- The Jesus Movement and the World of the Early Church by Sheila E McGinn
Sheila McGinn's book, The Jesus Movement and the World of the Early Church, is a notable synthesis and interpretation of the earliest movements of Christianity and the church. It has a clear academic voice; it is principally a book for students of different educational levels and universities. It can be a useful classical handbook. As the author suggests, it is designated for students and other non-specialist readers "who are interested in learning more about the authors and original audiences of the New Testament texts by looking at the Greco-Roman world in which they lived and breathed" (13).
This is an important defining characteristic, especially in view of other scholarly texts in the same historical period. As a work that has this solid, straightforward objective aim, it is organised from an excellent pedagogical perspective. Each one of the chapters, eleven in total, describes [End Page 244] in detail, with rigor, decade-by-decade, the evolution of Christianity, starting with the figure of Jesus and his world (21–30 CE) and finishing with the church in the times of Trajan (111–120 CE). Each chapter ends in a formative nature and didactic approach with additional sections: "Summary," "Questions for Review" and "Questions for Discussion." Consequently, this permits students from Theology, Holy Scriptures and History of the Church or History of Religions, for example, to recapitulate learned material and work on different exercises of comprehension, assimilation and analysis.
In the "Summary" section of each chapter, the author reviews with great precision and clarity the fundamental points. In the section "Questions for Review," there are between five and eight questions related to each chapter. Their structure provides best practice for facilitating student learning outcomes. This section also provides teachers with an effective and valuable teaching tool; for example, well-organised questions for their exams. McGinn should be commended for her selections and classifications. In the section titled "Questions for Discussion," there is a series of general questions (between three and four per chapter) about distinct problematic issues and themes appropriate for debate and analysis, which could facilitate valuable, dynamic group discussions in the classroom.
Furthermore, the value of this didactic work is indicated by the different appendices at the book's end, which are clearly included in order to serve the teaching and learning of instructional materials. The first two appendices are a compilation and deepening of two themes that are developed at length in many of the earlier chapters: "Appendix 1: Paul and His Theology" (311–318) centres on Pauline theology; and "Appendix 2: The Logion-Quelle" (319–321) briefly addresses current scholarship on the Q source, providing an overview to non-specialists of the genesis of NT texts. The principal interest of these two appendices—considering that the author could have selected other themes that are equally relevant and meritorious of individual focus—is to serve as guides for continued research on the part of students.
Similarly, "Appendix 3: Glossary" (322–332) is instrumental for pedagogical purposes. In this catalogue of academic terms, each term is briefly defined or commented upon. Just as valuable for teaching and learning is "Appendix 4: Important People in the Second Testament Era" (333–342), which provides concise biographies of the main personalities relevant to the historical periods described. Whenever it is appropriate, the entries feature referenced biblical citations related to the person in question. [End Page 245]
As one would expect from a teaching handbook, the "Select Bibliography" (343–357) features comprehensive bibliographic and online sources under the following headings: "Primary Source Materials" (343), "Collections and Series" (344), "Basic Research Tools" (345), "Important Journals, Periodicals, and Series" (345–347), "Commentary Series" (347–348), "Dictionaries and Reference Works" (348–349), "Introductory Surveys and Topical Studies" (349–356), and "Online Resources" (357). This accessibly condensed book promises to be a primary resource for students interested in the world in which Christianity and NT literature came to be. One may...