other helps; I recommending finding a good study Bible that has these things for reference (NIV Study Bible edited by DA Carson has some helpful supplements and Rose eCharts has several charts and such available as well). He also begins each chapter with a few paragraphs of ficticious dramatization of an event that he will later explain; these seem a bit out of place. He jumps forward and back chronologically at times to deal with issues like the temple, starting from what we know from the Bible and going back and explaining the context-- Jesus spoke about the temple, so who built the temple in Jesus' day, why did it take so long, why was it built, etc? It could have contained more information about the Decapolis, the area around Nazareth, various cites around Galilee, and more.
Each chapter has discussion questions, which are helpful both to quiz yourself on the material covered as well as think more deeply about it. Some are sure to evoke discussion. (I like this trend among Christian books today that include discussion questions, assuming either group reading or maybe just the need to retain the knowledge.) I give it 3 stars out of 5. It's short, and it will give any student or teacher a decent overview and whet your appetite to read more in-depth research into the history. I would also recommend reading Josephus' works as well as Paul Johnson's History of the Jews, various books on the Maccabean revolt, and Greek and Roman history such as Freeman's Egypt, Greece, and Rome.