Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels

Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels, by Cyndi Parker (Hendrickson Publishers, 2021). Pp. 1-172. Reviewed by J. Carl Laney

I first met Dr. Cyndi Parker in Jerusalem where she was studying at the Jerusalem University College. Her love for the land and growing knowledge of physical geography of Israel were quickly recognized by the school’s president, Dr. Paul Wright. Parker soon found herself leading short term students around the land of Israel. Her interaction with maps, along with her engaging teaching, has been an inspiration to many students first being introduced to the biblical lands.

It is rare for me to discover a book about the land of Israel that is so comprehensive and yet not overwhelming. The emphasis of Dr. Parker’s book is “the real world of the gospels.” In Part One (“Context Matters”), she demonstrates the importance of context in studying the life of Jesus. Parker begins by providing readers with a survey biblical history from Eden to the Babylonian exile. This is not the dry facts of history that you can read about in other books. Parker leads readers in a study of the biblical theology that is behind the history, showing what God is doing with His people in the Promised Land.

The book goes on to present a concise survey of Eretz Israel and shows how the international situation of surrounding nations makes this region so central in the politics and history of the Ancient Near East. The chapter on “Lifelong Learning” presents the essential cultural background for the life and ministry of Jesus.

In Part Two (“Reading Jesus in Context”), Dr. Parker applies the principles of context to the study of the life of Jesus. In the birth narrative, she demonstrates the importance of the genealogies for understanding how Jesus fits into the story of Israel. Then she skillfully introduces a number of key events in the life of Jesus providing fresh insights based on the geographical and cultural context. In chapter 8, Parker presents Jesus as a “skilled communicator,” making use of nature, parables and fables to provide insight into the development the kingdom of God. She efficiently traces the events of the last week of the life of Jesus and follows this with the implications of the resurrection.

I highly recommend Dr. Parker’s new book as a refreshing and insightful introductory study of the historical, geographical and cultural background of the life of Jesus. The book includes 21 helpful illustrations and is replete with full documentation and a supportive bibliography. For further information about Dr. Cyndi Parker’s teaching, podcasts and Israel tours, refer to her website, narrativeofplace.com.