Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Review of Chilton/Good, Studying the New Testament, A Fortress Introduction


RBL 06/2012

Chilton, Bruce, and Deirdre J. Good

Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction

Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011. Pp. ix + 174. Paper. $20.00.
ISBN 9780800697358.

Moschos Goutzioudis
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki, Greece

The book introduces readers and mainly students of theological studies to the New Testament books and their world. In other words, Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good offer an alternative but very interesting reading of the way that the New Testament books were composed in the first century. The question is how it is possible for this small book to be an introduction to the New Testament, since during the last decade we have seen many books of this kind of more than five hundred pages. In its 174 pages the book contains a brief introduction, four chapters, a glossary, and an index. In every chapter the reader can find a few maps, images, and tables and many text boxes as additional material for further reading. Although a small book in its field, this volume has all the necessary material for
students. What makes it great is the fact that nothing important is missing.

The authors of the book did not include a bibliography list in the last pages but formed a short bibliography divided into two categories in the end of each chapter. The first is entitled “Bibliographical Background,” the second “Bibliography for Further Reading.” At the end of each chapter small exercises with many questions for students to check their knowledge are included. The overall style of this book has been welcomed during the last years by many scholars who have written any kind of introduction to the New Testament. As I reviewed William A. Simmons, Peoples of the New Testament World: An IllustratedGuide (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2008), and Ben Witherington III, New Testament History: A Narrative Account (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), in the past, I observed that this style of including additional material within tables or textboxes with background color is followed by many publishers. The aim is to help the students to have the texts of ancient writers, diagrams or passages, and summaries of theological ideas separately in some pages of the book.

As for the content, the first pages of this volume provide an introduction to the New Testament literature. Here the authors discuss in brief only a few contemporary approaches to the texts of the New Testament, including source criticism, social-scientific theory, redaction and tradition criticism, and, finally, reader-response criticism. Pages 14–15 contain two tables with the books of the New Testament. In the first we find the New Testament books in the order in which many scholars believe they were most likely written, with approximate dates. Chilton and Good place 1 Thessalonians in 50 C.E., considering it the first book of the New Testament, and 2 Peter in 110 C.E. as the last one. The second table contains the books of the New Testament in the order that appears after the agreement among churches during the fourth century.

The first chapter surveys the social world of Jesus. The authors here discuss many issues concerning the region of Galilee and the mission of Jesus, the figures of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas, and the temple of Jerusalem and its cult. Many text boxes with information and pericopes from Josephus and other sources within the chapter illuminate the testimonies from the Gospels about Jesus, John, and others. Chilton and Good also use a significant amount of recent evidence from archaeological excavations to illuminate the world of Jesus. Needless to say, both of them are prominent scholars who have written many books about Christian origins, Judaism in the time of Jesus, and apocryphal literature.

Paul and his letters is the subject of the second chapter. First the authors present in brief the personality and the theology of Paul the apostle; then they present his letters. In their presentation they follow the order given earlier (14), starting with 1 Thessalonians and finishing with Hebrews. Here the authors distinguish the authentic Pauline letters from the Deutero-Pauline, after the section that discusses the letter to the Philippians. Chilton and Good’s view is that Colossians and Ephesians are Timothy’s edition of Paul’s teaching. Textbox 2.4 (77) containing corpus paulinum and the authenticity of each letter is very helpful.

Chapter 3 surveys the Gospels, starting with Mark. Before Mark’s Gospel we find small units that discuss the Synoptic Problem and the Q source, as well as the latest data in New Testament research concerning Peter, James, Mary Magdalene, and Barnabas and its evidence in the Gospel accounts. What is interesting is that the authors prefer for the composition of Mark’s Gospel a date after the destruction of the temple. They also believe that Peter, James, and Barnabas seem to have influenced the Gospel of Matthew. This chapter ends with a short unit about the Coptic Gospel according to Thomas.

The last chapter is entitled “Catholic and Apocalyptic Writings.” In addition to the Catholic Epistles, we find here the Acts of the Apostles and the Revelation of John. Text boxes about Old Testament pseudepigrapha and apocrypha are provided as additional material for further study. I would like to mention that Chilton and Good claim that the change in narration from third-person singular to first-person plural in Acts is connected to Timothy, not Luke. This means that Luke was not an eyewitness in the events that are reported.

This book is easy to be read, and it contains all the information for anyone who wants to study New Testament literature and needs a good introduction to it. Greek words transliterated in English are all correct, except in only two cases. The bibliography used is up to date, and the authors many times mention classical works of each subject under discussion. The only negative point is the small size of the font used in the book. This feature makes it even more difficult for any sentence in tables to be read. I would like to see in the future more books like this, which will follow its style and have the aim to be a useful first tool for studying the New Testament books and its world. Anyone interested in this book can visit the publisher’s webpage (http://store.fortresspress.com/store/product/4747/Studying-the-New-Testament-A-Fortress-Introduction) for a video of the authors discussing their book. There is also a sample chapter, four brief reviews, and a table of contents (pdf files).

This review was published by RBL 2012 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining a
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