Summer Reading

Afew years ago I found myself walking down the ruined main street of an ancient Roman city in Eastern Turkey, being overwhelmed by the realisation that some of the first Christians in the world would have paced those same pavements and stopped to talk at those same street corners. At that moment the New Testament came alive afresh for me as I imagined those early followers of Jesus living and meeting there. It was rather like the similar feeling many people encounter when they visit Galilee and think about Jesus himself walking on this hillside or standing on that beach.

In particular, as I walked along my Roman road, I wondered how those Church members would have reacted and what they might have said to each other on those pavements when they received a new letter from the apostle Paul.

Phoebe (a new book by the leading New Testament scholar Paula Gooder) seeks to answer that very question. It’s an imaginative historical reconstruction of the life of Phoebe whom Paul asked to deliver his letter to the Church in Rome, and who is mentioned in the final greetings (Romans 16.1–2).

I found Phoebe absolutely fascinating. There is a good (fictional) storyline and lots of incidental detail that brings to life the day-to-day experience of our earliest Christian sisters and brothers. One reviewer said “we are there amid the sights, sounds and smells of Rome, sharing in the characters’ lives and emotions”. Another called it “theology with a heartbeat”. It’s an easy and compelling read, I didn’t want to put it down until I had reached the end of the story! Then there are optional explanatory notes which help to understand some of the finer details.

Paula Gooder, who gave the keynote addresses at our Ministers’ Conference a few years ago, describes her passion in this way: “to communicate the best of biblical scholarship to an audience that would otherwise not read it”, and she seeks to “bring the Bible alive again for Christians for whom it has become over-familiar, stale or just plain confusing”.

If you’re looking for some great holiday reading, I can highly recommend it.

With my prayers and best wishes,

Diocese of Peterborough Magazine Resource – August 2018

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