Book Recommendation for History & Culture at the Time of Christ

A friend of mine lent me Zealot by Reza Aslan. As I read this, I realized I don’t know much about the history and culture of Israel at the time of Christ. Is there another somewhat light-reading book that would cover the same topic but from a more conservative viewpoint?

I am interested in the intertestamental period and in the first century AD. I am specifically looking for something easy to read for times when I’m relaxing, but I also welcome recommendations of more scholarly books that would be good to own as references.


Hi @Jennifer_Wilkinson

There is actually a good book on it by Joe Amaral “Understanding Jesus: Cultural Insights Into the Words and Deeds of Christ.”

Hope you found what you were seeking.

Blessings in Christ,


There are many books but I recommend anything by NT Wright,


Here is one more recommendation that will cover the intertestamental period which I was taught were the silent years. I chuckle to think that God was idle during that period.:grinning:

This is a very good book on the 1st century for a cultural view.

The books of the Apocrypha are a witness to faith, specifically the faith of Jewish people living from 200 B.C.E. to 100 C.E. To the contemporary Christian, these books are surprisingly relevant. In addition, they provide essential historical background for understanding the Judaism of Jesus’ day and the Jewish matrix of early Christianity.

I took an on line course on the “Intertestamental Years” and this was one of books recommend for further reading.


I really like this one and learned a lot from it @Jennifer_Wilkinson


For history, I like these two books:

Bauer, Susan Wise. The History of the Ancient World From the earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome . New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2007

Beitzel, Barry J. The New Moody Atlas of the Bible . Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 2009.



I appreciate your response to Aslan’s book. I have not read Zealot so I don’t want to comment too much without first-hand knowledge, but based on the response it received in the scholarly arena, I think it is a good idea to do some of your own research on the background of the New Testament world. Here are some top resources:

First, just in case you want the whole package, the most recent “definitive” work on the life and times of Jesus is by J.P. Meier. Meier is a Catholic priest, not terribly conservative, but a believer nonetheless. I have only read snippets of Meier’s work, but it is pretty much consensus that his 5-volume work on Jesus is sort of the gold standard of historical Jesus studies:

Also, there is N.T Wright as @Jimmy_Sellers already pointed out:

Then there is a book by Joel Green, a New Testament scholar and dean of Fuller Seminary, and Lee Martin McDonald, an expert on the Canon of Scripture, that, although they lean a little more liberal than I might go, are still solid Evangelical scholars in their field:

Then, of course, there is the always magisterial work of Craig S. Keener:

And then if you want to read top scholarship that is also just fun to read, anything by Michael Bird is fantastic:

Michael Kruger also has some excellent books about the formation of the New Testament and the early church that are high level scholarship, yet easy to read;

Hope that helps,


Wow! Thanks, everyone. I am now adding all of you to my list of people who are bad for my budget. I’m looking forward to browsing through your recommendations and deciding which one or two I’ll buy first.

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