Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament

The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament

Beth M. Sheppard
  • Book Info
    The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament
    Book Description:

    Do professional historians and New Testament scholars use the same methods to explore the past? This interdisciplinary textbook introduces students of the New Testament to the vocabulary and methods employed by historians. It discusses various approaches to historiography and demonstrates their applicability for interpreting the New Testament text and exploring its background. Overviews of the philosophy of history, common historical fallacies, and the basics of historiography are followed by three exegetical studies that illustrate the applicability of various historical methods for New Testament interpretation.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-666-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  2. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    History is the arena in which we explore the past. But not every historian will come to the same conclusions or find the same insights about a single episode that happened days, decades, or centuries ago. This is similar to a phenomenon in New Testament studies where interpreters who examine the same passage often have very different observations to make about it. Take the Last Supper, for example. When it comes to the final meal that Jesus shares with his disciples prior to his crucifixion, John’s Gospel contains the most detail and stretches from chapter 13 through chapter 17. This...

  4. Part 1: Theory

    • 1 A Meeting of Two Disciplines
      (pp. 11-30)

      New Testament studies is awash in methods, or interpretive approaches to the text. There is a wide array of standard “criticisms” or methodological techniques upon which students and scholars of the New Testament may draw: literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, and many others. Yet there are occasional eras of intellectual fervor that require biblical scholars to derive insights from disciplines beyond literature for the tools to analyze new breakthroughs. Given recent interest in the Roman world as a context for the New Testament¹—a growing area of inquiry spurred on in part by archeological endeavors like the ongoing excavations of the...

    • 2 Theoretical Underpinnings
      (pp. 31-60)

      The classic 1970s rock song “Fly Like an Eagle,” by Steve Miller Band, includes the phrase, “Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future.” The message is uncomplicated. According to the lyrics, the present, past, and future are not necessarily distinct periods but somehow merge into one another. One might even say that they overlap or begin to melt into one another. The upshot? Time should be used wisely. One might choose to “fly like an eagle” up out of the mire of the past and help to feed, clothe, and house children and others who are in need....

    • 3 Basic Philosophical Matters
      (pp. 61-74)

      In our modern era, not all history is judged to be “good” history. In the last chapter, mention was made of works that were less than satisfying as valid accounts of the past. Some were based on archaeological pieces of evidence that were subsequently identified as forgeries; others were national histories of the World War II era in which the account of events was deliberately skewed to promote the agendas of those who commissioned the works; and finally there was brief mention of the questionable veracity of the work of Josephus, who is now considered to have conflated fact and...

    • 4 Stumbling Blocks in Histories
      (pp. 75-92)

      The well-crafted history project is easily recognizable because it evidences a sound understanding of methodology, but it is but also a work where the author has successfully dodged some of the common errors of argumentation that tend to vex historians. Although there are many types of fallacies, both formal and informal, a few errors are persistently spotted in explorations of the past, and readers of history are well served by being able to recognize them. Problems stemming from chronology or cause and effect, for instance, are endemic to the field. The object of this chapter is to highlight some of...

  5. Part 2: Historiography:: The History of Writing History

    • 5 Emergence of a Discipline: Methods from Antiquity to the Modern Era
      (pp. 95-136)

      Toward the close of the last century, a group of scholars held a symposium on the city of Ephesus at Harvard Divinity School. The meeting was cosponsored by both the divinity school and the department of classics at Harvard, and archeologists, classicists, historians, and New Testament scholars all joined together to have an interdisciplinary conversation about this ancient city.¹ Despite the fact that this meeting took place almost two decades ago and both historians and New Testament scholars were exchanging ideas at the meeting, sometimes the nitty-gritty techniques that historians use when exploring the past are still not very familiar...

    • 6 History Blossoms: The Modern Era to the Mid-twentieth Century
      (pp. 137-154)

      In any discipline, some methods may have bursts of popularity and then wane. Others may be transformed by subsequent generations of researchers and endure in their new forms for decades, or else they may have basic tenets that are adopted by the practitioners of yet other methods. In any event, the approaches that historians take for their investigations tend to reflect the larger interests and intellectual streams of the societies that give rise to them. Historicism, for instance, was forged in the crucible of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, where optimism that science could unravel the mysteries of the world...

    • 7 New Lenses for History: The Late Twentieth Century to the Present
      (pp. 155-180)

      In a small, isolated, rural Kansas community with only five hundred residents, many citizens own passports because they serve as volunteers in agricultural exchange programs. Their cosmopolitanism does not stop there. The town provides free wireless Internet access to everyone in its borders so they can communicate with the world. Sure, the inhabitants still earn very modest livings by growing wheat, but that doesn’t mean the remote location translates to this tiny populace having tunnel vision or close-minded perspectives about what is taking place in the wider United States or even abroad.

      The previous chapter focused on one peculiar consequence...

  6. Part 3: Application

    • 8 Counting Sheep: Clothing and Textiles in Luke’s Gospel
      (pp. 183-200)

      It is time to shift gears and actually apply what we have learned so far about methods and tools to an analysis of some sample New Testament texts. This particular study, in which references to clothing in Luke’s Gospel are examined in order to shed light on the economic status of Luke’s audience, straddles the fence between two historical methods. It is inspired by both economic history and cultural history. After all, clothing is the stuff of “ordinary life,” common goods of the type that interest cultural historians and generally don’t attract a lot of attention in biblical scholarship. Further,...

    • 9 A Scarlet Woman? John 4
      (pp. 201-216)

      When explicating the various modes of historical writing, as we have seen, revisionist historians attempt to identify biases in received texts because often documents are written by those who hold the presuppositions of those who belong to the privileged and power positions in a society. They seek to tease out evidence from the past that actually represents groups and interests that are not dominant in the culture and thus barely discernible in the histories and documents that have been left behind. Thus revisionist historians call for new interpretations of material that relates to groups marginalized or even maligned in prior...

    • 10 Drinking the Spirit: Ancient Medicine and Paul’s Corinth
      (pp. 217-234)

      To some extent, an examination of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians against the backdrop of medical treatises written in Greek in the eastern part of the empire is just another “sociological interpretation” of a biblical text. But a challenge leveled by late-twentieth century historiography, as was mentioned in chapter 2 above, was that historians should look for new sources and apply them in new ways. The object was to avoid a “canon of sources,” or a select group of resources upon which one frequently draws. Here that call is taken to heart and an entirely different depth of inquiry...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 235-238)

    Even though a work may be intended to be more informative than argumentative, sometimes along the way points emerge that are worth a bit of reflection. In the conclusion of his hefty and very provocative book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Michael R. Licona writes,

    I discovered that historians and biblical scholars give little attention to the philosophy of history and important aspects of historical method. In fact, there appear to be no canons of history. Yet biblical scholars have much they can learn from discussions among philosophers of history. Informing themselves of these discussions will help...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-252)
  9. Index of Ancient and Medieval Texts and Persons
    (pp. 253-258)
  10. Index of Modern Persons
    (pp. 259-262)
  11. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 263-268)