Phillip Long is doing another good series, this one on Background to the Gospels.
The primary “background” for the Gospels is the Hebrew Bible. Anyone who approaches the Gospels without a knowledge of the history and culture of the Hebrew Bible will not appreciate fully the claims made by the Gospels.
At the end of his post (go read it, I’ll wait), he asks “What are some other ways the Hebrew Bible helps us understand the Gospels?”
Well, for one thing, Jesus sounds a lot like the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. (Particularly Jeremiah, I’ve been told, by Jewish classmates who are much more familiar with the prophets than I am.) He frequently alludes to or quotes from or creatively combines passages from the Hebrew Bible. He preached to Jews who knew their bible, and if we don’t know that bible, we will not hear everything that he was saying.
We’ll also miss the things that helped convince the disciples that Jesus really was the one who was prophesied, and really was bringing about the age to come. The evangelists’ imaginations were thoroughly shaped by the Torah, the Prophets (especially Isaiah), and the Writings. If we don’t know those stories and oracles and sayings, we’ll be reading the gospels as if we were watching the fourth season of a TV show without having seen the first three.
Part 2 of the series, on Hellenism, is also up.