Posted by: chuckbumgardner | April 1, 2009

NT Background Tidbits

Interesting tidbits I’ve gleaned in NT background recently.

 

. . . according to the witness of grave inscriptions in the Roman empire, not even half of all people reached the age of twenty-five; hardly 5 percent reached fifty.

Rainer Riesner, Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology, trans. Doug Stott (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 383.

 

Judaism was well known throughout the Roman Empire.  Its native province (Judea to the Romans, Israel to the Jews) was populated by as many as 1.5 million.  The Diaspora may have had as many as four million (or 7 percent of the Roman Empire), making Judaism a significant minority.  Around the Mediterranean there were close to a thousand synagogues by AD 70.

Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 62.

 

I’ve heard more than one preacher suggest that Jesus’ exorcism of demons into swine and the subsequent porcine destruction (Mark 5) was justified because Jews weren’t supposed to have / eat swine.  But, “when [Jesus] exorcises demons from the man in Gerasa (5:1), he is in Gentile territory” (187).  This area was the “Decapolis” (cf. Matt 4:25; *Mar 5:20; 7:31):

Following his successful conquest of the region, Pompey freed numerous cities from Jewish rule that the Roman governor of Syria administered.  The Roman historian Pliny was the first to list them . . . : Scythopolis, Gadara, Hippos, Dion, Pella, Raphana, Canatha, Damascus, Philadelphia, and Galasa (Gerasa).  These cities formed a ‘league’ and controlled important trade routes from Syria. . . . When Jesus visited [Gadara] he was entering a strictly Greek world–hence the presence of swine in Mark 5:11-12. (35)

Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).  Gary Burge wrote both chapters 2 (second quote) and 9 (first quote), so I’m uncertain as to why he places the demoniac in Gerasa in chapter 9, and in Gadara in chapter 2.  The second quote is from a sidebar; perhaps someone else compiled that information.

 

Hook-and-line fishing was known [in Jesus’ time] but used far less since it yielded fewer fish.  Three net systems were in use.

The drag net . . . was the most ancient form. . . . A wall-like net with weights on the bottom and cork on the top is pulled along the coast.  Then the lead rope is swept across the sea by boat and pulled back to shore, pulling in fish as it comes.

The cast net (cf. Mark 1:16-17) is circular.  It has lead sinkers attached to its edges and is tossed into the sea by a lone fisherman.  It lands on the water like a parachute, sinking and catching unwary fish.

The trammel net (cf. Mark 1:19-20) has three “layers” of net connected at the top by a head rope (with cork) and a foot rope (with lead weights).  The outer nets have wide openings while the inner net is finely meshed and loose, flowing easily in and out of the outer nets.  The net is spread in the water generally at night in a long line and held while other fishermen scare the fish toward it (with splashing).  The fish enter the first net easily, push against the fine mesh net, and then carry the fine net into the third outer net, entangling themselves hopelessly.  The fishermen haul the net ashore, disentangle the fish, and repair the many breaks.  In the story of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-7) the men have already fished all night and now are repairing their trammel nets.  Jesus tells them to set sail again and drop the net once more.  This was a genuine act of faith!

Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 186.

 

“In antiquity prisons held people accused of crimes until their sentencing.  Then they were freed, executed, or exiled.  A judge might coerce obedience by jailing an offender, but imprisonment was rarely a form of punishment.”

Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 338.  It is also suggested here that when Paul was in Rome (Acts 28), “he also likely took advantage of the public food rations provided for all Roman citizens over age fourteen residing in the city.”

 

In the Roman world, revenge was a social obligation in order to maintain your honor in society; offering the other cheek was not an option.

Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 400.

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