"Windows on the World of Jesus" by Bruce Malina
***THIS IS A REPOST FROM AWHILE BACK - JUST POSTING HERE FOR THE BLOG'S SAKE***
"Windows on the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea" is a novice's guide to understanding the social world of the Bible. Malina takes the interesting premise of modern Americans somehow traveling back in time to Biblical Judea and interacting with the natives there (don't put too much thought into it - the premise is just a conceit to contrast our two cultures). Malina begins each "Window" with a short, 1-2 paragraph anecdote of an interaction between members of the two cultures, usually ending with hostility or befuddlement and a question asking why the situation turned out the way it did. Such as:
Malina would then unpack all of the relevant cultural norms of the day so that the reader can understand what exactly is going on. In the case of the situation above, you'll learn that marriage arrangements are the exclusive right of the father and that by eloping, the daughter shamed her father and family. Also, the murderous son acted as a redeemer (a churchy term that has lost value due to overuse and misuse) by killing the offending family member and thereby restoring the lost honor of the family.Steve Crown's business in first-century Judea took him through a number of villages outside of Jerusalem. One day as he passed through a certain village, he saw a group of old men congratulating one of their peers. His curiosity excited, Steve asked a bystander what was the occasion for the celebration. The bystander said that the old man's cronies were congratulating him because his oldest son, who just returned from a village on the Mount of Olives, had killed the old man's daughter, who had eloped with her boyfriend. Steve was rather horrified at the thought.
Why was this homicide an occasion for congratulations?
Situations covered in the book include the concept of honor and shame, interpersonal behavior, in-group behavior, intra-family relations, out-group behavior, loving-kindness, miscellaneous common values held by the people of the time, and how the Biblical world viewed time. Each section has its own subchapters that evaluate different elements that make it up (such as what is considered honorable by situation, gender, and age; who is considered part of an in-group/out-group and when, gender roles, and so on).
Each "Window" also contains relevant Biblical and extra-Biblical passages that serve to illuminate the lesson being taught.
The book is very readable and has the complete novice in mind - so if you're new to studying the social world of the Bible and are interested in it, this book won't intimidate you at all. Of course, it necessarily lacks depth but it's your guide through the shallower pools of the social sciences.
I do have a couple of complaints, though:
1) Malina repeats himself a lot - I feel that sometimes there are occasions when a number of different "Windows" say generally the same thing with only the slightest differences in the angle they use to explore Biblical culture and could have easily been combined. I found myself basically reading the same thing over and over again with very minor differences.
2) Malina's view on eschatology - Malina takes the interesting position that Jesus' supposed failed prophecy to return "soon" in the lifetime of "this generation" can be understood in light of a 1st Century Judean's view of time. In short, the ancient world lived in the present and very rarely looked into the future and planning for the future was often highly inaccurate. I don't have a problem with this. I do, however, have a problem with believing Jesus, with the knowledge of the Godhead, could give an inaccurate prophecy. Jesus was man, yes, but he wasn't just man. And in any case, a prophet that gave a failed prophecy is not from God and should be put to death (thank heavens Benny Henn and his ilk don't live in a theocracy). Preterism again shows it's strength here.
All-in-all, though, this book is a great first step for a novice and one that I'd recommend.
NOTE: Please be sure to visit my free-standing blog, Upon Mount Taniquetil.