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  • Exploring the World That Jesus Knew

Reading through the Gospel accounts of the New Testament and the book of Acts is something that never grows old for me. The weaving together of cultures, people, and deeds reveals a tapestry that is at once pleasing to my mind’s eye. As I examine the individual threads—miracles, parables, women, officials, fishermen, outcasts, disciples—I wonder about the warp and weft of everyday life.

Social context

Curiosity about the social context behind the Gospels and Acts led me to my husband’s bookshelf where I discovered Jesus and His Times, a Reader’s Digest publication (1987). Now, as I thumb through its 336 pages, most of which are beautifully and colorfully illustrated, I appreciate the straight-forward  information it contains.

For instance, its table of contents includes:

  • classes and masses
  • village life
  •  the life of the mind
  • trade and travel
  • places in Bible times
  • bibliography
  • index

Its pages are filled with explanations, descriptions, pictures, maps, diagrams, and photographs—all devices for stimulating and nurturing my inquiring mind.

Building a library

As the years passed I assembled my library beginning with a collection of basic information. Here are a few titles I started with:

Nelson’s Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible (1980) addresses the entire Bible, beginning with historical and cultural information of the ancient world and progressing through the time of the Apostle Paul. It also includes:

  • an outline of each book of the Bible
  • a section on people of the Bible in alphabetical order
  • a section on places of the Bible in alphabetical order
  • an extensive index

This book contains 766 pages organized in a user-friendly format. Illustrations are in black and white.

The World Jesus Knew, by Anne Punton (1996), is a lovely little handbook of 191 pages that covers much the same material as the Reader’s Digest book. Its illustrations make this a valuable part of my research library.

Sketches of Jewish Social Life is a classic written by Alfred Edersheim in 1876. It has been updated and reproduced at various times. In his words, the author “wished to transport the reader into the land of Palestine at the time of our Lord and of His apostles….” He does indeed guide the reader through a detailed journey with his more scholarly approach. Edersheim is often cited in publications dealing with this period of time. This would be a resource for the Bible student interested in being immersed in the culture of the time.


I have listed these books in a suggested order of acquisition. While I have not read every word contained in their pages, I refer to them often and find them valuable when pursuing a topic further. They each have a permanent place on my bookshelf, and I recommend any or all of them.

4 responses »

  1. I am very grateful for the recommendations! This will be extremely helpful to sooo many and certainly in our household. Linda

  2. You are welcome Judy, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thanks for sharing your references. I know it will help in my personal study of Women of the Book in making these women seem more tangible and understanding more of their background. Thanks for stimulating me and helping others with your research and insights.

  4. Thanks, Karen, for the excellent write-up. It’s always helpful when someone you know makes a recommendation. I’ll check our library for the titles you cited.

    I appreciate your diligence in sharing what you’ve learned.


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