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BITH 213 (McCaulley): Historical Context

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 3 strategies with examples for identifying an ancient, non-biblical primary source. For strategies #1 and #2, 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 #1 - Specialized 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 #2 - Locate references to the primary texts by searching the secondary literature

  • For one of Apostle Paul's letters addressing women (e.g. 1 Cor 11:7), one might try a combination of words including "new testament" background roman jewish women head paul corinthians in Google Books or Google Scholar; Atla Religion Database would also be useful to this end

 Strategy #3 - 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 Scholar Search

Other Ancient Jewish Texts

Useful Websites

Subject Librarian

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Prof. Greg Morrison
Office: Buswell, 151