Thinking Out Loud

May 30, 2011

Reconstructing Bible Times

Over the weekend I’ve been almost randomly paging through a type of book which has, so far, been foreign to my experience.  It’s one of those Bible reference books which attempts to give readers a fuller understanding of life during the Old Testament and/or New Testament times.  Some popular books in this genre include:

  • The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times, Revised and Updated by Ralph Gower
  • Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim
  • Everyday Life in Bible Times by Arthur Klinck
  • Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word by Moises Silva, releasing in August from Zondervan

I guess part of the reason I’ve never been drawn to reading these is because (a) I rely on people like Ray VanderLaan to fill in those blanks, and (b) I grew up in an experimental middle school and high school environment which left me with very little studies in and appreciation for history, let alone archeology.

The book I was reading was Harper’s Encylopedia of Bible Life by Madelieine S. and J. Lane Miller (Castle Books edn. orig. published by Harper & Row in 1978; out of print) and in particular a section on The Life of the Farmer which runs from page 144 to 188.  Yeah…imagine… me reading about farming.  But I digress.

What so impressed me about this — and it was only part way through I developed a full understanding of what I was reading — was that instead of just presenting the data, they assembled all of the Old and New Testament scriptures which have any reference to agriculture, and created a fictional character, Abiram, and wrote about the typical routines for himself and his family in various sections of the agricultural calendar year.  This is Biblical fiction done with research taken to the nth degree.

This was not hastily put together in an afternoon.

It showed, among other things, a very high regard for scripture; hardly a paragraph went by without multiple references, several of which I stopped to look up.   And the insights that it brought out lined up with other scripture passages that were already familiar, bringing them to even greater life; a few of which I also stopped to read again.

This type of study can only enrich your Bible reading, but realizing that many of you are, like I was, somewhat distant from Bible reference texts of all kinds, I want to give you another option.  Rob Bell — yes, that Rob Bell that you’ve been hearing so much about lately — has done some excellent messages both at his home church and at Willow Creek.  I tried to find one from “Summer at the Creek” from 2010 where he explained the background behind, “If someone asks you to go one mile, go two;” but even though I watched it just a few days ago, it seems to have vanished off their site.    But you can get some older ones from the Seeds Bookstore, look for the New Community (dark brown) logo on this window.  (Dust and Day of Atonement are recommended; Dust is a much longer exposition of the material on the Nooma DVD.)  

Or check out the material from Ray VanderLaan in his various DVD series.  These are expensive to purchase, so it’s recommended they be bought for group use.

There is so much depth in scripture — especially scripture where analogies and parables are so tied to agrarian culture — that we miss reading through the lens of our 21st century life.  Resources like this help us to see the things that give the stories greater a greater richness.

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2 Comments »

  1. Ray VanderLaan opens up the deeper layers of scripture and I have been so blessed in using his DvD teaching resources in a couple of discipleship groups I have led.

    I also enjoy the folksy flavor of Vernon McGee’s commentaries as I make my way through the bible. He is good at drawing in historical perspective to bring a passage to life.

    Comment by Cynthia — May 31, 2011 @ 12:23 am

  2. Paul,

    The state of the art resource in this regard is the five-volume Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament).

    The same high praise cannot be given to the lacklustre New Testament series companion to this set.

    Comment by Jon Rising — June 1, 2011 @ 10:15 pm


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