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.

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Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
Martin Goodman

For Jews and Christians, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70 was the most important political event of the first century. Goodman tries to answer the question of why the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66-70 occurred and to examine its consequences (antisemitism). Setting this event in a wider history and emphasizing the political dimensions of the Roman-Jewish conflict, he studies what Romans and Jews had in common and also their differences on a wide variety of topics, including the order of society, the nature of humanity, lifestyles, government and justice, and social status.

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Roman Social Relations, 50 B.C. to A.D. 254
Ramsay MacMullen

MacMullen, a prolific author on late Roman history, organizes his material according to rural, urban, and class relations. He states, "My aim … is to get at the feelings that governed the behavior of broad social groups or conditions." MacMullen writes well, has a feel for ordinary people of antiquity, and uses inscriptional evidence with discernment.

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The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions
Hans-Josef Klauck

Klauck discusses civic and domestic religion, the mystery cults, popular belief (astrology, soothsaying, miracles, magic), the cult of rulers and emperors, philosophy, and gnosticism. He includes a copious bibliography on each of the 160 subtopics. Here is a reliable and thorough guide, illustrated by well-chosen quotations, of the religious context of early Christianity.

Everett Ferguson, author of the widely-used textbook Backgrounds of Early Christianity and a member of the Christian History advisory board