In The Shadow of the Galilean, Gerd Theissen tells a fictional story through a historical lens of 1st century culture in Palestine. The book is focused on examining how Jesus’ message was understood in his greater context. Similar to The Lost Letters of Pergamum by Bruce W. Longenecker, Theissen avoids the typical textbook feeling of history by presenting all of the historical facts and understanding through the narration of a character named Andreas. Within the book, Andreas addresses 1st century groups like the Essenes, Zealots, and Pharisees. Additionally, he clearly shows how 1st century politics could have easily taken Jesus’ message to be subversive in aim of stopping Roman rule. Yet, Theissen is also able to show Andreas’ character interacting with people to bring out the more theologically focused possibilities of viewing Jesus message. In other words, he shows the sociological aspects of the religious and political sentiments and how the two elements intertwine.
Thessen’s creation is innovative and effective in communicating Jesus’ context in light of 1st century Judaism and politics. The narrative style allows the reader to partake in a story for absorbing information rather than listing off theological and historical facts. In light of one of my most recent posts, The Essential Story, I truly do appreciate his effort to write in such a fashion. The simplicity of the read and clear explanations allow for the reader to remain in the story and not become lost in the complicated nature of history. The history is shown as something that was a reality for people who knew of Jesus and that Jesus’ actions affected the entire region.
While his presentation was creative and effective, it did lack skill in the conversational realism. Because it is a historical-fiction narrative, there should be an aspect of realism in conversation. Unfortunately, the dialogue, a core to Theissen’s work, is choppy and unrealistic. At moments, it feels as though he copied facts from a textbook into a narrative dialogue and considered it good. While it makes sense to do that, it does make the dialogue uninteresting in regard to reflecting how human beings speak.
In conclusion, The Shadow of the Galilean is a good choice for a person who dislikes reading any sort of non-fiction historical book. However, there are better options for a person looking to understand the 1st century context of Jesus. That is not to say that it is terrible. On the contrary, it is a fantastically written and does well in presenting the historical context. The only issue is the unrealistic dialogue that never fully allows the reader to enter into and partake of the 1st century world that Theissen illustrates through words. Aside from that, Theissen’s work, The Shadow of the Galilean, is an excellent read that should be taken seriously by any person seeking to understand Jesus’ 1st century context, especially for a person who has not done much studying in that time period.