This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2012 vol. 169 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Christianity in the Greco-Roman World: A Narrative IntroductionBaker Academic, Peabody, MA January 1, 2010
The purpose of this book is to help readers better understand the historical and social context of the New Testament world, particularly in reference to Paul’s letters and Acts (pp. 1–2). The book is divided into four major sections: religion and superstition; education, philosophy, and oratory; city and society; and household and family. Each section has three main parts: a narrative story, the Greco-Roman cultural context, and the New Testament context. Each of the four stories is a fictional account showing what life would have been like in the first-century Greco-Roman world. Drawing on the names and roles of characters related to ancient Corinth in the Bible and other literary records, Hubbard imaginatively constructs a narrative demonstrating how life was lived in the Greco-Roman world. Each section on the Greco-Roman cultural context overviews topics relevant to the major section. For example under the section “Household and Family” topics include the home, the family, adultery and divorce, sexual ethics, and slavery. Utilizing the plethora of Greco-Roman documents and archaeological findings in antiquity, Hubbard describes how certain things functioned within that society. Each section on the New Testament context brings everything together and relates the world of the New Testament to the New Testament text. Throughout the book Hubbard has sidebar quotations from ancient writings to help students become familiar with the first-century Greco-Roman world.
Focusing on what life would have been like in the major Greco-Roman cities, particularly Corinth, Hubbard notes how such knowledge influenced what Paul and Luke wrote. Although the Gospel texts are not free from Greco-Roman influences, they primarily deal with matters related to Jews in and around Judea and Galilee. There is no shortage of works relating to Jewish backgrounds and how they shed light on the Gospels; so Hubbard intentionally ignores this discussion to focus on the expansion of Christianity beyond the Jewish heartland into the wider Greco-Roman world.
Sections the reviewer found particularly interesting were the chapters on education, philosophy, and oratory; an explanation of the differences between ancient and modern marriage (pp. 182–84); a discussion of house-church leadership (pp. 209–16); and the sections on slavery (pp. 191–96, 223–25), which do not sugarcoat ancient slavery as many are inclined to do. While there is no substitute for reading primary source material, Hubbard’s work brings readers close to the originals. Suggestions are given at the end of every main section for further reading in primary and secondary source materials. Hubbard is to be commended for the extensive amount of research behind this work. Numerous quotations help give readers a glimpse of how people in the Greco-Roman world thought and lived, and the effect the gospel had on those social norms.
Hubbard often assumes his readers know certain words and concepts that only experts would know. He does include a helpful glossary in the back (pp. 273–76), though it could have been a bit more inclusive. Unfortunately endnotes are used rather than footnotes, which would have been much more reader-friendly.
Blending narrative and prose keeps the readers’ attention and it makes the Greco-Roman world of the first century come alive. Hubbard is associate professor of New Testament language and literature at Talbot School of Theology.
—Luke Mathews with Joseph D. Fantin