If I were to say “Don’t go to Cannington on a Friday night!” what would that mean to you? Probably nothing – unless you happen to share the cultural clues that are assumed in that statement: Here in Perth, greyhound racing occurs at Cannington racetrack on Friday nights – and is associated with betting…. so perhaps what I might mean when I say “Don’t go to Cannington on a Friday night” is really “don’t gamble!”
What if the New Testament does the same sort of thing – assuming cultural clues in particular statements or commands? Well that’s why it’s worth trying to come to grips with the contexts of the NT. One attempt to do this in a series of commentaries is worth knowing about: It’s called the Corpus Judaeo-Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti Project. This project involves annual meetings in Wittenberg, occasional symposia, and is in the process of putting together “extensive annotated testimonies from Jewish-Hellenistic literature, which will be arranged alongside the New Testament.” (Early Christianity 1/4, 2010, p633.)
I had the privilege of attending one of the meetings in Wittenberg, where we discussed – well… they discussed while I kept my mouth shut about – the Sibylline Oracles. It was well worth it, and I really look forward to getting my hands on the NT commentaries when they come out.