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Thursday, January 18, 2007 

"The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology": Introduction

I have to confess that in the past I have been reluctant to read anything by the aptly named "context-group" of scholars. I think this has been partly due to my bad experience with Crossan's The Historical Jesus in which he utilizes the cultural anthropological features of the 1st century Mediterranean environment as his controlling paradigm for his reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Admittedly, Crossan's abuse of sociological and anthropological models for his historical Jesus investigation left a bitter taste in my mouth for such "context" approaches.

However, since entering the biblioblogosphere, I have softened my stance significantly on context writings. The blogs of Loren Rosson and James Crossley in particular have been most helpful in this development. I must say that I have benefited greatly from the sociological and anthropological insights of both men. Additionally, Loren has repeatedly alerted his readers to the works of such erudite context scholars as Philip Esler and Crossley has written a book on Christian Origins from a socio-contextual perspective of which he has been summarizing on his blog (first post here and book available here). But I still needed a further impetus to get me to read some actual context works. This final impetus had its origin in a strange place, namely, The Travel Channel. The Travel Channel has a new show that premiered last Sunday called "Living with the Kombai" which basically is about two Westerns who attempt to live among an isolated group of people known as the Kombai from West Paupa. For some reason, witnessing the vast cultural gap between these men and the Kombai prompted the desire in me to finally begin reading more "context" works.

And so I am beginning by reading a book that has been sitting on my shelf awhile entitled The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology by Bruce J. Malina. It is as a good place to start as any since it is written principally as introductory material. In the coming posts I hope to provide an adequate review of the work plus any additional reflections and/or insights that I may acquire on my way to completion of this book.

Hi Chris,

Crossan was actually criticized by some of the Context Group scholars for not assimilating their work properly. He talks a lot abot honor/shame and patronage/clientage in his '91 publication, but the Jesus who comes out in the end has very little to do with that world of h/s and p/c.

Likewise, Crossan blows it on the subject of table-fellowship, again because he misunderstands (or misuses) the models. Jesus wasn't aiming for equality and commensality (as if an "egalitarian"), but rather mutuality and reciprocity.

The mere mention of Crossan makes my blood congeal... :)

Hello Chris,

You may well know this but David Horrell's edited book on sociological approaches to the NT is another good way of getting an overview as it also presents the internal debates (from Context group members to their critics) among social scientific critics of the NT.

You motivations for reading the Context Group stuff is interesting because for me (and I suspect many others) one of overall general benefits from the Context Group is that they have shown how different the context of Christian origins was from the present

Thanks Loren and James for the helpful comments. When I get finanically on my meet again I will most certainly purchase Horrell's edited book and am looking forward to reading your book, James, as well as some of Philip Esler's works.

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