We live in a day when many voices vie for the privilege of telling us about the world of Jesus and the New Testamentthe more sensational, the better. From The Da Vinci Code to television docudramas asserting so-called expert opinion on technical biblical subjects, the field is open to anyone peddling a theory. A recent, egregious example was James Cameron's Discovery Channel program telling us that the tomb and burial box of Jesus had been found in Jerusalem. The conclusion of this slick production was that Jesus did not rise from the dead. But what the program lacked was the sort of careful, scholarly work found in James Charlesworth's splendidly edited 740-page volume, Jesus and Archaeology.
At the turn of the millennium, a Jerusalem conference hosted an international gathering of scholars who summarized the achievements in New Testament archaeology over the last few decades. This volume contains 30 papers from the conference, skillfully edited for publication.
In the last 50 years, enormous strides have been made in our understanding of Jesus' world. The essay by James Dunn examines evidence for the Jewish character of Galilee and explains what we know about first-century synagogues. For instance, most scholars once thought that Galilee was entirely Gentile (leading to the ominous claim by some in the 1940s that Jesus was not Jewish). But now we know otherwise, as sites such as Sepphoris have given up their secrets. Jewish ritual baths and burial sites, stoneware, and the absence of pig bones all point to a deeply rooted Jewish culture in the region.
Some of the essays in Jesus and Archaeology explain what we know about material culture from the discovery of Cana and Bethsaida to the theater in Jerusalem. Paul Anderson ...1