This volume offers six substantive essays that review the historical and social context of marriage and family life in the various eras and societies intersecting the biblical world. The primary value of the collection will be for scholars and advanced students who wish to gain a much greater understanding of these quite foreign social worlds, but who are not themselves experts in the history of antiquity. Across the board, the essays are to be commended for combining accessibility to the non-expert with sufficient detail and nuance to avoid oversimplification. However, it should be noted that certain essays are far superior to others.
The best essays are those that discuss marriage and family beliefs and practices in Greek society, Roman society, and late (Second Temple) Jewish society. The authors provide vivid and detailed discussions of the quite diverse cultures that form the matrix for the New Testament and the early church. Their scholarship is up-to-date, balanced, and steeped in primary source material. Each essay is well- organized for the non-expert, with distinct sections dealing with marriage ceremonies, the role of families, divorce practices, abortion and infanticide, etc. As a non-expert, I found the detailed differences here quite striking and informative for constructive Christian thought on sexual ethics.
However, the essays which deal explicitly with the Old Testament and the New Testament are extremely disappointing, especially in light of these others. For example, one would expect a treatment of NT themes that drew on the tensions and interactions set up in the previous three essays; unfortunately, the treatment of the NT material barely touches on these at all. Perhaps this is to be expected, given the denominational background of the authors (Southern Baptist), but one might at least have hoped that the treatment of the household codes might be informed by a discussion of their background in the Jewish and Roman worlds. Instead, it is asserted that "it should surprise no one that these instructions are foolishness to those who do not follow the path of Christian discipleship" (249-250). Whatever the positions ultimately defended, one might have hoped from these two essays for significantly more balance and carefulness in treating the ongoing debates surrounding these passages. Instead, the essays are tendentious and dismissive.
Nevertheless, the collection is quite valuable for the other essays. Even the essays on the biblical texts are of value as significant conversation partners in the contemporary debate, conversation partners often simply ignored in Catholic circles. Many contemporary works in sexual ethics oversimplify or ignore the historical background of Jewish and Christian beliefs, and this collection is a handy way to improve our ability to, as William Spohn puts it, "spot the rhyme" between biblical ethics and our own.