The New Testament in Cross-Cultural Perspective/matrix: The Bible in Mediterranean Context/the Shape of the Gospel, New Testament Essays/constantine's Bible, Politics, and the Making of the New Testaments

By Ellens, J. Harold | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The New Testament in Cross-Cultural Perspective/matrix: The Bible in Mediterranean Context/the Shape of the Gospel, New Testament Essays/constantine's Bible, Politics, and the Making of the New Testaments


Ellens, J. Harold, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


THE NEW TESTAMENT IN CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE. Richard L. Rohrbaugh, in MATRIX: THE BIBLE IN MEDITERRANEAN CONTEXT, 2007. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, Wipf & Stock Publishers. Pb. 211 + xvi, pb. $28.00. THE SHAPE OF THE GOSPEL, NEW TESTAMENT ESSAYS. Robert C. Tannehill, 2007. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, Wipf & Stock Publishers. Pb. 237 + xvi, pb. $28.00. CONSTANTINE'S BIBLE, POLITICS, AND THE MAKING OF THE NEW TESTAMENTS. David L. Dungan. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress. Pp. 224 + xii, pb, $17.00. Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens.

Rohrbaugh is emeritus professor of Christian Studies at Lewis and Clark and has published Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels and Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, and edited The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation. Kloppenberg says this current book is important for its sensitivity to the social dynamics of the world of Jesus day, allowing for a reading of familiar stories with a broad new set of convicting insights. The author repeatedly exposes the ethnocentric nature of many modern interpretations, and illustrates how a knowledge of Mediterranean anthropology cats an entirely different light on the significance of the parables and sayings of Jesus, for example, clearly setting forth a new way to read the scriptures.

The Bible is not a Western book, and the world of the New Testament is not our world. The New Testament world was pre-industrial, Middle Eastern, and populated mostly by non-literate peasants who depended on hearing these writings read aloud. Only a few of the literate elite were part of the Jesus movement, and they knew nothing of either modernity or the Western culture we inhabit today. This means that for all North Americans and North Europeans reading the New Testament must always be an exercise in cross-cultural communication.

Travelers, diplomats, and exchange students take great pains to bridge the cultural gaps that cloud mutual understanding; but the typical Bible reader habitually suspends cross-cultural awareness when encountering the narratives of the sacred text. The result must invariably be that we unwittingly project our own cultural understandings onto the pages of the New Testament. Rohrbaugh has undertaken to help us in this complex problem. His eleven chapters address such issues as interpretation of scripture in cross-cultural readings; ferreting out the obstacles to proper understanding of the Bible; putting ourselves into the shoes of a village craftsman in the 1st century setting like Jesus is purported to have been; deciphering the symbolism in the meaning of life in rural Galilee in that century; discerning Jesus' selfconsciousness and self-concept; noting the social problems of a child and his family dealing with a dishonorable birth in which the real father of the child was in question; hearing the gossip in Jesus' world and community; perceiving the ways in which the Synoptic Gospels and John attempt to repair this "damage"; and the like.

This is a particularly readable and articulate volume with a fine epilogue about writing cultural history, and a substantial scholarly bibliography, but, disgracefully, no index. What are publishers thinking who omit bibliographies or indexes these days. That is disrespectful to the scholars, lay readers and students, alike.

From the same company and in a similar vein, Tannehill's compact volume on the nature of the gospel has neither bibliography nor indexes. However, its content is worth the price of the volume. Three parts address the sayings and stories in the Synoptics, a deeper investigation of the Gospel of Mark, and Paul's writings on the good news, respectively. Tannehill is emeritus professor of NT at Methodist Theological School of Ohio. …

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