A Visual Guide To Gospel Events: Fascinating Insights Into Where They Happened And Why, by James. C. Martin, John A. Beck, and David G. Hansen
Over and over again while reading this book one is presented with the question of why Gospel events happened and why they happened where they happened, and why it was important that certain people were or were not the audience for something. The authors occasionally argue their position about the importance of Jesus’ identity as an observant Jew in a complicated world with corrupt priests, exploited commoners, brutal Roman rulers, and sharp social divides from silence, such as providing a reason for why Jesus’ family moved from Bethlehem to avoid being impressed into serving Herod’s rage for city-building, and why Jesus is never recorded to have visited the capitals of Galilee at Sepphoris or Tiberias. The authors show an impressive interest in reading through the Talmud to understand the context of second temple Judaism as closely as possible, and show a marked anti-Sadducee bias, for some reason letting the equally corrupt and ungodly Pharisaical rabbis mostly off the hook and largely free of deserved criticism.
The contents of this book follow a generally chronological and also regional approach to Jesus’ life as discussed in the Gospels. The text, which features a lot of maps, drawings, pictures of coins, photos, and reconstructions of first century art and architecture, as well as an unsettling amount of idolatrous religious art, examines the birth and early years of Jesus (strangely ignoring the family’s sojourn in Egypt), the revelation of Jesus’ legitimate authority as the Messiah, the geography of Jesus’ parables and teaching, Jesus’ experiences in the world of the Gentiles, Jesus in and around Jerusalem, the threat of the cross during the last week of Jesus’ ministry, the arrest and trials of Jerusalem, and the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, which together take almost 200 pages of material that would be somewhat shortened if there were fewer representations of bogus religious art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance to take up page space.
Aside from the troublesome art historical interests of the writers, and the fact that the book makes some strange elisions in neglecting the geography of Egypt where Jesus likely spent a few years in or about Alexandria during his toddler years, and the fact that the book is mostly silent about the Pharisees except when it shows them as victims of the later Hasmoneans, and very harsh against the Sadducee party, the book is mostly to be enjoyed. The geographical approach of the book, in setting the Gospel events in carefully researched and closely argued geographical contexts, is something to appreciate, and the maps that help root and place Gospel occurrences is also generally helpful to the reader, who is assumed to be a believer in the Bible looking to understand the Bible with a better sense of place and topographical and geographical understanding . The coin research of the authors is also notable and praiseworthy, as well as the skill the authors have in conveying the way that Jesus Christ and His disciples were under intense scrutiny long before the fateful arrest and crucifixion, providing sound reasons from biblical law and Jewish tradition for many of the odd details described in the Gospels. Despite its imperfections, this is an immensely worthwhile read and a worthy biblical resource to possess in one’s library.
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