|Study Resources for New Testament Reliability|
On this page, we will offer multiple recommendations of books that are useful for the reader assessing the reliability of the New Testament. Books are listed by author name.
Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women
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With all of the feminist-revisionist "scholarship" out there these days trying to get us to take The Da Vinci Code as non-fiction, this chunky book, though published some years ago, becomes all the more refreshing. Put together by one of the more sensible and sober scholars out there, Gospel Women is a collection of essays which are all of excellent quality, though of variable practical use.
The first two chapters offer a setup for reading Biblical texts from a women's perspective, via the lens of Ruth and other OT figures. The next several chapters are detailed studies of "Gospel women" Elizabeth, Mary, Anna, Joanna, Mary of Clopas, and Salome. It is the final chapter that produces an apologetics bonanza, as Bauckham looks into the resurrection accounts and the role of women in them.
Gospel Women is geared primarily for the serious student and is thus not a casual reader's purchase; many may consider getting the book at a library for only the last chapter. We heartily recommend it for those seeking depth on a "gynocentric" perspective that serves as an antidote to more radical feminist scholarship.
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
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Bauckham's done it again with another excellent book. This serves as a nice refresher from the countless works out there that adamantly deny that eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry had anything more than a distant and tangential connection to the Gospels.
Along with explaining ancient views on historiography and clearing the field of the faulty assumptions of form criticism, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses takes a number of fascinating avenues to the destination, not the least of which is a study of Gospel onomastics (names as found in the Gospels). Bauckham also highlights a feature used in the Gospels, the inclusio, that serves to highlight eyewitness sources, such as Peter, the women disciples (see this review of Bauckham's Gospel Women, another recommended book), and John. The cases he makes for both the reliability of Papias and the identification of the author of the Johannine literature with a disciple of Jesus named John the Elder are quite powerful.
Questioning the reliability of eyewitness testimony, even if the Gospels have it? Bauckham covers that ably as well, drawing on discipleship in the ancient world and psychological studies of memory. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses finishes up by highlighting the strength and value of eyewitness testimony before wrapping up a strong work with a proposal to tear down the dichotomy between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" in favor of the "Jesus of testimony", a category appropriate for both realms.
One of us (JPH) did have reservations about a couple of Bauckham's views. For example, I think he gives away too easily the idea that Matthew is not equal to Levi. His take on John as being by an eyewitness, but not the son of Zebedee, may raise some hackles, but is just as good in my view as an attribution to Zebedee's son in terms of value of testimony.
That said, (back to J. B. here) every serious student of the Gospels should have this book. It's simply an invaluable resource. We can only hope that the effect it has on future scholarship is even more massive than the book itself.
Read a more detailed review here.
-"J. B." and JPH
Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
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For the experienced student of apologetics, much of what Craig Blomberg presents in this book will be familiar. But the new student will be grateful for this material which presents and analyzes trends in Gospel research.
After an chapter introducing the state of the problems, Blomberg dives in with a look at the ancient principles of form and redaction criticism and at oral tradition. He also briefly looks at some newer theories, including the idea of the Gospels as midrash (an idea very much beloved by John Shelby Spong) and so-called structuralist and post-structualist theories that relate to the relationship of words and events - and have their grounding in a deterministic worldview.
The third chapter takes a look at the problem of miracles, including scientific, philosophical, and historical objections. Comparisons to pagan and Jewish miracle stories are made. Several pages are devoted to the Resurrection.
Chapters Four and Five are devoted to the matter of the Gospels themselves, and are the core of the presentation. Blomberg deals with the matter of theological and chronological differences in the Synoptics, offering several examples of resolved difficulties - the reader will wish to note the techniques used in particular, for they do have broader application. He then steers into the Gospel of John, noting both similarities and differences from the Synoptics.
Chapter Six goes outside the Gospels, and is perhaps the most disappointing chapter. A few key alleged contradictions and errors are examined, notably the census of Quirinius, although Blombergs treatment of it is not as complete as Glenn Millers. Nor is Blombergs treatment of secular references to Jesus as comprehensive as that offered in this series. However, the sections on the Jesus tradition in the church fathers writings and in the rest of the New Testament should remain helpful.
Finally, Chapter Seven closes out the work with some coverage of matters of historical method - and a refusal by Blomberg to place the Gospels in the genre of ancient bioi. This is perhaps Blombergs only major dissension from our point of view, and his disagreement is based upon the questionable assumption that bioi was generally a realm for free creation of material. (See here for more.)
Aside from these few disappoinments, however, Blombergs work is excellent - and the book is certainly an excellent value for the price. We heartily recommend this work, with the caveats offered, to all beginning students of apologetics and New testament history.
Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel
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As expected when I first heard about it, this turns out to be another one of those "must have" books for the serious apologist. The reason is due to the book's uniqueness. Radical left-wing scholars (e.g. the Jesus Seminar) dismiss most of the material from John's Gospel as being pious fiction. On the other hand, many conservative scholars, while in some cases attributing a higher degree of historical credibility to John, often seem reluctant to use material from this Gospel in their historical studies.
It was perhaps time, especially in light of recent literary and archaeological discoveries (e.g. Qumran), for a comprehensive defense of the essential historicity of this document, and Craig Blomberg, a specialist in examining New Testament historicity, took on this most significant task.
Following a necessary introductory section, the actual analysis, appropriately enough, begins with a discussion of authorship. Given that John was a (beloved?) disciple of Jesus, it is probable that he would have had been in a relatively unique position to report accurate history about Jesus, and would have had interest in doing so. If Johannine authorship can be established, then this alone would be enough to allow us to be very optimistic about the Gospel's essential historicity. Blomberg examines the external and internal evidence and builds a very compelling case in favor of Johannine authorship (so compelling in fact that it is, IMO, surprising that traditional authorship is under so much dispute in the scholarly world), with the exception of perhaps 21:24-25 (which may have been added by a later editor).
The commentary section that follows forms the bulk of the book. Blomberg progresses through the Gospel examining every passage and event, responding to typical objections to historicity and providing positive indicators in favor of it as well. One very helpful aspect that pervades Blomberg's analysis is his constant referrals to the Synoptic tradition. At virtually every turn, Blomberg demonstrates that the concepts found in John can also be found in the more widely accepted Synoptic tradition.
Also of particular interest is the discussion in various places of how John seems to complement the Synoptics in regard to certain events. It appears that John often presupposes basic knowledge (by his readers) of some of the events narrated in the Synoptics, which, of course, would explain certain omissions and additions made by him. The literary issues are perhaps the most perplexing. Where exactly do Christ's words stop and John's theological reflections begin in various discourses?
Blomberg's discussions on this issue prove to be valuable. I found the discussion of the miracles of Christ detailed in John's Gospel, especially the turning of water into wine at Cana and the resurrection of Lazarus, to be very helpful. The commentary on the post-Easter events also prove to be of value.
Blomberg closes his book with a helpful summary and discussion of the implications of his conclusions. It is particularly interesting that, according to Blomberg, the liberal critics that attack John do not interact (or interact very little) with relevant evangelical scholarship on the issue. Only through a balanced study of the evidence, both for and against, the historicity of John's Gospel can one reach an intellectually honest conclusion. Blomberg makes a very strong case for the essential historicity of the book, not being afraid to address the relevant questions and objections. For those seeking a comprehensive defense of John's Gospel, this is the place to look.
Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History
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Colin Hemer does a masterful job, evaluating the value of the book of Acts as an historical source for primitive Christianity. Hemer meticulously demonstrates that the author of Acts expressed exhaustive familiarity with remote geographical regions as well as local names and titles. Coupled with the ‘we-passages’, the accuracy with which remote details are reported support the notion that the author of Acts was a traveling companion of Paul and navigated the Mediterranean to gather accurate information. Therefore, the author of Acts appears to employ an historical method that relied on personal travel and the interrogation of eyewitnesses. Hemer notes that this method is not unknown to the ancient world, as it resembles the method advocated by the ancient historian Polybius, who is widely regarded as accurate.
An astute comment on approach is made in the first chapter:
“If our aim is to look either for corroboration or for conflict of evidence, we shall probably find it too easy to find what we seek, at least to suit our own case…If however text and ostensible context interlock unobtrusively at a variety of levels and cast further light elsewhere, this complex of positive indications becomes increasingly suggestive (19).”
Skeptics and Christians alike are guilty of such over-simplistic approaches to evaluating the historical value of Acts (and other books of the Bible). Archaeological discoveries and disparities with the Pauline epistles have been used to build a case for the credibility or unreliability of Acts, respectively. The method employed by Hemer facilitates a broadly based, more-objective appraisal.
Chapter 3 on ancient perspectives on historiography was extremely informative. Contrary to popular dogma, rigorous concern for factual history is not limited to modern historians. Furthermore, the choice between ‘mere history’ and theology is a false dichotomy. Ancient historians selected and organized the facts of history, so that particular political and moral motifs could be conveyed. Therefore, the presence of a theological bias is no reason to reduce the book of Acts to theology only. Clearly, ancient historians were capable of reporting factual history while using that history to communicate an ethical or didactic theme.
The treatment of the Pauline epistles leaves something to be desired. Hemer does not sufficiently address the theological and biographical disparities between Acts and the Pauline epistles. However, the author does integrate the narrative of Acts and the Pauline epistles into a coherent chronology.
Hemer provides thorough treatment of important issues such as authorship and date of composition. There is a chapter on the authorship and sources of Acts, and another chapter on its date of composition. Hemer also devotes a whole chapter to the ancient usage of the terms “Galatia” and “Galatians”, which constitutes an important part of his integration of the Pauline and Acts chronologies.
In conclusion, Colin Hemer succeeds in firmly locating the book of Acts in its ostensible Hellenistic setting. The result of which is a prima facie case for the historicity of the first history of the church.
- Bob Lewis
Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ
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Martin Hengel demonstrates why he is one of Germany's (and the world's) most respected New Testament scholars in this volume, which examines the issues of the composition, authorship, and collection of the canonical Gospels. This purpose is achieved primarily through an exploration and analysis of the evidence contained in the writings of the early church, including (expectedly) that preserved for us from the likes of Papias, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr. This is complemented when necessary by correlations that can be drawn from the milieu of the Roman Empire in which the early church resided.
Hengel provides valuable discussions regarding the controversial topic of the chronological order in which the Gospels were recorded, based largely on the external evidence provided by the early church writings. After discussing the issues of the superscriptions attached to each Gospel, the significance and meaning of the title of "Gospel" itself, the manuscript evidence, the evidence of a very early collection and utilization of the fourfold tradition within the churches across a wide geographical spectrum, and the virtually universal agreement among the church fathers regarding authorial attribution to the various Gospels, Hengel demonstrates the high likelihood that the Gospels were in fact never anonymous as is often claimed. He also stresses that the evidence suggests that the Gospels were written to be distributed more widely than just the respective evangelists' so-called communities. The following is worth quoting:
Contrary to a widespread view, none of the four Gospels was written only for one particular community; far less do they simply reproduce the views of one individual community. They give primarily the views of their authors. We cannot even say with certainty whether they ever came into being only in one community, for the missionaries of the early church traveled a great deal and could be authoritative teachers at different places. So we should stop talking automatically about 'the community of Mark', 'of Luke', 'of Matthew', 'of John' as the one really responsible for the composition of a Gospel writing and its theology. The four Gospels have nothing to do with 'letters' which were occasioned by a community. These are relatively rare in the New Testament and its environment. Even more nonsensical is the term 'Q community', i.e. the community of the Logia source (we do not even really know in what forms this source [or these sources] existed). The authors of these works do not represent the view of a collective community, but of an individual yet authoritative teacher of one or more communities (or a school), and in their quite different forms proclaim the one truth which should be binding on all believers. This is true regardless of the fact that of course authors were in constant dialogue with a community, or more frequently several communities, and with their disciples or school. (pp. 106-107)
In this sense Hengel's conclusions are complementary to that of Richard Bauckham et al (see above>). Beyond this, Hengel's book also includes discussions of Gospel authorship, dating, the theology of the respective evangelists, the Petrine tradition underlying the composition of Mark's Gospel, and the use of the Gospel as kerygma and narrative. A helpful postscript ends the book where Hengel elaborates on his views of the Synoptic problem.
Hengel ultimately argues for the order and dating of the Greek Gospels as follows: Mark in 69/70; Luke/Acts b/w 75-85; Matthew b/w 90-95; John b/w 100-105. He affirms traditional authorship of Luke and Mark (with the latter being based on Peter's preaching), but states that Matthew was composed by a member of the Matthean school (IOW, while it was not anonymous, Hengel still affirms pseudonymity), and that John was actually written by John the presbyter. As far as sources are concerned, Hengel argues that Matthew uses both Mark and Luke, and that speculation about the Q source should be proceeded with caution since we can only know so little about it, much (or perhaps all) of which is conjectural. He postulates, for instance, that there could be more than one "Q-like" source used by Matthew and Luke, and that in places where Q is thought by some to be present it may actually be Matthew simply using Luke as a source.
This book contains very valuable insight on a wide array of important topics, though I personally would not agree with all of the conclusions drawn. Also, a minor note about the format, this book would have benefited greatly with the use of footnotes rather than endnotes. I was amazed to find 114 pages of endnotes for a book whose text is only 207 pages! Thus quite a bit of "flipping back and forth" is required to take in all of the book's content. On the other hand, this underscores the great erudition that characterizes the painstaking work and research of a top scholar!
Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels
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This one sat on my "read" pile for over a year and I'm sorry I didn't get to it sooner. But it's just as well because it isn't one of those books you read through; it's more like a handbook or an encyclopedia. Keener goes over all the big issues we've discussed on Tekton over the years related to NT reliability, and some more we'll eventually get to later: Oral tradition, sources for Jesus, the genre of the Gospels, redaction criticism, etc. Call this one a NT studies potpourri.
Of interest was something personal Keener noted: He is married to a Congolese woman, and so thanks to her he has the added perspective of someone who knows the roots of Biblical culture by experience. I'd say that helps make him an even more worthy expert to consult.
This one's a bit expensive, but I'd say it's worth a dent in your book budget. Just keep in mind that notes and sources take up not quite half the pages. Maybe look at it in a library before you decide to buy, if it's too big a dent to make.
J. Ed Komoszewski, Daniel Wallace, and M. James Sawyer, Reinventing Jesus
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For years now I've been lamenting the sad state of published apologetics, as it seemed that there was far more interest in getting out literaryily-inferior eschatological novels than in offering defenses of the faith rooted in sound scholarship. I was glad when Lee Strobel's works finally jimmied that door some, and when Licona and Habermas cracked it further open with The Resurrection of Jesus; and now, this trio has blown the door off its hinges and sent it flying into the atmosphere.
I'll put it bluntly: Buy this book. Buy multiple copies and pass them out. Rent a forklift and buy a whole pallet of them. You may know all of the stuff that's in it already (for as will be noted below, a lot WILL be familiar to the typical reader of this site). If you're tired of the Christian publishing industry putting out the intellectual equivalent of Hostess Ding Dongs in defense of the faith, you NEED to make this book a success, because otherwise, they won't get the message and we'll get more Ding Dongs instead of more roast beef.
Yes: There are a lot of names of old Tekton opponents here: Ehrman, Price, Baigent, Freke and Gandy -- even Acharya S is mentioned. There's a lot of stuff you've seen here and on other sites like the ThinkTank before: Plenty of material on things like textual criticism, oral tradition, copycat christs (Attis, Mithra, Tammuz, Dionysus, Osiris -- these and more get some treatment), the Jesus Seminar, the canon, forged documents, the Council of Nicea. There's also a few things that are new. It sometimes goes into great detail on these things; at other times, not so.
But in the end, if you give it your support, the publishers will be convinced of the need to make more and then future authors won't have to worry about restraints on size.
It has copious footnotes and recommends for further reading. The writing style is lucid and enjoyable.
In a time when we have e.g., Ehrman on public radio, quality response works like these are needed badly, and they need to be supported. The secular world made Ehrman's book a best-seller. Do we dare do any less for Re-inventing Jesus?
J. P. Moreland and Michael Wilkins, Jesus Under Fire
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When I first plunged back into apologetics in the late 1990s, years back, this was one of the first books that I picked up --- and am I ever glad I did! For the beginner and the lay reader, this is a veritable cornucopia of information on the latest evangelical scholarship on the historical Jesus.
As I look back at this book now, I find that it was one of the most helpful that I read. Several essays by leading evangelical scholars make for excellent springboards for further study.
My one regretful comment here is that further study has made half of this book redundant. McKnight's essay on the Third Quest is far outdone by the work of Ben Witherington; Habermas' essay on miracles is far superseded by his own later book on the topic; Yamauchi's chapter on the secular references to Jesus is now mostly old news, and Craig's item on the resurrection is more of the same that he seems to publish for just about everybody.
But do not be discouraged! If you are new to apologetics, or just want some faith-building reading, all of this will be both fresh and refreshing, along with the remaining essays: Blomberg's expose' of the Jesus Seminar and Beck's item on oral tradition are extremely helpful; Evans' essay is an all-too-brief look at the "certain facts" about Jesus' life (using a pointed comparison to Jesus ben Ananias), and Geivett takes a no-holds-barred approach on the exclusivity of Christianity.
I rate this one of the top ten books for starters. Jesus Under Fire is a work guaranteed to set your heart and mind aflame.
Graham Stanton, Gospel Truth
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Nothing is quite as welcome and refreshing as a scholar who takes his time, does not make unwarranted assertions, and is a good read in the process. Graham Stanton has done all of these things, and done them very well.
Unlike the book with the same name by Russell Shorto, this Gospel Truth author knows what he is talking about. Stanton addresses a variety of salient issues and manages (for the most part) to do an outstanding job of it, in spite of space limitations.
After an introduction, Stanton tackles the Magdalen and 7Q5 fragments. He offers a sane and balanced approach to an issue that has been overblown in the past. Stanton then surveys the issues of manuscript reliability, the matter of the time between when the Gospel events occurred and when the Gospels were written, the Q hypothesis, apocryphal gospels (including the Gospel of Thomas), secular references to Jesus, and the genre of the Gospels.
His last four chapters are devoted to his own observations. My only reservation about this book is that I would have liked to have seen Stanton address the role of oral tradition a little more in-depth.
The beginning student will enjoy the breezy prose of this jolly Englishman, and find the list of books in For Further Reading especially helpful. Advanced students will end up mostly visiting old friends, but there are probably a few surprises in store as well. This book is therefore awarded the highest possible rating for books that are not topic-specific, and aside from the reservation above, is unhesitatingly recommended.
John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke
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This book has been out already for a little while (pub. 1992), but I thought it was still worth taking the time to write a review given what I found to be a top-notch scholarly presentation of the issues discussed. When I first started reading the book, I was expecting a volume that dealt primarily with the dating of the Synoptic Gospels (since this is what the name implies). While all of the masterful work that Wenham placed into this volume ultimately paved the way for such a discussion, this book was primarily concerned with the Synoptic problem (as the subtitle "A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem" would suggest) and other relevant issues of Gospel composition (e.g. authorship, the possibility of written traditions preceding Gospel composition, the order of Gospel composition, issues regarding Q, etc.). Nevertheless, Wenham's analysis of this and other key concepts are integral to his thesis for the dating of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that he eventually proposes. What is striking about this book is how, in at least three cases, Wenham provides a very formidable stance against the consensus of NT scholarship: Which evangelist wrote first? Is it possible that Peter could have actually had that 25 year Episcopate in Rome? When should the Gospels be dated?
The first four chapters, "Building a Synoptic Theory", comprise nearly half the book and are devoted to Wenham's analysis of the Synoptic problem. He examines the relationship of each of the Synoptics to each other (devoting a chapter apiece on Luke's relationship to Mark, Luke's relationship to Matthew, and Matthew's relationship to Mark). In subsequent chapters, Wenham takes a look at ancient testimony to Matthew's Gospel followed by that of Mark's Gospel. A chapter discussing the date of Peter's going to Rome is then followed by one devoted to further considerable issues pertinent to Mark (e.g. Mark being the founder of the church of Alexandria, the controversial 7Q5 Qumran manuscript fragment, and the issue of eyewitness testimony in Mark). A chapter on the ancient witness to Luke's Gospel then precedes a chapter that examines how the Gospels were written. The penultimate chapter details the importance of oral vs. written Jesus tradition by the early church. Finally, in the concluding chapter, Wenham proposes a dating for the Synoptic Gospels based on his conclusions regarding the issues examined leading up to that point.
Wenham argues persuasively, based on the external evidence, that Matthew wrote first in Aramaic, followed by Mark and then Luke (this corroborates the conclusions drawn here on Tekton; see here). It is shown why the majority of the arguments favoring Markan priority are either flawed or equivocal, and that the internal evidence suggests that Matthean priority is at least as plausible. The author demonstrates in at least a couple of instances why Matthean priority would be more likely, though he concludes in the end that the internal evidence could reasonably lead in either direction. It is the external testimony of the church fathers which seems to tip the scales in favor of Aramaic Matthew being the first Gospel, rather than the internal evidence itself. A key assertion to Wenham's dating rests on the veracity of his claim that Peter first went to Rome soon after his escape from prison in about 42 A.D. He candidly admits that he is challenging the scholarly consensus when it comes to this issue, though he does note "Of the nine major works on Peter in English this century, seven have been quite disinclined to dismiss the old view" .
The author, building largely off the case argued near the beginning of the 20th century by G. Edmundson, peruses the evidence for this 25 year Episcopate of Peter in Rome. If the external evidence, based on archaeological findings and the writings of the early church, were all that we had to go on, I'd consider the impressive array of evidence presented by Wenham to render the matter settled in favor of the veracity of Peter's 25 year Episcopate.
It is the lack of clear internal evidence from the New Testament, however, that leads scholars to doubt the veracity of this event. Wenham does offer a few examples of possible places in the NT where the early establishment of "Peter's church" in Rome is implied. These are plausible suggestions, though still conjectural. Overall, Wenham's case still seems quite sound. In the end, with the implications of Peter's lengthier-than-normally-thought sojourn in Rome, early traditions indicating that Mark wrote "after Peter left Rome" open up the possibility of a date in the early to mid 40s (Wenham obviously doesn't argue that Peter literally stayed in Rome for the whole time, as episodes in the book of Acts make it clear that this was not the case, yet he does argue that this Episcopate fits without difficulty into the Acts narrative).
Wenham thus places Mark to around 45 A.D. with Aramaic Matthew written even earlier. The author adopts the arguments of Colin Hemer in order to date Acts to about 62 A.D., with the preceding Luke being dated around 55 A.D. Wenham's conclusions about Matthew and Mark reside on the extreme end of the scholarly dating of the Gospels, even compared with those that believe the Synoptics and Acts were all composed before 70 A.D., but it would be a mistake to merely assume that his presentation is not formidable. To the contrary, his conclusions seem to have been the result of allowing the evidence to simply fall where it best fits given the data.
For those interested in Gospel dating (as well as relevant side issues to this like order of composition and authorship), or the Synoptic problem, this book is quite simply a must-read.
N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God
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The age of the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus might also end up being called the age of Big Thick Books About Jesus. Add to that pile by Meier and Brown this first of five volumes by N. T. Wright --- and pray for the sake of your bookshelves that the volumes do not keep growing as they progress!
Then again, for the sake of your information, you may wish to pray the opposite. Wright is a writer of admirable erudition, long and careful on detail. This first volume lays the groundwork for the rest of the series, and like James Michener, this writer goes back to the amoebas before he gets the story going. He begins by suggesting a study method of "critical realism" for consideration of historical knowledge --- a well-studied backhand at the radical elements of the critical school who propose the wildest Jesus you ever imagined. And then we are in for a genuine treat. Wright explores in detail the diversity of first century Judaism, with focus on worldviews, eschatology, and messianic expectations. He closes with a similar and summary sketch of early Christianity.
I have seldom seen so much good information packed into a book, and I recommend it highly.