Reviews of this summer’s reading

Well, summer is slipping away with barely a peep on things that matter from this source. I apologize to you, my longsuffering readers. It’s certainly the case that once one breaks the habit of daily writing that it is difficult to get back to it. Nonetheless, I have many things to write on.

This post will thus attempt to make up for lost time in presenting short reviews of some of the offline reading that I’ve been doing over the last couple of months. Let us dispense with the chit-chat and get down to the brass tacks! I present these roughly in the order I read them.

The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism. Douglas Burton-Christie. (Oxford University Press, 1993)
I’ve mentioned this book in two previous posts (here and here) to which I refer the reader. The gist of my impression: This is a good book to have as an introduction to reading the Apophthegmata Patrum, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, if one is curious about the level to which Scripture plays a part in the lives and sayings of these early desert monastic Saints. Some, of course (illiterate though such an idea is) find their ways “unbiblical.” Through the course of the book Burton-Christie demonstrates the complete internalization of the Scriptures by the monks, not just through memorization of entire swaths of Scripture, but through true internalization: the process of intellectual and Spiritual digestion, with such food building up the New Man. This book, in conjunction with Derwas Chitty’s classic The Desert a City (now published in paperback by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press) would be indispensible for those needing a quick introduction to the ethos and history of desert monasticism.

Biblical Interpretation in the Russian Orthodox Church: A Historical and Hermeneutical Perspective (Mohr Siebeck, 2008). I’ve also mentioned this book briefly before, here. This is a fascinating book. A peculiarity of Russian scholarship (not to mention historical events) has rendered an account of the development of post-Enlightenment Russian Orthodox Biblical Interpretation impossible to write for those outside of Russia. This difficulty lies in the fact that the vast majority of Russian theological (as well as other) scholarship was conducted in journals, copies of which simply do not exist outside of Russia. This has led to any number of half-baked and even wildly incorrect perspectives (which shall remain unnamed) on the subject when based solely on monographic data. Negrov (a former Orthodox Christian, now the headmaster of a Russian Evangelical school, The St Petersburg Christian University) did the work, and did it well. This is essentially a history of Biblical interpretation in Russian Orthodoxy from the Kievan period to the early Bolshevik period, with some incidental mention of later developments. There is a long excursus (chapter 5, of about 120 pages), presenting as a representative example of the height of development one of the more well-respected of Biblical interpreters in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russia: Bishop Vasilii Bogdashevskii.

The Old Testament in Byzantium. Editors Paul Magdalino and Robert Nelson (Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010). In conjunction with the well-known exhibit in the Freer Gallery of Art, “In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000” (October 2006 to January 2007), the symposium “The Old Testament in Byzantium” was held in early December 2006 in the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery. Edited versions of the papers presented, with a substantial introduction by the editors, are included herein: Introduction by Paul Magdalino and Robert Nelson; Nicholas de Lange, “The Greek Bible Translations of the Byzantine Jews”; James Miller, “The Prophetologion: The Old Testament of Byzantine Christianity”; Georgi Parpulov, “Psalters and Personal Piety in Byzantium”; John Lowden, “Illustrated Octateuch Manuscripts: A Byzantine Phenomenon”; Elizabeth Jeffreys, “Old Testament ‘History’ and the Byzantine Chronicle”; Claudia Rapp, “Old Testament Models for Emperors in Early Byzantium”; Derek Krueger, “The Old Testament and Monasticism”; Robert Ousterhout, “New Temples and New Solomons: The Rhetoric of Byzantine Architecture”; Ivan Biliarsky, “Old Testament Models and the State in Early Medieval Bulgaria”; Jane Dammen McAuliffe, “Connecting Moses and Muhammad.” Obviously this is a very interesting lineup, and I enjoyed the various papers immensely. Still, I want someone (please God, don’t make it have to be me!) to write a full monograph on the subject of “The Old Testament in Byzantium”, focusing particularly on synchronic and diachronic accounts of hermeneutical trends and tropes through the ages of the Roman Empire and beyond, into contemporary Orthodoxy neo-Patristic interpretation. All of the data exist in the vast wealth of (largely untranslated!) Patristic writing and related theological, historical, and legal documentation. The papers in this volume point the way. I just hope that there’s some intrepid and qualified explorer who will take up the challenge. Let it be soon!

From Ikaria to the Stars: Classical Mythification, Ancient and Modern, Peter Green (University of Texas Press, 2004). I don’t think there’s any Classicist who is more of a delight to read than Peter Green. Urbane, witty, and both broadly and deeply intimate with the literature, primary and secondary, and yet maintaining a pragmatic approach to the sources that eschews egregiously de mode methods, Green is always an educational read. That is to say, one will always benefit from rereading Green, as well. This book presents a collection of his articles ranging over the last thirty years, with some of them substantially reworked so that they are essentially new publications: “‘These Fragments Have I Shored against My Ruins”: Apollonius Rhodius and the Social Revalidation of Myth for a New Age”; “The Flight Plan of Daedalus”; “Works and Days 1-285: Hesiod’s Invisible Audience”; “Athenian History and Historians in the Fifth Century B.C.”; “The Metamorphosis of the Barbarian: Athenian Panhellenism in a Changing World”; “Text and Context in the Matter of Xenophon’s Exile”; “Rebooking the Flute-Girls: A Fresh Look at the Chronological Evidence for the Fall of Athens and the Eight-Month Rule of the Thirty”; “A Variety of Greek Appetites”; “Alexander’s Alexandria”; “The Muses’ Birdcage, Then and Now”; “How Political Was the Stoa?”; “Ancient Ethics, Modern Therapy”; “Getting to Be a Star: The Politics of Catasterism”; “The Innocence of Procris: Ovid AA 3.687-746″; “Magic and the Principle of Apparent Causality in Pliny’s Natural History“; Appendix A: “Tanglewood Tales for the Yuppies”; Appendix B: “Homer for the Kiddies.” Various of these articles in their course become review articles of one book or another the point of which Green is systematically and convincingly demolishing, to one degree or another. In all of them, possibly why the adjective “urbane” comes to mind first as a description of the author, Green maintains a deeply cultured voice, one that is as familiar with the modern world as one could be, and who is as familiar with the ancient world as it is possible to be from this distance. Though I’ve heard from other classicists that Green is considered something of a maverick, I don’t see that the reputation is quite warranted. What he is is a classical classicist: that is, a classicist who is representative of old ways of doing the Classics, when the classicist actually needed to, you know, learn the languages and know the history beyond just well enough to fool the plebes. Green is also able to argue a point with a commonsensical pragmatism that is so foreign to much modern scholarship, besotted with its isms as the latter is. In that sense, I suppose he is a kind of maverick, a sort of rebel in not embracing the latest trends, just because one must embrace them to be considered “contemporary” or “modern”. This has always struck me as ridiculous in anyone doing studies of languages and texts from the ancient world, and it does the same in Green. So that’s surely another reason that I enjoy his writing so: it’s subversive. Tee hee.

Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, Peter Green (University of California Press, 1990). Yes, it’s that Peter Green. This is his magisterial history of the Hellenistic Age. You simply must read it if you’re at all interested in understanding that period of time. One note: this is a huge volume, so I would recommend the hardcover edition. I can’t imagine how one would read the paperback anywhere except on a table, as it would flop all over the place.

I will continue with some further reviewlets tomorrow!


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