International Septuagint Day 2019


I am pleased that the first post in this blog for the current year, and indeed the first post in exactly 16 months, should appear in celebration of the 13th annual International Septuagint Day—a commemoration vested with enormous significance in the Bouncing into Graceland festal cycle, second only to International Moisés Silva Day (September 4) and just ahead of International Translation Day (September 30, the real feast of St Jerome). It is much to be regretted, however, that in spite of its paramount importance, today’s festival was last mentioned here in 2009, fully a decade ago. With no small amount of remorse, then, yet equally resolved to amend such a grievous misstep, I turn to the solemnities at hand.

Of course you, my gentle snowflakes, will recall that (as I noted back in 2008) Emperor St Justinian’s Novella 146, which legislates the use of the “Greek […] text of the seventy interpreters” in Greek-speaking synagogues, was issued on February 8, A. D. 553. Thus, as the great Bob Kraft has said, the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS) chose this day for the annual commemoration as “reflecting the one date we know of from late antiquity on which LXX/OG/Aquila received special attention.” This is not, however, the whole story.

As you all know, it is the chief burden of Bouncing into Graceland to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of Moisés Silva throughout the land, and Our Infallible Hero is an able Septuagintalist and an IOSCS member of long standing. It should come as no surprise, then, that as a sedulous researcher attuned to all matters Silvanic, I should in time happen upon a genuine Moisifical connection to the establishment of our high festival. And so I should like to direct your attention to the minutes of the IOSCS General Business Meeting held in Washington, D.C., on November 20, 2006, which under item 7a (“Other business from the floor”), states:

“A motion to establish February 8 annually as International Septuagint Day to promote the discipline on our various campuses and communities was moved by Karen Jobes, seconded by James Aitkin and carried” (BIOSCS 40 [2007], 143).

Notice here who made the motion: the divine Karen Jobes, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor Emerita of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College, who is herself a Septuagintalist of note and served at that time as IOSCS Secretary. But how, do you ask, did Professor Jobes become interested in LXX studies in the first place? She explains:

“The inspiration […] was born during my doctoral studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in a course entitled ‘The Greek Old Testament,’ taught by Moisés Silva. I had previously heard Professor Silva comment that this course was the hardest one offered at the seminary. Being a woman who enjoys a reasonable challenge and having become enamored with Biblical Greek, I registered for the course with enthusiasm.

Very quickly I began to appreciate both the technical and conceptual complexities of Septuagint studies. So many of my naive assumptions about texts, manuscripts, and the Scriptures I hold dear were quickly shattered. I began to see a more profound, mysterious, and wonderful picture that captured my scholarly imagination. I’ve been hooked on Septuagint studies ever since” (Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015], xiii).

This led eventually to her dissertation on The Alpha-Text of Esther: Its Character and Relationship to the Masoretic Text (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1996) under the direction of Our Infallible Hero, to her sustained attention to the LXX in her distinguished teaching and scholarship, and indeed to the above documented motion at the IOSCS General Business Meeting on November 20, 2006, which established our honored festival day. And so it all harks back to one scholar’s (undoubtedly often thankless) service to the discipline, which captivated the imagination of a student who became a brilliant scholar in her own right, and who has since led several of her own students down the same path. May their tribe increase!

In addition to her above mentioned works on the LXX, Professor Jobes has also produced the introduction and translation of Esther for the New English Translation of the Septuagint, the translation of Esther in the Codex Sinaiticus for the British Library, and in collaboration with several of her students, Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016). She has also published a number of articles on Septuagintal topics, all of which are available for download on her website.

So, with that, a happy International Septuagint Day 2019 to one and all! For other posts in honor of this universal commemoration, see our friend Mike Aubrey’s post over at Koine Greek, which highlights the recently published 2-vol. Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2018) and runs through some linguistic data on ἰσχύ+INF in the LXX, and William Ross’ post over at Septuaginta &c., which features a wonderful interview with Septuagintalist Kristin De Troyer. Incidentally, William Ross has been picking up the slack for our high festival for the past several years, all the while completing his doctorate on the LXX at Cambridge and co-editing the mammoth reader volumes to which we have just referred. You know, no big deal. And last but certainly not least, Marieke Dhont has a fascinating guest post over at the Logos Academic blog on the digitization of LXX manuscripts at the Vatican Apostolic Library.

The Book of the People (of God): A Friendly Rejoinder

One of the pleasures of taking up the blog after so long a time is the chance to revisit, on the one hand, long-forgotten drafts (some nearly finished!) waiting to be published, and on the other, seemingly endless scraps of paper carefully tucked away in my desk drawer, in the hopes that one day I might have occasion to return to them. I had meant to publish a couple of short posts drawn from each of these categories last week, but the toils of life in this fallen world and the infirmities of the flesh prevented me from so doing (though, happily, not from posting altogether). Allow me, then, to resume the program this week, and so bring you a post (and perhaps two others in the near future) that harks back to the golden days of Biblioblogdom. This one happens to have been drafted on the whole in 2008, in response to our good friend Lingamish (a.k.a. David Ker), who has long departed the blogosphere for other (and doubtless more fruitful) fields of endeavor. He is nevertheless sorely missed, not least as a creative force and sparring partner. Here’s to you, Dave. Thanks for all the lingapotami.

linga-hippo-xs-purpleIt appears that our good friend Lingamish is presently distraught because his biblical translation of choice, the Contemporary English Version (CEV), has started to make use of the word “grace” in recent editions. (Previously, he notes, it used exclusively such expressions as “undeserved kindness” and “gift,” depending on the context.) He opines:

“I strongly believe that when a Bible translation uses archaic or insider vocabulary that they are in effect requiring readers to finish the translation for them. This is a half-baked strategy. In essence what the translator is doing is saying, ‘When you read the word grace you shouldn’t understand it as a synonym for elegance like it is used in modern parlance. Instead you should understand it as a deep theological word whose full significance is only accessible to you if you understand my theological framework.’”

This, I should mention, is strongly reminiscent of comments from Barclay Newman in a fascinating interview which we’ve already had occasion to note:

“[T]he word ‘grace,’ of course is absent [from the CEV]. It was brought into the text by John Wycliffe, 1384, when he transliterated the Latin term ‘gratia.’ The problem, of course, the word ‘grace’ today is that it means charm, poise, beauty, loveliness, and you cannot even create a contemporary English sentence using ‘grace’ in the sense that it’s used in the biblical terms, you’re saved by grace. And so we looked at the meaning of the Greek word rather than […] continuing with the […] traditional terminologies.”

Now I realize that this may come as a shock to some, but it bears noting that the Bible, like any other religious text (and more to the point, like any other sacred text), contains a great deal of specialized terminologywhat Lingamish calls “insider vocabulary,” or worse, “Biblish.” This is so because a sacred text both belongs to the community that regards it as sacred and finds its rightful context within it. In turn, the community receives these “insider words” and invests them with expansive meanings that reflect the understanding and experience of the community (i.e., its “theological framework”). Thus we are not dealing merely with shorthand or jargon that can be merrily parsed away by means of circumlocution, but precisely with weighty words whose full significance is indeed only accessible to those connected to the community. Thus, what is needed is not merely for a translation to resolve every conceivable problem in the text, but rather to bring readers into the life of the community. Or, to put it in perfectly traditional Christian “insider words,” what is needed is conversion and catechesis, initiation and mystagogy.

Note that the Christian Bible itself does not take the view that all of its parts are equally clear; II Peter 3:16 explicitly tells us that in St Paul’s epistles, for instance, there are “some things hard to understand.” Nor does Scripture suggest that all of its parts are equally accessible to the general reader apart from the community.1 The episode of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 makes this counterpoint eloquently, particularly in the exchange between St Philip and the Eunuch (vv. 30-31a), which highlights the need for a guide in connection with the act of reading Scripture:

“So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said: ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?'”

Anything to the contrary assumes a view of Scripture which effectively separates it from the life and experience of the community of faith to which it belongs. And indeed, the sort of translation for which our dear friend Lingamish yearns is only possible in a universe where the Bible stands alone, severed from the Church’s reading and use of the Scriptures over two millennia. Not only do I adamantly refuse to be part of such a universe, but I note that it is merely an unattainable mythical creation—not an utopia, even, because there is nothing ideal or desirable about it. Indeed, not even the most fervent biblicist truly believes in such a thing, whatever their protestations. The story is often told of the distinguished Christian preacher convinced that, were Bibles to be dropped in a remote area without previous contact with Western civilization, the people there would necessarily organize Churches of Christ, non-instrumental: that is, that they would replicate exactly (O wonder!) his own community of faith.

Incidentally, during a recent visit [i.e., in 2008] to the Bible Society in Río Piedras, I picked up an inexpensive copy of the Traducción in Lenguaje Actual (TLA), the Spanish equivalent of the CEV. After a week or so of reading several representative portions of this translation, I have only this to say: so help me if I ever again have to read a banal and basically meaningless adjective like special applied to such a wondrous and weighty subject as God’s choosing of a people for his Name!


1 By the same token, neither does the Bible take the view that all of its parts are equally unclear, nor does it suggest that all its parts are equally inaccessible!

Digging for Hidden Treasures in Festschriften


A couple of weeks ago, Eric Smith of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver tweeted, in a bold act of confessio, his considered (but in some quarters quite unpopular) opinion that edited volumes and Festschriften “often contain better, more interesting work than juried articles [and] monographs.” I happen to concur with this eminently sensible judgment, and so replied to express my wholehearted agreement, noting in passing that the late great Bruce Manning Metzger compiled an index (1951, with a supplement in 1955) of articles on the New Testament and the early Church published in Festschriften (pictured above). And in fact, a quick perusal of the works in question reminded me that Professor Metzger himself was in full agreement: he says in the Preface that “the average article in Festschriften is of a higher caliber,” since “every scholar, and particularly a disciple, is quite naturally eager to do honor to his teacher or colleague by producing a contribution of lasting significance.”1

In his memoir Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, to which we have had occasion to refer earlier, Professor Metzger gives a brief account of this bibliographical project. He comments that while “assembling and publishing a Festschrift has been a pleasant way of acknowledging publically the contributions to scholarship made by the person to whom the volume was dedicated,”2 there is a long-acknowledged negative side to such a publication, which he describes with a story from the memoirs of another late great scholar, Frederick Fyvie Bruce:

“Back in my [i.e., Bruce’s] Cambridge days Peter Giles, Master of Emmanuel College, used to tell us that any scholar who wrote an article for a Festschrift might as well dig a hole in his back garden and bury it, for in a year or two it would be forgotten and there would be no convenient means of recording its existence.”3

From this, it is a short distance indeed to R. G. Collingwood’s well-known desideratum that he “may escape otherwise than by death the last humiliation of an aged scholar, when his juniors conspire to print a volume of essays and offer it to him as a sign that they now consider him senile”!4 No wonder that, in addition to being compared a hole in the back garden by Master Giles of Emmanuel, Festschriften have been described as “the graveyard of scholarship”5—both of which endeavors, incidentally, require a fair bit of digging.

Undaunted by these considerations, Professor Metzger relates that, in his “pursuit of fugitive Festschriften” and their hidden treasures, he dug instead “beyond the field of New Testament into such fields as ancient art and archaeology, Byzantine research, the classics, Egyptology, English literature, intertestamental literature, Judaica, the mystery cults, mythology, coins, Oriental languages and literatures, paleography, papyrology, patristics, philology in general, philosophy, and theology in general”6—a broad scope indeed! In the preface to the Supplement, he gives the number of indexed Festschriften as 640, and states that the number of indexed articles “comes to nearly 2350, written in a score of languages.”7 “Not a few of these,” he notes, “are dedicated to scholars whose chief interests were far removed from the New Testament and the Early Church,” so that “many of the Festschriften here recorded contain only a single article germane to the interests of the compiler.”8 He mentions almost in passing visits to European libraries and bookstores in pursuit of the over 1200 volumes actually reviewed for the index, remarking almost wistfully that “the task of ferreting out Festschriften is almost endless, and utmost diligence in ransacking all the ordinary sources is only supplemented by knowledge that comes only by chance.”9

Metzger’s index “attempted to include all pertinent material from the time that the custom of publishing Festschriften began … down to the close of 1950, the half century mark being an appropriate terminus ad quem.”10 He notes in the Supplement that an index of medieval studies published in Festschriften from 1865 to 1946 and prepared by Harry F. Williams appeared serendipitously on the same year as Metzger’s (available online here). As it happens, “the two volumes supplement each other admirably, for [Metzger’s] covers the first five centuries of the Christian era, and [Williams’] begins with the sixth century.”11 To this must be added the still more impressive achievement by Dorothy Rounds, Articles on Antiquity in Festschriften: An Index (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), which covers the fields of the Ancient Near East, the Old Testament, Greece, Rome, Roman Law, and Byzantium from 1863 to 1954 (available online here).

Now, a question: who will be our Metzger today? Yes, we are fortunate to have resources like the Elenchus of Biblica (to 2011) and New Testament Abstracts (ongoing) at our disposal, yet neither of these quite provides us with what Metzger gave to us (or what Williams, Rounds, and yet others have given to other fields). Even if all Festschriften and edited volumes were always indexed with regard to their specific contents (and they are not), what of those essays in broader collections that might fall outside the scope of the technical publications in the field? Again, Metzger found that there are many of these, with not a few Festschriften featuring a single article relevant to our purposes. Who is searching for those and indexing them? Metzger gave us a thorough index to the end of 1950. It isn’t too far-fetched to conceive of a second index, this time from 1951 to the end of the year 2000 as a new terminus ad quem. Surely there is some budding theological bibliographer out there with an appetite for detective work whose name we can bless for generations.

Allow me in closing to illustrate the need for such an undertaking by making reference to the work of some distinguished scholar, picked entirely at random: say, Moisés Silva. Now I happen to know that Professor Silva has contributed to at least eight Festschriften: Bruce (1980), Greenlee (1992), Louw (1992), Gundry (1994, which he co-edited), Metzger (1995), O’Brien (2001), Pietersma (2001), and Youngblood (2003).12 Unless you happen to be actively engaged in the work of acquiring the Silvanic opera omnia, as one does, then you would be hard-pressed to learn that, e.g., the 1994 volume features an exceedingly important article on eschatological structures in Galatians, whereas the 1992 volume carries an illuminating discussion of the text of Galatians in early manuscripts, and the 2001 volume gives an solid account of Paul’s mission according to Galatians.13 It is precisely this sort of blind spot, which only impoverishes the breadth and quality of research, that a full and thematic index helps of us to resolve.


1 Bruce M. Metzger, Index of Articles on the New Testament and the Early Church Published in Festschriften, Journal of Biblical Literature Monograph Series 5 (Philadelphia, PA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1951), vii.

2 Bruce Manning Metzger, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 152.

3 As quoted in Metzger, ibid. It bears noting that Professor Bruce was himself honored not by one, but two Festschriften, both of which I happily possess. The second of these, published (like Professor Bruce’s memoir) in 1980, happens to contain a little-known article by his only infallible doctoral advisee.

4 Cf. R. G. Collingwood, An Autobiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), 113. Perhaps it should be noted that he did escape, but alas, not otherwise than by death. He did not escape, however, the indignity of having his invaluable unpublished work edited posthumously by a junior colleague.

5 Cf. a compilation of the more notorious epithets in the literature, all duly footnoted and serially dismissed, in Robert Pick, “Some thoughts on Festschriften and a projected subject index,” German Life and Letters 12, no. 3 (1959): 204-210.

6 Ibid., 153; cf. also Index, viii, from which this section is taken verbatim.

7 Bruce M. Metzger, Supplement to Index of Articles on the New Testament and the Early Church Published in Festschriften, Journal of Biblical Literature Monograph Series Supplement to 5 (Philadelphia, PA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1955), iii.

8 Ibid., iv.

9 Even the “second-hand book catalogue”! Cf. Metzger, Index, xi.

10 Metzger, Supplement, ibid. For an historical account of Festschriften, cf. the still unsurpassed article by Dorothy Rounds and Dow Sterling, “Festschriften,” Harvard Library Bulletin VIII, no. 3 (Autumn 1954): 283-298 (available online here).

11 Metzger, ibid.

12 To the best of my knowledge, that is! If the reader happens to be aware of some other Festschrift to which Professor Silva has contributed, and could forward the bibliographical information to me, this would be most sincerely appreciated.

13 This is also the only publication of which I am aware that gives a middle initial for Professor Silva: “D.” A middle name is not recorded even with the Library of Congress. Inquiring minds, &c.!


Of Pelikan, Pelicans, and the Love of Books

Today I received, at long last, a copy of a book which I had inexplicably neglected to acquire before now: Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Reformation of the Bible / The Bible of the Reformation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996). He describes the context and character of the volume as follows (Preface, ix):

“It was a touching personal tribute, but also a unique scholarly opportunity, when my friend and student Valerie Hotchkiss, librarian of the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, invited me, in observance of my impending retirement in June 1996 after 50 years of teaching, to serve as guest curator for the exhibition ‘The Reformation of the Bible / The Bible of the Reformation,’ and to compose these four essays, which are intended to round out the Catalog of the exhibition but also to stand on their own as a small monograph about this large subject.”

The four essays in question address the following topics:

  1. Sacred Philology (3-21)
  2. Exegesis and Hermeneutics (23-39)
  3. Bibles for the People (41-62)
  4. The Bible and the Arts (63-78)

My perusal of the essays earlier this afternoon confirmed, of course, that they are nothing but exquisite specimens of Pelikan’s magnificently learned prose, and I eagerly look forward to reading them in detail. I noted the arrival of the book on Twitter by posting a picture of it with the attached hashtag, #piepelicanejesudomine. Beyond the obvious connection with Pelikan’s last name, there is an important reason for this: as it happens, Pelikan’s custom book plate features this well-known verse from St Thomas Aquinas’ hymn Adoro te devote under the image of a pelican piercing its breast to feed its young with its own blood—a mythical behavior widely attributed to pelicans in antiquity and the Middle Ages, and taken as a symbol of the Lord’s Passion and the Eucharist,  by which and in which he feeds us with his own Body and Blood. My friend Fr Daniel Greeson, currently a deacon and a student at St Vladimir’s Seminary of Yonkers in New York, took a picture of this book plate at the seminary library, which by his kind permission I share here for your edification:


Note, in addition to the pelican motif and the related verse, the two medallions: the one on the left featuring Luther’s seal, and the one of the right featuring the Slovak coat of arms, to honor the Slovak Lutheran heritage of the Pelikan family. (Readers will recall that, after a lifetime as a Lutheran, first in the LCMS and eventually in the ELCA, Jaroslav Pelikan was received into the communion of the Orthodox Church on 25 March 1998.) Finally, note that his name is given as “Jary,” the nickname by which his friends knew him.

One more note on Pelikan: thanks to the wonders of the Internet Archive, you may still read his fascinating autobiographical essay, “A Personal Memoir: Fragments of a Scholar’s Autobiography,” originally published in Valerie Hotchkiss and Patrick Henry (eds.), Orthodoxy and Western Culture: A Collection of Essays Honoring Jaroslav Pelikan on His Eightieth Birthday (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006).

As these happy bibliophilic thoughts occupied my mind for most of the afternoon and evening, I was reminded that we are at the head of the week preceding the feast of another consummate bibliophile, our venerable father Jerome of Stridon, sacred philologist and translator par excellence, who reposed in the Lord on 30 September 420. In honor of his memory, that day has long been observed as Bible Translation Day by many Bible societies and translation agencies, and as International Translation Day since 1953 by the International Federation of Translators. To celebrate, I have a couple of posts on Bible translation lined up for this week that hark back to the old days of biblioblogdom. But also, since St Jerome was both a priest and a bibliophile, here is a timely reminder: 30 September 2017 will the 2nd Annual #BuyAPriestABookDay! Kindly remember that, as I have observed elsewhere, “Buy a Priest a Book Day” is superior to the so-called “Buy a Priest a Beer Day” in every way: not all priests like beer, but every priest should like books. And of course, there will be another post on Saturday for this most joyful celebration.

On Storms, Helpers, and God



As I began to write this in bits and pieces a week ago today, Hurricane Irma had begun to approach my native Puerto Rico. My family there braced for the worst; the sense of expectation and fear was very real. It was the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, the news said; the island had not seen anything quite like this come through since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, the memory of whose nearly total devastation remains alive and well in our collective memory a few generations later. To be honest, that Irma could be on this scale, or perhaps even worse, was a bit difficult to grasp: the great hurricane of my lifetime (thus far, at any rate) was the fearsome and formidable Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which came to us shortly after my 11th birthday. The winds caused some structural damage to my grandparents’ house, where we were all hunkered down, and we were without water or electricity for weeks. For my part, I remember being disappointed that I could not use a small amplifier for my guitar that my grandfather had ordered from the Sears catalog and duly picked up at the Santa Rosa Mall store for my birthday. But all of us were well, our homes were basically intact, and after clean up we were able to resume our lives in short order. Hundreds of thousand of others couldn’t say the same. In fact, too many could no longer say anything at all.


If you’ve been keeping track of the storm, you know that Hurricane Irma veered to the north in the nick of time, and that Puerto Rico was thus spared from the very worst. Yes, the ancient and fragile power grid in the island collapsed, and many (including my family) are still without power, but water service remained mostly uninterrupted, and other damage has been comparatively minimal (except in the small island of Culebra, the easternmost point of the Puerto Rican archipelago). I have no doubt that, soon after clean up and the eventual restoration of electric service, life will go on as usual. Many have expressed their relief in religious (and nationalistic) terms: ¡Dios bendijo a Puerto Rico! God blessed Puerto Rico! And, as in the past, that grotesque depiction of a Giant Hand blocking the path of the storm just east of the island has been making the rounds. (I remember it most vividly on the front page of a local newspaper some years ago.) But, of course, the Lesser Antilles were not thus spared; neither was Cuba, nor the Bahamas, nor indeed Florida. One shudders to think of the implications. Did the grotesque Giant Hand not protect them? Worse still, if they were not blessed, were they cursed? And whose Giant Hand is that, anyway—that of the God of the Bible, or the hand of Guabancex, who visits her fury in the winds of juracán?


“At that time, some people came and reported to [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And he responded to them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.’” (St Luke 13:1-5, CSB)


There is, to my mind, no clearer illustration of the maddening capriciousness of storms than the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Antigua and Barbuda. Two islands, a single nation, merely 30 miles apart. Antigua made it through with nary a scratch. Barbuda was literally flattened. But even that is not all: Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy erupted into social chaos after the storm. Multiple places across the Caribbean and Florida are flooded, destroyed, or both. And then, a week before that, Hurricane Harvey put the Houston metropolitan area under water.


The late Rev’d Mr Fred McFeely Rogers (after whom the first-year Biblical Studies Prize at his alma mater, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is named) would tell children and their parents that, in scary times, he liked to remember what his mother said to him when he was little: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And realizing that there were always so many helpers, he said, would bring him a great deal of comfort. In like manner also, in this time of storms, I have found great comfort in observing faith working by love. This has been nowhere more obvious to me than in our friend Mike Skinner and his congregation, Sweetwater Christian Church in Sugar Land, Texas. There I saw a pastor who no sooner than he was out of the water (literally!) set about the business of claiming his sheep. I saw a local congregation determined to account for each in every one given to them, without exception. And, with everyone claimed and accounted for, I saw this small but tireless Christian community turn out to the streets, immediately and nearly unprompted, in a rush to embrace and assist their neighbors. Blessed are you, Mike Skinner. Blessed are you, Sweetwater Christian Church. You are the helpers. May many others, as many as are able, help you in helping others.


Did God bless Puerto Rico? Did God curse Barbuda, and Jost Van Dyke, and Houston, and…? I cannot countenance those questions, and much less the tone-deaf platitudes that give rise to them. But here is what I know: after the fury of the storm, if anyone survives at all, it isn’t so that they may boast. It must be—it must—so that, with their own hands, they may glorify God by their deeds in the care of others.


Some books that have helped me to think about this over the years: Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994); David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005); Terence Fretheim, Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010); and of course, Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism.

On Beginnings and Changes

John 1

I have been thinking about beginnings quite a bit of late. Earlier this summer it occurred to me that the first post on The Voice of Stefan (which, as readers will recall, is the erstwhile name of Bouncing into Graceland) was published on 13 July 2007, now just over a decade ago. This blog was an attempt to communicate and interact with others, both professionals and amateurs, who I had found were blogging prolifically about the Bible and theology—a possibility which, given my relative geographical and academic isolation at the time, was enormously compelling to me. By my birthday on 29 August following I was actively engaged in the sorts of stimulating conversations that were characteristic of the “golden age” of Biblioblogdom, then in full swing. The much lamented Google Reader, an invaluable tool since obtusely terminated by its witless curators, made it possible to keep track of multiple conversations across dozens of independent blogs the world over, and enabled the creation of academic partnerships and warm personal friendships that, in many cases (and certainly in mine), continue even to this day. If I may be permitted an overwrought nostalgic musing, thinking back on those heady days brings to mind Wordsworth’s oft-quoted lines: “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven!”

At the other end of the decade mark, much has changed. Biblioblogdom, as it once was, has ceased to exist. Which isn’t to say that no one is blogging about the Bible and theology—far from it! (Witness the monthly Biblical Studies Carnival, ongoing since 2006, and hosted this month by our old friend Jason Gardner.) But the community, with its vigorous exchanges across all levels so often chronicled in “round-ups,” seems to have disintegrated in favor of a more autonomous approach. While this is doubtless a cause for regret, there is also a certain freedom in it: it is frankly impossible to keep up with 200 or more posts a day, let alone to participate meaningfully in that many conversations, and less still to produce contributions that will keep the entire community engaged. The conventional wisdom these days is that, in the age of Twitter, no one reads blogs any more. I’m not sure that’s quite true, but perhaps this perception signals that the conditions are right to venture out once again, even if only occasionally.

On a more personal note, my life is also fundamentally different than it was in 2007. I am now 39 years old, and have lived in Michigan for 9 out of the past 10 years. More significantly, I have become a husband and a father (of one, with another on the way!). Moreover, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I have managed to acquire a graduate degree in theology along the way; after that, I was ordained a deacon and then a presbyter in the Orthodox Church. All of these changes have necessarily reshaped, or perhaps refocused, my interests: I still spend a great deal of my time thinking about the Bible, its translation and interpretation, and its patristic and liturgical reception, but I also think a lot more about liturgy as such, pastoral theology, and homiletics these days. I hope that means that whatever I post here will be broadened, but not impoverished.

This blog has never been strictly academic, and it has never been an “Orthodox blog” (for, as I have noted in the past, I have never seen a blog being baptized, chrismated, or communed). It certainly will never be an “ecclesiastical blog.” What it ever was, and I hope it will remain, is a means for conversation with others about matters of lively mutual interest. Come, then, and let us sit awhile from time to time.

In closing, kindly allow me to note two things, one pertaining to things that change and the other to things that are ever the same.

As the more observant among you, my gentle snowflakes, will have noticed, yesterday’s fervorino (a word, incidentally, that a total of 17 people knew or used before the accession of the Pope of Rome Mr Francis to his See) for the Beginning of the Indiction was posted according to the New (i.e., “Revised Julian”) Calendar. Our friend Macrina Walker stated, in shock, that surely my blog had been “hacked by some Papist-loving, climate-change believing, Phanarotist new calendarist.” But no, alas: after having spent nearly the entirety of my adult life on the Old (i.e., “Ecclesiastical Julian”) Calendar, my family and I officially went to the New Calendar on 15 November 2013. That means that, as of 2 September 2017, we have been on the New Calendar for 1,388 days. For more on this, see the Twitter hashtag #thenewcalendarislikeabaddreamthatneverends. Here I will only echo the sentiments of my dear friend, the admirably learned deacon Fr Aaron Taylor, who in response to a most interesting article telling the story of the epicenter of the Gregorian calendar reform, exclaimed in a fit of ardent zeal: “Tear it down! Down with the pope and his atheist astronomers!”

With that said, and in spite of the notice of such disconcerting changes, I would like to make something abundantly clear to one and all: it remains the solemn Chief Burden of this blog to spread the knowledge of the infallibility of the great Moisés Silva throughout the land.

The Beginning of the Indiction


The first day of September is a day of beginnings.

In the United States, certainly, early September has something of this ring of beginnings: the school year typically starts in or around its first week, and Labor Day marks the unofficial beginning of the fall season, which inexplicably also carries with it a categorical prohibition thenceforth to wear white.  Yet these things lack the fastidious punctiliarity of saying that September 1, precisely and specifically, is day of beginnings.

Now I have no doubt that, even without any personal ecclesiastical reason, the more inquisitive and learned among you, my gentle snowflakes, are well aware that the first day of September marks the beginning of the Ecclesiastical New Year of the Eastern Church. The calendar calls it “The Beginning of the Indiction” (Ἀρχή τῆς Ἰνδίκτου), by reference to the name of the 15-year Roman tax cycle (Lat. Indictio) that later came to designate (in the calendrical conventions of both East and West) each of the years during that period individually. Needless to say, this beginning is marked with great pomp and ceremony even to the present day: thus earlier this morning, 30 Bishops in all joined His All-holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople the New Rome, in signing the Patriarchal Proclamation of the Indiction for 7526 Anno Mundi. On this day, the Church asks her Lord to “bless the crown of the year with [his] goodness” (Apolytikion of the Feast; cf. Psalm 64:12, LXX). We also hear at Vespers a sobering reading selected from Leviticus 26, which together with Deuteronomy 28 makes up the great seat of covenantal blessings and curses in the Pentateuch, filled with references to the seasons, weather, agriculture, farming, and all of the business of the year—but also, of course, to obedience and disobedience to the “Fashioner of all creation, who fix[es] times and seasons by [his] own authority” (Apolytikion; cf. Acts 1:7). We do all of these things, of course, because we hope to make a good beginning.

Yet this is not all. Also at Vespers we hear a reading from Isaiah 61, which at the Divine Liturgy we hear repeated at the Gospel from the lips of Our Lord Jesus Christ himself:

“At that time, Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was his custom, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And he was given the book of the prophet Isaiah, and when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’

Then he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.”
(St Luke 4:16-22)

And so on this first day of September, “the Beginning of the Indiction which is the Ecclesiastical New Year,” of all possible beginnings we are presented with the beginning of the public ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in which he proclaims the arrival of “the acceptable year of the Lord” that is fulfilled in him. On this day of beginnings, then, we have the Gospel, the Good News, preached to us. And how we need it!

As we all know from bitter experience, we are fickle creatures who oscillate between obedience and disobedience—between the good we want but do not do and the evil we do not want but do, as St Paul once put it (cf. Romans 7:19). And so, when we fail, we at once sense the need for a new beginning, for a new day on which we will start again with a clean slate and renewed resolve. But we also know, of course, that gyms empty out by the end of January, that diets that start on Monday are abandoned by the end of the week, and that most of our other good intentions seldom outlast our best made plans. Yet here is the thing: this is not a reason for despair. There is nothing magical or mystical about the beginning of the week, or the month, or the year (even an ecclesiastical one!), convenient and necessary milestones though they may be. What matters in the end is that every day, every hour, every moment, we are living in this acceptable year of the Lord in which he has preached the Gospel to us, so that whenever we fail, we can at once turn to him and start anew. So, thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! (cf. Romans 7:25) Pleading with the Corinthians, St Paul draws on the Good News of Isaiah to make this very point, which I now plead with you to take to heart as together we make this new beginning:

“For [God] says:

‘At the acceptable time I have heard you,
and I have helped you on the day of salvation.’

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
(2 Corinthians 6:2, cf. Isaiah 49:8, LXX)

The Liebster Award (Or, Who’s Honoring Me Now?)


I was startled to learn a couple of weeks ago that our good friend Jennifer Guo had nominated me for something called “The Liebster Award.” Truth be told, my first thought was simply to ignore her undoubtedly well-meaning gesture, for the award name is in German and my aversion to that awful language (and to its wretched kissing cousin, French) is, I trust, amply documented. Moreover, in her post, she originally misspelled my last name and got the name of this blog wrong. Now please understand that I have solemnly anathematized people for far lesser offenses, but I find that I am willing to give Jen the benefit of the doubt, so I note her quick corrections and grant that her proposed excuses are at the least plausible. In the end, as she herself noted, my happy acquaintance with Jen long postdates the more active periods of this blog, so I think it fitting that, being summoned in her blog, I should respond here.

Jen blogs at… well, her blog doesn’t really have a name, but it may be found at (Incidentally, Jen once solicited blog name suggestions that somehow incorporated her own name, so I at once proposed “GVO VADIS?”—which is, I think, a lovely and rather evocative name [cf. St John 13:36 (Vg.) and the apocryphal Acts of Peter]. I am still uncertain why the matter remains unresolved. But I digress.) Jen is a voracious and intelligent reader, a competent and prolific book reviewer, and above all else, a zealous and committed Christian young woman. Although Jen already holds a master’s degree in accountancy, she shows great promise as a budding biblical scholar—and indeed, she is set to begin graduate studies in the field this coming fall at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. I am honored by her friendship, and eagerly look forward to her future contributions to biblical studies. I invite you to follow her blog if you do not already do so.

Now on to the meme award itself: at least according to the version of the rules which I have received, in addition to thanking and linking back to the blogger who nominated me, I am to write 5 random facts about myself; answer the 5 questions that Jen asked of her nominees; nominate another 5 bloggers; and then formulate 5 questions for them. So, without further ado, here is my contribution:

Five Random Facts About Myself

  1. I only type with about four or five fingers in all, but after nearly 20 years of relentless hunting and pecking, I can do it quite fast.
  2. I almost never use the caps lock key; even when I type ALL IN CAPS, I hold down the shift key.
  3. Whenever I order a milkshake, I invariably find it too thick for my taste: I want to drink it, not eat it.
  4. I put an obscene amount of milk and sugar in my coffee, but this is now moot as I no longer can drink coffee.
  5. I was born and raised on a Caribbean island, but I hate sand, sea water, and all seafood.

Five Questions Answered

  1. If you could have any super power, what would it be, and who would your archnemesis be?
    My super power would be a correct theological understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, as opposed to the various historicist (mis)contructions thereof that have long proliferated in some circles. My archnemeses are at least a couple of living, breathing human beings who are active and publishing.
  2. Middle Earth or Narnia and why?
    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this question! I’m afraid I know neither middle earths nor narnias. Yes, it is true: I have read neither Lewis nor Tolkien, and I don’t particularly care to do so. Nor have I watched the film versions of their books, with the exception of a short section of one of the Lord of the Rings movies (I don’t know which one). Given Tolkien’s distaste for Lewis’ allegorism, which I share, I suspect I might be better inclined to like the Lord of the Rings books than the Chronicles of Narnia. This suits me just fine, since I am no fan of C. S. Lewis in any case, and strenuously object to the Lewis cult prevalent in many Anglophone Christian circles.
  3. What’s your favorite biblical/theological topic/area?
    For most of my life, I have wanted nothing more than to be a Neutestamentler. The tools of the trade are my first love: the Greek language, exegetical method and translation studies, textual criticism, hermeneutics, and the various critical methodologies. As my reading increased and (hopefully) became more sophisticated over the years, I discovered lively interests in biblical theology and the history of exegesis, which happen to overlap quite nicely at the crux of intracanonical exegesis (with special reference to the LXX as translation of its Vorlage and the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament). From there I have occupied myself with the reception and interpretation of Scripture in the Christian Church across the ages, starting with the Apostles: this is what I have called elsewhere the spectrum of apostolic-patristic-liturgical exegesis, which I still hope to see through one day as a major research project. In the meantime, I have found myself working towards a master’s degree in theology with a concentration in liturgical and sacramental theology, which I am now close to completing. Liturgy is my other great love, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to study the theology of liturgy thoroughly and in systematic context. These days I am awfully concerned about how to integrate all of these areas, so I have been exploring the literature on theological interpretation, and thinking a fair bit about themes in theological anthropology, as promising pathways to that end.
  4. Favorite scholars?
    It should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that I should name Our Infallible Hero, the great Moisés Silva, as my favorite scholar of all time. Beyond him and J. Gresham Machen, to whom I have also dedicated a recurring feature on this blog, I must mention the late great Jaroslav Pelikan, my debt to whom is not quantifiable. These three scholars had an early and deeply formative influence on me. In the exegesis and biblical theology department, I must mention Richard Gaffin, Thomas Schreiner, and G. K. Beale: all in the school of Vos and Ridderbos. Fr Eugen Pentiuc has been doing some really exciting work in my areas of immediate interest, and I’m quite enthusiastic about his publications. My admiration for the Pope of Rome Emeritus Dr Benedict XVI knows no bounds, and I read him almost continuously. What a great theological mind is his! I have found much to admire in the works of Fr Aidan Nichols, O.P., and Matthew Levering, both of whom write prolifically and widely across the theological disciplines. I want to read more of them and learn from their example, which I have also attempted to do with the important and wide-ranging work of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, S.J. In Patristics, I enjoy reading Khaled Anatolios, Fr John McGuckin, and Bishop Alexander (Golitzin) of Toledo, who now happens to be my own Bishop. Finally, I should mention Fr Dumitru Staniloae, the English translation of whose magisterial Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (in six volumes) was happily completed just in time for me to use throughout my current course of study. I am profoundly grateful for this.
  5. If you’ve been to SBL, describe a favorite memory. If not, describe what you’d be most excited about if you were going next year.
    No, I have not been to SBL in recent memory. Moreover, all other academic conferences in which I am interested seem to be routinely scheduled at personally, ecclesiastically, professionally, and even academically inconvenient times for me. I have therefore abandoned all hope that I might ever again make it to any such gathering. If, however, some miracle took place and I were able to attend SBL this year, I would be most excited of all to attend the biblibliogger dinner, if such were convened, and other blogger events. It would be a genuine pleasure to meet face to face the many people with whom I have interacted online for so long. (Of course, it is understood that no blogger dinner or reception could ever rival John Hobbins’ beach house spaghettata at SBL 2007 in San Diego, but clearly that was a once in a lifetime event.) I was going to say that I would also enjoy the book hall, but in truth I would be probably be too broke to buy anything at all!

Five Bloggers I Nominate

  1. Matthew Malcolm, Cryptotheology. I like Matthew Malcolm. A lot. But he grieves me by his refusal to get on the grid: he’s not on Twitter; he’s not on Facebook; he’s only on his blog. This means that if I’m away from blogging, we don’t cross paths online, ever. I’ve considered a move to Perth, Western Australia, to be able to engage him better and more often, but it occurred to me that I might try tagging him in something like this instead.
  2. Timothy McCormick, Catholic Bibles. Tim and I live within an hour of each other, yet we have only met up for coffee exactly once, three years ago. How tragic is that? And now I can’t even drink coffee! Well, I guess that the next time we can do a sandwich shop instead.
  3. Geoff Smith, My Blog. You know, I was going to include Geoff in this list anyway, but then I saw that he added me to his blogroll with the alt text, “The most frequently updated blog in the world.” That clinched it.
  4. Marc Cortez, Everyday Theology. You all might not remember it, but Marc owes me an exceedingly great debt: many moons ago, when he conceived the ill-fated idea to change the title of his regular roundup post to “Morning Links” (?!), I alone—Stephanus contra mundum—withstood him to his face and demanded the return of “Flotsam and Jetsam,” thus saving his brand. Yeah, you’re welcome, Marc.
  5. Mike Aubrey, Koine Greek. Mike is one of my very most favorite people in the whole wide world. Here’s a fun fact: he is the only person on this list who has been in the car with me as we drove on poorly lit backroads to our destination during a freak ice storm. We are survivors.

Five Questions for My Nominees

  1. Identify your chief area of expertise and three works that you consider to be of primary importance for it.
  2. Name three writers (academic, spiritual, or literary) whose works have had a formative influence on your thinking.
  3. You have the extraordinary opportunity to settle or correct, universally and definitively, three particularly grievous misunderstandings about your area(s) of study. Which three do you choose to address?
  4. Adapted from Pivot/Lipton: What profession other than your own would you like, or not like, to attempt?
  5. Last but certainly not least, Moisés Silva: great biblical scholar, or the greatest biblical scholar?
    (N.B.: There is no word limit for this last answer. Write like mad.)

Well, it took me a day and a half longer than I expected to complete this post, but I have relished the exercise! I thank Jen for the opportunity, and look forward to learning from the answers of my distinguished nominees, all of whom I sincerely hope will participate.

On Reading the Scriptures, Revisited

St Melania the Younger, from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000)

In the life of St Melania the Younger (c. AD 383-439, commemorated Dec. 31), we read that in addition to her time spent in prayer and the Divine Services, the copying of Greek and Latin manuscripts (her “principal employment,” we are told, at which she excelled), caring for the poor and other charitable endeavors, and the systematic reading of patristic and spiritual works, the Saint also assigned some hours daily “to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, which she read through from beginning to end four times during the year.”1 Since the feast of St Melania occurs on the last day of our Civil Year, her admirable example can be to us both a reminder and an encouragement to take up anew the reading of the Holy Scriptures with every New Year.

Of course, I have previously had occasion to address the subject of daily Bible reading in two well-received posts, which I now commend to the attention of any interested readers:

In these posts, I have attempted to explain why it might be beneficial to begin a program of systematic Scriptural reading with the Gospel and the Psalter, which are the backbone of the Church’s liturgical use and experience of the Bible, and offered suggestions on how to move from that beginning to a full-fledged reading program that incorporates the entire Scriptural canon. To these things I should now like to add a few short suggestions, later to be followed by a rather more substantial update on the various posts entitled “On Englishing the Church’s Bible” and the like, which update is now happily necessary.

In the first place, I might bring up the bugaboo of attrition: the obvious reason behind the multitude of Bible reading plans that make the rounds at the beginning of every year, and also the central concern of my above-linked posts. Needless to say, even the best designed plan cannot be considered an infallible remedy to the twin maladies of impatience and burnout. It is often the case that those who start small can become impatient at the slow rate of their progress, just as those who attempt too much tend to collapse under the burden of a reading program for which they are not ready. Moreover, even those who manage to proceed apace might eventually succumb to despondency in view of that rather long term of completion of any Bible reading program—anywhere from one, to two, or even three years. In all of these cases, attrition is ultimately due to untempered overeagerness. Of course, we all know (perhaps even from bitter experience) that people tend to start new projects with a great deal of enthusiasm, the intensity of which might noticeably fluctuate until it effectively fizzles out. It seems, then, that it should be possible to harness that initial impetus and apply it to a much shorter and more focused goal, which would then give way to the slower plan, incrementally augmented, as described in my previous posts. With this in mind, I should like to recommend The Daily Walk Bible NLT: 31 Days with Jesus, available for free as a Kindle book from Amazon, and in other formats through the publisher. This resource, equipped with short thematic introductions and outlines, simply walks you through the four Gospels in canonical order over the course of 31 days. You don’t like the New Living Translation, you say? Don’t let that become an excuse: simply download the free resource and follow their plan using the translation of your choice. With distressing regularity, the search for the “perfect Bible” merely functions as a thinly veiled device to grant us permission to avoid reading Scripture altogether. And if the pace becomes too accelerated, say, by the third week or so, there is no reason to quit: at that point, one may simply reduce the length of the daily readings from the Gospels to three, two, or even the one daily chapter proposed in my first post.

A second suggestion concerns the reading of the Psalter, which I indicated earlier could be done at the rate of a single stasis (i.e., roughly three Psalms) per day. However, I am pleased to share an appealing alternative: the “Greek Psalms in a Year” initiative, spearheaded by one Russell Beatty, that gets off the ground today. Modeled after our friend Abram K-J’s celebrated “Greek Isaiah in a Year” program for 2012, it aims to complete the reading of the entire Greek Psalter at the rate of roughly 4-6 verses per day. Abram has posted the reading plan, as well as many other resources for reading the Psalms in Greek (including links to a couple of dedicated discussion forums). It occurs to me that even those who are innocent of Greek might benefit from this reading plan: if one stasis a day becomes overwhelming after a while, one might well slow down the pace by taking in these small portions instead of ceasing to read altogether. It is, again, better to continue to read consistently at least a little bit than to give up entirely.

Finally, I should like to share with one and all the excellent Bible reading plan devised by Dr Mary Healy, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and author of The Gospel of Mark in the superb Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series from Baker Academic. It will be noted that this plan has remarkable similarities with the final plan I have proposed here and elsewhere, as it starts out with readings from the Gospels, the Psalms, and then the rest of the Bible. However, it does not repeat the Gospels and the Psalms, so that the rest of the New Testament is read after the former, and the rest of the poetical and wisdom books are read after the latter. The daily divisions are very well thought out and are sensitive to the composition and structure of the various books, as one would expect from a world-class biblical scholar of whose deep immersion in the contents of Scripture the bards will sing one day. I can’t think of any reasons not use Dr Healy’s program of lectio continua, provided that after the Gospels run out in June 13, one should read at least the appointed Gospel reading for the day as printed in most ecclesiastical calendars. This is hardly an onerous addition, since there are fewer readings in Dr Healy’s program than in the full-fledged program proposed in my second post. Yet this rather minimal addition helps to keep the reading of the Holy Gospel a daily activity central to the Christian life.

The day is not yet over. There is still time to pick up, right now, the Holy Scriptures. Give the Gospels a read over 31 days. Or read one chapter of the Gospels and a stasis of the Psalms, or else Psalm 1 in Greek. Or read according to a yet more developed plan—whether Dr Healy’s, or the one proposed here, or even from one of the handful of truly excellent daily reading Bibles one can still find out there. Whatever plan you choose as better suited to your temperament, take up and read, and be patient and faithful. The rewards, as the remarkable life of the great St Melania reminds us, are abundantly ours both in this world and in the world to come.


1. Mariano Cardinal Rampolla del Tindaro, The Life of St Melania, translated by E. Leahy and edited by Herbert Thurston, SJ (London: Burnes and Oates and New York: Benzinger Bros., 1908), page 105.

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church (Review)

9780310514879Bell, James Stuart, with Patrick J. Kelly.

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. Hardcover. $24.99.

Amazon | Kindle Store | Audiobook

With thanks to Zondervan for the review copy.

The Fathers, I’m afraid, remain an unknown quantity to many, and perhaps most, devout churchgoers. This isn’t only true of Evangelical Protestants, but even of Orthodox and Catholics, who lay claim to patristic theology and spirituality as their own inheritance, and ostensibly consider such an inheritance to be both foundational and authoritative. Part of the problem, of course, is that the body of existing patristic literature is so extensive as to send even the most determined new reader into fits of debilitating fatigue. Moreover, those who might survive a first encounter with a bibliographical listing of patristic works, even only in translation, go on to face various other obstacles: the translation might be so archaic as to be incomprehensible; a deficit in historical and/or theological background might render the basic argument of even a short work inscrutable; and so on. And then there’s the open secret that many people just don’t know how to undertake a serious reading of literary classics, let alone a philosophical or theological treatise. Or, perhaps more distressingly, they’re simply not interested in ever undertaking any such reading.

And yet the Fathers ought to be read, as the introduction to this little book rightly pleads. The Fathers are our forebears in the Faith, and we owe them filial respect. They are authentic teachers and witnesses, the champions of Christian doctrine,  who through their struggles, and sometimes even through the shedding of their own blood, handed down to us the deposit of Faith. They teach us to read Scripture anew, and they are sure guides in the path of virtue, in which they exercised themselves. So clearly, again, the Fathers ought to be read. What isn’t so clear is that our average churchgoer must read, e.g., St Ephrem the Syrian with the goal to understand the meter of his Syriac poetry, or St Basil the Great with a view to mastering the multiple facets of his argument for the divinity of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, there ought to be a place for a devotional reading of the Fathers, unencumbered by the business of critical introductions and apparatuses, and with a view to spiritual edification—and, needless to say, this isn’t only true for our average churchgoer, but for initiates of patristic study as well. It is here that Awakening Faith lends us a hand.

The book features 366 page-long selections from early Christian writers from 1st to the 9th centuries. Occasionally a longer reading or narrative will be split into two sections (or, exceptionally in the case of the Martyrdom of St Cyprian, the Conversion of St Augustine, and St John Cassian’s instruction on covetousness, three). The idea isn’t new, of course, and it has a quite respectable pedigree, arguably reaching back to the Byzantine and Medieval catenae and florilegia. The execution of this particular volume, however, is very much in the style of daily devotionals known to Evangelical Protestants: each numbered daily reading is provided with a thematic classification, a title, and a short Scripture quotation to frame the selection. These added editorial aids do feature from time to time some instances of vocabulary more familiar to Evangelicals than to the rest of us (“evangelism,” “plan of salvation,” “witness and testify,” “the lost,” together with the charming warning in the introduction not to be alarmed by the occasional reference to the “Apocrypha”). This does not at all detract from the value of the chosen texts themselves, which to me seem to have been well selected on the whole. I do note that, as is often the case in projects of this nature, “Church Fathers” seems to be understood as basically synonymous with “early Christian writer.” Yet, at least as far as we Orthodox are concerned, not every ancient writer is thereby a Father: certainly, St Theodore the Studite is a Father in a way that Theodore of Mopsuestia can never be. That said, as far as I can tell, no reading in this volume is problematic from the point of view of the consensio patrum, and I appreciate the broader exposure to early Christian literature in both prose and verse that the selections afford. The selections themselves have been edited for syntax and vocabulary, and the editors have laudably resisted the temptation dumb down the texts to the point of banality. Instead, the selections are given in elegant contemporary English. They read quite well, and command one’s full attention.

There is a full listing of all of the early Christian writers featured in the book, from St Ambrose of Milan to St Zeno of Verona, which provides brief bibliographical notes on each author together with a list of their numbered selections as given in the devotional. These notes are succinct and very well done; I do regret the recurring use of the jarring “Antiochean” for “Antiochene” in them, and hope that future editions of this book (of which I hope there shall be many) will correct this. Perhaps the most disconcerting omission in this publication is the lack of citations for each of the chosen selections. Once or twice I have wished to follow up on a reading, and have had to expend considerable effort to find the source. I should like to encourage either the editors or the publisher to make the list of sources available online to those who wish to have it. Surely this is but a minor chore in our age of electronic dissemination.

Another desideratum would be an index of the topics assigned to each of the readings (“Father and Spirit,” “Jesus Christ,” “Holy Days,” “The Bible,” “Holiness,” and so on). With such a tool in hand, one could proceed to navigate this book in one of three ways:

1) In numerical order, from 1-366;
2) In alphabetical or chronological order, by author; or
3) Thematically, by assigned subject.

Each method would only improve and enrich the reading exercise in new ways.

In spite of these minor imperfections, I am very pleased with Awakening Faith, and look forward to using it daily for my own enrichment and edification, as I have been doing in recent weeks. I warmly recommend this devotional to one and all.