It’s always nice to finish a series. Back in 2010 I read and reviewed The Longest Week by Nick Page – an in-depth historical look at the last week of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. As such it also functioned naturally as a harmonisation of the Gospel accounts. Come 2012 I was able to add my review of Volume 2, The Wrong Messiah, which goes back and does the same with the rest of Jesus’ life – tying together and harmonising the Gospel accounts into a seamless chronology, taking in extra-biblical sources in seeking historical verification, harmony and so on.
Kingdom of Fools is Volume 3, and as you might have guessed, goes on to survey the events of the Book of Acts, once again, through an historical lens. Once again primary sources (apart from the New Testament obviously) are called up as witnesses including Josephus, Eusebius, the Didache, and others. As with the other books in the series, in terms of providing the lay-reader with in-depth access to primary sources, this work is top-notch. Nick Page should be commended for his scholarly work.
The most notable thing about all of these books is the in-depth chronological outlay they provide. One might have thought it simple with the Book of Acts, until you realise that of course many of the New Testament epistles were written during those years, or at least referred to them. And which years were they anyway? In which years did Paul sail to Corinth? How many journeys did he actually make back to Jerusalem, and in which year was his final one? Page answers all of these.
His answers are based on good scholarship and in agreement with many other biblical commentators. However, some readers who favour caution in compiling chronological accounts may find his confidence a little overdone. I suppose it’s not chiefly an academic work, otherwise no doubt the author would include a note of caution, and the reader is of course left to decide whether or not they agree. Page postulates the comings and goings of Luke, the presence of Peter in Rome just after the Book of Acts was completed; the timing of the writing of Galatians in relation to the Jerusalem council of Acts 15. It’s all very illuminating – yet needs to be taken with a pinch of salt in case there’s an alternative chronological outlay possible.
That said, Page has obviously done his homework, and there’s good reason to trust that most of the dates and movements he suggests are pretty well near the truth. A few times he does highlight possible events but makes clear where it’s little more than speculation. On the whole I found his treatment exciting and eye-opening. The aforementioned discussion concerning Galatians and the Jerusalem Council I found especially gripping.
He also doesn’t gloss over the various tensions at work in the early church; is very good, in fact, at highlighting them. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem really were uncomfortable with Paul. Acts 15 is often perceived as having ‘sorted it all out’, but in reality his final visit to Jerusalem still generates a good deal of tension. The addition of the Gentiles to the church was a controversy that wasn’t going to disappear easily or quickly.
I also especially loved the concluding chapter, and it’s worth quoting a few lines from the end; his thoughts mirror mine as I look at the early church, and the church of our own day:
In the past centuries there have been many who have…sought to return to their roots, to be radical in the true sense of the word… things are turning. Perhaps, in the West, it will no longer be acceptable to follow Jesus… Perhaps western Christianity will, at last, be relieved of the terrible burden of official approval. If so, then the lessons from the early church will become urgent…
Which is, perhaps, why you should read this book. A thoroughly enjoyable book; possibly my favourite of the three. Thank you, Nick Page.