Different approaches: East vs West

In relation to my previous post on The Vision of Theophilus, I was doing a little reading and ran across some interesting comments from a Coptic Orthodox priest on the relationship of faith and scholarship. The source is Be Thou There: The Holy Family’s Journey in Egypt, edited by Gawdat Gabra (American University in Cairo Press, 2001), page 114.

These are the words of Father Philoxenos of the Monastery of the Holy Virgin, Dayr al-Muharraq, Upper Egypt:

Not every fact of history is recorded in historical documents. Let’s not speak about Theophilus, but consider instead the Prophet Isaiah, who wrote about the altar in the midst of Egypt. The proof of Isaiah is stronger than Theophilus. We first depend on the Bible, then we have the doctrines of the Apostles, and the third source is Tradition. These are the three sources of faith of the Coptic Orthodox Church. We do not base our belief on Theophilus only, but on Isaiah.

You see, Coptic people are a very religious people. We have a strong belief in the Bible, in the Church, the sayings of the Church, and the history of the Church. We can’t deny that there are many stories that are exaggerated. We don’t deny this. But we have faith in our Church Fathers and in what they say. This is a very strong source for the people of Egypt.

The first source we depend on is faith. If historical evidence adds something that confirms it, it is fine, it is acceptable. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter because I already have the faith in my heart.

I look at whether such a story is a benefit to the faith. If what people believe makes their faith stronger and vital, fine, that is acceptable. But if a certain story contradicts accepted belief and dogma, we must oppose it.

[On those in Egypt who believe their various churches were visited by the Holy Family:] It is some kind of spiritual pride and a kind of blessing. They want to be connected to the Holy Family, and that is not a problem, because it is not against the dogma and not against tradition. Here the people are not so focused on the history but on spiritual things. We are not talking about research of a PhD on the Holy Family. We are talking about faith, blessings, miracles, about something spiritual. What benefit do we have if we confirm it here and cancel it there? But this is not accepted in the Western world. They ask for documents, proof, and if you don’t have proof, it can’t be true. That is a different way of thinking.

Indeed! “That is a different way of thinking” from that of the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well.

I think in part it boils down to the simple choice of where one has one’s heart: on things of the flesh, or on things of the Spirit; on the temporary things of this age, or on the things of eternity. The salvation of the soul is the most important thing that a person can focus on, and should be focusing on. Matters of historical truth are not important when such do not contradict the dogma of the Church. That is a very important point, very clearly brought forth by Fr Philoxenus above, and instantly thought-provoking. Fr Philoxenus (and others whom I’ve spoken to) have a very healthy attitude, not denying that there are “exaggerations” but that these serve a purpose other than documentary, something that the Western approach fails in grasping anymore, which is quite sad. Our cultures have gone so far down a particular path of intellectualism that they can no longer be touched by the faith-stirring and wonder-inducing accounts of Saints and their doings that are still living wells of inspiration for the, frankly, much stronger faith found amongst others. I speak also for myself, as the wonder I felt as a child all around me, and throughout my reading of the Bible, is now in so many ways attenuated by having my head crammed full of intellectualist ideas about the Bible. It is only with great difficulty that I am recovering that sense of wonder, and part of the help is precisely in reading the Lives of the Saints, where, despite my own failures, I am moved and changed, through the merciful working of the Holy Spirit, it must be, because I can’t be doing that alone!

In any case, it’s something to think about.

The Vision of Theophilus

Following is a translation by Alphonse Mingana of the Third Book of an apocryphal history of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. This book is typically referred to (somewhat imprecisely) as The Vision of Theophilus, for the discourse of the Virgin to Theophilus comprises the majority of this book. The translation and original Syriac text are found in Mingana’s Woodbrooke Studies, volume 3, a pdf of which is available here, for those interested in further introductory materials, annotations, and the Syriac text. (The same volume, as a bonus, includes the text and translation of the Syriac Apocalypse of Peter.) Of chief interest in the Vision is the description of the troubled journey of the Holy Family into Egypt, escaping King Herod.

This book is obviously in its origins closely connected with the most important shrine associated with the travels of the Holy Family in Egypt, the Monastery of the Holy Virgin at al-Muharraq, near the mountains of Qusqam, near the town of al-Qusiya in Upper Egypt, 48 km north of Assyut. The church there is (so the narrative and Coptic tradition uphold) the first church in the world, consecrated by the risen Lord, where the first Divine Liturgy in the world was celebrated by the miraculously transported Peter and the Apostles, with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome (Mary’s cousin who accompanied the Holy Family into Egypt) also present. The Vision is actually something of a foundation story for the church and monastery there, rather than strictly an account of the Holy Family’s travels throughout Egypt. The church is built upon the ruins of an ancient house that the Holy Family is said to have stayed in for six months, the longest duration of any of their traditional stops, and traditionally the southernmost (although there is also the Monastery of the Holy Virgin further south at Durunka, the position of which is harmonized through its being the place where the Holy Family waited in a cave to embark on a boat sailing down the Nile on their way back to the Holy Land.).

The narrative is complicated. The Theophilus of the title is Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria (+412). The account is a first-person account of some event of Theophilus’ tenure, including a visit to the monastery during which he is granted a vision of the Virgin Mary, who then relates (in first person) her and her Son’s connection with the monastery. The entire narrative is then said to have been actually written down by Cyril of Alexandria (+ 444) himself! But there is no doubt that while the narrative demonstrates traditions of definite antiquity it does not date so far back as St Cyril! Mingana would attribute the work to Kyriakos, Bishop of Bahnasa (Oxyrrhynchus), who wrote in the early fifteenth century.

While there are many aspects of the Vision of Theophilus which do not align with Eastern Orthodox tradition regarding the Holy Family (and which will certainly be all the more entirely bizarre to western Christians) the work itself is still a rather beautiful expression of piety. For more information on the traditions related to the Holy Family in Egypt, see this post in which I give short descriptions of a number of excellent books on the subject. Enjoy a seasonally apropos reading originating from a land closer to the sunrise!

Again the third Book (containing) the flight (according to) the vision shown to Theophilus, Patriarch of the great city of Alexandria, concerning the arrival of our Lady Mary, Mother of God, in the land of Egypt, and concerning the house which she and her beloved Son Jesus Christ inhabited in the holy mountain of Ḳusḳam, on account of their great fear of King Herod.

Continue reading “The Vision of Theophilus”

To the Holy Innocents

To the tune of Ton Nymphona Sou

Herod the thorough wicked king
Killer of his own kin
His insane will would even dare
To slaughter children in his care
Yet their souls fly, a flock of doves
To escort incarnate Divine Love

O land of Pharaoh, lush and sere
Your true Lord and God now draws near
Your gods in homage all fall down
Offering to Him all their crowns
Life-giving God, a babe in swaddling
Raises for thirsty man living springs

Protector of the Holiest
Noble Joseph has no rest
Wending up the calm ancient Nile
Sought by Herod’s men mile after mile
Fleeing from danger by an angel told
Guarding that most precious Divine Gold

Holy Virgin, Mother of God
Nurses her newborn, overawed
O pure wonder, O gift of Light
This tiny Infant, the God of might
Perfect Mother, holy and pure
Pray our salvation will be sure

Wholly innocent slaughtered ones
Stripped of earthly life before grown
Rachel’s weeping for hers is heard
For your pure lives cut short by sword
First martyrs for Christ, and purest
Pray our souls might join you in Rest

St Gregory the Theologian on the Nativity

St Gregory the Theologian here describes some ways in which people should and shouldn’t celebrate the feast of the Nativity of our Lord:

This is our festival, this is the feast we celebrate today, in which God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God, or return—for to speak thus is more exact—that laying aside the old human being we may be clothed with the new, and that as in Adam we have died so we may live in Christ, born with Christ and crucified with Him, buried with Him, and rising with Him. For it is necessary for me to undergo the good turnaround, and as painful things came from more pleasant things, so out of painful things more pleasant things must return. “For where sin abounded, grace superabounded,” and if the taste of forbidden fruit condemned, how much more does the Passion of Christ justify? Therefore we celebrate the feast not like a pagan festival but in a godly manner, not in a worldly way but in a manner above the world. We celebrate not our own concerns but the One who is ours, or rather what concerns our Master, things pertaining not to sickness but to healing, not to the first shaping, but to the reshaping.
And how will this be? Let us not put wreaths on our front doors, or assemble troupes of dancers, or decorate the streets. Let us not feast the eyes, or mesmerize the sense of hearing, or pamper the sense of smell, or prostitute the sense of taste, or gratify the sense of touch. These are ready paths to evil, and entrances of sin. Let us not be softened by delicate and extravagant clothing, whose beauty is its inutility, or by the transparency of stones, or the brilliance of gold, or the artificiality of colors that falsify natural beauty and are invented in opposition to the divine image; nor by “revelries and drunkenness,” to which I know “debauchery and licentiousness” are linked, since from bad teachers come bad teachings, or rather from evil seeds come evil harvests. Let us not build high beds of straw, making shelters for the debauchery of the stomach. Let us not assess the bouquet of wines, the concoctions of chefs, the great cost of perfumes. Let earth and sea not bring us as gifts the valued dung, for this is how I know to evaluate luxury. Let us not strive to conquer each other in dissoluteness. For to me all that is superfluous and beyond need is dissoluteness, particularly when others are hungry and in want, who are of the same clay and the same composition as ourselves.
But let us leave these things to the pagan Greeks and to Greek pomps and festivals. They name as gods those who enjoy the steam rising from the fat of sacrificial animals and correspondingly serve the divine with their stomachs, and they become evil fashioners and initiators and initiates of evil demons. But if we, for whom the Word is an object of worship, must somehow have luxury, let us have as our luxury the word and the divine law and narratives, especially those that form the basis of the present feast, that our luxury may be akin and not foreign to the One who has called us.

Interesting, isn’t it? It sounds as though Constantinopolitans were right up there in Christmas decoration, excess, and luxuriating with any large city today in the Americas and Europe. I know they had credit available, too. I wonder if they ran it up for the latest toys for the kids? The latest chariot for dads? Some cabochon encrusted baubles for moms?
It sounds as though not much has changed since December 25, 380 AD, when the above words were spoken. They are excerpted from Festal Oration 38, as found in the nice little editon in the St Vladimir’s Seminary Press Popular Patristics Series, Festal Orations of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, translated by Nonna Harrison (SVS Press, 2008).

More on Fee/Stuart

A very productive comment from my friend Doug has convinced me to post a set of notes I started taking on Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s bestselling little book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 3rd ed: 2003). So, here are the notes, headed by the quotations from the book on which I’m commenting.

15 October 2010 @ home: Notes on Fee & Stuart _How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth_, 3rd ed (Zondervan, 2003) — noting objections for the use of this book by Orthodox Christians.

(I start these notes now after having read through the book into chapter 5 on the OT narratives. Through the course of my reading thus far, I have noted that my reactions have ranged from mildly pleased to slightly objecting (quibbling even) to outright rejection of various statements and even approaches. This body of notes intends to accurately chart these reactions to one of the better-contructed and most popular handbooks on Biblical exegesis (“Bible Study”) in the Protestant worldview. Perhaps, as is my hope, these notes will be useful to myself or to another in the construction of such a work for an Orthodox Christian audience. For this reason, I begin now to read the book again and note things here, with my copy of the book bearing exclamation points in the margin and page numbers for this journal. We’ll see how that goes!)

p. 14:

But we are also concerned about the (sometimes) hidden agenda that suggests that a seminary education or seminary professors are thereby a hindrance to understanding the Bible.

It must be admitted that inasmuch as such seminarians and sem. professors adhere to “historical criticism” they are right to be described as a hindrance to the understanding of the Bible that is valued by the Church and its faithful. If Christ is not the center, then such interpretation is a hindrance.

p. 14:

The great urgency that gave birth to this book is hermeneutics; we wrote especially to help believers wrestle with the questions of application. Many of the urgent problems in the church today are basically struggles with bridging the hermeneutical gap—with moving from the “then and there” of the original text to the “here and now” of our own life settings. But this also means bridging the gap between the scholar and layperson. The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both. Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaning for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error—because it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of all hermeneutical skills—common sense.

Note the focus on “the text”, not on the Church! In a Protestant view, the reader takes the place of the Church, in that the reader is presumed to possess the inherent possibility to approach the text (i.e. Scripture!) alone and with only the meager introduction of some various methods or reading and study. No wonder Protestantism is such a chaos of beliefs! It is the job of the Church to, among other things, provide the framework for every Christian by which all of life, including the reading of the Bible, is comprehended. The Body of Christ, permeated by the Holy Spirit, has had and does have an approach to Scripture that is its own, seen in the Scriptures themselves—that reading which holds our Lor and Saviour Jesus Christ as the central character of all history and of all this present age. And as much as we are members of His Body, we feel nothing otherwise is relevant. All notion of the individual as qualified to interpret the Bible is incorrect and to be avoided and indeed to be warned against.

p. 15:

Our concern, therefore, must be with both dimensions. The believing scholar insists that the biblical texts first of all mean what they meant. That is, we believe that God’s Word for us today is first of all precisely what his Word was to them. Thus we have two tasks: First, our task is to find out what the text originally meant; this is called exegesis. Second, we must learn to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day; we call this second task hermeneutics. In its classical usage, the term “hermeneutics” covers both tasks, but in this book we consistently use it only in this narrower sense. To do both tasks well should be the goal of Bible study

—excellent paragraph.

p. 15 (and passim): “Word” is capitalized and used as a synonym for Scripture. For an Orthodox Christian, however, this is unacceptable—the Word, the Logos, of God is Jesus Christ Himself. HE is the ever-living Word, obviously, not a book. Our reverence for and delight in Scripture lies in its origin as inspired by God the Holy Spirit working in the Prophets and Apostles. We do not hold a view of Scripture that it is some kind of Christian Koran, an inviolate and perfect entity which is the copy of some eternal heavenly exemplar. For us, the Word IS God, and Scripture is a record of those who have in this world worshipped God, expected Him, worked with Him, and served Him in very particular and extraordinary ways, expressing and recording their thoughts and deeds through inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. They lived their lives filled with God’s Spirit—they were inspired to record what they recorded and how they recorded it.

p. 17:

Every so often we meet someone who says with great feeling, “You don’t have to interpret the Bible; just read it and do what it says.” Usually, such a remark reflects the layperson’s protest against the “professional” scholar, pastor, teacher, or Sunday school teacher, who by “interpreting” seems to be taking the Bible away from the common man or woman. It is their way of saying that the Bible is not an obscure book. “After all,” it is argued, “any person with half a brain can read it and understand it. The problem with too many preachers and teachers is that they dig around so much they tend to muddy the waters. What was clear to us when we read it isn’t so clear anymore.”

—the great Protestant objection and failure—every individual becomes Pope, rather than rejecting papacy altogether.

p. 18:

Interpretation that aims as, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias).

—like Fee’s own peculiar reading of στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις as glossolalia!

p. 18:

The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.” And the most important ingredient one brings to this task is enlightened common sense. The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text. Correct interpretation, there, brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.

—excellent paragraph!

—Fee uses “the church” lowercase to describe whom? All Christians? All charismatics and those approved by him/them? For the Orthodox , there is only one Church, capitalized, which is the Body of Christ—the Eastern Orthodox Church. There are those outside her boundaries whom we regularly refer to (perhaps improperly) as “Christians” just as we refer to members of the Church as Christians. But properly speaking they are not two groups of people in an identical category with regard to Christ. Only in Orthodoxy is the fullness of truth held and guarded and preserved. Those outside the Church are adherents of various heresies. However, it is clear that God in His mercy and wisdom works where He will, without consulting or informing us! In view of this, I would opt for a usage of “Orthodox” or “Orthodox Christian” or even “Christian” for an Eastern Orthodox believer, but “other Christians” or “another Christian” or “non-Orthodox Christian(s)” for the others. Otherwise, lowercase “church” will, as is proper, be used to refer to a building of a local church, not to the Church Universal.

p. 18:

The first readon one needs to learn how to interpret is that, whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to thing that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.

Several points:
1.) Proper exegesis will only be possible for someone who is fully conversant with theology, properly Orthodox theology. Only such a person has the unshakable foundation on which to build a proper reading. And how rare that is! It is why we rely so heavily on those Church Fathers who have left us commentaries, and why we do not arrogate to ouselves the ability to avoid all heresy in the process of constructing a personal reading of Scripture. In fact, there is no such thing as “a personal reading of Scripture”—this does not exist in the Church. One who insists on a personal reading is an heretic, pure and simple. Such a one is also not truly approaching Scripture, but is approaching their idiosyncratic idea of Scripture. Scripture belongs to the Church, through which alone is a correct reading possible.

2.) Nearly all aids to Scripture—lexica, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc—are, from an Orthodox perspective, tainted by the heresies of others. The vast majority of such works are produced by Protestants (either confessionally active ones or Protestants by intellectual heritage, as is “critical scholarship”). A large number are Romen Catholic. While the latter are in some ways sometimes closer to an Orthodox approach, the subtle difference are perhaps more dangerous for their subtlety. The all-pervasive papism of such works is an abomination and grave heresy, not adiaphora. There are undoubtedly a number of resources available from the Orthodox homelands (Greece, Russia, etc), but these are seldom translated into English. They are insufficiently available, what translations there are, or they are of insufficient quality. There number is dwarfed by the Protestant works, however, as they are also outdone in quality and availability. The sheer preponderance of these works lead many Orthodox (innocently ignorant) to believe any number of peculiar things—things which are not Orthodox—heresies. All this through availability! We need excellent tools of our own, motivated not by a “me too!” or a ghetto mentality, but rather as a natural result of our prayerful desire to save our souls and the souls of our fellow Orthodox, providing them a way to learn about Scripture from which every danger has been removed. The wretched “Orthodox Study Bible” does not count, as it was compiled by theological simpletons, with a hybrid translation of heretical origin, printed in a substandard manner on inferior materials. It will not do, and does not count toward the solution of providing excellent Orthodox Scriptural tools except perhaps as an excellent example of what to avoid doing.

—An idea: provide notes on various popular translations which would describe the problems that exist in the translation for Orthodox. E.g., not the mistranslaions in the NIV of all words relating to “tradition” (παραδιδ-). Various of us Orthodox could take a translation or two and then we’d collect our notes on them—the more involved, the better. This would be primarily for the NT, of course. The MT-based OT should be used only secondarily by Orthodox. Our OT is the LXX, for which NETS (not w/o its problems) is the only full translation of recent years widely available and of excellent quality. But, above all, we need our own approved tools!

p. 21:

The authors of this book labor under no illusions that by reading and following our guidelines everyone will finally agree on the “plain meaning,” our meaning! What we do hope to achieve is to heighten the reader’s sensitivity to specific problems inherent in each genre, to help the reader know why different options exist and how to make commonsense judgments, and especially to enable the reader to discern between good and not-so-good interpretations—and to know what makes them one or the other.

Separation of the contents of Scripture into a variety of genres, each w/ its own exegetical method for recommended results, is ingenious, but ultimately too atomizing. Most books are a mixture of genres, and it is as books that Orthodox readers will encounter Scripture, or isolated stories/pericopes, or psalms. Some core assumptions for Orthodox reading of Scripture:
1.) Christ is the centre of the OT as He is of the NT.
2.) Type-antitype or typological reading requires that we properly understand both the type and the antitype, with each illuminating our understanding of the other.
3.) The ways of reading exemplified by the Apostles in the NT and by the Church Fathers in their writings are not only suggestive for our own approach, but are normative. A properly Orthodox reading will not contradict their readings either in method or conclusion. If a reading does, then it’s a failure, an example of individual interpretation and likely heretical, even if unintentionally so.
4.) The 9 Rules of Orthodox Biblical Interpretation promulgated in 1786 by Metropolitan Platon of Moscow, Rector of the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy:
1.) Open the literal meaning, and where it is dark because of translation or an ambiguity in the language, explain it in such a way that no passage is left which students cannot understand, apart from the very rare texts which are too complex to comprehend.
2.) Interpret spiritual and mysterious meanings, especially in the Old Testament, in those passages where such meanings are transparently concealed. In doing this, one has to be cautious so as not to do this with force. Thus, one ought not to seek out a secret meaning where there is none (or where one is forced, as is noticeable with many interpreters), but where links and the parallel passages follow directly from the words. Interpret spiritual and mysterious readings in agreement with the best interpreters.
3.) For a better understanding of dark passages, find and link the parallel passages, for this will make comprehension easier, since what is said in one place is often said ambiguously and briefly in another place, and despite the similarity between the two texts, the one differs in terms of a more detailed and clearer account.
4.) In interpreting Scripture, do not forget to conclude with the moral teachings flowing from the text. Formulate it with great regard.
5.) In interpreting the books of the Old Testament Prophets, indicate clearly when and in which circumstances their prophecies were fulfilled in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
6.) Where passages of Holy Scripture seem to contradict each other, explain these texts in agreement with published sources that contain general agreement.
7.) Wherever passages are found from which some false conclusions were drawn and which subsequently led to schisms or heresies, one is obliged to clearly indicate the right and true meaning of these passages, and to invalidate the opinions and arguments of heretics and schismatics.
8.) Where passages of Scripture are found to which human wisdom might make objections, such objections must not be hidden. Instead, allow them to be seen in a clear and satisfactory form.
9.) On the part of the teacher, it is critical to consult the Church Fathers, to read scrupulously the best Church teachers and interpretors, to know Church history well, and, above all, to beseech often and diligently the Father of Light to open the eyes toward understanding the wonders in His Law.
(adapted from Alexander Negrov, _Biblical Interptetation in the Russian Orthodox Church_ [Mohr Siebeck, 2008], pp. 61-62).

To be cont’d

And that’s where I ran out of steam, realizing that the way I was commenting, I’d have 500 pages of notes by the time I got through the Fee & Stuart book!

Further autumnal abundance of reviewlets

Moving on now to a more vague category, pre/early Christian Jewish-related stuff.

Richard Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Baker, 2007). This is a weird book, which is not to say that it isn’t good, but it’s certainly odd. I’d say that if the subtitle were switched around to “A Biblical and Archaeological Survey” it would be better descriptive. Hess spends too much time in this book doing footwork supportive of historical reliability for Hebrew Bible narrative. It’s very interesting, and convincing in the manner that it’s laid out, but it seems misplaced in a book on Israelite Religions. What I expected more of, and which I found to be lacking, was an exhaustive and detailed reading of all Biblical data related to religious practices among Israelites as described in the Bible, and in this sense, I would rather have set aside the normative/Prophetic religion (we know, or think we know, enough about that) and priveleged the non-normative religious practices that seem to be decried on every other page of the Prophets. There’s a wealth of material there. But in Hess, individual instances are not dealt with in any satisfying detail, probably so much of the book has been devoted to ephemera, though very interesting ephemera: the aforementioned pro-historical OT chapter, a survey of study of Israelite religion, two chapters on the religions of nearby nations, and then two chapters on early normative Israelite religion. Two thirds of the book is thus taken up with stuff that is basically already known and covered in better detail elsewhere. But the title of the book, Israelite Religions, with its provocative plural intimates that we are to expect some substantial coverage of a variety of religious practices in relatively distinct and coherent systems in existence in the United Monarchy and Two Kingdoms period of Israelite history. But the coverage of nearly all of that is scattered lines in one chapter, insufficient detail to make the presentation interesting, let alone informational. The presentation of the archaeological material here is cursory. The reader is better referred to Ziony Zevit’s The Religions of Ancient Israel (Continuum, 2001), not least for the better discussion and coverage of archaeological material, but for the better contextualization of that material in the Biblical text, which is both broader and deeper than is found in Hess. I see this Hess book as something of an introductory survey book, for which it would serve admirably, despite its distracted focus. Zevit would then be for the more advanced student or the one interested in detail.

Editors Huub van de Sandt and Jürgen K. Zangenberg, Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings (SBL, 2008). The proceedings of a previous 2003 symposium, limited to discussion of the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache, was edited by van de Sandt in 2005 as Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the Same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (Royal Van Gorcum/Fortress, 2005). The 2007 symposium added the Letter of James to the discussions. The results are a series of very interesting, highly exploratory papers, as is only befitting the beginning stages of such a field of investigation. As many have noticed before, there are distinct resemblances, or reminiscences, or allusions, in and amongst all three of these works, and they’re suggestive of a particular form of early Christianity (namely, perhaps the earliest) which was still more Jewish than not. How precisely to describe those clearly perceived but elusively described connections is what this group is working on. So, while this series of papers may not be conclusive, they are at any rate very interesting for the manner in which we may eavesdrop on the founding of a particular direction of investigation, and watch its methodology unfold. I would also recommend the van de Sandt and David Flusser volume, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (Royal Van Gorcum/Fortress, 2002).

Anthony J. Tomasino, Judaism Before Jesus: The Events and Ideas that Shaped the New Testament World (InterVarsity Press, 2003). A couple of years ago a friend of mine at church asked me for a good introduction to the “intertestamental period.” So I bought myself a little stack of such books, and go through one now and again. (Two of that stack that I’ve discussed before are Cohen’s From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, and the Vermes, et al., reworking of Schürer’s The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ [scroll down to the next-to-last paragraph on that page]). I have yet to find one that I would recommend wholeheartedly, but this book by Tomasino comes close. He manages to squeeze in several hundred years of history, much of which is deliciously tempting to follow into other areas of research of course, a temptation which rightly and admirably avoids in this introductory level book. There are a few of those (to me, annoying) text boxes where various subjects are dealt a cursory swipe in coverage, and a few graphics, but the book is pretty solidly text-filled. It’s a straightforward account, avoiding controversy, again, perfectly introductory. I would quibble with the “Ideas” in the subtitle. Most of the book is dealing merely with events, and any in-depth coverage of “ideas” is lacking. Events can shape things pretty well on their own, even without the anachronistic imposition of ideology behind their inspiration.

George Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (Fortress, second ed.: 2005). The book includes a CD with a complete Logos version of the book, including a number of old photos of various sites taken decades ago by Nickelsburg. These kinds of survey books are generally better as reference than as reading material. That being said, Nickelsburg has made his survey readable by not going overboard on nitpicky details, and by keeping a lively and well-informed active voice. It helps that this is the most recent of these survey works for this body of work, and so incorporates the findings of the last several decades, various aspects of which Nickelsburg has had a personal hand in. The book on my shelf that this most effectively updates as a compendium of descriptions of works of the period is ed. Michael Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus (Van Gorcum/Fortress, 1984). Even the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Yale, 1992) is getting a bit long in the tooth, as good as it is. But it’s nice to have everything in one volume, and very nice to have it in an electronic version included gratis with the book. Every book should have such, whether Logos or simply epub format (which I prefer) or something else. One could be at, say, a bar, and simply have to know the current discussion of the date and provenance of the Parables of Enoch (I’ve had stranger conversations at my local watering hole). It’s a nice thing to be able to pull up Nickelsburg on the iPhone and find whatever. Or to just blow some battery juice reading Nickelsburg under a tree on a nice day. Let that be the start of a trend.

Now for the two books I’m in the midst of reading right now, for which I’ll give simply short, preliminary impressions.

Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Eerdmans, 2009). In the comments to the first post of these autumnal reviewlets, Doug noted that he found Campbell “brilliant and fresh.” I entirely agree. I would also add, conscientious, concerned, thoughtful, intelligent, skilled, and comprehensive. It’s truly an astonishing amount of work that Campbell put into this book. It is well worth it. I’m about one third of the way through it, and have benefited greatly from his overviews of Justification theory (something that as a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, I’d never encountered). I tend to shy away from reading books like this, primarily because it seems books on Paul’s theology and work in particular seem to be less detached than those on the Gospels or other NT writings. Much scholarship on Paul therefore tends to hew more closely to one or another party line (=denominational theology) than is interesting or comfortable for me to explore. But one of the great examples of someone who managed to thrill me in not doing so was J. Louis Martyn in his Anchor Bible volume on Galatians, which was (pardon the pun) revelatory. And of course, Campbell rates Martyn well in this book, which is not surprising, as the focus on the apocalyptic Christ in the life of the believer is shared between the two. Already I sense that Campbell is going in a direction which will fit well not only with Martyn, but with Orthodox views on theosis, as well. So, we shall see. In any case, this is a very interesting and well-written book, one that I hope becomes influential in a degree relative to its heft.

Last but not least is Fr Nikolaos Loudovikos, Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor’s Eschatological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity (Holy Cross, 2010). Fr Loudovikos, a student of Metr John Zizioulas, presents corrections to the theological writing of the latter (particularly as exemplified in Being as Communion) via the theology of St Maximus the Confessor, one of the most brilliant and therefore difficult and therefore avoided of the Church Fathers. There is system to St Maximus, and Fr Nikolaos draws it forth. I’m only about halfway through this one, and he has yet to substantially interact with Zizioulas outside of the notes yet, but already it’s been a fascinating ride through the writings of St Maximus. Very interesting! At times it’s a bit demanding, as Fr Loudovikos is no slouch (as I am) in terms of modern NW European philosophy, some familiarity with such will be helpful (at least I have that!). His interaction with such is concise, however, so it requires close, careful reading. It will be the more rewarding for that.

Catching up: autumnal reviewlets

Well, I’ve been remiss in posting anything about the very interesting things I’ve been (re)reading over the last few months. I suppose one gets into that kind of rut a bit too easily, thinking, “I’d rather read than write about my reading, and who cares what I think, anyway!” But there is at least some slight sense of responsibility, to warn (or lure) readers away from some book or another, above all saving them time–time that might be wasted–or pointing them toward a more than worthwhile investment of time in the reading of some other book. That is, after all, the understood goal in writing a book review, right?

I tend to read in themes. That is, despite the impression given by my single indicated “Now Reading” indicator in the right column of this page, I tend to be switching between several books, following different thematically consistent directions in reading. Over the last few months, my interest has run into Messianism, Hermeneusis, and what might be called “Pre-Christian Judaism” in addition to a few outliers which I’ve been picking at rather distractedly for a while.

In the category of Messianism:

Sigmund Mowinckel, He That Cometh: The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism, foreword by John J. Collins (Eerdmans, 2005)
This is one of the classics in messianism these days, but I think more in the manner of “influential in its day and a precursor to much better stuff that came along later, so you have to read it simply because it’s part of the history of scholarship, tedious though it be” rather than in the sense of “a work of truly timeless value, full of permanently valid insights.” I found this book characterized entirely by the time and place in which it was written: 1940s Scandinavia. Mowinckel straddles a strange fence betwen the History of Religions School, the Myth and Religions School, and the orthodoxy of his day (whether religious or scholarly). So much of what appears in these pages is dated, with so much better work having been accomplished over the last two decades alone, that I found this book in places unreadable, primitive, and entirely outmoded. As I noted above, it still possesses some value in a “history of scholarship” sense, but as a source of current and well-reasoned scholarship, it is essentially worthless. Mowinckel works with such a primitive conception of “Messiah”–one that admittedly was common to his age–that it’s no wonder this work has not aged well, and that so many of his positions and conclusions are invalid in light of later studies. I disagree strongly with Collins’ evaluation at the end of the foreword: “He That Cometh remains, however, the best comprehensive treatment available in English of the roots of messianic expectation in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East” (p. xxviii). On the contrary, I found Mowinckel’s treatment of both to be alternately tendentious and superficial. I would say that Collins’ own The Scepter and the Star (second edition: Eerdmans, 2010) would be a much better choice, though Collins perhaps was modestly avoiding autokeraphonia by avoiding mention of the first edition (though he cites it in the foreword several times. In a footnote to that very sentence, Collins writes “Note, however, the excellent collection of essays edited by James H. Charlesworth, The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992); and [John] Day, King and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near East [Sheffield, 1998].” (p. xxviii n. 48). I would instead recommend a volume by Collins & Collins described below. One further note I would like to add concerns the subtitle of Mowinckel’s volume, a translation from the original Norwegian: “The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism.” Is this “Later Judaism” to be taken as simply “later Judaism” or “Late(r) Judaism”? It is almost certainly the latter, a description that rankles, yet indicates the approach to the Rabbinic material that is taken by Mowinckel and others of his age: that this was a decadent literature, a product not of a thriving culture but of one feasting on the remains of a more glorious past. This is a perceptible undercurrent in the book, which only adds to its datedness, and does not inspire confidence in the judgment shown otherwise on the part of the author.

Kenneth Pomykala, The Davidic Dynasty Tradition in Early Judaism: Its History and Significance for Messianism (Scholars Press, 1995). This book is a “moderately revised” version of Pomykala’s doctoral dissertation (Claremont Graduate School, 1992). I expected better, actually, of a dissertation, particularly of one from Claremont. One issue of the study of the development of Israelite Messianism that cannot be ignored is the Septuagint. Admittedly, the evidence is complex, and difficult to control, but it is essential to an understanding of the development of the concept from the mid-third century BC and for the next three centuries, as it became the de facto public edition of the Old Testament for Jews throughout the Mediterranean. The various translators show varying degrees of concern for messianism, but overall, there is at the very least evidence of a going concern. What does Pomykala say on the subject of the Septuagint and messianism?

The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek began as early as the third century BCE with the Torah, and before the first century BCE Greek translations of all books were probably completed. Moreover, at times LXX translations are characterized by “midrashic” alterations or expansions and, consequently, indicate how the translator and his community interpreted certain biblical texts. In theory, then, the LXX translation of texts related to the davidic [sic, passim] dynasty could illuminate how some Jews in the Second Temple period construed those passages.

In practice, however, this is not a very fruitful mode of inquiry. On the one hand, a survey of key texts related to the davidic dynasty tradition shows very little in the way of interpretive activity. [!!!] On the other, formidable obstacles confront the analysis of any such interpretive translations. For one, even to speak of “the Septuagint” suggests a misleading notion about the unity of Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, since, as Kraft notes, “there is no homogeneity among the various translation units of the collection.” Accordingly, each book or section of a book must be evaluated separately. Next, recovering the Old Greek or one of the early recensions from the Second Temple Period–such as the καιγε or proto-Lucian recension–for a passage is often difficult; indeed scholars are divided about the existence and status of some of these layers. Even when the text of the Old Greek or one of the early recensions can be identified, it is difficult to know the date and provenance of the interpretation implied in the translation. Although the Greek translation of the Torah probably stems from Alexandria in the third century BCE, this same context cannot be assumed for other books. Moreover, to clarify the import of an individual variant, it would have to be set within the overal interpretive tendenz of a book or section, a subject about which little is often known. Finally, differences between the Old Greek and the Hebrew of the MT that are perceived as interpretive moves on the part of the translators could at times be the result of the translator using a Vorlage different from the MT. In sum, there are adequate reasons for pessimism about using the LXX for tracking the davidic dynasty tradition in early Judaism. (pp 128-129)

He then goes on to touch, out of all the LXX, solely on 2 Sam 7.11b, Jer 33.14-26, Ezek 34.23-24, and the rendering of צמח by ἀνατέλλω and related words. Thus his complete treatment of the Septuagint evidence appears on three and one-half pages in his book. Now, I simply cannot believe that. Three and a half pages! He gives Sirach about twenty-one and a half pages (which is a sop of sorts as Sirach is actually considered part of the Septuagint, of course). What I see above in the excerpt is someone who was very well aware of some work to be done (note that he seems to have had at least some grasp of the necessary direction of investigation) and yet simply didn’t do it. Now, I doubt that in this day and age, not yet even twenty years after this dissertation was written, Pomykala would say the same thing, nor would he be able to, fortunately, as Septuagint studies have proceeded apace in that time. And I would like to think that no committee today would let such an important source on messianism as the Septuagint slip through the grasp of their chilly spectacles. And there is much there there, as Horbury, inter alia, makes clear, as will be described below.

Is it Pomykala’s galling dismissiveness of the Septuagint that makes me similarly dismissive of his book? Partly, yes. But it is more the fact that this is a book which is itself easily dismissed. What I took away from this reading was a general unconcern with doing too much in-depth work with the sources, but with describing what work was done with quite a lot of verbiage. His conclusion is that Davidic messianism was not found in the literature between the Hebrew Bible and the mid-first century BCE Psalms of Solomon. Of course, one finds what one looks for, as the restrictions placed by Pomykala on what he might consider evidence of Davidic Messianism therefore leads him to find little evidence. While on the one hand limiting himself to explicit mention of the Davidic connection with the messiah, and on the other hand ignoring inconvenient sources (the richness of the Septuagint being the chief of these), Pomykala was certain to come to some very particular conclusions on the matter, but these are irrelevant. I can no more trust them to be properly representative of the literature (whether read or unread) than the wrinkles in my palm, which by some contrivance I might designate them representative of the literature. So contrived and restricted a study is worthless. That may be harsh, but we will see some other more comprehensive treatments given below which not only come to conclusions diametrically opposed to Pomykala, but that cover a wealth of literature more than what he covered. I think here especially of Horbury but also of Collins & Collins. So, this Pomykala volume is another curiosity of the history of scholarship, but by no means compelling, and certainly not probative. Someone seeking a comprehensive treatment of the subject of the Davidic Messiah in early Judaism will need to look elsewhere (and there are some hearty recommendations below!).

William Horbury, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (SCM Press Ltd, 1998). This book is well-known. It stirred up something of a hornets’ nest at its release by re-opening (through machine-gunning evidence into the picture) the question of the consistent presence of Messianism in (for lack of a better term) the intertestamental period. Horbury (and others) were right, however: there is evidence for such a presence, however attentuated and however equivocal, thoughout. They were also right to decry a too-restrictive scholarly definition of messiah (à la Mowinckel) which was restricting the understanding of texts. In the intertestamental period it is much easier to explain the presence of messianism (changing though it may be) than its absence, in fact, looking through the various usages and interpretations of Scripture throughout these times, and inducing the motivations behind that usage. There was a consistent (though not universal) interest throughout on the Davidic Messiah. Horbury is a past master of the evidence. It’s really quite astonishing the variety of sources he’s addressed and the competence he displays in systematizing the results. It’s shocking, really. It’s a book that rewards study, but from which one is given an exhaustive picture of Jewish Messianism leading up to the early Christian period. This book, in combination with Collins & Collins below, takes top prize, for clarity of expression, quality of scholarship, and for fascinating subject matter. The more expansive nature of this volume by Horbury edges it slightly ahead of the more restricted treatment of Collins & Collins (on which, see below) though, in my estimation.

Another one by William Horbury, Messianism among Jews and Christians: Twelve Biblical and Historical Studies (T & T Clark, 2003), is a collection of reworked articles arranged into three categories. In “The Second Temple Period” we find “Messianism in the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha”, “The Gifts of God in Ezekiel the Tragedian”, and “Herod’s Temple and ‘Herod’s Day'”. In the section “The New Testament” we have “The Messianic Associations of ‘the Son of Man'”, “The Twelve and the Phylarchs”, “Jerusalem in Pre-Pauline and Pauline Hope”, “The Aaronic Priesthood in the Epistle to the Hebrews”, and “Septuagintal and New Testament Conceptions of the Church”. In the final section, “Synagogue and Church in the Roman Empire”, are the chapters “Messianism among Jews and Christians in the Second Century”, “Suffering and Messianism in Yose ben Yose”, “Antichrist among Jews and Gentiles”, and “The Cult of Christ and the Cult of the Saints”. As I recall, the articles touching on messianism included herein don’t differ substantially from Horbury’s treatment in the 1998 monograph. This is, however, a very interesting excursus into a scholar’s subjects of interest, and an opportunity to enjoy his scholarship a bit more. In a relationship to the earlier monograph, I’d say this book sits in an ancillary position, not quite as an appendix, but as further background.

Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Eerdmans, 2008). The title fairly well says it all. The Davidic King was considered the Son of God and thus somehow divine, though we have no evidence of a cult of the king. His expected scion, the Messiah, is likewise the Son of God, and likewise considered somehow divine. There are, however, numerous interesting complications! This book was good fun. It’s split between the two authors equitably, with the first four chapters (“The King as Son of God”, “The Kingship in Deuteronomistic and Prophetic Literature”, “Messiah and Son of God in the Hellenistic Period”, “Messiah and Son of Man”) by Mr Collins, and the last four chapters (“Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in the Letters of Paul”, “Jesus as Messiah and Son of God in the Synoptic Gospels”, “Jesus as Son of Man”, “Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man in the Gospel and Revelation of John”) by Mrs Collins. This is a fine overview of the subject matter, and laid out in a clear and concise fashion by Collins & Collins. In conjunction with Horbury’s monograph, with this book one would have a relatively complete and thoroughly updated treatment on the Davidic Messiah. And while I’m sure there are those who would disagree with one or another Collins (I had some minor, forgettable, quibbles in reading), or Horbury (as some have, including Mr Collins), the overlap in their conclusions is striking, and provides a new direction in understanding how this man Jesus was considered the Son of God in several different ways, stressing the Davidic Messianic aspect, which is often laid to the side in NT and early Christian studies. Hopefully these works will help bring that back to the center.

Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1998). I picked this up and finished it in two sittings just to refresh myself with it. I remember the ruckus this kicked up when it was released, mostly good. But I wanted to see where this fit in with my reading on Messianism and with the idea of the Davidic Messiah’s divine Sonship being key to the understanding of Jesus as Christ. Bauckham doesn’t really touch on the Davidic Messianic aspect, but his little book (which is still thoroughly enjoyable) is not worth less for that. This will make more sense if you, O reader, had just read all the above immediately before reading this little tome by Bauckham, but here goes. Bauckham treats essentially the same issue as that of Horbury and Collins & Collins, even though he lacks the Messiah as Son of God aspect to his argument. That is, the description of application of divinity, whether directly divine or angelically so or some other consideration (as Bauckham’s “identity” is), is an issue no matter the subject’s ultimate derivation. In fact much of the argumentation is familiar from the discussion in those other authors’ works on just this subject. However, the key to pulling all of this together is clearly the Davidic Messiah as Son of God, and this key is something that Bauckham lacks. With that addition, this brilliant little book could be stellar.

In the category of Hermeneusis

Jon Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993). I read this on the heels of Michael Legaspi’s The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford, 2010), my copy of which is now making the rounds of Bay Area Orthodox Christian clergy. I had earlier picked this book up on the recommendation of Levenson himself, when I wrote with some bibliographic questions while reading Anders Gerdmar’s Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism (Brill, 2009). Levenson draws important attention to a fact that’s often overlooked: Biblical Studies was a field invented by Protestants, for Protestants, and is thus thoroughly Protestant in its nature. He brings refreshing insight (I wish he’d write more on the subject) in addressing the issue as an observant Jew. There are not just “religious” differences involved here. The problem lies deeper than such a superficial label, and most seem prepared only to ignore it (and those who mention it) rather than address it. The book is comprised of six articles, all of which originated as lectures: “The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism”, “Why Jews Are Not Interested in Biblical Theology”, “The Eighth Principle of Judaism and the Literary Simultaneity of Scripture”, “Theological Consensus of Historicist Evasion? Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies”, “Historical Criticism and the Fate of the Enlightenment Project”, “Exodus and Liberation.” These are fascinating reading, all of a piece, addressing a sharp critique to blindered devotees of a particular brand of scholarship.

Michael Gorman, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2009). I re-read this in preparation for tackling Douglas Campbell The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Eerdmans, 2009). Why precisely did I think that would be useful? Primarily because both writers take issue with “Justification” as understood in a rather stereotypical form, one which Campbell demolishes, methodically, over the course of his book. Gorman presents a reading of Paul that is much more familiar to an Orthodox Christian reader, not least because of his explicit reference to Orthodox theological terminology (note the “kenosis” and “theosis” in the subtitle). But there is also something about this book that, for all its familiarity, is somewhat foreign. I thought a rather apt simile to be the reading of a biography of a beloved aunt written by a complete stranger who knew neither the aunt nor the family. Perhaps that’s too far. Still, it must be remembered that a few terms does not an Orthodox theology make. It could actually be considered a kind of compliment the kind of unease that this little book generated in me at times, because so often it seemed that I in fact was reading an Orthodox theology (which is a good thing), and then was rudely reminded by some odd phrase or jarringly un-Orthodox concept (I shan’t elaborate) that I should be paying more attention. So, good on Gorman, for slipping through my defenses that way! Anything that gets people to be more familiar with the theology of Orthodoxy is welcome, as long as they do take the effort to explore the Orthodox sources. Relying on secondary or tertiary distillations may be what some people are more comfortable with, but anyone who is supposedly devoted to an ad fontes approach to theology needs to make the effort to delve into the riches of Orthodox theology.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 3rd ed: 2003). I don’t tend to read these kinds of books very often, these little handbooks on “how to read the Bible.” There are too many presuppositions involved in their writing that are not presuppositions that fit my nature and that of my Communion. In this case, I read the book twice. Once was a general reading in which I simply appreciated the book’s structure and easy, friendly tone, and noted that it is in fact a fairly helpful book in explaining to the typical Anglophonic Christian how to go about reading the Bible in a way that is fruitful. Then I read it a second time, in which I evaluated it for its use for an Orthodox Christian as a guide toward a fruitful reading of the Bible. My objections were so many, and so fundamental, that I had to cease taking such notes lest I write fully another book in objections alone! The largest objection was to the insistence that an individual reader (reading in translation!) is actually more or less qualified to pronounce upon the authentic meaning and value of Scripture alone. When it comes to something like bicycle assembly instructions, I would be willing to agree that individuals are relatively competent in a reading of such instructions without reference to any other authority. However, when it comes to Scripture, authored by God the Holy Spirit through the Prophets and Apostles, who were given an authority to do so by God, then we come to a different paradigm. Not every Christian is a Prophet or Apostle, though some would wrongly say they are. There are systems of authority and responsibility shown in both Old and New Testaments, and they maintain order. And it is the responsibility in particular of the bishops (“overseers”) to maintain a strict oversight of the faith in regards to supposition and interpretation, to prevent heresy from taking root and schism occurring, taking souls out of the bosom of Christ and into the clutches of heresy. Protestants deny this picture of authority as benevolent order, thus they have thousands upon thousands of sects, somehow reconciling that chaos with the unity of Christ (don’t ask me how). Anyhow, the lack of reference to the Church Fathers in Orthodox Biblical interpretation would be completely unthinkable, and as at some point or other, this little book advocates for precisely that lack of dogmatic oversight, it won’t work for Orthodox Christians.

Fr Theodore Stylianopoulos, The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective. Volume One: Scripture, Tradition, Hermeneutics (Holy Cross, 1997). I re-read this to “cleanse the palate” after the How to… book. I would still like to see volume two appear. This book is a very interesting introduction to Orthodox reading of Scripture in a modern context, interacting with a number of perspectives respectfully. Fr Stylianopoulos was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing this particular Orthodox hermeneutic (exegesis > interpretation > transformation) to the attention of scholarship at large through his own publications and lectures. This book functions as a good introduction to reading the Scriptures for an Orthodox Christian. I’d like to see more on the Old Testament, though. That’s been a kind of blind spot through most translation and other projects lately, where emphasis is placed on resources related to the New Testament writings. There is a wealth of Orthodox writing on the Old Testament, however, and it needs to be brought together for the benefit of readers, Orthodox or not, of the Old Testament. Hopefully whoever takes up such a task will write with the wisdom and gentle authority of Fr Stylianopoulos!

Peter Leithhart, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Baylor, 2009). This one was recommended to me from several different directions. Such a concatenation of recommendations is striking, so I took note and ordered the thing. I was quite happy to have done so! For one thing, this book on reading is extraordinarily well-written, which is a rare thing. It was a real pleasure to read. And, whereas the little How to… book bore somewhat of an antagonistic stance toward the Apostolic and Patristic readings of Scripture, this book embraces both, particularly the former, tracing how the Apostles as thinkers and authors wrote with a Scriptural mind, and how the Fathers used the same principles in their interpretations, so that there is a more organic continuation between the two than some might think. This continuity is available to readers still, too.

I think I’ll finish this up tomorrow. There are six more books to cover.