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Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture [Paperback]

By David A. Desilva (Author)
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Item description for Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture by David A. Desilva...

Contemporary Western readers of the New Testament may find it surprising that honor and shame, patronage and reciprocity, kinship and family, and purity and pollution offer us keys to understanding the methods and message of the New Testament. But as recent scholarship has discovered and David deSilva demonstrates, paying attention to these cultural themes opens our eyes and ears to new facets and overtones within the New Testament documents.

Publishers Description
Contemporary Western readers may find it surprising that honor and shame, patronage and reciprocity, kinship and family, and purity and pollution offer us keys to interpreting the New Testament. But as recent scholarship has proposed and as David deSilva demonstrates, paying attention to these cultural themes opens our eyes and ears to new discoveries and deeper understanding. Through our understanding of honor and shame in the Mediterranean world, we gain new appreciation of the way in which the personhood of early Christians connected with group values. By examining the protocols of patronage and reciprocity, we more firmly grasp the meaning of God's grace--and our response has fresh meaning. In exploring the ethos of kinship and household relations, we enlarge our perspective on the early Christian communities that met in houses and functioned as a new family or "household" of God. And by investigating the notions of purity and pollution along with their associated practices, we come to realize how the ancient "map" of society and the world was revised by the power of the gospel. DeSilva's work will reward you with a deeper appreciation of the New Testament, the gospel and Christian discipleship. More than that, it will also inform your participation in contemporary Christian community.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: IVP Academic
Pages   336
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.06" Width: 6" Height: 0.95"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 12, 2000
Publisher   IVP-InterVarsity Press
ISBN  0830815724  
ISBN13  9780830815722  

Availability  3 units.
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More About David A. Desilva

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! David A. deSilva (Ph.D., Emory University) is professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary. His works include An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods, and Ministry Formation; Perseverence in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle "to the Hebrews"; and Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture.

David A. Desilva has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Bible & Other Sacred Texts > Bible > New Testament
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Biographies > Biography
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Commentaries > Commentaries
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > General
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Topical

Christian Product Categories
Books > Bible Study > New Testament Studies > New Testament Introduction

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Reviews - What do customers think about Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture?

Helps to understand the background and culture of the bible  Feb 19, 2008
DeSilva argues in "Honor, Patronage, Kinship,and Purity" that we need to understand these four pivotal concepts in order to unlock the bible in its original context. Our culture, with its emphasis on individualism, has lost its sense of shame and dishonor which were so important in the ancient world.

When the Pharisees challenge Jesus because he eats without washing, they challenged his honor, not just his adherence to purity laws. A need to seek approval from others was pervasive throughout the ancient world, and especially so among Jews. Status and wealth were typically imbued with great honor among the Romans, but right behavior and leading a blameless life was more honorable among the Jews.

There is an interesting discussion of the early Christians. "Strict avoidance of participation in idolatrous worship meant that the Christians would need to remove themselves from much of the public life of their city" (p 47). They formed their own kinship group instead. The believers in Corinth, for example, gained honor by giving alms to congregations in need. Instead of the usual patronage system so common in Rome, a Christian was told to be grateful, not to his wealthy benefactor, but to the God who gave him life. "God's patronage of the Christian community is evidenced in the growth of...churches and members" (p 133).

Kinship was the primary source of status, a tendency even more pronounced in Jewish culture. Hence legitimacy of relationship is very important. Huge lists of genealogies were kept in the temple to show who was eligible to be a priest. And later, in early Christianity, much was made of Jesus being the son of the Father, and of adopting us as his legitimate heirs.

A very useful book.
Wonderful  Jan 4, 2006
This book is helpful to the aspiring biblical scholar and to the Christian layman. It situates the Bible firmly in its 1st Century mediterranean culture, first by exploring the contemporary texts, then examining the scriptures. At the end of the chapters dealing with scripture, he briefly writes on the practical applications of this knowledge, which is particularly useful. Some feel that he wrecks his book this way, by forcing 1st Century culture into the service of 21st century protestant evangelicalism. However, it is always presented as either a way to fulfill the Great Comission or how to apply the New Testament, a group of books nearly 2000 years old, to our modern lives. I recommend this above Bruce Malina's "The New Testament World" because of its clarity and practical application, although both are wonderfully informative.
Expansive and revealing account of NT cultural context.  Sep 3, 2005
I've been a student of the Bible for decades, read dozens of books and commentaries on the Bible but deSilva has surprized me with the clarity that he gives to the mind and community of the early church. The New Testament has a new light for me as I view it in the context of the world view of Jesus' first disciples.
A tremendous survey  Jul 12, 2005
In studying the New Testament, or any ancient text, we must understand much about the environment it came out of--the societal values, the cultural assumptions, the historical context, etc--otherwise we unwittingly anachronize our interpretations and read ancient literature as if they were written in our day. David deSilva, a member of the Context Group, has here a wonderful and informative survey of four key social values. Not only does he have a very accessible explanation of each value, he follows with a series of application to the New Testament texts. The client-patron model is observed in Lk 7:2-10 (p.123), which serves as an excellent illustration of how patronage functioned. His discussion of grace (favor) is fascinating (ch. 3), presenting it through the eyes of the ancients. Grace must be met with grace; favor must always give birth to favor; gift must be met with gratitude. (p. 105) He cites Seneca's explanation of the three Graces , which is indeed, in deSilva's words, most revealing . This is an important book, one to be studied alongside other Context Group publications. It will, with diligent study, do much to 'unlock' the background of the New Testament.

I would also note, since there is an excellent review by Loren Rosson (my addition can be taken as supplementary or confirmatory), that the particular segment referred to in p.84 is a short section and can easily be skipped. One can come to the book strictly for the social sciences and skip over the application parts--or skim them for helpful references.

Useful material pressed into the service of evangelism  Nov 8, 2001
At first glance this book looks like it might be a treasure which builds and expands on the important work of the Context Group (a body of scholars who have for years been developing excellent social-science and anthropological models to help understand the bible). It promises to "unlock New Testament culture" and hints at some good applications of the honor-shame, patron-client, kinship, purity, and challenge-riposte models. But it doesn't take long before the reader smells a bad stink. While thoroughly educated in the social sciences, David deSilva uses his knowledge selectively by pressing it into the service of Protestant evangelism.

For instance, the author draws a parallel between the persecutions of the early Christians and the "subtle pressures being exerted on [us modern evangelicals] to soften our commitment to 'one faith, one Lord' in the name of toleration, pluralism, and multiculturalism" (p 84). The parallel is ridiculous, of course, but deSilva goes on bemoaning the evils of modern liberalism as if they're terribly relevant to the subject at hand: "Desire to make room at the table for everyone's beliefs has made it very unpopular to claim to have the Truth and try to win others from their traditions to one's own... Religion is declared out of place in public spaces like businesses and schools..." This sort of rhetoric crops up throughout the book, and it's enough to hurt one's stomach.

In discussing the phenomenon of challenge-riposte, deSilva claims that the Christian movement sought to cultivate a specific Christian riposte over and against much of Judaism and the Greco-Roman world. "Followers of Jesus overcame challenges to honor not through using the same currency of insult or violence that the outside world threw at them, but rather they met hostility with generosity, violence with courageous refusal, curse with blessing from God's inexhaustible resources of goodness and kindness." (p 71) This is only half correct. While it's true that the early Christian movement was characterized by non-violence and (depending on the situation) generosity and kindness, that's certainly not the whole picture. Jesus himself was extremely foul-mouthed when engaged in challenge-riposte. "Brood of vipers" (snake bastards), "hypocrites", "blind guides", "whitewashed tombs" (beautiful on the outside, full of bones and decay on the inside), and "offspring of the devil" were among his favorite insults -- nasty name-calling which the author treats rather evasively (pp 62, 163, 282). Likewise, the apostle Paul enjoyed heaping curses and diatribes on friend and foe alike -- on the "circumcision dogs" at Philippi, on his friend Peter the "hypocrite", on his "foolish" and "bewitched" converts in Galatia (and on those "accursed" people who were influencing his poor converts), and many more. DeSilva hardly does justice to early Christianity as part of an agonistic milieu.

Save for a brief allusion to The Testament of Joseph (p 171), deSilva devotes no attention to the phenomenon of honorable lying -- which is hardly surprising, since an evangelical would have no use for such a concept. But in collectivist cultures like the ancient Mediterranean, lying could be very honorable. Outsiders and enemies had no right to the truth, which is why, for instance, Jesus lied to his brothers who "did not believe in him" (Jn 7:5), saying that he would not go to the festival in Jerusalem (Jn 7:8), yet doing exactly that as soon as they walked away (Jn 7:10). By the same token, insiders and friends preferred (and expected) to be lied to, if the truth would otherwise have offended their feelings. Lying in order to (a) deceive or degrade outsiders, or (b) preserve harmony among insiders, were both equally honorable. But deSilva has nothing to say about this phenomenon. For a book that promises to "unlock honor-shame culture", this omission is a serious shortcoming.

One strong point in deSilva's favor is that he cites a lot of primary source material, which is helpful. And he does make some good points, here and there. The book is definitely worth reading, despite being marred by an evangelical agenda. But those who are really interested in "unlocking the culture of the New Testament" should stick to material written by deSilva's betters -- Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, Jerome Neyrey, and other members of the Context Group.


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