I realize this post is quite similar to the great meme started by Ken Brown, but regardless it is a topic I find interesting and I would like to hear from everyone else on the matter. Thus, with full realization that I am not unique, on with the show.
The rules are simple.
1.) List the 5 primary sources that have most affected your scholarship, thoughts about antiquity, and/or understanding of the NT/OT.
2.) Books from the Bible are off limits unless you really want to list one, I certainly will not chastise you for it.
3.) Finally, choose individual works if you can. This will be more interesting than listing the entire corpus of Cicero as one of your choices.
1.) Josephus – The Jewish War
This was one of the first primary sources I read that had an impact on my thoughts about the first century. It is a fascinating book both for its entertainment value and the knowledge gleaned from it. Personally, I think it would make a great big budget movie. The Jewish War provided (and continues to provide) me many insights into the first century and gave me my first look at just how dissatisfied the Jewish people were with Roman rule and occupation.
2.) Quintilian – Institutio Oratoria.
Quintilian’s massive work on Roman rhetoric is both funny and useful. He begins with how one should educate a child and works up to the details of roman rhetoric. I have used this work alongside the many other ancient rhetorical handbooks in order to gain a better understanding of the options available to ancient writers. I would recommend this work more as a reference than encouraging everyone to read all 12 book straight through.
I have always been fascinated by this set of early teachings. There seem to be a strand that comes from a very early period of Christianity. Especailly interesting is the notion that parts of this document were written when there were still wandering teachers, apostles, and prophets. Chapter 11 provides instruction on how these individuals should be treated, including instructions such as if an apostle or prophet tries to stay longer than three days he is a false prophet. Although I am by no means a specialist on this topic I am always drawn to the SBL sections concerning the Didache. The Didache continues to remind me that Paul and the better known apostles were not the only early Christian teachers influencing early Christian communities.
4.) Ignatius of Antioch (any letter)
As one who specializes in Paul of Tarsus, I think the letters of Ignatius are extremely important. They are written at an early date, around 100 CE and provide information concerning the direction of Christianity at an early time period. Addtionally, he seems to be quite aware of the letters of Paul and was influenced by how Paul wrote his letters. I have found it interesting to note which aspects of Paul’s style Ignatius chooses to emulate.
5.) The Dead Sea Scrolls – The War Scroll
It’s hard to pick any one scroll as more influential than the others, as I read them all during one intense semester. This set of texts cemented for me the notion that there were multiple strands of Judaism that existed in the first century. The Damascus document and the Community Rule were the two texts that influenced me the most initially. Later, as I became more interested in Paul, the Hodayot became more influential for my understanding of Judaism and salvation. However, I think the War Scroll may have had the most lasting influence on my thinking. It always fascinates me that a community could have had so much faith in what they were doing that they thought they could defeat the earthly powers by blowing horns and summoning heavenly figures to fight beside them.