When I started my training for ministry at Yale Div, I wanted to move as rapidly as I could past the tedious readings from non-canonical sources that Richard Hays and David Lull assigned for NT Introduction. Yeah, yeah, yeah, C. K. Barrett’s New Testament Backgrounds; when will we get to reading the New Testament itself? I was generally acquainted with Judaism from having grown up in Squirrel Hill, and I had read philosophy as an undergraduate, so I reckoned that I didn’t need these background readings. I think I wasn’t the only one.
Then in my S.T.M. year I took classes on the Second Temple period with Lee Levine and David Tiede, and Hellenistic Backgrounds from Abe Malherbe and my vision of the New Testament exploded — I could see so much more when I read the texts in their wider literary, theological, cultural contexts. And I understood why my first-year lecturers had wanted me to read before I presumed to write essays and sit exams on the New Testament.
And now, I urge my students to acquaint themselves with Judaism of the Second Temple, with the Mishnah, with Josephus, with Stoicism and Cynicism and Epicureanism, with Lucian and Dio Chrysostom. And I know how impatient most of them will be with that urging, which makes me a bit sad; and I know that some will take my advice, which cheers me up.