March 23, 2016
Enjoy a Week in the First Century
Want a quick, entertaining way to get a solid feel for what it was like to be in Roman-occupied Palestine? That's what Gary Burge offers in A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion. In this window into the world of the first century, we look through the eyes of Appius, a tough-minded, pragmatic Centurion. The story is enriched as we get to know his household, his familia. Livia, his companion, knows the power of her allure. Tullus is a captured slave with skill as a scribe who rises to a place of trust. Gaius is the manager of Appius's affairs, organized and completely loyal to his lord.
Burge opens to us the power of honor and shame in Roman culture, a force that permeates each step Appius takes and each conflict he encounters. Burge also helps us begin to understand the prominence and even the honor that violence has in the Roman mind.
As Appius and his familia make their way around the eastern Mediterranean region, we are introduced to key towns, fortresses and a way of life that we think we know but which the author reveals in rich detail. Eventually the familia come to Capernaum where they face the very different values and customs of a Jewish settlement. Here they also have a dramatic encounter with a Jewish prophet and healer who has been gathering followers in recent days.
A worthy companion to Burge's book is A Week in the Life of Corinth by Ben Witherington III. In this historical novella set in the New Testament era, we follow the story of Erastos and his employee Nicanor as they do business, encounter the underhanded and sometimes violent ways of Roman politics, and engage members of a new and somewhat strange religious group. Their leader Paul is not much to look at, having the appearance of a tradesman. But his rhetorical skills are very impressive.
In both books the drama of the story makes us forget all we are learning about the era. Sidebars sprinkled along the way give more historical and cultural background that can either be disregarded or enjoyed for the fuller picture they give of this important era. All in all, both offer fresh, worthwhile and enjoyable pictures of what it was like to be part of the New Testament world.