IVP is publishing a new series of books that appear to be especially valuable for New Testament students, “A Week in the Life …” These books are “historical novels,” examining the lives of different groups of people from the first century:
- citizens of Rome (i.e., what it was like to live through a week on one of the city in the first century),
- citizens of Corinth,
- citizens of Ephesus,
- citizens of Jerusalem during the fall of the city in 70,
- a Roman centurion,
- a slave, and
- a Greco-Roman woman.
Based on the reviews that I have seen, these books will be both entertaining AND incredibly enlightening for study of the New Testament text. Slavery (for example) was both very different from slavery in the USA, yet at the same time very similar in other ways. If we approach Philemon or the household codes of Ephesians and Colossians with only American slavery as our background, we will misread important facets of the text.
Here is part of Jason Loo’s review of A Week in the Life of a Slave, from Micheal F. Bird’s blog. Read the whole thing here.
Narrated from a third-person omniscient perspective, his book is almost ready as a screenplay for an episode of Season 2 of the popular TV show Paul, Apostle of Christ, and if it were to be aired, it would likely win an award or two. As fascinating as it may be, the major drawback of this kind of approach is that all the details would have to be filled even when the text does not provide enough to link the dots. Byron nevertheless has done an excellent job of keeping faithful to Scripture while accounting well for the facts of life in the first-century Greco-Roman world.
In particular, Byron has successfully woven into the fabric of his narrative some interesting facts of history. These include the story of Epictetus, a former slave from Hierapolis who turned Stoic, to provide the background to how Onesimus had his awakening moment (67-70) and the reference to Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus in Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians to create an imaginative epilogue to the open ending of Paul’s letter to Philemon (157-160).