Everett Ferguson shares his top picks at ChristianHistory.net.
The following books cover different aspects of the cultural context of early Christianity. The subject is broad enough that, as a friend of mine commented, “Fifty would be easier than five!” This list does not include general reference works, such as the Dictionary of New Testament Background, Oxford Classical Dictionary, and Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, 450 B.C.E. to 600 C.E.
Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus
Karl Galinsky, editor
The Cambridge Companion provides an up-to-date introduction to the period surrounding the life of Jesus. The book groups articles according to political history, intellectual and social developments, the impact of the emperor, art, and literature, and concludes with an appendix by L. Michael White on Herod and the Jewish experience.
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As the Romans Did: A Source Book in Roman Social History
Jo Ann Shelton
Shelton offers a judicious selection of well-translated texts accompanied by brief introductions and numerous explanatory footnotes. She groups her 425 texts (mostly literary, but also inscriptional and papyrological) under these headings: the structure of Roman society, families, marriage, housing and city life, domestic and personal concerns, education, occupations, slaves, freedmen, government and politics, the Roman army, the provinces, women in Roman society, leisure and entertainment, and religion and philosophy. (Continue)