The Face of New Testament Studies, part 1

With this post I am kicking off posts pertaining to books I’m reading. The posts will vary in material covered in that I might only cover a certain section of a chapter in a post or I might cover multiple chapters, it all depends on the material. The plan is to summarize a relevant portion and then interact with whatever seems worth interacting with.

This series of posts will focus on the book The Face of New Testament Studies which is a book by a number of scholars and was edited by Scot McKnight and Grant Osborne. It was published in 2004 and is intended to be “a survey of recent research” (the subtitle of the book) by with each part written by leading scholars in their fields. Most of the authors are evangelical Christians, but that does not have a ton of bearing on the topics covered.

Sean Freyne kicks off the book by talking about the social world of Jesus specifically regarding Galilee and Judea.  A major question is this: who were the Galileans exactly? He talks about three major views on the matter, all of which have minor variations among proponents. The first says that the Galileans were actually directly descended from the ancient Israelites. The second answer emphasizes that Galilee had more of a Hellenistic influence than other parts and thus the Judaism of Galilee was more open and relaxed. This view is especially prominent among those who espouse the Jesus as a Cynic view. The third option, and the one Freyne thinks is the best, “speaks of the Judaization of Galilee from the south by the Hasmoneans, as they triumphantly marched north and east.” (p. 25)

The primary social view of Galilee is that it consisted of a ruling elite of very few at the top followed by a retainer class which helps protect the status quo of the elite and thus gain some prestige. Next comes the majority of the population in the peasants who are typically landowners of small portions but they cannot aspire to a higher social scale. Lastly comes the very poor who are without land and are beggars. Nonetheless, Freyne says this model is only appropriate if we do not idealize it too much.

A further thing he points out is that the line between subsistence and becoming a beggar was often a thin one due to the economic situation in Galilee. A drought could destroy a year of crops and reduce everything one earned to dust.

Lastly, his comment on the social turmoil is worth quoting, “It is not surprising, therefore, that the first century saw an increase in social turmoil of various kinds in the Judean countryside: banditry, prophetic movements of protest, and various religious ideologies that can be directly related to the prevailing social conditions.” (p. 34)

All in all, Freyne proposal seems well supported and balanced. In particular, learning about the economic situation of Galilee at the time helps to shed light on the passages where Jesus speaks about money and Jesus’ extended emphasis on not being anxious in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6.25-34).


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