Tuesday, January 01, 2008

'Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus,' by Joachim Jeremias: my Amazon review

"You know, I read quickly, but it took me weeks to finish this book.

Because even for a fast reader, this is tough, tough going.

But Jeremias is always worthwhile, and this book is no exception. What he gives us here is a mental picture of the Jerusalem area (which would have included "suburban" areas around the city) in the first century, around the time of Christ. It's not an idealized picture of the city, or a prettied up version, but a landscape grounded in reality, and using source documents to flesh out what the city would have looked like, and what it would have been like to have lived in the city at that time.

Which is what makes it tough going: because Jeremias refuses to do the lazy way of writing such a history, and he deals with the hard questions such as whether certain numbers may be exaggerated, or the biases of various source writers. But I would encourage anyone with a desire to know the time of Jesus better to devote the hard work necessary to going through this book. You will grow in your appreciation not only for the New Testament documents, but for the Lord who makes it important to learn about this city at that time.

I do not agree with everything Jeremias says. For example, he obviously thinks that the gospel writers could err, and John 10.35 and 2 Timothy 3.16 make this an impossible means of dealing with a problem text. But don't let this dissuade you from using Jeremias' invaluable work.

My one other disagreement is that I feel the author on occasion uses examples from 19th and early 20th century Palestine as arguing points about an issue, and the conditions and times from the intervening almost 2000 years make me uncomfortable with such arguments except as, perhaps, tangential illustrations. If the author were writing now (the book is some 75 years old), he might use such illustrations differently."

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