Saturday, June 6, 2009

Peoples of the New Testament World Review

Here are the opening paragraphs of my soon to be published book review on Peoples of the New Testament: An Illustrated Guide. William A. Simmons, associate professor of New Testament at Lee University, seeks to describe the characteristics of the groups evident in the New Testament and how these groups interacted and influenced one another. Simmons begins with a series of defining moments in the survival of Jewish identity from the Babylonian period to the early Roman empire. He argues that Jewish identity during this period was constructed in opposition to the various occupying powers. The varying responses to imperialism, however, contributed to the fragmentation of Jewish identity that resulted in identity-based groups evident in the New Testament. Simmons gives full attention to the impact of empire and insightfully recognizes that political, social, and religious factions contributed to communal destabilization within the Christ-movement.
Jewish groups are the focus of chapters two through five. Simmons plausibly traces the beginnings of the Pharisees to the reforms of Ezra whilst noting that a concern for the survival of Jewish identity informed the Pharisees’ commitment to following the law. The Sadducees are presented as possibly being associated with the Zadokites and are seen as having similar approaches to cultural assimilation as a means of negotiating Jewish identity in the context of imperialism. The social and political power of the scribes is discussed by Simmons who notes that in Israel, the scribes were central to the discursive formation of Jewish identity. The Zealots are presented as a group that is understood in a binary relationship to the emerging ethos of the early Christ-movement.

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