The New Testament Era: The world of the bible from 500BC to AD100

Bo Reicke, Fortress, 1968, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        It’s an old book, but Reicke’s treatment of the era remains insightful and helpful; his perspectives on the development of the early church remain balanced and helpful.

        Christ and the church were related in different ways to Judaism and also to Hellenism and the Roman Empire. Jesus and his disciples were particularly confronted with political, social and religious factors in Judaism, Hellenism and the Roman empire. Of crucial importance is the restoration of Judaism after the Babylonian captivity, and the emergence of institutions characteristic of Jewish society in the time of primitive Christianity, the intense cultural struggle of Judaism with Hellenism.

        My major interest is Reicke’s sketch of Palestine at the time of Jesus and the apostles: the institution (synagogues), the political tensions (Samaria, Roman administration), the groups (High Council, Sadducee, Pharisees, priests, Essenes. Reicke does a careful treatment of the data of the Last Supper, and he opts for the Johannine scenario. He also describes the crucifixion process.

        Reicke also presents a balanced perspective of the emperor Domitian (emperor from 81-96); much has popularly been made of Domitian’s persecution of the church; Reicke’s treatment is more balanced; Domitian’s attacks were against the senatorial aristocracy, against Hellenism and Christianity was only one of his targets. Reicke presents a more carefully balanced perspective. ‘As a builder of Rome, the only man who can be compared to Domitian was Augustus’ (p 273).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.