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Light from the Ancient East [Paperback]

By Adolf Deissmann (Author)
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Item description for Light from the Ancient East by Adolf Deissmann...

This invaluable study of non-literary Greek and Latin texts from the period leading up to and contemporary with the rise and early development of Christianity is once again available after being out of print for nearly a decade. Deissmann's work with inscriptions on stone, metal, papyrus, and potsherds has long been widely recognized for the light it sheds upon the New Testament in its historical and cultural context. Eighty-five illustrations further illumine the discussion of these texts.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wipf & Stock Publishers
Pages   535
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.92" Width: 5.86" Height: 1.42"
Weight:   1.95 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2004
Publisher   Wipf & Stock Publishers
ISBN  1592444725  
ISBN13  9781592444724  

Availability  0 units.

More About Adolf Deissmann

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Adolf Deissmann was born in 1866 and died in 1937.

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > Criticism & Interpretation

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Excellent Philogy, Poor Theology  Dec 6, 1999
In 1927, G.A. Deissmann published his second volume dealing with New Testament philology, Light from the Ancient East. His purpose is "to show the importance of the non-literary written memorials of the Roman Empire in the period which let up to and witnessed the rise and early development of Christianity." The literary records are primarily memorials of the upper classes, and so to find the lower classes we need to go to the non-literary sources. Deissmann finds these non-literary sources to be of benefit philologically, for literary appreciation of New Testament, and because they help us with understanding of religion and culture. Throughout Light from the Ancient East (LFAE), Deissmann refers to the "new texts." This term is inclusive of three main materials, those being: Inscriptions on stone, metal, etc, Texts on papyrus (and parchments), and Texts on potshards (ostraca). All of these new texts are being discovered in large quantities, and their continued compilation and study can be a great aid in New Testament research. Chapter two of LFAE is on "The Language of the New Testament Illustrated from the New Texts." Deissmann summarizes his argument in saying "the first great impression we receive is that the language to which we are accustomed in the New Testament is on the whole just the kind of Greek that simple, unlearned folk of the Roman Imperial period were in the habit of using." That is the point of all of Deissman's writings, to establish that the Greek of the New Testament is the Greek of the common people. He is concerned about the New Testament being "isolated by the science of language." The bible, according to Deissmann is totally non-literary and popular in language and character, but is still beautiful in a natural way. There are several ways in which the new texts have value to the Scholar. The first is in the Phonology and Accidence of the language. The differences between the New Testament and Plato can be seen in this. The vocabulary of the New Testament is also very similar to that of the papyri. The number of words that occur only in the New Testament and not in new texts is growing very small as the papyri discoveries abound. The new texts also broaden our perspective on the meaning of words. Examples are given of several words where the meaning is very clearly defined by their use in the new texts. Another area in which the papyri give us illumination is that of standing phrases and idioms. When we see them in the papyri, we can better understand them in the bible. Deissmann says that the "Syntax of the New Testament has hitherto been least of all regarded in light of the new texts." That style of Greek had a syntax all its own, and that is often misunderstood by those fluent in Attic and Classical Greek. A result of all of this new information is confirmation that the New Testament is a "book of the people." So, viewing the New Testament as a non-literary document of the common people, in the third chapter Deissmann encourages us to look at the New Testament in relation to ancient literature. He would say "it has not yet sufficiently been viewed" in relation to the history of ancient literature. Literature is defined as "something written for the public... and cast in a definite artistic form." Deissmann reviews the letter/epistle distinction he drew in Bible Studies. He concludes that based on the study of other ancient letters, "in the New Testament there are both non-literary letters and literary epistles." He has "no hesitation" in stating that Paul's writings, along with second and third John are seen as "real letters," or non-literary writings. Conversely, Deissmann sees the letters of James, Peter, and Jude as literary epistles. The book of Hebrews is the most literary of all. As far as characters, "Jesus of Nazareth is altogether unliterary," and Paul is "equally non-literary." So if these characters and these writings are fundamentally non-literary, than the non-literary culture of that day is worth knowing, and the main source of knowledge about them is these "new texts." So, what is the application of Deissman's study? How does his work help our understanding of the New Testament text? This is the subject at hand in chapter four when he addresses Social and Religious History in the New Testament, as illustrated from the New Texts. Jesus interacted with and often made reference to the culture around him. He handled coins, dealt with fishermen, and told parables of everyday life. The inclusion of this in the New Testament, Deissmann believes, is a clue for us to study that culture. In this effort, "the New Testament student will reap a rich harvest from [the new texts]." One area that is illuminated by the New Texts is understanding of the parables and other illustrations used by Jesus. They aid our understanding, because "we are repeatedly able to illustrate from Egyptian papyri details of the life of the people in Palestine which Jesus immortalized in His parables." An example of this is the passages where Jesus discusses the value of a sparrow relative to that of a human, in God's eyes. There is an apparent contradiction in the value of sparrows spoken of in these verses, but by studying receipts and other texts from ancient times, we realize how it fits together. This is a good help, but Deissmann implies that the results of New Text study is much more far reaching, to the extent that "some traditional lines in the picture of the ancient world would have to be altered if we were to try to-day to depict that world after a study of its own records." Deissmann believes that the way we understand the biblical and post-biblical culture in inaccurate, and he goes on to discuss several areas in which he sees this. Understanding of the religious position of the ancient world is aided. While many today believe that the ancient world was totally corrupt and immoral, Deissmann argues that they are only perceived that way because it is not the common people that we hear from. We can see that other religions "competed with Christianity, because they were themselves missionary religions." Deissman also states that certain New Testament ethical concepts are paralleled in ancient pagan religious practice. He would even go so far as to imply that Paul borrowed concepts from secular literature in his writing. A continual emphasis for Deissmann is that the men who wrote the New Testament and those that they interacted with were common men, not of a literary nature. In fact, he affirms, "that these were men of the non-literary classes has been so often indicated in these pages from a variety of points of view, that I should have no objection if this thesis were described as a main feature of my book." This is a good point, but Deissmann almost tends toward postmodernism in his excitement over discovering the "individual souls" of the ancient world. An example of this tendency is the statement, "that ancient world of the insignificant and the many who hungered and thirsted, which seemed to be inaccessible save to the dreamy eye of the seer, and hopelessly lost to the scholar, now rises up before us in the persons of innumerable individuals." However, it is important to know the context of the scriptures we study. Deissmann would say that only those who "have hearts for the common people" should read and study the New Texts and reap the benefits that they provide. Another application of the New Texts is that they aid our understanding of whole groups of thought in the New Testament. One example of this concerns the word lu,tron, which is commonly translated as ransom. We find from the New Texts that "when anybody heard the Greek word lu,tron... in the first century, it was natural for him to think of the purchase-money for manumitting slaves." This perspective, gained from the New Texts, aids our understanding of this word and henceforth our understanding of the passages where it is used. The study of ancient coins for Deissmann yields the idea that Primitive Christianity made religion a serious business. Because of this, he assumes that the New Testament is "not a creature of theology, but religion." It is beyond the scope of this present work to critique the Deissmann's theology, but what is the New Testament if not theology? He also stamps the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ himself as "non-theological," and belonging to the age before theology. While it is true that the New Testament is critical religiously, it is absurd to say that it does not contain theology. Deissmann's final application of his study is to ask the question, what allowed primitive Christianity to gain converts? The first reason he gives is the popular character of Primitive Christianity. He says, "unless this fact is known and well emphasized it is impossible to explain historically the success of the attractive power of the gospel." Another important reason is the presence of miracles, which "gave to the New Testament a singularly popular position in the world around it." Christianity is historically peculiar, because it characterized by belief in one living

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