The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World, by Richard A Horsley and Neil Asher Silberman on Amazon.
Some of us who inhabit the world of the church distinguish between "Jesus Christians" (frequently Roman Catholics, people in "just peace" churches, other activist Jesus emulators), who follow the Jesus of the synoptic gospels and the Didache, and "Pauline Christians" (usually stereotyped as Protestants in church bodies of continental European Reformation heritage), who love to theologize the Pauline and deutero-Pauline epistles.
Scholars Horsley and Silberman offer economic, political, social, cultural, and sometimes religious considerations of Jesus of Nazareth's influences in a turbulent Ancient Near East during his time on earth and after his death; they also bring an overview of Paul/Saul of Tarsus' varied influences on early Jesus-followers. They caution us popular assumptions and shorthands aren't always so!
It wasn't all about peasant revolts, rural poverty, urban exploitation, or even oppressive empire, but for most groups, following Jesus or The Way of Jesus began as a hopeful attempt to regain some control over an existence slammed by dehumanizing religious and/or imperial injustices. The authors describe the why and the where of texts and trajectories of Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke-Acts; they remind us St Paul was far from a "this is how it needs to be / one size fits every group" teacher and missionary. (We don't need another proof-text...) "Within seventy-five years of the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem, the signs of the Kingdom were unmistakable wherever the assemblies of the saints gathered. The most important rituals of every Christian's life―baptism, Lord's Supper, and collections―seemed to gird the assemblies scattered through the eastern Mediterranean..." [page 224] Sacraments and works of mercy are central to today's church assemblies, also.
The Message and the Kingdom is solidly scholarly, yet reads like listening to an interesting lecture series that respects those with an academic bent, doesn't confuse or demean those without. I love the multicolored perspectives woven through the chapters! "Jesus Christians" tend to emphasize Jesus the teacher, healer, transformer of society, and prophet; "Pauline Christians" love to dig into theology, Christology, eschatology, sin, death, and redemption. This book works well for both groups, and though neither the ecclesiastical nor the spiritual dominates the book, Silberman and Horsley don't exclude them, either! End matter includes narrative bibliographical notes on each chapter, a big bibliography, and an index.
my amazon review: many perspectives on Jesus and Paul