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BITH 213: Bible Backgrounds

Resources for backgrounds research

Subject Guide

Prof. Greg Morrison's picture
Prof. Greg Morrison
Office: Buswell, 151

Background Research: Ancient Primary Texts, Jewish, Greek & Latin

“Cite at least one primary source (other than the Bible) that discusses your topic and record what you learn.”

Below are 4 strategies with examples for identifying an ancient, non-biblical primary source. For strategies #1, #2, and #3, you are looking for references to Jewish or Greco-Roman writers such as Philo, Josephus, Pliny, Ovid, Plutarch, Seneca, Cicero, etc. The subsequent task is to use that reference to locate the primary text itself in the Loeb Classical Library or elsewhere. Timeline of ancient Greek and Latin writers web page will help to identify ancient Greek and Latin writers in relation to the New Testament.

Strategy #1Consult background commentaries and dictionaries

  • Background commentaries and dictionaries are a unique class of resources that consider the broader cultural context in which the biblical writings emerged. Go to your passage in the appropriate commentary. A reference to an ancient source is not provided for every passage or topic.

Strategy #2Locate references to the primary texts by searching the secondary literature

  • For one of Apostle Paul's letters addressing women (e.g. 1 Cor 11:2-16), one might try a combination of words including "new testament" roman jewish women head covering corinthians in Google Books; here is an example of what you're looking for in which Philo of Alexandria is cited.

 Strategy #3Specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias which often reference primary texts 

  • For background on the institution of the Lord's Supper, e.g., examine the articles on "meals" or "sacrifice" in New Pauly or consult the "passover" article in the Encyclopedia Judaica;

 Strategy #4 - Direct keyword searches of the primary texts

  • For Acts 2:42-47 in which we get a glimpse of the social dynamics of the early church, one could explore attitudes of Philo or Josephus in their writings directly with a search in the Digital Loeb for possessions OR wealth OR poor (in "Main Text") and author: Philo and/or Josephus
Google Book Search

Other Ancient Jewish Texts