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Book Review: The Epistle to Digonetus (With the Fragment of Quadratus)

Book Review: The Epistle to Digonetus (With the Fragment of Quadratus)


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It has been over 60 years since a critical edition of The Epistle to Diognetus was published in English. That edition, by Henry Meecham, stood the tests of time well. But with the advent of Oxford University Press's Oxford Apostolic Fathers series, Clayton N. Jefford has produced a worthy successor. His volume, as with each volume in the Oxford Apostolic Fathers series, consists of three parts: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. The introduction provides the basis and framework for establishing the Greek text as well as the translation and commentary, and as such will be the primary focus of this review.

Jefford sets the context for his discussion well. Today, only one manuscript is known to contain this material, and it was subsequently lost in a fire. Only three early transcriptions of the text were completed and subsequent Greek editions are based on that material. Based on his evaluations of those transcriptions, Jefford concludes the manuscript itself was even harder to read and decipher and more lacunose than notes in modern editions lead one to believe. The result of this work is immediately apparent in the scope and detail of the apparatus provided for the Greek text. This is valuable information that has not been available in a single edition and is essential knowledge for those doing serious work involving this text.

Jefford next delves into provenance, which is difficult. There is no longer any existing manuscript witness, little is known about where it came from, and only qualified guessing can be done on any of these topics. There have been several possible authors suggested, all of them supposition. Intelligently argued, many of them, but all constrained to the incredibly small pool of names we actually know and settings we actually understand. Jefford does a good job navigating this tension and reviewing the options and the cases for and against them, even including more recent approaches, such as Charles Hill’s thesis of authorship which points to Polycarp. Jefford, cautious here as in his other work, mentions the possibilities, weighs in on some of them, but is rightly hesitant to point to a specifically named person as the author of this work.

The majority of scholars of early Christianity see Diognetus as two parts. Charles Hill has recently and somewhat persuasively argued that these two sections, despite the lacuna, are of the same author and they should be considered as a whole. Jefford upholds the consensus that the two parts are not directly related, using the more developed forms of arguments Hill has largely anticipated in his work asserting their unity. Regarding integrity, Jefford again hints of his development theory, noting that while the latter portion is an edition, he allows for extensive editorial action to conform the first section with the last section more seamlessly.

Regarding the relationship between Epistle to Diognetus and Scripture, Jefford provides an amazing array of intertextual possibilities. He interacts with Michael Bird's recent work on the relationship between Epistle to Diognetus and Paul's epistles, and also with the well-known reflection of Johannine language.

From here, Jefford moves from review of scholarship and development into positing his own ideas on Diognetus. Though his examination of structure, development, integrity, and relation to Scripture in the introduction, Jefford identifies material that he sees as largely secondary and not necessary for the core of the work. He isolates and removes this material, leaving just the core, which he considers “the rough form of what may once have been oral performance” (p.117).

Jefford has defended his proposal well, but this reviewer thinks suggestions like his prompt more questions than they solve. There are questions about any revisions or edits to the text and who might have made them. If oral, did the original author expand the edition for written publication? When did these editorial expansions happen, and why? What source did they come from? In Jefford's defense, he does frame his discussion well. He notes that his proposal is not a certain and he is more convinced of the generalities of it than any specifics he may elucidate in the discussion.

In sum, Jefford's edition has become the essential reference on all things having to do with The Epistle to Diognetus. Scholars working with it or with texts that may share some intertextual relation with it should take the time to consult and benefit from Jefford's work.

Bibliographical Information

Clayton N. Jefford. The Epistle to Diognetus (with the fragment of Quadratus): Introduction, Text, and Commentary . Oxford Apostolic Fathers. Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. ix + 281. ISBN: 978-0-19-921274-3. $185.00 [Hardback].



About the Author:
Rick Brannan

Rick Brannan is information architect at Logos Bible Software. His research interests coalsce around the Bible, Apostolic Fathers, Hellenistic Greek, and technology. He is the general editor of the Lexham English Septuagint (2012), translator and editor of The Apostolic Fathers in English (2012), and editor of Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha (2013).

Website:
rickbrannan.com

Book Review: Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa

Book Review: Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa


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One of the most recent offerings in contemporary discourse on the theology of Gregory of Nyssa (CE 335–394) is Hans Boersma’s Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa: An Anagogical Approach, published by Oxford University Press in their Early Christian Studies series. This text represents a critical entry into the ongoing Nyssen discussion on body and gender, as well as broader discussions of the interpretation of Scripture and virtue ethics in a Christian historical perspective.

Boersma approaches Nyssen on his own terms in order to represent the anagogical theology of this fourth century Christian thinker free from notions of a postmodern deconstructionist program. The totality of Gregory’s theology, according to Boersma, is analogical and the theme of virtue is “pervasive throughout Gregory’s writings” (p.4). Boersma argues against those who take embodiment language too far, admitting that recent treatments “do not do justice to his overall thought” (p.11). For Gregory, the move from literal to spiritual readings is related “virtuous ascent away from bodily passions to a proper desire for God” (p.14). Additionally, Boersma highlights the idea of participation in the divine. This virtuous life is participation in Christ, and as Boersma demonstrates, this facet of Nyssen’s theology avoids the pitfall of moralism for which recent treatments have argued.

Boersma uses the concept of the body as a lens for his discussion. Chapter one establishes the idea of the “measured body.” The here and now—including a Christian’s anagogical ascent by means of virtue—is part of temporal extension, and for Gregory, “[does] not properly characterize the human destiny” (p.22). Boersma thoughtfully connects Gregory’s understanding of the eschaton as the “eighth day” to the anagogical approach as a foundation for his understanding of growth in virtue. The resurrection of Christ inaugurates the initial participation, and a life of virtue allows one “to ascend so as to participate more fully in this new mode of life” (p.44). Thus, entry into the “eighth day” for Gregory “is predicated upon repentance and a life of virtue” (p.43). In chapter two, Boersma explores the idea of epistemological humility in the exegesis of Nyssen. While interpreting figuratively based on the taxis of the salvific economy, Gregory does not give himself license to neglect the theologia of Scripture—figurative interpretation does not mean “open-ended” (p.66). Scripture is vital to a virtuous life, requiring humility in approaching the text. No better place illustrates this fact for Gregory than the Psalter. Boersma explains, “[The] aim of the Psalter is to reshape us by means of virtue into the divine likeness, so that Christ may be formed in us” (p.74). The spiritual skopos of the text is key for Gregory and necessary for attuning our lives to virtue like a finely tuned instrument (p.74, 77).

Chapters three and four provide readers with a necessary corrective regarding the concept of virginity in Gregory’s thought. Feminist scholars such as Sarah Coakley, Elizabeth Clark and Virginia Burrhus have led the main discourse on gender in Nyssen. Boersma’s interaction is a welcomed addition. Virginity, for Gregory, provides an image of moral purity and “encompasses all human virtues” (p.120). The virginal life of Macrina “gives us an anticipatory glance into the virginal life of the resurrection” (p.87). As such, bodily existence for Gregory is not unimportant. If growth in virtue is the goal of participation in Christ, then having “tunics of hide” aids in growth by presenting opportunities to choose vice instead of virtue (p.134). The goal is not disembodiment—the goal is total embodiment in the likeness of Christ. In chapters five through seven, Boersma highlights Gregory’s ethical concerns both inside and outside of the church. Slavery is deplorable based on common humanity and the reality of the imago dei. Likewise, Nyssen sharply denounces greed in the face of poverty and homelessness. Concluding the text in chapter seven, Boersma argues against the notion of Gregory as a strict moralist. Responding to the thesis of Werner Jaeger and others, Boersma maintains that a thoroughly theological reading of Gregory rescues him from the charge of moralism. Boersma concludes by affirming the uniqueness of Nyssen as a “thoroughly otherworldly theologian” (p.246).

Boersma offers a corrective to the postmodern reading of Gregory that emphasizes embodiment to the neglect of theology. His theological reading of Gregory dissolves misreadings of Nyssen’s supposed moralism. That being said, Boersma could have clarified certain points of Nyssen’s theology. For example, if Nyssen believes in bodily extension in time and space only in our current state, how can he logically affirm a bodily resurrection? Doesn’t the resurrection assume some sort of extension throughout time and space? Additionally, a tension exists in how growth in virtue is seen as a form of escape from bodily existence. The observation that Gregory is a foremost “otherworldly theologian” helps explain this view of escapism, but Boersma could have done more to explain whether or not this amounts to a kind of dualism in Gregory. Additionally, Boersma could have done more to bring out the “here and now” implications of Nyssen’s thought.

In the preface, Boersma offers a refreshing confession—he did not discover in Gregory what he had set out to find. He was surprised at how little Gregory affirms how the “entire created order—including embodied existence—participates sacramentally in eternal realities” (p.vii). Despite this admission, Embodiment and Virtue is a welcomed addition to Nyssen scholarship. It is an especially helpful text to students of early Christian anthropology and ethics. It should also serve well as a text for courses in Cappadocian theology in general. On his own admission, Boerma’s expectations were only half met, yet his exploration of Gregory, including his anagogical theology and emphasis on virtue, will serve scholarship well for the next generation of Nyssen scholars.

Bibliographical Information

Hans Boersma. Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa: An Anagogical Approach. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xviii + 283. ISBN: 978-0-199-64112-3. $135.00 [Hardback].



About the Author:
Coleman M. Ford

Coleman is currently a Ph.D. student in Church History and Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His research interests lie in the concept of virtue in the patristic tradition, patristic ethics, patristic exegesis, reception history of the church fathers, and Christian ethics.

Twitter:
@colemanford
Website:
https://colemanford.wordpress.com

Book Review: Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp

Book Review: Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp


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With essentially two volumes in one, Paul Hartog provides the entry for Polycarp’s writings in the Oxford Apostolic Fathers Oxford University Press series. For each of Polycarp’s writings, Hartog provides substantial introductions, Greek text with English translation, and commentary. This review consists of interaction with the introductory materials of both The Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom, along with brief notes on the Hartog’s text and commentary.

Before the material on each writing, Hartog sets the tone with an overview of Polycarp the person, his genuine and falsely-attributed writings, and other early Christian literature about Polycarp. Much of the surviving literature about Polycarp is hagiographical in nature, and dubious in its preservation of historical fact. Yet the understanding of how the early church viewed Polycarp is within that material, so it has value for the historian and student of the early church. Other information about Polycarp which is more likely to be valid, such as Polycarp’s location—Smyrna, his status as bishop, and what can be ascertained of his relationship with the Apostle John as well as Irenaeus.

Hartog’s presentation follows the traditional order of composition, with The Epistle to the Philippians first. The introduction is split into 14 sections spanning over 50 pages. He starts with the historical setting and quickly moves into discussions of textual tradition, authenticity, unity of the epistle, and date. The larger questions today revolve around authenticity and unity of the letter. Hartog interacts with all major theories and their development, providing a map to existing literature through discussion in the text and footnotes.

Hartog continues with shorter sections on genre and style, occasion and purpose, and themes of the epistle. Following these is an extensive section on intertextuality. As many readers of Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians are quick to discover, the epistle’s language is infused with the language of the New Testament. Yet discerning and tracing the influence of the Bible on Polycarp’s writing is a difficult task. Hartog, well versed in this area due to his previous work on the relationship between Polycarp and the New Testament, provides an expansive overview to the issue of intertextuality in Polycarp’s letter.

Hartog rounds out the introduction with sections on Polycarp and Paul, theology, opponents, avarice and heresy, and influence. These sections provide necessary background to themes within the letter and the scholarly discussion on their significance.

Hartog’s edition, apparatus, and translation of Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians is presented next with Greek/Latin and English on facing pages. While the sigla in the apparatus are explained in the introduction, the structure and symbols of the apparatus (e.g. parentheses, angle brackets) are not. Each chapter and verse are given in their own paragraph in both edition and translation, which leaves the reader with no insight from the editor on where discourse-level segmentation such as paragraph breaks may occur.

Hartog’s introduction to The Martyrdom of Polycarp runs over 70 pages. He covers roughly the same sorts of introductory matters—authorship, recipients, text, authenticity, date, and historicity—as he did in the introduction to Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians. As with the previous introduction, the section on intertextuality functions as a boundary between historico-critical introductory matters and issues related to content and understanding of the document. This section also highlights the lack of any direct interaction between the Martrydom and canonical Christian texts.

The introduction continues with sections on theology, view of martyrdom, anti-montanism, Jewish-Christian tradition, legal issues, prayer, and influence. As with other sections, this material provides discussion on these issues among current scholarship with several citations for the motivated reader to follow.

The Greek text and apparatus of the Martyrdom is based on Dehandschutter’s critical text; the translation is Hartog’s. It, as well, has each verse (or section) as its own paragraph, leaving any higher level discourse segmentation such as paragraphing as an exercise to the reader.

Hartog’s commentary on both The Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom lead the reader through respective texts, highlighting translation issues and text-critical issues. His interaction with the available literature is significant, providing discussion and reference to further sources through the footnotes at nearly every point possible.

The entire volume is meticulously researched. The bibliography and footnotes as well as the degree of interaction with German literature not readily accessible to most readers are the obvious strengths of this volume. These factors set Hartog’s work apart. Yet at several points this reviewer felt as if Hartog was focused more on presenting what each consulted source reported about a particular fact, feature, or problem and less focused on presenting what Hartog himself concluded regarding the same issue.

Bibliographical Information

Paul Hartog. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. Oxford Apostolic Fathers. Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xi + 402. ISBN: 978-0-19-922839-3. $275.00 [Hardback].



About the Author:
Rick Brannan

Rick Brannan is information architect at Logos Bible Software. His research interests coalsce around the Bible, Apostolic Fathers, Hellenistic Greek, and technology. He is the general editor of the Lexham English Septuagint (2012), translator and editor of The Apostolic Fathers in English (2012), and editor of Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha (2013).

Website:
rickbrannan.com

Book Review: Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation

Book Review: Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation


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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation (OEBI) is an invaluable resource for scholars, and especially those in biblical studies. Steven McKenzie and his editorial team have produced a volume that combines accessibility, clarity, and eruditeness. The contributors include both well-established and emerging scholars from a variety of fields and from different global and cultural vantage points. Each of the essays, organized alphabetically, is a few thousand words in length and includes a—many times annotated—bibliography. The second volume helpfully includes at the end a list of contributors and their essays, an index, and a topical outline of contents. This last feature is especially beneficial, as it assists the reader in locating essays for which they may be unsure of the title. The topical outline is also useful for potential buyers, since it demonstrates what the dictionary does and does not cover. The topics listed are “The Biblical World,” “The Biblical Text,” “Literary Approaches,” “Cultural Approaches,” Ideological Approaches,” “Philosophical Approaches,” and “Political Approaches.”

One should notice from this list that the dictionary’s primary aim is to cover the various interpretive approaches in biblical studies, rather than provide comprehensive coverage of other topics like biblical content, theology, and history. The editors chose to use Paul Ricoeur’s “. . . rubric of the worlds behind the text, of the text, and in front of the text,” as a means of choosing topics (p.xix). Also of note is the fact that the OEBI is available in both print and electronic format, and McKenzie gives the impression that the electronic version may be updated on occasion with new articles (p.xx).

Readers of this journal will be particularly interested in and benefit from the following essays: “Allegory and Allegorical Interpretation” (Mark W. Elliott), “Authority of the Bible” (William W. Klein), “Canonical Criticism” (Corrine L. Carvalho), “Canon of the Bible” (Hal Taussig), “Evangelical Interpretation” (Walter C. Kaiser Jr.), “Inner-biblical Interpretation” (G. Brooke Lester), “Intertextuality (B. J. Oropeza), “Patristic Interpretation” (Paul M. Blowers), and “Theological Interpretation” (Craig Bartholomew).

As with any edited volume, some essays are stronger than others. This reviewer found the articles on theological interpretation and patristic interpretation to be particularly well written and beneficial. Each of the others mentioned, as well as all those included in the volume, are careful, scrupulously researched, and helpful for readers. Nevertheless, this reviewer was left with some questions after reading a few of the articles. First, at times Mark Elliott’s essay on allegory seemed to oscillate between organizational methods, namely historical and categorical. While this could be a natural consequence of the ebb and flow of allegorical approaches throughout the history of interpretation, the shifts from section to section and from one organizational method to another were not always apparent until one was well past the turning point. Second, there are times when the articles can become repetitive, and this is perhaps nowhere more apparent than when one reads the “Inner-biblical Interpretation” and “Intertextuality” articles together. Both of these essays contain large swaths of material that are covered in the other article, and it may have been wiser for the editors to combine these two into one essay.

Third and finally, while not a criticism, readers should remember that much of the OEBI’s content is related to particular interpretive approaches used by certain groups of biblical scholars. This necessarily means that scholars who approach biblical interpretation differently and from different, and even opposing, vantage points will not agree with either the presuppositions or the methods used by various approaches. For instance, non-confessional scholars may have some difficulty with Klein’s article on the authority of the Bible. In one instance, for example, Klein argues that the Bible has a grand narrative, one that “. . . points to the missio Dei, God’s mission of redemption and restoration . . . “ (p.55). Although this reviewer agrees with Klein’s position here, other readers who see more disunity in the biblical corpus from both a narrative and theological perspective may not find his essay as beneficial. Other methodologies covered in the dictionary, such as many of the ideological approaches that have proliferated in the midst of the postmodern turn, may not be as palatable to an evangelical reader.

Regardless, though, of one’s interpretive stance, the OEBI is a premier resource for biblical scholars. It should be owned and consulted for anyone who desires to take seriously the tasks of understanding and undertaking biblical interpretation.

Bibliographical Information

Steven L. McKenzie, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation. 2 Vols. Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xxviii + 559 (vol. 1); Pp. x + 566 (vol. 2). ISBN: 978-0-19-983226-2 (set). $395.00 [Hardcover].



About the Author:
Matthew Y. Emerson