April 6, 2008

The Lost Letters of Pergamum

Bruce Longenecker's The Lost Letters of Pergamum is a work of historical fiction that recounts the events of the final year of the life of Antipas, a Roman nobleman. While fictional, the story grows out of the tradition attached to the martyrdom of Antipas mentioned in Revelation 2:13. As Senior Lecturer in New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, Longenecker's imagination is fueled by his expertise in the history of Christian origins. This book provides a creative and fascinating story within which is couched an introduction to the historical situation in which the New Testament was composed and early Christianity began to spread. The story is told through the medium of a collection of letters written during in the year 92 AD. The letters were the correspondence of Antipas and Luke, the writer of the third gospel. They recount the thoughts of Antipas as he read through Luke's gospel and discussed its interpretation and implications with its author. These letters include a wealth of introductory information about events and figures of the period such as gladiatorial games, the Pharisees, Josephus, Pilate, and the emperor Domitian. Perhaps one of the book's most important contributions is the picture painted of life in the culture of honor and shame and the practice of benefaction in the Roman world. Unfortunately, this cultural context too often remains little known outside of scholarly study of the Bible. Longenecker provides the average reader with a glimpse of how a Roman nobleman might have understood and received the teachings of Jesus which challenged the systems of civic honor and benefaction. The author also provides vivid descriptions of the characteristics of the earliest life and struggle of the church. All of this historical information is conveyed creatively in the fictional letters such that I was often so caught up in the story that I forgot I was reading first century history. Along the way, the author proposes interpretation of and historical insight into many passages in the gospel of Luke. I highly recommend this book as an introduction to the historical and social context within which Christianity was born and the New Testament written. Enjoy!

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