Tag Archives: Books

Norman Russell and “one like a son of man”

I started reading Norman Russell’s The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition. Interestingly, the first three chapters don’t really deal with the Patristic tradition at all, but provide background information on Roman/Hellenistic and Jewish ideas of deification.

Concerning the various theories on the identity of the “one like a son of man” from Daniel 7, Russell states:

The simplest explanation, however, is the most satisfactory. The ‘one like a son of man’ is an angel, probably Michael, entrusted with the protection of the people of Israel. Only later, in Christian tradition and in the Book of Parables (I Enoch 37-71) does he become a Messianic figure, the Elect of God.  (p. 67)

I don’t know 2nd Temple Judaism’s literature, so I was wondering: are angels ever called “sons of men”? The identification of the ‘one like a son of man’ as an angel seems wrong to me, but I’m open to hearing evidence for such a theory.


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Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist”

I have just placed my order on Amazon.com for Brant Pitre‘s second book, “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.” I’ve read Dr. Pitre’s first book, “Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile” which I said should cause a major paradigm shift in how we view “exile” in the New Testament. I’m looking forward to digging into this second book and will blog about it after I’ve read it.

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Jesus and Jonah in Ratzinger’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

I’m re-reading Joseph Ratzinger’s “Jesus of Nazareth” in anticipation for the second volume in March. A friend of mine and I are going to read it together and discuss it every week (over beer and wings, no less) so that when the second volume comes out, we can continue reading that. I read this sentence tonight and thought about how great it is that Ratzinger sees Jesus/Jonah in other ways than just the “three days and three nights.” The quote is:

…Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, “Take me and throw me into the sea” (Jon 1.12). Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth (p. 18)

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Discount books

For both today and tomorrow, University of Notre Dame Press is selling its overstock books in Hesburgh library for around 65% off. After my Latin class today (which meets in our awesome Medieval Institute in the library) I found three books that I think I’m going to enjoy:

Reading and Wisdom: The De Doctrina Christiana of Augustine in the Middle Ages (ed. Edward English)

Augustine and the Bible (ed. and trans. Pamela Bright)

Reading in Christian Communities: Essays on Interpretation in the Early Church (ed. Charles Bobertz & David Brakke)

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Review: Ancient Christian Texts: Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon (Ambrosiaster)


  • Hardcover: 166 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (September 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830829040
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830829040
  • Many thanks to Adrianna Wright at InterVarsity Press for sending me a review copy of Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon by Ambrosiaster (ed. Gerald Bray). This volume comes out of the Ancient Christian Texts (ACT) series, an extension of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) series. IVP is letting us have our cake and eat it too. Whereas the ACCS volumes give various Patristic interpretations on books of the Bible, the ACT series is focused on one author’s interpretation of entire books. Both series have a lot of merit – ACCS allows you to get a taste, and the Ancient Christian Texts gives you a bigger meal. These texts are so important because they allow you to see the how of Patristic interpretation, not just the what.

    One of the goals of the series is to allow the text to speak for itself, something I very much appreciate. Bray is the translator and allows Ambrosiaster to remain the commentator. The footnotes are mostly for noting allusions/citations of other Biblical texts, or noting a variant reading (such as Gal 1.22). The General Introduction states: “For those who begin by assuming as normative for a commentary only the norms considered typical for modern expressions of what a commentary is, we ask: Please allow the ancient commentators to define commentarius according to their own lights.” This is a good warning against being too much of a presentist in our interpretations.

    As far as appearance: the volume is really beautiful. The text on the pages appears in two columns, with the verses from the New Testament in bold and the commentary following thereafter. The verses are numbered as modern translations do today so that one is able to look up what Ambrosiaster says on any particular verse.

    In his introduction, Gerald Bray discusses the issues with identifying Ambrosiaster. Bray notes that the name ‘Ambrosiaster’ came to be attached to certain texts in the 17th Century by Benedictine editors, whereas before these same texts had been attributed to Ambrose of Milan (xv). Augustine of Hippo quotes Ambrosiaster as ‘Hilary’, though whether he meant Hilary of Poitiers (unlikely in Bray’s estimation) or Decimus Hilarianus Hilarius, a Roman layman, is unclear (ibid).

    I will give a couple of examples of interpretations by Ambrosiaster I found interesting:

    The preface to Ambrosiaster’s commentary on Galatians shows that Paul’s letter spoke to a certain situation in his own day, namely Law-Observant Symmaachians “who trace their origin to the Pharisees” (1). Ambrosiaster’s exegesis of Galatians should be seen through this light. Ambrosiaster’s comment on Gal. 2.21 is probably the crux of his argument: “There is nothing clearer than this – if a person could have been justified by the law, Christ would not have had to die. But because the law could not grant forgiveness of sins nor prevent the second death from robbing its captives, whom it held because of sin, Christ died to achieve what the law could not do, and for this reason he did not die in vain.” This quote is also interesting in how it shows Ambrosiaster’s familiarity with the idea of Christ and the ‘harrowing of hell’, something he describes in his comment on Gal 1.4 – “The devil was willing to take him but unable to hold him, and in that way Christ was able to remove from him what he wrongfully held captive. Having looted hell, he brought his treasure of souls up to the Father…”

    Anyone interested in the ecclesiology of the 4th Century Church will be interested in Ambrosiaster’s interpretation of 1 Timothy. I found his commentary on 1 Tim 3.3 to be really interesting: “These are the marks of episcopal dignity. If someone has chosen the harder way and dedicated his body and his mind to God so as not to be joined in marriage, he will be all the worthier. Paul mentions only the weaker man here, because there was no doubt about the other kind.” (126)

    Though this series is mostly aimed at lay people involved in studying the Scriptures, I think it definitely has value for modern Biblical scholars. There is a great deal of wisdom in the ancient literature and it too often goes ignored simply by virtue of it not being accessible. Here is the answer to that problem: the ACT series. I am looking forward to the other volumes in this series.

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    My University’s Library Actually Listened to Me

    Months ago I submitted a request on the library’s website to purchase a copy of James Crossley‘s  Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins (26-50CE) and they did! I feel so empowered.

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    Review: Adrian Fortescue’s “The Early Papacy”


    The Early Papacy to the Synod of Chalcedon in 451

  • Paperback: 121 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press; 4 edition (March 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586171763
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586171766

    Adrian Fortescue was a scholar of Theology and Patristics in the late 19th/early 20th Century. His other works include The Greek Fathers: Their Lives and Writings and The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Explained. The Early Papacy seems to be a response to Anglicans who had voiced objections that the Papacy was a 5th Century invention. To answer these claims, Fortescue marshalls evidence for the Papacy from the first to the 5th Centuries, with the Council of Chalcedon as his cut-off date. He has four points that he hopes to prove from the Patristic evidence: 1) The Pope as Chief (ch 4), 2) The Pope’s universal jurisdiction (ch 5), 3) Communion with Rome is necessary (ch 6), and finally 4) Papal infallibility (ch 7).

    His opening chapters deal with defining how and why Catholics believe these claims today. He writes:

    We believe in a Church that exists and lives all days, even to the end of the world, guided by Christ, infallible in faith and morals as long as she exists. We have exactly the same confidence in the divine guidance of the Church in 1870 as in 451. To be obliged to hark back some fifteen hundred years, to judge for yourself, according to the measure of your scholarship, what the documents of that period imply, would be the end of any confidence in a living authority. (21-22)

    That is, to Fortescue, this is almost an unnecessary endeavor because the Church today has declared these things to be true. However, he believes that this is such an easy belief to prove from antiquity that it’s a worthwhile venture.

    I won’t go through all of his examples and ruin the fun of reading the book. The more fascinating things he addresses, if briefly, are Denis of Alexandria coming to Denis of Rome after being suspected of false doctrine (70), Athanasius’ appeal to Rome, the canons of the synod at Sardicia (c. 344, p 73), and so forth. Because the book is less than 150 pages, this is a very easy read and I’d certainly recommend it as an intro to Patristic thought on the papacy.

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    Received in the mail: Mike Aquilina’s “Signs and Mysteries”

    I’m very very happy to have gotten this book. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out, having read several of other Mr. Aquilina’s books (The Fathers of the Church and The Mass of the Early Christians) I know that I’m in for a treat. He also has a great bibliography for anyone interested in the Fathers.

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    Book Review: The Expanded Bible (New Testament)

    ExpandedThe Expanded Bible

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0718019164
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718019167
  • Many thanks to the fine folks at Thomas Nelson for sending me a copy of their “The Expanded Bible (New Testament)”. The Expanded Bible is the product of three scholars: Tremper Longman III of Westmont College and Mark Strauss and Daniel Taylor of Bethel College. With so many Bible translations out there, why would anyone create another? Their explanation can be found in the Introduction. Essentially, the authors argue that because most people do not read the original languages, they are not privy to the many words available to translators while translating. Thus, to aid the reader in studying the Bible, they have created a translation that gives a multiplicity of readings in any given verse. The translators have chosen a formal equivalence translation theory for the text itself, but show traditional, literal, and alternative readings within the text by placing them within brackets. The volume also utilizes the brackets for short commentaries on particular passages. To show how this works, I’ll copy Matthew 1:1  here:

    This is the -family history [record of the ancestors; genealogy; (L) book of the offspring/family; (C) perhaps a title for the entire book] of Jesus -Christ [the Messiah]. -He came from the family of David, and David came from the family of Abraham [(L)…the son of David, the son of Abraham; (C) “son” can mean descendant].

    As you can see, a literal translation is marked by an suprascript “L” (which I’ve put into parentheses) and commentary by a “C”. Alternative readings are marked similarly by an “A”, traditional readings by a “T”, and so forth.

    Aesthetically, the Bible is very pleasing to the eye. I like the simple design on the front, the binding, the page color, font, etc. Headings such as “Who will enter God’s Kingdom?” (Lk 18:15) appear in the margins as well as cross-references. This makes it easy to track down a particular section of verses. As far as actually sitting down and reading the text goes – I originally thought that I wouldn’t like it. I thought the pages looked too cluttered with alternative readings or bits of commentary. However, I sat down and read the Gospel of Mark and the Acts of the Apostles. I found that I read with  more intent because I had to slow down and read over all the information. I can see how this would be extremely beneficial for the reader of the Scriptures who does not read the original languages. If anything, the brackets almost serve as little visual speed bumps, encouraging the reader to slow down and really take in what they’re reading. What I thought would be my least favorite thing about this translation is actually my favorite. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking to have a greater appreciation for the numerous word choices that translators can and do utilize when translating the Scriptures.

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    The hermeneutical practices of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and their implication for Christology

    JohnChrysostomNPThat’s easily the longest title I’ve ever had for a post, particularly what is going to be such a short post. I’ve been studying for my final in Latin and haven’t had much time to post lately. However, I’ve been reading John J. O’Keefe and R.R. Reno’s “Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible.” This book is a rarity; instead of dealing with the development of dogma or the underlying philosophy of a patristic author, the book is solely focused on analyzing the hermeneutical practices of the Fathers. It is an introduction to the way the Fathers read Scripture and an invitation to do the same. This has been a neglected element of patristic scholarship. They note that “were we to put the often-read doctrinally oriented treatises next to the volumes of largely unread patristic commentary and homily, the latter would dwarf the former.” (4)

    A great many people are familiar with Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, or Augustine’s Confessions, but too few take the time to read the texts that actually make up the bulk of patristic literature: commentary. In chapter three of their book they discuss the Christological reading of the Fathers. “The ideal interpretation is the most elegant and comprehensive. For this reason, a general theory of the data, something like a ‘total reading’, serves as a scientific goal.” (25) This “total reading” is a Christological reading of the text that accounts for all the data. They quote Ignatius in his Letter to the Philadelphians (8:2) saying(ἐμοὶ δὲ ἀρχεῖά ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός) “To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents.” (27) They then add that “the central role of Jesus is clear in Ignatius, and it comes to dominate the patristic exegetical tradition.” (28) This, of course, is clear in the New Testament where various institutions and persons are given a fresh explanation in the light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

    So, what does this have to do with anything? As I read the book and think about the numerous books on Christology in the early Church, I can’t help but notice the lack of scholarship concerning the Christ-centered hermeneutics of the Fathers and what this tells us about Christology. Can we gain insight by observing not only what the Fathers said, but how they arrived at that point after their reading of the Scriptures? Has anyone already written on this?


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