Reading the Gospels


I’ve been reading the Gospels with the perspective of if I was a first century Jew encountering Jesus. It’s been fruitful; deepening my faith. But my question is: What were the practices and beliefs of first century Jews?

I know that they read the Prophets and the Law in the synagogue and that Second Temple Judaism was a split faith; mainly between the aristocratic Sadducees and the Pharisees that were popular with the common people. I’m just trying to understand the context of Judaism in Jesus’ time and just exactly what kind of impression His preaching would have on a first century Jew.


This book is now nearly fifty years old but it’s probably still the best introduction of its kind to the social, religious, and political background to the Gospels in first-century Judea.


Both wise and essential if we are to properly understand the words recorded 2000 years ago.


Handbook to the Gospels by John (Johann) Wijngaards might just be something to consider. It delves into the terms, dress, customs etc. of Jews in 1st century Palestine. Fr. Wijngaards went wonky later in his life and was laicized, but this book is pretty solid.


Catholic Biblical Association’s book, A Commentary on the New Testament, published in 1942, contains a short article that might be of interest, entitled, “The New Testament Background.”

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