Book Review: Gary M. Burge, A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion

Burge, Gary M. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 189 pp. Pb; $16.  Link to IVP, includes a short book trailer featuring Burge.

Burge says the modern reader is like “a foreigner in their world and culture,” this book attempts to immerse us in the world of the first century.  In the same vein as Ben Witherington’s A Day in the Life of Corinth or Bruce Longenecker’s The Lost Letters of Pergamum, Burge has created a short story about a centurion named Appius and his scribe and slave Tullus. While stationed in Dura-Europos, Appius is injured in a battle with the Parthians and eventually is in a gladiator arena at Caesarea Maritima. Eventually Appius and Tertullus end up in the small village of Capernaum on the shores of Galilee where the meet Jesus of Nazareth.

BurgeI will not spoil the novel with any more plot summary. The value of this book for Bible students is found in the numerous side-bars with detailed cultural information on such diverse cultural issues such as honor and shame, familia, or cosmetics. Burge describes the various locations mentioned in the book in the sidebars as well. There are small black and white illustrations scattered through the book. These are all informative, but could have been enhanced by added a “for further study” to each topic with reference to a more detailed source. Assuming use in a classroom, students could be encouraged to pick a topic and research it in more detail.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion is a great way to get into the world of the New Testament and would be used in a New Testament introduction or a Gospels class, in the same way A Day in the Life of Corinth is appropriate for a book on the Pauline letters. I am occasionally asked for resources on the “background” of the New Testament, this short novel will serve the average Bible reader well by illustrating the Roman world and enriching one’s reading of the Gospels.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Gary M. Burge, A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion

  1. Fascinating! As I read this review I can’t help but to think of how the NT overall presents to us a favorable view of Centurions in general.

    • It is true centurions are usually positive figures in the Gospels and Acts, although many are used as contrasts to the Pharisees, who reject Jesus as messiah even though they “ought to know better.”

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