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Cultural Drama in Christian Beginnings
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by John E. Stambaugh and David L. Balch
The New Testament in Its Social Environment (Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1986.  204p.)

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An excellent volume in the superb series, Library of Early Christianity, Wayne A Meeks, editor.  These two authors provide detailed insight into the daily life in all spheres of society in the Roman Empire, drawing examples from the New Testament after laying the foundational picture gained from extensive archaeological documentation.

The Drama of Culture
They reference all sorts of sources from the period, including grave stones and other monuments, many of which included life summaries and occupational information; Latin and Greek authors of several centuries; ostraca or manuscripts of commercial transactions and other records and various sources.  This is a very detailed, and yet very readable portrayal of the status of language, literature and commerce as well as the general cultural interaction of the Macedonian and Roman Empires.

The details they provide and the lively writing style animate the ear for the reader to make the classical period come alive. You can see the real people and their cultural characteristics and the multi-ethnic dynamic of the period.  They cover the centuries from about Alexander the Great into the third century or so of the Christian era.

Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic
They provide good information on the Jewish language situation, confirming other recent studies indicating that Jews of the Diaspora usually spoke only Greek, and Hebrew was not commonly used in the synagogue schools.  They also indicate that Greek was the primary language even in Palestine, and confirm other scholars' view that the Palestinian synagogues would have used Greek scriptures primarily.

Hebrew was not commonly spoken as we approach the first century BC, and Aramaic was the common speech, though Greek more widely used.  They also detail the multi-ethnic character of the region, especially Galilee and the surrounding Greek areas.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Greek Egypt
[YXT] Hebrew Usage in the First Century
[TXT] Jesus and the Hebrew Language
[review] Jesus and the Jewish Resurrection
[TXT] Languages Jesus Used
[review] More Oral than We Knew:  The Oral Nature of the Gospels
[review] The Oral Greek Character of Paul's Writings
[review] Thessalonica, Qumran and the Cult of the Emperor
[TXT] Time or Character – The Ages or A Time Sequence in aionios: How Words "Mean" in Greek and English
[TXT]What Was Koine Greek?
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First reading notes written 13 August 2006
Expanded and posted on OJTR 14 December 2007
Reviewed on Amazon 1 March 2009
Last edited on OJTR 10 June 2013

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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