Social World of the New Testament

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    Hanson, K.C.

     (202K)

    BTB Readers Guide: Kinship

    "The social domain of kinship covers a broad range of institutions: genealogy and descent, marriage and divorce, and dowry-systems and inheritance. Because kinship in the ancient Mediterranean impacted virtually every part of life and every other social domain, it is fundamental for readers of the Bible to have a solid grasp of how kinship functioned in these cultures. While one might assume that 'family' is a straightforward concept determined by biology, it is, in fact, a social construction. Kinship studies provide analytical frameworks within which to interpret the biblical texts that assume the reader's knowledge of kinship transactions. This 'Reader's Guide' introduces the secondary literature most helpful in beginning kinship analysis of these biblical texts."
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    Herzog II, William R.

     (156K)

    Sociological Approaches to the Gospel

    "Since 1970 the use of the social sciences has played an increasingly prominent role in Gospel studies. Early efforts concentrated on applying specific sociological theories to biblical studies, but more recent research has drawn from a wider range of social-scientific disciplines and sub-disciplines, including anthropology, peasant studies, political science, economics and Mediterranean sociology. Assessing this movement requires tracing its evolution and identifying its relationship to the disciplines of the historical-critical method before analyzing two pioneering works illustrating its use on a Gospel text and evaluating its contributions."
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    Keener, Craig S.

     (303K)

    "Family and Household", in Dictionary of New Testament Background

    "The vast disparity between the income of rich and poor makes it somewhat difficult to generalize about all ancient households; a wealthy householder had more than seven hundred times the income of a peasant, and the extremely wealthy might have more than fifteen thousand times the income of a peasant...Nevertheless, extant information on ancient Mediterranean households is abundant and provides numerous insights into first-century home life. Much information from the ancient household relevant to early Christian texts focuses on *marriage; here we focus on other household relationships, especially parent-child and slaveholder-slave relationships."
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    Moxnes, Halvor

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    Honor and Shame

    "Notions about honor and shame exist in virtually all cultures. But in many Western societies these terms play a minor role in descriptions of prominent social values...The goal of this essay on honor and shame is threefold. First, we need to get a deeper understanding of the content and function of honor-shame in the social life of Mediterranean societies. Second, in order to clarify the value of this kind of study we look briefly at examples of honor and shame in the NT. Finally, we highlight recent works in social anthropology that have focused attention on the concepts of honor and shame as a key to the social and cultural systems of the Mediterranean region."
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    Neyrey, Jerome H.

     (228K)

    Reader's Guide to Meals, Food and Table Fellowship in the New Testament

    "How can readers understand the particular ceremony of meals and table fellowship? Why are meals so important as symbols of broader social relationships? How can we peer below the surface and grasp the social dynamics encoded in meals and commensality, what anthropologists call 'the language of meals'? This readers guide will present a survey of writings on the various ways in which meals, diet, etiquette and commensality may be profitably understood. Although strictly historical studies of Jewish and Greco-Roman meals are vital to our understanding, cultural and social analysis of the function and dynamics of meals will be our focus."
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    Neyrey, Jerome H.

     (185K)

    Clean/Unclean, Pure/Polluted, and Holy/Profane: The Idea and System of Purity

    "The specific use of the two anthropological models of (a) 'clean' and 'unclean' and (2) body symbolism can equip a reader to understand a wide but interconnected series of issues, such as dietary concerns (Acts 10-11), mission to "unclean" people (Mark 5; Acts 8), sexual morals (1 Thess 4:1-9), and hand washings (Mark 7). A reader knowing this material has a firm basis for sympathetically understanding the conflicts between Jesus and Pharisees which run through the gospel stories. Learning this code, moreover, one learns not just particular details of specific conflicts, but one begins to sense the coherence of different theological and social points of view in the first century. One learns how the ancient classification system worked because one understands its general principles and how they are replicated again and again in specific areas."
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    Neyrey, Jerome H.

     (229K)

    Josephus' Vita and the Encomium: A Native Model of Personality

    "How difficult it is to think about people different from ourselves. Many students of the history and culture of the ancient eastern Mediterranean still suffer from ethnocentrism, the phenomenon of perceiving or describing people from a different culture according to our own image and likeness...How can modern Westerners avoid enthocentrism when we try to understand eastern Mediterranean people from Greco-Roman times? We can find one important clue in the ways the ancients themselves understood and described people in their own culture. This study presents one particular native or emic model from the ancient world on how to perceive and present a person, namely, the encomium as described in the writing handbooks or progymnasmata."
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    Neyrey, Jerome H.

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    Miracles, In Other Words: Social Science Perspectives on Healings

    "Recent scholarship has produced many excellent studies which define a 'miracle' more accurately, illumine the typical form of a miracle narrative, and describe the hymns of praise or gratitude due the deity through whom the miracle occurred. These, of course, correspond to the traditional questions asked in biblical and classical scholarship and are argued and evaluated in terms of the prevailing paradigm of biblical scholarship, namely, the historical-critical method. Such approaches, however, hardly exhaust our examination of miracles because they omit certain questions. This inquiry will ask different sorts of questions about miracles in biblical miraculous healing accounts from a different paradigm, namely, the social sciences. Miracles, then, 'in other words.'"
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    Neyrey, Jerome H.

     (250K)

    God, Benefactor and Patron: The Major Cultural Model for Interpreting the Deity in Greco-Roman Antiquity

    "This study contributes to a renewed interest in the Christian Deity by employing the cultural model of benefactor-client relations. What is fresh here is an enlarged model of this pattern of social relations and fresh, apt, and plentiful illustrations of it in antiquity. The patron-client model is expanded by concern for types of reciprocity and classification of what is exchanged. Typical titles of God-as-benefactor are examined in light of media of exchange, especially power, knowledge, and material benefaction. Then several leading questions are asked: Why does God indeed give benefaction? What kind of reciprocity is in view? What kind of debt is incurred? Finally, what do clients return to God? Elites in antiquity state that God wants nothing and needs nothing. Yet mortals have offered sacrifice, a form of inducement, which practice Christians and philosophers rejected."
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    Oakman, Douglas E.

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    Culture, Society, and Embedded Religion in Antiquity

    "After the concepts of 'society,' 'culture,' and the 'embeddedness of religion' have been reviewed from the standpoint of the social sciences, religion’s place in antiquity is considered in relationship to the Judean temple, ecclesia and synagogue, and the controverted terms 'Jew' and 'Christian.' The meaning of religion, and the role it plays in human affairs, is argued to be fundamentally dependent upon its location in society or culture."
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    Pilch, John J.

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    Illuminating The World of Jesus Through Cultural Anthropology

    "In this article, I...highlight some of the 'changes in thinking' that will help a modern, Western student of the Bible to read the text with appropriate cultural sensitivity. Specifically as a practitioner of the social scientific approach to interpreting Scripture, I offer in the first part of this article reflections on the document's statements about culture and cultural anthropology. In the second section, I present representative concepts of the cultural anthropological approach with illustrations from the New Testament. Finally, I point out the contribution this approach can make to the catechetical enterprise."
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    Rohrbaugh, Richard L.

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    "Introduction" to The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation

    "Cross-cultural reading of the Bible is not a matter of choice. Since the Bible is a Mediterranean document written for Mediterranean readers, it presumes the cultural resources and worldview available to a reader socialized in the Mediterranean world. This means that for all non-Mediterraneans, including all Americans, reading the Bible is always an exercise in cross-cultural communication. It is only a question of doing it poorly or doing it well."
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    deSilva, David A.

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    Honor & Shame: Connecting Personhood to Group Values

    "The culture of the first-century world was built on the foundational social values of honor and dishonor....Honor and dishonor...are not only about the individual’s sense of worth but also about the coordination and promotion of a group’s defining and central values, about the strategies for the preservation of a group’s culture in the midst of a complex web of competing cultures, and about the ways in which honor or dishonor are attained, displayed and enacted. As we keep the dynamics of this rather complex model in mind, however, we can begin to approach the New Testament writings with a much greater sensitivity to how these texts speak to honor-sensitive hearers, develop a distinctively Christian definition of what gives a person worth and value (i.e., makes one honorable), and sustain commitment and obedience to Jesus and his teachings in a largely unsupportive world."