Feb 28

Context, Context, Context

Studying anything is always enhanced when the information sought is put into its proper context. Let’s take a little walk into some fiction writing to explore this. Imagine that there’s a huge natural disaster 20 years from now that wipes out civilization, burying it like Pompeii. Our society is lost and the English language is erased overnight. 500 years later, civilization has returned with no link to the history or culture of what happened prior to the disaster. An archaeologist in this new future gets funding to go on a dig to a large city in what used to be the USA and finds some printed material referencing Monster.com. With a limited understanding of our culture and just some hints at what our language used to mean, what would someone in the future think that monster.com would be? It would be an interesting thing to see, wouldn’t it!

We don’t have to go to such fictional extremes to think back to a time with a culture that we don’t fully comprehend. The classic masterpiece move Ben Hur was shot in 1959. This movie was made for an audience of Americans who were expected to completely understand the Bible and the history of first century Judea – Yeshua’s time frame. This was a very expensive movie to make. To illustrate a pretty recent cultural and technological change, this movie had hundreds of “extras” and humongous sets that were made with incredible attention to detail to try to recreate what Roman occupied Jerusalem might have looked like. Heck, In our day, we don’t even have “extras” or large sets in our movies as computers have replaced these old-fashioned trades! But what we lack even more than this is a society where the entertainment industry has to produce Biblical movies in order to make money. Can you imagine all of your neighbors being as familiar with the Bible and the life of Yeshua as you are? Can you imagine being able to make analogies to Bible stories at work and in school? I sure can’t but that’s how our American society was just fifty short years ago!

It’s elucidating to study out the context of the different books of the Bible. Reading Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews”, which is quite a large book, can greatly enhance one’s appreciation of life in first century Judea and how a Jew trained in the Pharisee tradition, like Paul, viewed current events. A few months ago, our assembly began a study of the Minor Prophets. We’ll finish this up next Sabbath with the book of Malachi. We’ve learned quite a bit about these books by looking up the context of when, where, and who wrote the different books. The easiest place I have found to get a quick orientation of those books is http://jewishencyclopedia.com. What’s particularly interesting is that all the Minor Prophets were written between the tail end of the exile and the return to Judea, with Malachi being written as the most recent. Understanding that there was a miraculous regathering happening while these prophets were hinting at far greater events is very interesting. It’s almost as if YHVH was trying to tell them “your work is important, but don’t get ahead of yourselves. You ain’t seen nothing’ yet!”

As you all study in your own fashion, consider doing a little research of the book or the culture of the time when the book you are studying was written. As we can see in our own times, culture can change very quickly and it is very important to understanding literature. Putting things into context is key to understanding what was really being communicated.