Item description for Social-Science Commentary On The Synoptic Gospels by Bruce J. Malina & Richard L. Rohrbaugh...
Overview The authors build on their earlier social-scientific works and enhance the highly successful commentary model they developed in their social-scientific commentaries. This volume is a thoroughly revised edition of this popular commentary. They include an introduction that lays the foundation for their interpretation, followed by an examination of each unit in the Synoptics, employing methodologies of cultural anthropology, macro-sociology, and social psychology.
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Bruce J. Malina is professor of biblical studies at Creighton University. Internationally known for his work in New Testament social science criticism, he is the author of numerous books, including "New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology" and "Windows on the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea."
Bruce J. Malina currently resides in Omaha, in the state of Nebraska.
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Indespensible tool for reading the synoptic gospels Aug 21, 2003
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh are members of The Context Group: Project on the Bible in its Cultural Environment, and this commentary is one of the finest fruits of their labor. The authors shed light on subtle aspects of ancient Middle East culture which go completely over our heads when we read the bible.
For instance, in ancient Palestine compliments were enviously aggressive. They implicitly accused a person of rising above others at their expense. Thus, when a man challenges Jesus by calling him a "good teacher", Jesus must fend off the accusation with a counterquestion: "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone?" (Mk. 10:17-18/Mt. 19:16-17/Lk. 18:18-19). In Jesus' world, honorable men didn't defend themselves when challenged -- for that would only concede ground to their opponents -- instead, they counterattacked. In the gospels Jesus proves himself an honorable man time and time again. He never answers accusatory questions directly; he is always able to change the terms of a debate and shift its ground. In Mk. 11:27-33/Mt. 21:23-27/Lk. 20:1-8 a group of temple authorities confront Jesus and demand to know by what authority he made his prophetic demonstration in the temple. Jesus responds with a counterquestion and then ends up insulting them by refusing to reveal anything at all. Then, in Mk. 12:13-17/Mt. 22:15-22/Lk. 20:20-26, a group of Herodians and Pharisees try snaring Jesus by getting him to admit having revolutionary sentiments about paying taxes. Jesus deflects their question by having them produce a coin for him, and then, holding it up for all to see, he shames them with a nasty counterquestion and tricks them into identifying themselves as idolaters before concluding with his well-known cryptic saying, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's". All of these examples show how honorable first-century Jews debated in public.
The authors illumine the values of Galilean peasants as distinct from Judean Pharisees and other temple authorities. Consider the conflict related in Mk. 7:1-25, where a group of Pharisees demand that Jesus explain why his disciples eat with unwashed hands. Jesus, naturally, doesn't deign to explain this. Instead, he counterattacks with insults -- calling the Pharisees hypocrites -- and then escalates the conflict by showing them up with scripture citations, setting his own interpretation of the Torah against theirs. But the authors do provide an explanation: "Keeping purity laws was a near impossibility for peasant farmers, who did not have the required water for ritual baths, as well as for fishermen, who came in constant contact with dead fish, dead animals, and the like. It was also very difficult for people who traveled about, such as Jesus and his disciples. The religious tradition of the Galileans had adapted itself in significant measure to the realities of peasant life."
The commentary brings to life ancient Mediterranean values as contrasted with ours in the modern West. For instance, discovering identity was not a process of self-discovery like it is with us. Identity was provided by one's peers, not by oneself. When Jesus asks Peter, "Who do you say I am?", and Peter replies, "You are the messiah" (Mk. 8:29), most of us today think that Jesus knows who he is and is simply testing his disciples to see if they know. But the authors correctly refute this: "Since Jesus rejected his own honor by leaving his family and village and living as an itinerant exorcist-healer, he needs to find out what his status is both among the public and his followers." They provide him with his messianic identity. Only when public support has grown substantially will he finally be comfortable identifying himself as the messiah (as in Mk. 14:61-62). For now, he is terrified of the title, and he "sternly orders Peter not to tell anyone about it" (Mk. 8:30).
Malina and Rohrbaugh have described just about every behavioral cue and cultural script we could think of -- how ancient gossip networks functioned, why all rich people were considered thieves, the nature of patron-client relationships, etc. This book is a priceless tool, and it has already been used as a foundation for more comprehensive treatments of the historical Jesus. Be sure to buy it and the sequel, "Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John".
This is an updated and improved version of the earlier '92 publication, with material re-arranged for easier reading, and new commentary as well.
Lots of Great Information; Not Well Organized Jun 26, 2001
I found this book to be very helpful in providing a frame of reference for understanding the Synoptic Gospels. The authors correctly point out that viewing the actions, teachings and events of an agrarian society from 2,000 years ago with our modern, industrial, individualistic point of view leaves a great deal of room for misunderstanding. However, I rate this book as 3 stars because of the structure. It is not really designed to be read cover to cover, because material is repeated over and over again, as similar events occur in Matthew, Mark & Luke. I think this work could be improved considerably if the authors made more liberal use of the academic convention of "c.f." I feel that it is serious reader abuse to ask one to read through a two-page exposition toward the end of the book that is a 90% literal repeat of an earlier section, in hopes of finding the one sentence that is new.
A very useful book. Sep 22, 2000
I enjoyed the book that, with its companion "on the gospel of John", form a source of "inside" information that otherwise I woudln't have access to. The book is structure according to a regular commentary with additional "notes" or "reading scenarious." Unfortunately, there are no footnotes; therefore, when they tell you abuot a particular custom of that time, there is no direct reference to a primary source. Therefore, you have to take their words for it. There is a bibliography, which can help a bit, but still you're left with no way to further a specific point.
The World of the Synoptics Apr 1, 2000
I have found the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels to be very helpful in understanding the social and cultural world of the gospels. Our world is so different from the world of the first century that it requires a real effort of think ourselves back into the first century Mediterranean world. That's where this book comes in. It provides a commentary on each passage from the perspective of the social sciences, and "reading scenarios" which provide in-depth information on a variety of subjects, from "Age" and "Betrothal" and "Dyadic Personality to Honor-Shame Societies", "Rich, Poor, and Limited Good", and "Wife". These are short essays that provide background for the understanding of the social structures that underlie the gospel. Each Gospel is dealt with by itself to maintain the integrity of its message. An outline of each Gospel, pictures and a bibliography are also provided. I have used the book since 1995, and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to deepen their understanding of the Gospels. The authors have also published a Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John which I have also found extremely helpful.