Understanding the Gospels as Ancient Jewish Literature

Understanding the Gospels as Ancient Jewish Literature places the Gospels in the context of contemporaneous Greco-Roman Jewish texts (4th cent. BC–3rd cent. AD), a collection that includes the Dead Sea Scrolls and the literature of the early Rabbis.

While decades of research into the “Jewish backgrounds” of the Gospels have proven to be fruitful, little attention has been given to their function as a witness to the evolution of ancient Judaism. Comprehending this evolution sheds new light and meaning on the Gospel narratives, as well as on the core message of the Jesus movement. Understanding the Gospels as Ancient Jewish Literature argues that when viewed through the lens of ancient Judaism, the Gospels become a source for the geographical, historical, and religious reality of ancient Judaism, some of which would have otherwise been missing from the historical record. And in turn, the study of ancient Judaism clarifies some of the teachings attributed to Jesus by the Evangelists.

While slim (it’s just 38 pages in length plus endnotes) this little volume is filled with very important first class historical detail, and like all Carta volumes, richly, richly illustrated with photos and maps and charts and such.  Jeffrey Garcia offers details every student of the New Testament needs to have well in hand before beginning study of the text.

Garcia divides his work into these short major sections

  • Introduction
  • Sources for Understanding the Gospels
  • Geography of the Land of Israel in the Gospels
  • Jewish Political History in the Gospels
  • Jewish Life in the Gospels
  • Jewish Styles of Teaching in the Gospels
  • Charity, Deeds of Reciprocal Kindness, and the Image of God in the Gospels
  • The Gospels as the First Literary Witness to Jewish Practice

The work concludes, again, with extensive endnotes, rich in bibiographic references.

The sections above include sometimes few and sometimes many and in a few cases none when it comes to subsections.  The introduction is one page.  The sources for understanding the Gospels take up but three pages, etc.  Each topic is scraped across the surface and then Garcia moves on.

Each section serves, so far as I am concerned, as an introduction to the topic at hand and an encouragement to further, deeper reading on those topics which interest individual readers.

The little work is the ideal tool for classroom use and Sunday School students to find themselves face to face with the strange and foreign world of the New Testament.  I recommend it to undergrad courses and church workers as well as to interested layfolk of all levels.  It is a delightful volume.

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