Category Archives: Book Review

Dualismus, Dämonologie und diabolische Figuren

Published in German.  Dualistic worldviews and demonic or devilish figures make frequent and varied appearances in both early Jewish and early Christian texts. By setting out the background and charting the development of these notions in Second Temple Judaism, this volume explains New Testament traditions within early Jewish contexts, focusing on issues of the origins of evil and its eschatological removal, the role of eschatological opponents and the function of demons. Textually, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Second Temple texts are highlighted alongside the Jesus tradition. Four concluding contributions reflect the place of demonological ideas in present theological thought and problems of handling them in church practice.
The link above also directs readers to the TOC and a reading sample.  A review copy has arrived.  More anon.

Der Synergistische Streit (1555–1564)

Im Jahr 1555 hielt der Leipziger Theologieprofessor Johann Pfeffinger eine Disputation über den freien Willen ab. In ihr betonte er, im Anschluss an die Lehre Philipp Melanchthons, dass der menschliche Wille eine Ursache bei der Rechtfertigung des Menschen sei. Diese Position wurde nach der erneuten Publikation dieser Disputation im Jahr 1558 in einem Sammelband, der alle Disputationen Pfeffingers vereinte, heftig bestritten.

Im Zentrum des Synergistischen Streits (1555/58−1564) stand die Frage nach der Möglichkeit eines freien menschlichen Willens und dessen Mitwirkung im Rechtfertigungsgeschehen. Insbesondere war strittig, ob der Mensch sich für den Empfang der göttlichen Gnade vorbereiten könne, oder ob er sich vollständig passiv gegenüber dem rechtfertigenden Handeln Gottes verhalte. Der Gefahr von Spaltungen innerhalb der Gemeinwesen durch die andauernden theologischen Streitigkeiten suchte insbesondere Herzog Johann Friedrich d.M. von Sachsen teils durch Vermittlungsbemühungen, teils auch durch Zwangsmaßnahmen entgegenzuwirken, sodass es schließlich zur Entlassung von Predigern im Herzogtum kam.

Im fünften Band der Edition „Controversia et Confessio“ sind für den Streit bedeutsame Texte von Johann Pfeffinger, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Victorin Strigel, Matthias Flacius, Nikolaus Gallus und anderen Theologen versammelt. Von besonderer Bedeutung ist die Präsentation des „Weimarer Konfutationsbuchs“ in diesem Zusammenhang.

Stay tuned.

Theologie des Alten Testaments

Konrad Schmid has a new volume- Theologie des Alten Testaments.

Unter den Teildisziplinen der alttestamentlichen Wissenschaft galt die Theologie des Alten Testaments lange als deren vornehmste Aufgabe. Doch in den letzten Jahrzehnten wurde mehr und mehr undeutlich, was eine Theologie des Alten Testaments eigentlich zu leisten habe. Konrad Schmid wendet sich zuerst der historischen Klärung des Theologiebegriffs in Anwendung auf die Bibel zu, diskutiert dann die Vielgestaltigkeit vorliegender Hebräischer Bibeln und Alter Testamente, um dann die theologischen Prägungen der Bücher und Sammlungen des Alten Testaments anhand prominenter Leittexte zu erheben. Weiter schließt der Autor eine Skizze zur Theologiegeschichte des Alten Testaments sowie eine thematisch orientierte und historisch differenzierte Darstellung wichtiger Themen alttestamentlicher Theologie mit ein. Der Band versteht sich gleichzeitig als eine gewisse Synthese der gegenwärtigen Forschung am Alten Testament in theologischer Perspektive.

See the Mohr website for the table of contents and other details.  A copy has arrived for review.  Look for it soon.

Word of God, Words of Men

The book presents many aspects of the phenomenon of translation and commentary work of the Bible in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th and 17th centuries. It contains studies of eminent scholars as well as of some young adepts, coming mainly from Poland, but also from Lithuania and Czech Republic. The texts present various aspects of the researches conducted on this phenomenon nowadays. As it was an exceptional movement, extremely varied and long-time lasting, it would be difficult to offer its complete synthesis in one volume. Though, the exhaustive presentation of the historical and linguistic contexts allows the reader to understand the phenomenon. Intensified interest in translations of the Bible is closely connected with the interest in the Polish language, its literary expression as well as its grammatical and orthographic standardisation that occurred just in the same time. The intellectual activity related to the Bible contributed simultaneously to the development of the Polish literary language and even inspired the translations of the sacred texts of other religions present in the country. Moreover, contacts between different languages of Central and Eastern European area, where many attempts of new translations appeared, are very important. A quick rise of the different Reformation movements contributed to a »natural« need for new translations and commentaries to be used by community members. These new currents, first easily accepted and spread in the country, even when suppressed, could not stop this activity, and later new Catholic translations and commentaries of the post-Trident period, both in Polish and Lithuanian, proved it. Big part of study is also dedicated to particular typographical realizations of this activity and an interesting example of the musical expression directly inspired by the biblical translation, is also provided.

This work is extremely specialized and its focus is extraordinarily narrow.  Laser beam narrow.  I think it can be said with confidence that its audience will be a quite specific group of readers; which is a shame, because it is engaging, well written, and informative.

The link above takes readers to the book’s webpage where one finds a ‘leseprobe’.  There readers can sample the table of contents and the front matter.  Please do take a look at some point.

As I suggested above, this volume is quite focused and its chapters are very narrow in scope.  For instance:

Words of God Cut in Wood. Some Remarks about the Illustrations in Polish Renaissance Editions of the Bible.


Calvinist Bibles in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.


The Lexis of the Gdansk Bible’s New Testament (1632) in Comparison to the Brest Bible’s New Testament (1563) and the New Testament of the Jakub Wujek Bible (1599) – in Search of Adequacy of the Translation into Renaissance Polish.

Such essays will be of interest primarily to specialists in the Eastern European Reformation.  Readers outside of that particular field will probably not be drawn by the title to the contents and readers of the contents will probably not be drawn to read the essays by means of the essay titles.  But, again, they should do so.

Although extremely specialized, these essays provide exactly what historians need: details.  They also provide very fine examples of how particularized historical studies should be pursued.

In our day of dilettantes and pseudo-scholars and when there is widespread belief that if you just read a wikipedia article on a topic, you are well informed and competent, such a study reminds us that historical research is complex and complicated and takes years of familiarizing oneself with primary and secondary sources.

This work, in other words, is a very helpful corrective to dilettantism and amateurism. Even if potential readers don’t think this volume is ‘their thing’, they should take a look.  Where else, after all, will you discover

True to the Humanist principle, the Protestants published new versions whose trademark was the claim, on the title page or in the preface, that the translation had been made from the originals. Often these translations were indeed based on the Hebrew and the Greek, but in their concern to fill an urgent need some translators had recourse to other strategies such as basing themselves on other vernacular or Latin versions reputed to be particularly faithful to the originals. The translation method was either philological, if the original was closely followed (as Erasmus did in his Latin version), or inspired, in a tradition going back to Luther (for this use of the terms philological and inspired cf. Schwarz: 1955, 61 ff). Translators representing the philological tradition seek to echo every Hebrew of Greek word as emanating from the Holy Ghost; an inspired translator will render his source text as faithfully as he can while being driven by the concern to make his language sound natural and idiomatic. The difference boils down to a choice between the ad verbum and the ad sensum principles.

This book teaches.  Enjoy learning.

Reformations in Hungary in the Age of the Ottoman Conquest

Pál Ács discusses various aspects of the cultural and literary history of Hungary during the hundred years that followed the Battle of Mohács (1526) and the onset of the Reformation. The author focuses on the special Ottoman context of the Hungarian Reformation movements including the Protestant and Catholic Reformation and the spiritual reform of Erasmian intellectuals. The author argues that the Ottoman presence in Hungary could mean the co-existence of Ottoman bureaucrats and soldiers with the indigenous population. He explores the culture of occupied areas, the fascinating ways Christians came to terms with Muslim authorities, and the co-existence of Muslims and Christians. Ács treats not only the culture of the Reformation in an Ottoman context but also vice versa the Ottomans in a Protestant framework. As the studies show, the culture of the early modern Hungarian Reformation is extremely manifold and multi-layered. Historical documents such as theological, political and literary works and pieces of art formed an interpretive, unified whole in the self-representation of the era. Two interlinked and unifying ideas define this diversity: on the one hand the idea of European-ness, i. e. the idea of strong ties to a Christian Europe, and on the other the concept of Reformation itself. Despite its constant ideological fragmentation, the Reformation sought universalism in all its branches. As Pál Ács shows, it was re-formatio in the original sense of the word, i. e. restoration, an attempt to restore a bygone perfection imagined to be ideal.

Being a person fairly unfamiliar with the details of the Reformation in Eastern Europe, I found this work to be incredibly interesting.  From the very first section, which describes the influence of Erasmus and other intellectuals on the foundations of Reformation in Hungary, to the cultural context of Hungary (which is so amazingly interesting!) including its book culture and its theological understandings, to the reception and adaptation of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs among Hungarian dissidents, to the arrival and influence of the Ottomans, and the resurgence of the Roman church, every page is a revelation.

Here, for instance, we read –

The Reformation spread more easily and freely in the area under Ottoman occupation and in the Principality of Transylvania (a vassal state of the Porte) than in the Kingdom of Hungary under Habsburg rule. Radical trends of Protestantism, Antitrinitarianism and Szekler Sabbatarianism soon started to flourish in Ottoman-occupied Hungary and Transylvania.

And this genius bit-

I must admit that I love the period I study, and I may tend to idealize life in the 16th and 17th centuries. Of course, I know that this age is not better or worse than any other. These were harsh and cruel times in which chopped heads hung from the walls of Ottoman and Christian fortresses as war trophies, and religious opponents would often describe each other as devils springing straight out of hell. We can nonetheless affirm that people living in the age of the Ottoman period of Hungary were quite receptive of each other. The often cruel and violent debaters – Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Muslims – had studied each other’s works for years and lived close to each other also in a spiritual sense. There were lively and intricate commercial relations between the Christian world and Ottoman Hungary. This was not friendship, but a sense of connection.

The entire collection (and these are previously published in a variety of places) is an eye-opener on a particular slice of Church history.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think you will as well.

Tolle, lege!

Wittenberg und die frühe Reformation

The anniversary of the Reformation directs our attention not only to Martin Luther as a person, university professor, theologian and preacher, but also to the conditions which made his impact possible, as well as the milieu in which he was acting. For exploring these topics the beginnings of the Reformation and the locale in which they took place, Wittenberg, are of particular interest. 

The essays collected in this volume are dedicated to the context, the conditions in which these historical factors developed, as well as the impulses that were set in motion by the early Reformation and their – long-term – impact. The overarching political and theological conditions, and the associated aspects in popular piety and media, are discussed alongside life in the town and at the university of Wittenberg as a microcosmos of the early Reformation.

The volume at hand is comprised of the following:

I  Frömmigkeit und Kirchenkritik

  • Christopher Spehr- Der Ablass am Vorabend der Reformation- Praxis – Theologie – Kritik
  • Livia Cárdenas- Heilsgeschehen, Seelenrettung, Weltgeschichte: Das Wittenberger Heiltum
  • Wolf-Friedrich Schäufele- Die Kirchenkritik des Hoch- und Spätmittelalters und ihre Bedeutung für die Reformation
  • Rosemarie Aulinger- Die Gravamina auf den Reichstagen 1521–1530 und ihr Vorgeschichte
  • Enno Bünz- Luther und seine Mitbrüder – Das Wittenberger Augustinerkloster in der Reformationszeit

II  Luthers Umfeld

  • Insa Christiane Hennen- Wittenbergs Stadtbild in der Reformationszeit
  • Stefan Oehmig- Wittenberg am Beginn der Reformationszeit- Beobachtungen anhand der Kämmereirechnungen der Jahre um 1517
  • Uwe Schirmer- Verregnete Reformation? Witterung, Wetteranomalien und Klimatendenzen in Mitteldeutschland(1485–1547)
  • Thomas Fuchs- Leipzig und Wittenberg als Zentren von Buchproduktion und Buchhandel in den ersten Jahren der Reformation (1517–1522)
  • Heiner Lück- Die Leucorea im Jahr 1517, Eine Momentaufnahme
  • Ulrike Ludwig- »Zu christlicher Zucht der jungen Studenten« Die Kollegien der Universität Wittenberg und der Beginn der Reformation
  • Mirko Gutjahr- Johan Oldecop- Ein problematischer Augenzeuge der Reformation

III  Beginn der Reformation und frühe Entfaltung

  • Volker Leppin- Martin Luthers Berichte über reformatorische Entdeckungen Johannes Schilling Die Verbreitung von Luthers Ablassthesen
  • Marcel Nieden- Die frühe Wittenberger Flugschriftenpublizistik (1517–1521) Beobachtungen zur Publikationssprache
  • Armin Kohnle- Die ernestinischen Fürsten Friedrich der Weise und Johann der Beständige und ihr Verhältnis zu Martin Luther in den Anfangsjahren der Reformation
  • Irene Dingel- Wie lutherisch war die Wittenberger Reformation? Von vorkonfessioneller Vielfalt zu theologischer Profilierung

Such a wide ranging and comprehensive volume which addresses so many significant aspects of the Reformation among Lutherans as this one, is immediately subject to questions concerning its limits and boundaries.  But complainers should be silent, because this volume does exactly what it needs to do: it sets Luther and his efforts firmly within their historical context.

Beginning with section one, readers are treated to brilliant analyses of the pietism and church/political situation of the lead up to Luther.  How did people believe and act and how did the Church seek to control and guide that action and thought?  What was it like to live in an Augustinian monastery and how would Luther have carried on in his daily existence?  These issues are described along with relevant others.

In section two, our attention is drawn to a series of essays addressing Luther’s environment.  What was Wittenberg like?  What was the geographical environment like?  What kind of books were produced and who was reading them?  And what was it like to be a student in that town?  These topics are not only helpfully addressed but interestingly too.  One can almost smell the sewage in the gutters.

And then in the third division the actual outbreak of the Lutheran reform is described and aspects of it addressed.  The last essay, and the final contribution to the volume by Irene Dingel brings everything to an apex and offers us readers a chance to glance into a question that remains central for Reformation research:  just how Lutheran was the Wittenberg reformation?

That truly is a terribly important question because it leads us to wonder both how much of the Reformation is Luther’s doing and how much would have happened without Luther having even been born.  I wonder- Was the momentum of history already surging towards Reform?  We know that was the case in Switzerland, where Zwingli was coming to conclusions of his own about the Church long before anyone knew Luther’s name.  Erasmus too was prodding the Church to betterment.  And then of course there is the long line of reforming spirits like Hus and Wycliffe.  Would the Reformation look like it does without Luther?  Perhaps not.  We shall never know.  But it’s delightful to ponder.

And this volume is itself delightful and filled with material it is well to ponder.

Tolle, lege!

A Companion to Heresy Inquisitions

Inquisitions of heresy have long fascinated both specialists and non-specialists. A Companion to Heresy Inquisitions presents a synthesis of the immense amount of scholarship generated about these institutions in recent years. The volume offers an overview of many of the most significant areas of heresy inquisitions, both medieval and early Modern. The essays in this collection are intended to introduce the reader to disagreements and advances in the field, as well as providing a navigational aid to the wide variety of recent discoveries and controversies in studies of heresy inquisitions.

The table of contents is available, as is often the case these days, at the publisher’s link above.

The purpose of the work is not to detail the gory details of inquisitional doings, but to examine the ‘why’ of the inquisitions.  To that end we read

With the coming of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, inquisitions came to be mocked and vilified as the most fear some weapon of the Roman Church. Polemical writers multiplied their terrors and body counts, stretching them beyond all historical recognition.

And more particularly

This collection is intended to offer a survey of the latest scholarship about inquisitions. Therefore this volume seeks primarily to focus on the origins, machinery, and operations of heresy inquisitions at different periods and in various contexts. In that sense, the chapters will concentrate particularly on the theoretical and administrative side of the inquisitions, rather than focusing on the witnesses interviewed or the “heresies” detected.

Readers then should be forewarned that many of their preconceptions about the Inquisition will be debunked and their viewpoints undermined.  And that’s a good thing.  Because it is a fact that

Scholars have done a mighty service in embedding the institutions in their contexts and, in so doing, demonstrating the absurdity of the literary and popular fixations of the myth of the “Inquisition.”

But why, then, did the Inquisition happen?  After all, there is no pressing necessity for the harsh methods of Inquisition.  So what happened to make ‘satan into satan’ (as it were)?

Heresy inquisitions were not, then, inevitable. Henry Charles Lea, the greatest American historian of inquisitions, saw the Middle Ages as “bloodthirsty.”

The essayist goes on to point out that the ‘bloodthirsty’ image may be a bit of an overstatement, and the situation was much more nuanced.  Indeed

By the high Middle Ages, Christians had been warning each other of the risks and darknesses of “choice” (haeresis) for centuries. As is well known, the sense of the Greek haeresis, meaning the neutral choice among different philosophical schools, transformed in the hands of the earliest Christians, who identified certain doctrines, texts, and customs as heresy in the very process of – and in the service of the process of – claiming others as orthodoxy. The “choice” of such things was to select error, to follow individual stubbornness over community consensus, and to turn from God.

The onslaught of error is the precipitating cause of the inquisition.  This fear of otherness has its roots in Augustine (and even earlier, back into the New Testament itself).  As we are informed

Augustine was the avenue for the earliest, Greek strains of heresiology to enter the medieval West.


As early as the 1st century, Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35–c. 107) advised that the poison and corruption of heresy could be avoided by obeying bishops.

The cure, then, was to rid the body of its error.  And that is why inquisitorial procedures came on the scene.  But we still have not arrived at the place where we can understand the ‘why’ of the inquisition’s violence.  To understand that fact, we are informed

As we have seen, some of these spiritual foundations of medieval heresy inquisitions reached back to Christianity’s origins, if not quite so far as the Garden of Eden! But fears of heresy, the relationships between a stubborn individual and an authoritative community, warnings about purgatory and hell, body versus soul, et cetera flowered forth into persecution only in the apt circumstances – of the state, of the church as an institution – of the high Middle Ages.

And more to the point:

Perhaps what changed in the high Middle Ages was simply that Latin churchmen gained an unprecedented amount of confidence and power, in which they finally decided that they could attempt to be as coercive as Augustine’s God – the coercive God whom Christian clerics had long worshipped, but whom they had not, until then, dared to emulate.

I.e., the establishment of the truly authoritative Church (and not just spiritually authoritative, but politically so in no uncertain terms) was the catalyst for the violence of the inquisition.

From this point onward, the Church began to exercise its authority over body and soul.  And used every tool at its disposal to do so.

Although Bernard did not succeed in suppressing Henry at the council of Pisa, the Cistercian monk’s efforts, in fact, reveal the importance of the council as a tool in the defense of orthodoxy against popular heresy.


As the sermons of Ademar reveal, heresy and its repression was one of the major concerns of Western Christendom in the 11th and 12th centuries.

And then, most tellingly

It was inevitable that inquisitorial procedure would be applied to the prosecution of heretics, since purgation was hardly an effective means of countering the spread of heresy.

Mere correction didn’t work to correct error.  Harsher measures were needed.  The remainder of the volume shows in brilliant detail how all of this worked itself out in the history of the Church.

This volume is fascinating, well written, and engaging.  Get it.  Read it.  Absorb it.  Learn from it.  Teach from it.

How the Bible is Written

Hendrickson sent a copy of this volume, for review, without any expectation of that review being positive, negative, or neutral.

Readers typically approach the Bible (and specifically, the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) primarily for its moral teachings, theological insights, historical information, and the like, without giving much or even any consideration to the literary aspects of the text. The result is that while the Bible’s contents are well known, the careful and often sophisticated manner in which those contents have been crafted is usually poorly understood. As a result, readers frequently miss out on a great deal of the richness the Bible has to offer. The goal of How the Bible Is Written is to bring interested readers—scholars and laypeople alike—closer to the original text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and to provide them with a greater appreciation of its literary artistry and linguistic virtuosity. In short, this book focuses not so much on what the Bible says as how the Bible says it.

Specific topics treated in this book include wordplay, wordplay with proper names, alliteration, repetition with variation, dialect representation, intentionally confused language, marking closure, and more. Readers of this book will gain a profound appreciation for the artistry and genius of the biblical authors and will better appreciate how understanding the way in which the Bible is written contributes to a deeper and fuller understanding of what it says.

Many years ago I had the distinct privilege of reading Michael Fishbane’s ‘Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel’.  I have read many hundreds (thousands) of books since then, but my memory of that volume is quite vivid because it made a very great impression on me.  Indeed, few volumes have been so important for my understanding of the literature of the Hebrew Bible.

I mention Fishbane’s brilliant work because Gary Rendsburg’s new work is almost as good and equally memorable.  That is not to say that I agree with all of Rendsburg’s conclusions.  Indeed, I cannot follow him in his dismissal of the documentary hypothesis.  Sure, it has its problems, but it is still the best explanation for what we have and Rendsburg’s attempt to dislodge it from my ancient heart failed.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed Gary’s book immensely and I shall be returning to it frequently.

The volume presently under consideration is a series of 29 chapters, 8 of which have appeared in print previously to their inclusion here.  Rendsburg weaves them into the fabric of the present volume seamlessly, so without the notice on the opening pages that they belong elsewhere no one would be the wiser.

The purpose of this book is to show readers, even if they do not read Hebrew (though it will certainly help if they do, there’s Hebrew [translated too] everywhere), how the writers of the Hebrew Bible used their language to communicate superbly.  As R. remarks

To repeat the comment from the Introduction: there are lots of books on what the Bible says; this is a book about how the Bible says it.

Following the canonical order of things, Rendsburg spends the rest of his time illustrating that claim.  Along the way R. offers asides hither and yon that are worth spending time with:

Important Digression: By this point, you may be wondering whether it was indeed possible for the ancient reader of Genesis 1 to apprehend all of the literary devices inherent in the text, as delineated herein.

That is a relevant observation, to say the least.  R. answers it with aplomb.

Proceeding through the volume, readers are treated to really insightful readings of some of the Bible’s most interesting alliterative material.  By the time we arrive at chapter 21, though, we have left aside, for the most part, the exegetical portion of the volume and we find ourselves in the more speculative segment.  Accordingly, in chapter twenty one, R. asks and answers ‘When was All this Written?’  His answer for the Torah?  Around the 10th century BCE.  That’s a bit too early for my tastes, but R. has his reasons and not all of them are awful.

Chapter twenty two is R’s challenge to the documentary hypothesis.  He is right to observe

The main point is: we know absolutely nothing about the prehistory of the biblical text, for all we posses is the text in its final form.

And that, to be sure, is true.  But there are clearly different sources in that final form.  That, it seems to me, is beyond refutation.  From this point on to the end Rendsburg offers evidence for his understanding of the final form’s appearance.  And it isn’t terrible.  Nonetheless, for the present reviewer, it isn’t persuasive.

But maybe I’m just old and set in my ways and others will find it very persuasive.  It is certainly worth considering even if one does weigh it in the balances and find it wanting.

The present volume is a delight to read.  It is intelligently written and accessible even to non experts.  It is insightful and informative.  It would be ideal in a class on Hebrew poetry or in an introduction to Hebrew exegesis.  And it would also not be out of place in an Introduction to the Bible course.  Not to mention its usefulness just as a pleasure read.

I heartily and happily recommend it.

Radikal-reformatorische Themen im Bild: Druckgrafiken der Reformationszeit (1520–1560)

In den Kernjahren der Reformationszeit bediente sich nicht nur der Kreis um Martin Luther des Mediums Bild, um theologische Positionen unter das Volk zu bringen, sondern auch Theologen dem Bereich der Radikalen Reformation. Die Fragen sind hierbei: Welche religiösen Themen und charakteristischen Denkfiguren fanden einen künstlerischen Widerhall? Mittels welcher Bildmotive wurden die theologischen Vorstellungen visuell und didaktisch erfahrbar gemacht? Die Rahmenbedingungen des Druckwesens im 16. Jahrhundert, Zensur und obrigkeitliche Verfolgung wirkten sich dabei auf die Möglichkeiten von Publikation und Distribution aus und bestimmten deren Handlungsspielräume. Ebenso beeinflusste die eigene Disposition in der Bilderfrage – von Bilderablehnung und Ikonoklasmus bis hin zum Erkennen agitatorischer, lehrhafter und meditativer Bildwerte – die künstlerische Darstellung. Abschließend verdeutlicht Christiane Gruber mit einem Blick auf Grafiken der Opponenten der Radikalen Reformation – Luther und seiner Anhänger – die thematische Vielfalt der Bildmotive als auch die Diskrepanz zwischen Selbstsicht und Fremdeinschätzung. Sie behandelt Titelbilder auf Druckwerken sowie illustrierte Flugblätter von Täufern und Spiritualisten (Karlstadt, Bünderlin, Denck, Hätzer, Hoffman, Münsteraner Täufer, Franck), Porträts von Schwenckfeld in ihrer Rezeptionsgeschichte und Handzeichnungen des Laienpredigers Ziegler. Theologische und ikonographische Ergebnisse bedingen sich hierbei gegenseitig und machen die erarbeiteten Themen interdisziplinär anschlussfähig.

What is this volume about?  The author informs us that

Verstärkt wendete sich die historische Arbeit in den letzten Jahrzehnten den Bildern zu, nicht länger liegt das Augenmerk allein auf Texten als historische Quelle. Wurden Bildmedien lange Zeit nur als Illustration genutzt und ihre geschichtlich-soziale Bedeutung unterschätzt, so gelang es durch diverse Bestrebungen von Historikern, Mediävisten und Kommunikationswissenschaftlern die umfassende, den schriftlichen Medien gleichwertige Aussagekraft von visuellen Produktionen wie Gemälden, Flugblättern, Fotografien, Plakaten und Filmen hervorzuheben. Die Forschung spricht von einem ‚visual / pictoral turn.

At hand, then, is a work that aims to use illustrative artwork as a key to historical interpretation.  To do so, the author assembles 52 images from volumes and broadsheets published in the sixteenth century and which relate to the Radical Reformation.

Art can teach us volumes about how things and movements and people are viewed by persons inhabiting a particular slice of history.   As, indeed, we all learned as children, ‘a picture is worth 1000 words’.

Those pictures may not reflect history ‘as it really happened’, though, because the artist is biased or historically misinformed.  But those pictures do tell us, quite clearly, how those artists, and the people they associated with, viewed particular people and things.

The benefit of the present work is that it helps us to understand how the Radical Reformation was understood and viewed by people much closer to it in time than we are.  And thus, it provides a fresh perspective.

The table of contents can be found here under leseprobe.

After providing all the necessary background information concerning images, the era, and artistic methods, Gruber analyzes the assembled materials in clear and helpful terms and shows the importance of such materials for historical reconstruction.

This book is worth your time.

The Early Reception of the Book of Isaiah

By none less than Kristin!

This volume brings together a lively set of papers from the first session of the Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in 2016. Together with a few later contributions, these essays explore a number of thematic and textual issues as they trace the reception history of the Book of Isaiah in Deuterocanonical and cognate literature.

Contributors to this brief but important work are Kristin De Troyer, Mark Elliott, Liz Fried, J Todd Hibbard, Jill Middlemas, Edward Mills, Barbara Schmitz, Marvin Sweeney, J. Ross Wagner, and Archibald Wieringen.  The essays are listed here.

These essays were all delivered as papers at the 2016 SBL in San Antonio and edited for publication by the participants and the editors.

In the volume introduction the editors describe the contents of each essay.  Each contribution includes a bibliography and the volume concludes with very brief indices on themes, authors, biblical sources, Qumran texts, a rabbinic source, and patristic and medieval sources.

As is always the case in a collection of essays, some are very good (Fried, Elliott, van Wieringen, and Hibbard) and some are enjoyable but not what could rightly be called ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘noteworthy’ (Sweeney).  The others (Middlemas and Wagner) are engaging and helpful.

This volume will be of interest to Isaiah specialists.  And it should be read by them.  To say more would be to say too much.  Accordingly, I leave this volume to the hands and eyes of those who will engage with it.


This book will be of interest to many:

Dogmatics embodies the nature of Christian faith and reflects the truth content and meaning of the Christian understanding of God and world. Important issues in Christian dogmatics include: the clarity of the terminology used, links to biblical and church traditions, and connections to experience and thought in the contemporary life world.

The first edition of this brilliantly helpful volume was reviewed in 1996 in the pages of Theologischen Literaturzeitung. And that, I’m afraid, is the only academic review I was able to locate, in spite of the fact that the present work has gone through 5 revisions and expansions.  Which really is a shame, as this book really richly deserves far more attention than it has heretofore received.

The extensive (the volume is over 700 pages) Table of Contents is fully available here, and so will not be repeated in the lines to follow.  The volume examines in incredibly helpful ways the core issues of theological inquiry.

Commencing with a 43 page description of the theological task, H. moves on to take in hand the task of reconstructing the essence of the Christian Faith.  Here, what faith is and why it matters is discussed.  God’s revelation in Christ, the place of Scripture, the Confessions of Faith, and even the modern world are all examined in the context of the Christian faith.

H. then takes readers on a tour of the chief themes of Christianity: God, Christ, The Spirit, the Trinity (which is itself a genius descriptive tour-de-force in terms of avoiding the pitfalls of heretical nonsense), Creation, the Doctrine of Sin, the Doctrine of Redemption, and of course Eschatology.

Concerning the latter, H. delves into all the craggy corners of annihilationism, resurrection, judgment, the so called ‘apokatastasis’ of all things, and the other perilous ideas that have floated in Christian minds for a very long time.

Included as well are a very full bibliography (over 22 pages), an index of Scripture, an index of names (outside the Bible), and a subject index.

Since first appearing in 1995, H.’s book has aimed to help both Christians and Skeptics to think about and think through the faith called Christianity.  Consequently, readers aren’t ‘preached at’, they are taught (if, of course, they are willing to be taught).  H. revised the book in 1999, 2006, 2012, and then again in 2017 with the latest result being offered to the public in 2018. He has published on the subject of Ethics and of course theology.

The present work is not, in any respect, merely a monologue.  Instead, readers are here listening in on what can best be described as a multi-logue.  H. is, here, engaged in a conversation with many, many Christian thinkers whom he happily cites and interacts with.  These include such luminaries as Ebeling, Barth, Bultmann, Luther, Irenaus, Jeremias, Tertullian, Westermann, and of course, given the fact that he is learned and astute, H. also interacts with Zwingli.

Readers fearful of tackling a huge volume (though personally I have to confess, I like big books and I cannot lie…) are invited to track down their chief interests in the subject index.  Subjects discussed include but of course are not limited to Anathema, Anfechtung, Biblizismus, ecclesia invisibilis, filioque, imago dei, Mariendogma, etc.

H. is fearless in his examination of Christian doctrine, tackling things that other Systematicians avoid.  For instance, in his discussion of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, he investigates the ‘gift of healing’ (Sec.

This is a delightful work and it should be on the shelf of every theologian and even on the shelf of every skeptic.  Indeed, skeptics especially should take notice of it.  All who read it will gain much from the experience.

Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour

Ethics is not merely about tricky situations or hot topics. Instead, ethics asks questions about what sort of people we are, how we think, what sort of things we do and don’t do, and how we ought to live our everyday lives.

How might we learn ethics from the Old Testament? Instead of searching for support for our positions or pointing out problems with certain passages, trusted guide John Goldingay urges us to let the Old Testament itself set the agenda. In this volume, readers will encounter what the Old Testament teaches about relationships, work, Sabbath, character, and more.

Featuring Goldingay’s own translation and discussion questions for group use, Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour is a resource for ethics like no other. Topically organized with short, stand-alone chapters, this book is one to keep close at hand.

Goldingay’s book is brilliant.  He treats the subject at hand from the point of view of

  1. Qualities
  2. Aspects of Life
  3. Relationships
  4. Texts
  5. People

In part one, godlikeness, compassion, honor, anger, trust, truthfulness, forthrightness, and contentment are treated.  Part two examines mind and heart, wealth, violence, shalom, justice, reparation, Sabbath, animals, and work are discussed.

Part three is perhaps the most ‘controversial’ section since it is here that the topic of marriage (and who should and should not be married) is broached.  Goldingay also turns his attention to friends, neighbors, women, good husbands and wives, people you can’t have sex with, people who can’t undertake a regular marriage, parents and children, nations, migrants, cities, and leaders.

Part four is a bit different than the preceding three sections.  Instead of dealing with topics, it deals with texts: Gen 1, Gen 2, Lev 25, Deut 15, Deut 20, Ruth, Ps 72 and The Song of Songs and those texts’ relationship to ethical issues like families and authority and sex.

The final section, part five focuses on people: Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Joseph, Shiphrah, Puah, Yokebed and Miryam, David, Nehemiah, and finally the trio of Vashti, Esther and Mordecai, and how their stories contribute to our ethical education.

A conclusion wraps up the volume proper but Goldingay then follows it with a postscript on the Canaanites and genocide.  A subject index and a scripture index are also included.

There are plenty of things that this book does well.  It’s language is homey and accessible.  It offers, at the end of each chapter, a series of discussion questions.  And it is packed full of Scriptural references.  Goldingay is a scholar whose reputation for lucidity and clarity is on full display here.  His treatment of thorny issues is unblinking and when he discusses issues that matter he is unafraid of direct speech.

When, for instance, he discusses in chapter 8 the ethic of contentment, he begins by forcefully asserting that

The genius of Ecclesiastes is to look at all the concerns on which human beings focus and to point out that none of the ultimately gets us anywhere.

Goldingay also shares personal stories from his own life.  So, for example, when he discusses friends in chapter 18 he opens up his life to his readers by describing the important role his friends played when he decided to leave England for California.

His discussion of women includes a discussion of women in ministry.  His discussion of marriage includes a discussion of same sex marriage.  His examination of marriage is egalitarian in focus.  And his discussion of nations, in chapter 26, includes this sentence:

It’s quite reasonable for a nation to establish borders, as it’s quite reasonable for a family to have a home.  But a home is then the place into which the family welcomes other people and offers them hospitality, and a nation’s territory is not by nature a basis for exclusion but a basis for inclusion.  Which leads into a consideration of the place of aliens in a country.

Goldingay then cites Gen 23:2-4 and Ex 2:21-22.

This is a spectacularly learned volume and spectacularly readable nonetheless.  But one thing more needs to be said: in the preface, Goldingay offers readers who may be a bit more conservative alternative treatments of OT ethics and he does the same with those who may be a bit more liberal in their inclinations.  In other words, Goldingay tells you who you may wish to read, besides himself, on the topic which the book addresses.  And that isn’t very common.

Goldingay wants his readers to learn what the OT says about ethical issues and he wants his readers to do so even if that means pointing them somewhere else.

That’s scholarship.  This volume is utterly praiseworthy.  Read it.  And if you don’t like it, you can read his recommendations!

Red Theology: On the Christian Communist Tradition

In Red Theology: On the Christian Communist Tradition, Roland Boer presents key moments in the 2,000 year tradition of Christian communism. Defined by the two features of alternative communal practice and occasional revolutionary action, Christian communism is predicated on profound criticism of the way of the world. The book begins with Karl Kautsky – the leading thinker of second-generation Marxism – and his oft-ignored identification of this tradition. From there, it offers a series of case studies that deal with European instances, the Russian Revolution, and to East Asia. Here we find the emergence of Christian communism not only in China, but also in North Korea. This book will be a vital resource for scholars and students of religion and the many aspects of socialist tradition.

This is a tremendously informative work.  And it is as wide ranging as it is ideological.  From Kautsky to the early Church to Paul to Luther Blissett’s wonderful novel ‘Q’ (about the anabaptist lunacy of the 16th century) to Calvin to Luther, and Marx and Engels, to Bruno Bauer and on to Christians and Bolsheviks to communism in China and Korea.  And lots in between.  Each chapter is its own focus and they are not interlinked in any way but as a chronological/ geographical storyline.

What readers encounter here is a round-robin on Christianity and Communism.  Boer is a wonderful writer and his phrases are expressive and his connection to the subject matter oozes out of every line.  Boer loves his Communism, and one gets the impression that he wants readers to love it too.

But Boer is very explicit in naming his Communism as Christian communism, and that is the real goal of this work.  I.e., to show that communism and Christianity are not at all incompatible.  Whether Boer proves his case is something each reader of the work will need to decide for her or himself.

He writes, for example, in his chapter on the novel ‘Q’-

I have argued that Q offers a comprehensive recovery of the radical, revolutionary dimensions of the Reformation, especially for a range of Left wing movements today. It is indebted to the Marxist tradition of identifying the revolutionary strain of Christian thought and practice, whether in terms of early Christianity, Thomas Müntzer and the Peasants, or the Anabaptists at Münster.

Boer, it seems, sees radicalism as the roots of everything interesting in the world.   Further on Boer makes a rather odd remark:

Müntzer, Münster and the Anabaptists were not the only manifestations of radical theology and politics during the European sixteenth century. In this chapter and the next, I turn my attention to the ‘magisterial’ Reformation – although Müntzer too was called Magister Thomas…

Does Boer think that ‘magisterial’ means that the Reformations so named are led by ‘Masters’ (Magister) (i.e., people who held advanced degrees)?  Because it doesn’t.  ‘Magisterial Reformation’ refers to the fact that the cities of Wittenberg, Zurich and Geneva lent political support to the reforms initiated by the Reformers.  The Reformers were joined in reform by the Magistrates.  Hence the ‘Magisterial Reformers’.  Or perhaps Boer is simply trying to make a point that escapes me.  I do find it odd that he appears to misunderstand the term.

Calvin too, it turns out, has communistic sympathies which he can scarcely control.  As Boer opines

Time and again Calvin espies the radical possibilities of the Bible and theology, only to try to contain it within his own carefully constructed boundaries, from where it breaks out once again.

Moving forward, Boer focuses on issues of decreasing interest to me personally.  Marx, Engels, their reading of Luther, etc.  Nevertheless, I did find Boer’s descriptions incredibly interesting, even if he appears to misunderstand Luther- doubtless because he reads him anachronistically through the lens of is self professed Christian Communism.

Indeed, the chief takeaway of Boer’s engaging work is that, like Karl Barth’s 1919 commentary on Romans, the reader learns much more about Boer (and Barth) than one learns about their historical object.  Boer’s book is self revelatory.  And for that reason alone it’s worth reading.

In this volume’s pages one learns a great deal about how a modern reader of texts reads texts through a particular prism and the overwhelming power of presupposition.  The present work is an excellent introduction to Roland Boer’s vision of Christian Communism.

Enjoy it.

More Than Luther: The Reformation and the Rise of Pluralism in Europe

This volume contains the plenary papers and a selection of shortpapers from the Seventh Annual RefoRC conference, which was held May 10–12th 2017 in Wittenberg. The contributions concentrate on the effects of Luther´s new theology and draw the lines from Luther´s contemporaries into the early seventeenth century. Developments in art, catholic responses and Calvinistic reception are only some of the topics. The volume reflects the interdisciplinarity and interconfessionality that characterizes present research on the 16th century reformations and underlines the fact that this research has not come to a conclusion in 2017. The papers in this conference volume point to lacunae and will certainly stimulate further research.

Contributors: Wim François, Antonio Gerace, Siegrid Westphal, Edit Szegedi, Maria Lucia Weigel, Graeme Chatfield, Jane Schatkin Hettrick, Marta Quatrale, Aurelio A. García, Jeannette Kreijkes, Csilla Gábor, Gábor Ittzés, Balázs Dávid Magyar, Tomoji Odori, Gregory Soderberg, Herman A. Speelman, Izabela Winiarska-Górska, Erik A. de Boer, Donald Sinnema, Dolf te Velde.

The editors describe the volume as follows:

The Seventh Annnual RefoRC conference, which was held May 10–12th 2017 in Wittenberg, focused on the topic More than Luther: The Reformation and the Rise of Pluralism in Europe. Close to ninety papers on this topic were presented and a selection of these is presented in this volume. Yet this selection reflects the broadness of the conference as well as the interdisciplinarity and interconfessionality that characterizes the Reformation Research Consortium. The conference underlined, once again, the fact that research on the reformations of the sixteenth century has not come to a conclusion in 2017. Quite the contrary, the 500th anniversary of Luther′s decisive action has demonstrated how wide a field of research is still open. The papers in this conference volume point to lacunae and will certainly stimulate further research.

The link above allows access to the table of contents, which do read.  As described above, the collection here published is comprised of papers presented at a conference concerning the Reformation and its intention was to examine the varieties of reformations which sprang up in the 16th century.  These papers do a very good job of precisely that, and their breadth and scope is the great strength of the volume.  So, for instance, in a discussion of the Reformation and marriage we read

It is one of the recognised core statements arising from the historical research done on the Reformation, that the Reformation had a lasting influence on gender relationship (cf. Westphal: 2016; Conrad: 2016). The topic of marriage is a particular focus of interest in this case because it is assumed that the structure it took was altered or renewed completely. Although a clearly defined doctrine on marriage is not actually being spoken about in this case, yet there are – according to the common consensus – topics in relation to numerous individual aspects in reaction to concrete problem areas that have been broached.

And at the conclusion of a very engaging discussion of Calvinism and the rise of pluralism in Europe, which focused especially on the Huguenots, we find these lines:

From 1559 on, the Huguenots began more and more consciously to distance themselves from the ecclesiastical unity in France. Such a situation, in which a church established itself without the involvement of the government, was entirely unique, so that the Huguenots had achieved a point of no return. The familiar, age-old notion of a European Christendom guided by the church, whose pastoral care and rituals structured and disciplined the whole life, as well as the notion of the corpus christianum – all of this was more or less changed in Reformation times, although it had already begun in the time leading up to that.

And of Dort-

The Synod of Dordt, which met for six and a half months from mid-November 1618 to the end of May 1619, was convened primarily to settle the Arminian controversy that had agitated the Netherlands for about twenty years. The synod also considered other discipline cases and made decisions on a variety of other ecclesiastical matters.

After which the author goes into deep detail about the topic.

Each essay contains a very fine bibliography and each is festooned with footnotes pointing to both primary and secondary sources.

This conference volume is very useful and will expand the knowledge of all who read it.

Illustrated Wall Maps of the Bible

Hendrickson distributes here in the States the amazingly useful and carefully produced Carta edition of bible maps described below:

Carta’s Illustrated Wall Maps of the Bible is a package of 12 beautiful maps ideal for classrooms. 40″ x 28″ unfolded and covering the entire Bible epoch, these Bible maps are specially designed as a teacher’s aid and can be used in conjunction with our Atlas of the Bible, a handy reference index and chronological book (8.5″ x 11). One copy is included in the boxed set, but is also available separately. Carta’s large Illustrated Maps of the Bible are made for use in schools, Sunday schools, Bible classes, Bible Colleges or seminaries.

It comes in a sturdy box and the maps included are made of heavy glossy paper (much thicker, for example, than the road map in your car’s glovebox*) and includes maps and city plans.  They are quite large sheets at 40 x 28 and are ideal for classroom work, whether the classroom be at a college, seminary, Church, or house church Bible study.

Maps and charts are so utterly indispensable when it comes to illuminating biblical places.  Describing the region of the Galilee is one thing but showing a map of it is quite another.  These maps are ideal.

Here’s a couple of photos of me holding a couple of them so you get a sense of their size:

And the set also includes a book which lists the contents and provides a geographical index so if you are looking for a particular location you simply look it up by name and the map number and grid location is provided.

If you are lacking a set of maps for instructional purposes I would recommend this particular edition.  It’s really quite helpful.  I will make use of it, a lot.

*For the millennials, a road map is something printed on paper which drivers used to carry around in their cars before the invention of phones with maps on them and gps directions.

#ICYMI – A Discourse Analysis of Ruth. A Review of a Book I Dislike Immensely

9780310282983_455_600_90Zondervan Academic have sent along this for a looksee-

The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament serves pastors and teachers by providing them with a careful analysis and interpretation of the biblical text, rooted in a study of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and intended to track the flow of the argument in each book and passage.

The layout of the commentary isn’t the standard fare.  Instead, each pericope is titled, it’s ‘scenes’ are subdivided, the main idea of the passage is offered, the literary context is described, the structure and literary form are shown, extensive flow charts of the sentences and phrases are displayed (think sentence diagram charts), and then, finally, the text is ‘explained’.  Useful informational boxes and sidebars along with charts and graphs festoon the work, some of them resembling computer scroll boxes (I know not why).

After the text is treated, our author generates what he describes as ‘A Dramatic Reading of the Book of Ruth’.  This snippet includes a suggested stage arrangement along with the script of a play with various narrators and actors.  The work concludes with a Scripture Index, a subject Index, and an author Index.

I dislike the volume immensely.  I dislike its girth.  It attempts too much and delivers too little.  It rambles on and on endlessly in such a way that one feels as though one has visited Grandma and she’s talked about 15 disparate topics in an hour and you still have no idea what the point of it all was.  The Book of Ruth is tiny.  It shouldn’t take anyone 200 pages to explain it to modern readers of the Bible.

It’s too busy.  It’s too crowded.  The graphs and their little tiny arrows virtually gouge into the reader’s eyes and by the time a single chapter of the volume has been worked through the reader will be begging those little tiny arrows to bolt from the page and plunge themselves into and through one’s own eyes so that the misery of experiencing the volume is terminated.

There are so many excellent commentaries on Ruth.  Go buy one of them.  This isn’t one.  It isn’t even worth borrowing from the library.  it is infuriating and annoying and spite producing.  I literally hated it like I’ve not hated a book in a very long time.

Avoid this book like the plague it is.

The Doctrine of Election in Reformed Perspective

Frank van der Pol
The Doctrine of Election in Reformed Perspective
Refo500 Academic Studies (R5AS) 51,
ISBN 13: 978-3-525-57070-8

In 11 essays The Doctrine of Election in Reformed Perspective reflect ongoing investigations concerning the doctrine of election, with special focus on the Synod of Dort 1618–19. Important lines of demarcation between different Reformed orthodox groups and denominations find their root divergence, as well as historical concentration point, in relation to this very issue. The ongoing research presented in this collection can open up a fresh field of fertile investigation for theological discussion. Moreover, she may lead to interdisciplinary perspectives and a cooperative approach to research, also beyond the field of theology. For this too is the field of philosophers and historians, those who trace the history of Christianity or are studying early modern Europe.

The volume consists of three sections. In the first Part three essays reflect historical and philosophical issues before the Synod of Dort. Part Two explores aspects of the Synod of Dort itself. The focus in Part Three is on the reception of the Synod of Dort. Finally, the following question is answered: How were the Canons of Dort regarded in the 17th–19th century, and what does the history of their editions tell us?

The editor, Frank van der Pol, was the program leader of the combined research group Early Modern Reformed Theology (EMRT) of the theological universities Apeldoorn and Kampen. In cooperation with the A Lasco Bibliothek Emden the EMRT organized an international conference on Oct. 29 and 30, 2014 about the doctrine of election in reformed perspective. The research group is convinced that the dual line of research on history and theology of the Reformation tradition must continue and be strengthened. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort, the researchers, wanting to do their work in a broader context with a wider dialogue, make their proceedings accessible for more people and institutes by publishing them in this volume.

When people think about the doctrine of election they normally, if they think about it at all, link election with predestination and once they begin down that road, they invariably like predestination with the dual notion of predestination to heaven and predestination to hell (the so-called ‘double decree’).  And that has become, in the popular mind, an idea of Calvin.

But all of that is wrong.  Election and predestination are not the same thing and the double decree has absolutely nothing to do with Calvin but instead with his descendants, the hyper-calvinists.  Indeed, Calvin’s own view of predestination was very reserved.

But of course most ‘YRR’ readers and even more of the general populace are completely oblivious concerning the facts of what they profess to believe.

Hence, we arrive at the present volume.  Here, in eleven essays by as ten authors (see the table of contents in the book description at the link above) set readers on the straight and narrow path of a correct understand of the outgrowth of the doctrine’s examination at the Synod of Dort.

In both German and English, the essays in the book take us from the consequences of Dort’s decisions in the Netherlands to the influence of Melanchthon to the towering figure of Calvin to critically important discussions of election at Dort itself to John Cameron’s Universalism and into the first half of the seventeenth century and then onto Remonstrant views of predestination and even further into the views of Schleiermacher on the doctrine of predestination.  We end with a description of the various incarnations of the Canons of Dort from the 17th through the 19th centuries.

Interestingly written and insightfully so, these essays are a much needed corrective to various popular misunderstandings of the Synod of Dort’s presentation of the important doctrine of Election and the reception history (for lack of a better term) of that doctrine post Dort.

Especially intriguing are the contributions of Selderhuis, de Boer (both of his), van Lieburg, Sinnema, and van der Pol.  They were all first presented as papers at a 2014 Conference at the John a Lasco library in Emden.  A conference, I regret, I was unable to attend.  And that’s one of the reasons why the present work (and those like it) which collect and disseminate Conference papers to a much wider audience are so important both for the guild and for scholars as individuals.

The aim of the editors is to

…stimulate further discussion on both this synod and on the doctrine of election.

I think they have succeeded wonderfully.  If Dort or Election are of interest to you, then I cannot but recommend that you read this volume.

Reforming Priesthood in Reformation Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger’s End-Times Agenda

The dramatic task of re-imagining clerical identity proved crucial to the Renaissance and Reformation. Jon Wood brings new light to ways in which that discussion animated reconfigurations of church, state, and early modern populace. End-Times considerations of Christian religion had played a part in upheavals throughout the medieval period, but the Reformation era mobilized that tradition with some new possibilities for understanding institutional leadership. Perceiving dangers of an overweening institution on the one hand and anarchic “priesthood of all believers” on the other hand, early Protestants defended legitimacy of ordained ministry in careful coordination with the state. The early Reformation in Zurich emphatically disestablished traditional priesthood in favour of a state-supported “prophethood” of exegetical-linguistic expertise. The author shows that Heinrich Bullinger’s End-Times worldview led him to reclaim for Protestant Zurich a notion of specifically clerical “priesthood,” albeit neither in terms of statist bureaucracy nor in terms of the traditional sacramental character that his precursor (Huldrych Zwingli) had dismantled. Clerical priesthood was an extraordinarily fraught subject in the sixteenth century, especially in the Swiss Confederation. Heinrich Bullinger’s private manuscripts helpfully supplement his more circumscribed published works on this subject. The argument about reclaiming a modified institutional priesthood of Protestantism also prompts re-assessment of broader Reformation history in areas of church-state coordination and in major theological concepts of “covenant” and “justification” that defined religious/confessional distinctions of that era.

Jon Wood’s lovely little book is a wonderful historical work which demonstrates the ultimate failure of Bullinger’s effort to reform the clergy before the end of all things.  As he states at the end of his work

Bullinger did not successfully chart the course of subsequent eras in terms of clerical identity or church-state relations.

To see how he arrived at this conclusion, readers are led from the general understanding of the end times in chapter one, to the second chapter where clergy and clericalization are the center of attention and then on in chapter three to what Wood titles ‘End-Times Interplay of Doctrine and Lifestyle’.

The fourth chapter is pivotal and describes the transformation of Zurich’s clerics from ‘Prophets’ to ‘Priests’.  Chapter five, which is quite brief, takes us to the question of Justification (although why is not really clear to me).  In an appendix there are diagrams from Bullinger’s Sermones Synodales.  All of this is followed by a list of abbreviations and a bibliography.

This study is a very helpful investigation of the air of eschatology that permeated Switzerland and, indeed, all of Christendom in the 16th century.  In light of that sense of doom and crisis, how the clergy were organized and what their work consisted of was a critically important issue.  Bullinger’s aims and goals, in light of all this, ultimately failed.  Probably, in the view of Wood, because of the stirrings of Enlightenment on the horizon towards the end of his life.

With the increase of human learning, and science, dependence on divine revelation ceased to carry the weight it formerly possessed. And everything changed- including the tasks of Clerics.  Had Bullinger been able to see that future, he may have adapted his clerical ideals towards it.  But since no one can tell the future, Bullinger’s plans came to nothing.

Which, given how well Wood explains those Bullingerian ideals, is quite a shame.  The Reformed tradition would have been much better off if Bullinger’s ideas had prevailed and held sway.

You’ll enjoy this volume.

Die politischen Gesetze des Mose: Entstehung und Einflüsse der politia-judaica-Literatur in der Frühen Neuzeit

Vordenker der Moderne wie Thomas Hobbes, Baruch de Spinoza, James Harrington, Christian Thomasius und viele mehr griffen in ihren politischen Lehren oft auf das Modell des alten jüdischen Gemeinwesens zurück. Entscheidend beeinflusste sie dabei ein Schrifttum (politiajudaica-Literatur), das in der zweiten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts entstand und Moses Gesetze als politisches Vorbild darstellte. Markus M. Totzeck legt die erste vollständige Untersuchung zur Entstehung dieser Literatur vor. Die antiken außerbiblischen Mose-Traditionen bilden den Hintergrund seiner Arbeit. Diese Traditionen waren in der Frühen Neuzeit zum ersten Mal als Druckausgaben erschienen und hatten sich im Renaissance-Humanismus mit Konzeptionen einer uralten Theologie und Weisheit (prisca theologia bzw. prisca sapientia) des Mose verbunden. Totzeck stellt heraus, wie Debatten über die politische Relevanz der mosaischen Gesetze später in der Reformation zur Entstehung der politiajudaica-Literatur beitrugen. Die ersten Werke stammten aus der Feder humanistischer Gelehrter, die in erster Linie ausgebildete Juristen und Historiographen waren, zugleich aber auch einen mehrheitlich calvinistischen Hintergrund hatten. Die Nähe zwischen humanistischer Jurisprudenz und dem Calvinismus prägte die politiajudaica-Literatur in einer ersten Phase bis zu Petrus Cunaeus’ Werk De republica Hebraeorum libri III (1617). Die Verbreitung dieses Buchklassikers des 17. Jahrhunderts führte den ursprünglichen Rechtsdiskurs in umfangreichere politische Diskussionen.

As studies go, this one is both interesting and extensive.  At the same time, it is overpopulated and attempts, in my view, to accomplish too much.  The second chapter, for example, is a monograph on its one (see the table of contents at the link above).  The fifth chapter too is a monograph of its own.  The author clearly knows his own mind and he has a very intelligent way of expressing it.  Still, there are, to be frank, too many words.  Too many ideas are here brought together; ideas which, again, are better suited to their own individual treatment.

It isn’t that the book is too long.  It is too broad.  Sections of great interest to me include:

  • Debatten über die Geltung und politische Relevanz der mosaischen Gesetze in der Reformationszeit.
  • Die sog. Zwickauer Propheten und die Wittenberger Unruhen von 1521.
  • Heinrich Bullingers Eigenbeitrag in der reformierten Gesetzeslehre gegenüber Ulrich Zwingli in Zürich.
  • Von Straßburg nach Genf, von Johannes Calvin zu Theodor Beza.
  • Die politischen Gesetze Moses als Modell in der calvinistisch-reformierten Theologie.

But then it goes on to include

  • Transformationen: das mosaische Gemeinwesen als politisches Programm für das 17. Jahrhundert.

The problem, in my estimation, with this approach is that the reader is left with the unsettling sensation that one has tried to digest too much.  It’s similar to, metaphorically speaking, sitting down at a table and eating a full thanksgiving meal (chapter two) and being thoroughly satisfied by it and suddenly the host appearing in the room and announcing that Grandma’s birthday is that day and now we need to eat her favorite dinner along with her favorite dessert.  In sum, it is an overwhelming feast and it needs to be divided up into a couple of separate sit downs.

This volume should be two volumes, in other words.  The purpose of the work, in the words of its author, is to explain this thesis:

Die politischen Gesetze des Mose – in der Frühen Neuzeit verstand man dies im Sinne einer Eingrenzung: Zwar kann jedes Gesetz in irgendeiner Form als politisch verstanden werden, aber hier ging es um einen bestimmten Bereich des Rechts, der in Moses Gesetzen formuliert war, und im weitesten Sinne die politische Rechtsordnung, im engsten Verständnis die Gerichtsbarkeit betraf.

That’s a lot to do.  And it is done, in fine (if demanding) form.

I do recommend this work.  I enjoyed it very much.  Were I advising the author, I would advise him as I’ve suggested above: when it comes to the broad theme adopted for your thesis and it seems as though one book will do, write two.

The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy in Europe and Beyond (1545-1700)

Volume One of this three volume series has been reviewed previously, here.  The publisher also sent volumes two and three for review.

And, as always, people interested in any V&R publications in North America can order them from their distribution partner, ISD.

Exactly 450 years after the solemn closure of the Council of Trent on 4 December 1563, scholars from diverse regional, disciplinary and confessional backgrounds convened in Leuven to reflect upon the impact of this Council, not only in Europe but also beyond. Their conclusions are to be found in these three impressive volumes. Bridging different generations of scholarship, the authors reassess in a first volume Tridentine views on the Bible, theology and liturgy, as well as their reception by Protestants, deconstructing many myths surviving in scholarship and society alike. They also deal with the mechanisms ‘Rome’ developed to hold a grip on the Council’s implementation. The second volume analyzes the changes in local ecclesiastical life, initiated by bishops, orders and congregations, and the political strife and confessionalisation accompanying this reform process. The third and final volume examines the afterlife of Trent in arts and music, as well as in the global impact of Trent through missions.


A click on the volume links above will take one to the table of contents and other relevant materials.  Before proceeding you are requested to go there so as to be ‘up to speed’ with what these two works contain.

Once one comes to the realization that the volumes are comprised with the clearest and most thorough analysis of the Council of Trent presently available one can appreciate more fully the incredible importance of these works.

Volume two’s focus on clerics and governmental authority provides important materials which themselves provide insights into the 16th and 17th centuries as they are experienced by some of society’s most important personages.  To say that another way, how clerics and government officials saw themselves and their tasks are on full and clear display.  This ‘from the top down’ perspective isn’t mere elitism exposed, however but rather a clear portrayal of the wrestlings involved in important cultural trends and decisions.  And all of this in reaction and response to the decrees of the Council of Trent.

But it is volume three which enthralls and delights.  From the ways that Trent influenced art and music to the working out of the implications of Trent for Catholicism in Asia and the Global South, each essay opens new vistas and provides new insights on a very wide world.

The fact that so few (in Protestant circles) know how important and influential Trent was can be laid at the doorstep of our modern tendency to simply scratch the surface of a topic (chiefly, for many misled souls, on the wikipedia website) instead of drilling down to the meat of topics.    If one were to take, for instance, the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (which is, it has to be said, a very fine resource) as an example, one would discover merely the bare bones outline of the Council’s significance (and that, again, is as deep as most people dive today):

The spread of Protestantism and the drastic need of moral and administrative reforms within the RC Church led to widespread demand among Catholics for a Universal Council, but disputes between *Charles V and others who favoured such action, and the Popes, who were generally averse to it, long prevented a move. At last *Paul III summoned a council to Mantua for 23 May 1537, but the plan fell through owing to French resistance. In 1538 further proposals for a council at Vicenza were frustrated by the unexpected indifference of the Emperor. In 1542 the Pope again convoked the Council, this time to Trent. After yet another postponement it eventually met on 13 Dec. 1545. At the outset it was a very small assembly, composed of 3 legates, 1 cardinal, 4 archbishops, 21 bishops, and 5 generals of orders.

After describing the various Periods of the Council, they conclude

The Council ended on 4 Dec. 1563. The decrees were confirmed in a body on 26 Jan. 1564 by Pius IV, who in the same year published the ‘Profession of the Tridentine Faith’, a brief summary of doctrine, generally known as the *Creed of Pius IV. Several important works, which the Council recommended or initiated but could not effectually carry through, were handed over to the Pope for completion. The revision of the Vulgate, ordered at Trent in 1546, was concluded under *Clement VIII in 1592; and *Pius V founded the Congregation of the Index in 1571 to carry out other unfinished work, having himself issued the ‘*Roman Catechism’ (1566) and revised *Breviary (1568) and *Missal (1570). Though the Council failed to satisfy the Protestants and its reforms were less comprehensive than many Catholics had hoped for, it had established a solid basis for the renewal of discipline and the spiritual life in the RC Church, which emerged from Trent with a clearly formulated doctrinal system and an enhanced religious strength for the subsequent struggle with Protestantism.*

The entire discussion covers but two columns.  And yet thoroughness matters, and the three volumes titled The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy om Europe and Beyond (1545-1700) make that more than abundantly clear.  They should be read.  Indeed, in my humble view, students of the history of the Church should oblige themselves to read more than surface scratches.  Tolle, lege!

*F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1650-1651.