※In these notes, I highlight books that were particularly helpful to me in 2012, even if they were not published in this year.↙
In Jewish history, I read less this year, particularly so that I could deepen my knowledge elsewhere. Maren Niehoff‘s Jewish Exegesis and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria is most valuable on Philo, with some interesting suggestions on Aristeas and the Septuagint. A forthcoming article by Alison Salvesen questions Niehoff’s reading of the Greek of Aristeas, but her overall project to show how Jewish exegesis (in fact, very much of Greek Jewish exegesis) developed out of intimate contact with Homeric scholarship in Alexandria is intriguing and very educative. As Homeric scholars applied certain unique methods to the interpretation of Greek classics (newly classified as such), so Jewish exegetes began applying the same. I would like to see this pushed further, and have an idea for a new project which should be international and cross-disciplinary.
Hayim Lapin‘s late 2011 publication of Rabbis as Romans was a show-stealer. I wonder if it will have as much impact as Seth Schwartz‘s Imperialism and Jewish Society, but it should be left to expert Jewish historians to determine that. What Lapin does so well is to apply various critical and theoretical methodologies to the study of rabbinic literature and Roman history, and thus to create from such analyses the picture of the rabbis as thoroughly integrated members of Roman society, and indeed as products of a Roman upper class system. I finally got into Alexander Samely‘s Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought, also theoretically rich, which should become a primer for students. He most helpfully argues (contra Neusner) that rabbinic literature is not driven by a comprehensive project of systematic theology, or of comprehensive principles. A scholar who sees such coherence is likely to have been led there by modern scholarly methodologies rather than the text itself.
A couple of years ago, Alfons Fürst and Christian Hengstermann published a new introduction and translation (into German) of Origen’s Homilies on Isaiah = Die Homilien zum Buch Jesaja; in 2011 Peeters published Origeniana Decima: Origen as Writer; and at the end of 2011 OUP published Ronald E. Heine‘s Origen: Scholarship in the Service of the Church.
The essays in Origeniana Decima are decent, but those by Fürst (on Origen’s Homilies on Isaiah, naturally), Joseph Verheyden (on Eusebius’ ‘Life of Origen’ in HE 6), John T. Slotemaker (on the Father in Origen and Augustine), Reinhart Ceulemans (on the Catena Hauniensis on Canticles), and Lorenzo Perrone (on Origen’s self-quotations), Antonio Cacciari (on the use of diastole in Origen and the Origenian tradition), and Cordula Bandt (on influence the influence of Origen’s work on the Psalms on Eusebius and Didymus), are highlights. This collection is nearly 1000 pages. Heine gives us sympathetic defence of Origen as a churchman, and questions the fairness of his heretical judgment. Heine goes a step better than Joseph Trigg and Piere Nautin to prove the environments of Alexandria and Caesarea had a substantial impact on Origen’s thought and writings. I was pleased to see some confirmation of ideas I had put forward in 2008, and also to see Heine take seriously how Origen used scriptural texts, indicating his conception of what was ‘scriptural’ was not confined to what was ‘canonical’.
Andrew Cain was on form in The Letters of Jerome: Asceticism, Biblical Exegesis, and the Construction of Christian Authority in Late Antiquity. As Heine did for Origen, Cain provided me with more ammunition in painting Jerome as a self-obsessed legacy hunter, whose concerns were often less driven by true zeal of God and more by self-exhaltation. We (Cain and myself in 2013′s When God Spoke Greek) are not suggesting Jerome didn’t also have spiritual motivations; just that they were rarely pure as is sometimes portrayed. Humans are known to be more complex and capable of possessing multiple motivations at once A much more sympathetic reading of Jerome is that of Michael Graves in his excellent Jerome’s Hebrew Philology and in his new translation of Jerome’s Commentary on Jeremiah.
Augustine bursts onto the scene for us in James J. O’Donnell‘s new text edition and commentary of the Confessions. I regret a translation did not appear with the three volume work, but there can be no question the text and commentary are much needed. Sheed’s translation works fine, and of course one should not forget Peter Brown‘s bio, which still stands above O’Donnell’s own. I also had the chance to read through the Blackwell Companion to Augustine. I usually like the Blackwell Companions, and this one was quite good, especially the contributions by Mark Edwards, Guy Stroumsa, Hildegund Müller, Eric L. Saak, and Kate Cooper. I am disappointed not more was explored with Augustine’s Greek. Not his theory of language, which does receive some treatment (if superficial), but his actual knowledge of Greek, which has been discussed before but still not fully satisfactorily. How it was left out of a Companion is not clear to me.
Moving later down the line, there was a good bit of reward in The Practice of the Bible in the Middle Ages: Production, Reception, and Performance in Western Christianity, as well as Richard Marsden‘s The Text of the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon England. I was reading the latter in hopes of seeing the preservation of the Old Latin in England, staving off the onslaught of Jerome’s new translation, and indeed the manuscript evidence shows us the rise and victory of Jerome’s translation took an awful long time to make its way out of Rome and to take over the whole church. The gems were both by Diarmaid MacCulloch. I read his newest first, the mammoth Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. On many levels this work succeeds, but it gets stronger as it moves out of the ancient period and into the medieval and Reformation eras. MacCulloch is in his element in the latter, and his prose was so enjoyable it sent me to his first Penguin paperback, The Reformation. This work of social history offers a corrective to too many overly theological treatments of the period, as MacCulloch narrates the political and social influences on the outbreak of Reformation, and the latter’s influence on subsequent political and social history. What struck me most was how secular the Reformation in fact was, though not at all denying its key actors’ spiritual concerns.