For The Someday Book

Books about Greece

Posted on: January 1, 2019

My ministry connects me with the Association of International Churches in Europe in the Middle East, and the annual conference this year was in Athens, followed by an extension to northern Greece. We visited ancient sites along with tracing the footsteps of Paul’s second journey. I read a host of books in 2018 related to that trip, and the preaching and teaching that emerged from it.

On classical Greece:

Ancient Greece VSIAncient Greece: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Cartledge, Oxford University Press, 2011, 184 pp.

The Very Short Introduction series is just as described, and very helpful for a solid, amateur yet sound foundation in any topic. Cartledge takes a chapter for each of eleven Greece cities, unpacking ancient history and major themes in each. It was a very helpful precis before going deeper into topics of interest, and noting highlights of all the cities we saw along the way.

OracleThe Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science behind its Lost Secrets by William J. Broad, Penguin Books, 2007, 320 pp.

This was a fascinating read in preparation for a visit to Delphi. The Oracle tells the ancient history of mysticism and worship that happened at the site for millenia with an open mind and sense of awe, while telling the parallel story of a recent scientific quest to explain the power of the Delphic Oracle by a geologist, archeologist and neuroscientist. The book was fun to read, and made the visit to beautiful Delphi even more compelling and fascinating.

Hellenistic ReligionsHellenistic Religions: An Introduction by Luther H. Martin, Oxford University Press, 1987, 170 pp.

This was a text in my New Testament class in seminary, but I reread it as a refresher in the many gods, goddesses and cults of Greece and Rome. It covers 800 years of history and worship practices, from 400 BCE to 400 CE, and prepared me to better understand the various temple ruins we saw and interpret their place in the story of religious life in the time of Jesus and beyond.

ParthenonThe Parthenon by Mary Beard, Profile Books, 2010, 229 pp.

Mary Beard was unknown to me in the U.S., but here in the UK she is a household name, a witty classicist and brilliant storytelling scholar. This quick, accessible read tells the history of the Parthenon: its building, decline, destruction and looting from ancient days to the present controversies, including a thorough guide to both the Elgin Marbles here in the British Museum and the new Parthenon Museum in Athens. Reading this ahead of our trip made the day at the Parthenon come alive.

On Paul’s Journeys:

CorinthA Week in the Life of Corinth by Ben Witherington III, InterVarsity Press, 2012, 158 pp.

This is best described as educational fiction. Witherington uses his extensive knowledge of first century Corinth to create a fictional character who interacts with Paul and others there. Events are historical, and there are many insets presenting non-fiction content, but the author’s own imagination fills in conversation and intent. Not my favorite, because it read a bit like a secondary school textbook that is trying to engage young people. Still, it was interesting to have a detailed bit on Corinth for our day there.

Paul Very Brief HistoryPaul: A Very Brief History by John M.G. Barclay, SPCK Publishing, 2017, 128 pp.

I hoped this would serve as the foundation for an adult Bible study course, but it worked better as deep overview of Paul’s life and writings, including a review of scholarly debates about authorship, timing and biography. It was a good refresher and introductory course to organize my preaching and teaching.

Paul BiographyPaul: A Biography by Tom Wright, SPCK Publishing, 2018, 464 pp.

When you are embarking on an eight-week preaching and teaching series, and Tom Wright publishes a new tome on the subject one month before, you should read it, so I did. At first, I struggled to overcome the informality of the popular biography style, wishing that there were footnotes and arguments to defend Wright’s assertions about character and motive. As I progressed through, I abandoned myself to Wright’s vision and trusted his accumulated knowledge. When I did, I met in his Paul a fascinating, radical, inspiring and inspired man whose passion for Christ extended to the entire world, from ancient days to our own. This offers a unique view on Paul, told chronologically and in third person, rather than by his own letters and the arguments they reveal about the church. I felt a greater kinship with Paul as a fellow preacher, a greater compassion for his faults, and a deeper appreciation for his contribution–along with a better engagement with his world in Greece and beyond.


Cartes PostalesCartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop, Headline Review, 2017, 448 pp.

I love to immerse myself in a good novel about a place I am visiting. This was more a collection of short stories within a novel-like frame. Each story took place in a different town in Greece, which was described in detail. Some of the stories were excellent, some just alright, and the overarching frame did not excite me. However, I enjoyed an insight into modern Greece and Greeks, and it made for good travel reading.

OutlineOutline by Rachel Cusk, Faber Books, 2014, 249 pp.

Like Cartes Postales, Outline is a collection of short stories framed as a novel. However, in this collection, a woman visiting Greece keeps meeting with people who tell her their stories, so everything happens in long, first-person narratives, with a new and distinct voice each time. The stories read with the wistful tone of memoir, and explore the emotional lives of characters more than events themselves. It was beautifully written.


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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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