The Historical Approach to the New Testament

When I think of an Historical Approach to the New Testament, the first thing I think of is the historical accuracy of the content. The second thing I think of is the historical context: literature under Roman occupation, under Rome dealing with an uprising, under Rome putting down an uprising, under Rome not wanting to deal with another rebellion anytime soon; under Rome which put an end to the biblical Jesus’s earthly ministry, under Rome which, very importantly, supplanted or usurped the Son of Man’s Kingdom of Heaven/Righteousness–Rome which didn’t necessarily come like a thief in the night, but certainly did steal Jerusalem, took away the treasures of the Temple, destroyed the City, destroyed the Temple, destroyed Temple Judaism, destroyed Masada.

When I think of an Historical Approach to the New Testament, I think primarily of what was written no later than 95 Common Era. Maybe a modern investigative reporter or an archaeologist can uncover something to add to biblical accounts circa 27 – 36 Common Era (for Jesus). But then again, historical accounts about Jesus and all his wonders needs to have been written no later than 40 Common Era. The flurry of gospels were written after: 1) the death of other Jewish purists a) King Izates [50 C.E.], b) Queen Helena [no later than 56 C.E.], and c) James the brother of Jesus [64-66 C.E.; 2) the start of the Jewish Revolt in 66 or 67 Common Era and/ or when sacrifices for the well-being of the Roman Emperor stopped; 3) the Destruction of the Temple by Rome, 70 CE; and 4) the end of the Jewish Revolt, 73 C.E. The flurry of gospels being written after all these suggest an impetus not of the wonders of Jesus 27 – 36 C.E. but the need for a collection of writings that calm the rebellious nature of Roman subjects. And, that’s what the New Testament is, a book to build character away from rebelling against Rome.

Given Rome’s indispensable contextual value, we must explore even further the great story of a man sacrificed so others can live. When we do this, we come to the historian Livy (64 or 59 BCE to 17 CE). For the full reference, see The History of Rome 8,9. Briefly, the following: “Decius exclaimed: Valerius, we need the help of the gods! Come now, you are a state pontiff[!, I’m adding emphasis on the word pontiff] of the Roman people–dictate the formula whereby I may devote myself to save the legions…” Decius Mus was did lose his life for victory which is a model for victory in Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus is palatable for Roman ears where Christianity survived in Roman Christianity. Decius Mus saved a military advance and that was the military good news. Decius Mundus would be a savior of the world, a Christian claim. The character Decius Mundus appears in the second of three passages in Antiquities of the Jews, written by the Roman historian, Josephus. The first passage is the Testimonium Flavianum where Josephus speaks of Jesus being crucified by Pilate and appearing to loved ones after his death. Jesus who died to save others (only he was taken from the Garden of Gethsemene, saving his disciples from capture, let alone saving people by dying for the sins of the world) is linked to Decius Mus who died for his followers, let alone Rome or whatever the stakes were in the battle being fought. So, Jesus is Decius Mundus who appears to a loving devotee on the third day. Josephus, an insider to Rome’s patronage of Christian literature, whistleblows a fact of Christianity to us at the end of the Decius Mundus passage and in the third passage of the three.

So, a historical approach to the New Testament brings its readers to the mountains of Christian History: Rome’s governance of Palestine, the gospels/military good news of Rome’s keeping the peace in the area, Rome’s historians, Rome’s propaganda to quell descent, Rome’s theft of the treasures of the Temple, Rome’s theft of Temple Judaism and Jesus’s Kingdom of God/Heaven/Righteousness.

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