Calvin and the Book: The Evolution of the Printed Word in Reformed Protestantism

978-3-525-55088-5The Protestant Reformation has long had the reputation as being a movement of “the Book”, led by reformers like John Calvin who were “men of the Book”. The essays in this volume reveal many of the underlying complexities of these terms.  Building on research and scholarly discussions of recent decades, these authors delve into a variety of topics related to John Calvin and the printed word, ranging from the physical changes in printed texts in the first decades of the Reformation to Calvin’s thinking about the relationship of two books – the Bible and his own Institutes – to Christian doctrine. 

Calvin remains a towering figure in the Protestant Reformation, whose theology and religious views are still often cast as rigid and unchanging.  These essays emphasize, in contrast, the evolutions and transitions that were fundamental to Calvin’s own participation in the Reformation and to the ways that his leadership influenced developments in Reformed Christianity in the following centuries. 

The contributors, international experts on the history of Calvin and Reformed Protestantantism and on Calvin’s theology, bring a wide variety of historical and theological approaches to bear on the question of Calvin’s relationship to the printed word.  Taken all together, these essays will push specialists and general readers to rethink standard assumptions about Calvin’s influence on Reformed Christianity and, in particular, about the interplay among theology, Reformed discipline, religious education efforts, and the printed word in early modern Europe.

The essays here collected … began as papers presented at the 2013 Calvin Studies Colloquium, held at Princeton Seminary. The volume itself reflects the particular focus of that conference and the essays herein are specifically related to the importance of the book in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions.

The volume commences with an Introduction: Calvin, the Book, and Reformed Traditions. Here the editor describes the value of the book in Reformation history. Calvin and Luther as Men of the Book follows; and then the remaining essays are Practicing the Books of Discipline: The Problem of Equality before the Law in Scottish Parish Consistories; Replacing Calvin? The Catechism of Calvin in Eighteenth-Century Geneva; Calvin the Historian: Biblical Antiquity and Scriptural Exegesis in the Quest for a Meaningful Past; Creating a Reformed Book of Knowledge: Immanuel Tremellius, Franciscus Junius, and Their Latin Bible, 1580–1590; God’s Play: Calvin, Theatre, and the Rise of the Book; and lastly “Even More Deeply Moved”: Calvin on the Rhetorical, Formational Function of Scripture and Doctrine.

Even a casual glance at that listing of essays will notice the specificity and narrowness of the topics they discuss.

The authors are – of course – highly qualified and the work they do is superb. The volume is, however, not extensive. It consists of only 173 pages so that readers are left wondering which essays from the Conference were left aside and why. Nonetheless, Zwingli gets a nod here and there, and that makes up for the brevity of the collection.

As to the substance of the work itself, a few excerpts should provide sufficient ‘flavor’ to give potential readers a good idea of the volume’s ‘taste’.

Luther and Calvin were both writers of genius, but they also both understood that a book is more than a text: it is an industrial product, an artifact, that requires the intervention of multiple skills and trades to bring it to an audience. We can only really understand the thought world of the sixteenth century if we keep this in mind (p. 32).

That’s a flash of insight worth remembering.

I will focus on John Calvin’s use of theatre and the influence of this both on his theology and on these cultural developments. First, I will sketch in some significant medieval developments and then suggest how Calvin made use of these in some cases, and parted company with them in others. It is well known that the theatre played a significant role in Calvin’s theological reflection (p. 124).

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I wasn’t aware that theater played any role at all in the development of Calvin’s theology; nor was I aware that the imagery drawn from theater was anything but illustrative.

The same contributor concludes

Buried in our western consciousness, sometimes too deeply to be an operative part of our lives, is a sense that there is a story, a drama that can bring us life. Our English teachers were right: reading might just help us discover that story. But I believe that sense is present in our consciousness because there is such a book, and such a story (p. 136).

If that notion seems a bit too precious to be applied to Calvin, it may well be.  The value of the essay isn’t necessarily its ideological accuracy but its ability to open to readers a potentially fruitful avenue of thought into Calvin’s own mind.  Whether or not it succeeds will have to be left to the judgment of each reader.  For myself, I confess, I find it wanting simply because it is, again, too precious; too postmodern.

Finally, an observation about the importance of reading footnotes:  I’ve long been an advocate of reading notes at the bottom of the page since there is often information contained there which is not only extremely important but also because much that matters isn’t contained in the body of the text.  This volume too offers those who bother with the footnotes important news:

The research for this essay was supported by a major grant from the AHRC of the United Kingdom. A full study of these Bibles is forthcoming in Bruce Gordon and Matthew McLean, Protestant Jerome. Reformed Latin Bibles of the Reformation, in the series Library of the Written Word (Leiden: Brill) (p. 96, note 4).

I contacted the good Professor Gordon to enquire further about the volume but have not yet received a reply.  It sounds like an incredibly interesting volume, especially given my love of St. Jerome, Latin Bibles, and the Reformation.  If I am able to discover anything further I will certainly update here.

As to the book presently under review, I can heartily recommend it.  Each essay has something to commend it and the topics – though not of interest to all – will be quite interesting to specialists.

A Festschrift Worth Noting

Frank Jehle: Von Johannes auf Patmos bis zu Karl Barth

Die Sammlung von Artikeln und Vorträgen des St. Galler Theologen Frank Jehle anlässlich seines 75. Geburtstags umfasst ein breites Spektrum: Themen der Bibel, Theologiegeschichte und Systematische Theologie ebenso wie Fragen der Ökumenischen Theologie und der Ethik. Immer wieder gehen die Texte von den Sinnfragen heutiger Menschen aus, um neue Zugänge zu biblischen Texten und theologischen Deutungen zu eröffnen.

2015, 388 Seiten, Hardcover
ISBN 978-3-290-17832-1
CHF 48.00 – EUR 42.90 – EUA 44.20


Calvin’s Book Went Missing And He Fell Ill

Throughout his life Calvin suffered from poor health – he had a delicate frame, pushed to the edge by incessant work. But this particular physical collapse had a proximate cause. One of his manuscripts had gone missing. Calvin, as was his wont, had dispatched the text of his commentary on Two Corinthians to a messenger to carry to Strasbourg, to be printed there by Wendelin Rihel. Rihel was a printer with whom Calvin had a long- standing relationship ; nevertheless, it was a complex procedure, and a risky one, as it turned out in this case. Somewhere on the 400-kilometer journey the manuscript went missing. Calvin’s reaction was extraordinary. He found he could not work. Eventually, after some months, the text turned up, but only after he had endured the sort of heartache that would all too often be associated with his writing.

So Andrew Pettegree in a grand essay in a new book titled Calvin and the Book. Lay hands on a copy!

It’s Certain to be the Best Commentary on Ezra Since Mine

cov306Liz is a lovely person and an excellent scholar and I’m thrilled to see her book out

Lisbeth Fried’s commentary on Ezra is the first instalment of a projected two-volume commentary on Ezra–Nehemiah. It is the first full-length scholarly commentary on Ezra–Nehemiah to be written since 1988 and takes advantage of recent results in archaeology, of recent historical studies on the Persian Empire, and of recent studies of the influence of Hellenistic textual and legal traditions on Judean thought. It also draws extensively on the author’s own research into the mechanisms by which the Persian Empire dominated and controlled its subject populations.

The present volume includes a new translation of the Book of Ezra, plus annotations on each verse that compare and contrast the Greek, Latin and Syriac variations, including the text of Greek Esdras A. It also provides an extensive Introduction and chapter commentaries that discuss larger historical and literary issues.

Fried concludes that Ezra–Nehemiah was written as one book at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. Although written then, it was formed from earlier texts: an Ezra memoir, a letter to Ezra from Artaxerxes II, and a Nehemiah memoir. All of these have been heavily edited, however. Fried concludes that both Ezra and Nehemiah were Persian officials, Ezra a Persian episkopos, and Nehemiah a Persian governor, and that both acted with the goals of their Persian overlords in mind, not the goals of the subject Judean population. The Judean author, writing under Hellenic domination, transformed these men into Judean heroes in order to promote the novel idea of a long tradition of foreign imperial support for local institutions—cultic, legal and physical.

Fried’s commentary promises to revolutionize how one reads the book of Ezra.

The Newly Published Festschrift for Hans Barstad… “New Perspectives on Old Testament Prophecy and History”

85703Did in past months arrive for review courtesy the publisher.

In New Perspectives on Old Testament Prophecy and History, colleagues, students, and friends of Hans M. Barstad offer essays in honour of his esteemed career in biblical studies. Contributions on prophecy include: the debate on prophets as historical figures, the biblical books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and issues of methodology and interpretation. Essays devoted to history address various historiographic issues as well as specific historical topics such as the monarchy in ancient Israel, the relationship of Judah to Edom, and the ritual of reading the law. In ways that reflect Hans Barstad’s innovative insights and methodological critiques, this collection of essays probes beyond the oft-trodden paths of biblical studies and challenges the status quo within the field.

Reviewing Festschriften is a notoriously perilous task. Reviewers have no space sufficient to analyze each essay as such an analysis would, of necessity, extend into the length of a small book itself.  Still, one needs to relate the contents, and so here are the specific essay titles (click to enlarge) :

One must also interact with the material so that potential readers of the collection have a fairly good idea about the usefulness (or not) of the book at hand and yet do so briefly.

When the honoree of the Festschrift is a relative unknown and the contributors themselves fairly little known among the members of the Guild then it is even more necessary to interact more thoroughly.  But when the honoree is the academic equivalent of a pop star and the contributors a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who are themselves, to a person, just as widely read among their colleagues and students, the task of the reviewer is to point, like a sign, and declare- ‘Behold!  They are here!’

That is certainly the case in the present volume.  No one working in the field of Hebrew Bible is unfamiliar with Hans Barstad and his efforts.  And, likewise, the contributors too are names well known among their peers and students.

While uniformly good, the essays do have their highlights- as, for instance, the observation of David Clines in his essay that

My thesis is a simple one: it is that all the Ten Commandments are, in one way or another, commandments against theft. The apparently wide-ranging set of ethical principles we find in the Decalogue can be shown to have an inner coherence when it is recognized that they are all dealing with a single ethical issue: the wrongful appropriation of the property of another person (p. 293).

Or Niels Peter Lemche, who opines

The Enneateuch cannot have been finished before the late sixth century at the earliest, and nobody apart from the most traditional biblical scholars would argue in favour of such a date. The discussion should really be: How much can be traced back to pre-exilic times? And the question might be: Is it really necessary to assert that any part precedes the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem? (p. 227).

Or the always provocative Cheryl Exum’s

The texts in which God abuses his “wife” Israel or Judah or Jerusalem are different from those in which foreign cities or nations are the object because his covenant with Israel gives God ownership of his wife and control over her sexuality. In these texts, which are my focus here, perceived (essentially male) sins of social corruption and religious infidelity are sexualized and projected onto women. Sin is identified with uncontrolled female lust and unrestrained female sexuality, and it is the promiscuous and rapacious wife’s fault that she is sexually abused because she has invited it by deliberately flaunting her husband’s will. Male control is seen as necessary and desirable. As a means of correction, the woman is punished sexually for her sexual sin in the most degrading way, and this violent physical assault paves the way for the battered woman’s reconciliation with her abusive spouse. Such texts are pornographic because they involve objectification, domination, vindictiveness, pain and degradation. They raise serious ethical questions not only because they are offensive and demeaning but also because they could be seen to give biblical sanction to the sexual abuse of women (p. 121).

Essayists also offer – from time to time- personal reflections which open valuable windows on the thought-life of Professor Barstad.  Graeme Auld writes

Hans Barstad and I met properly in person in Jerusalem, at the Second International Congress on Biblical Archaeology in 1990. Both of us have a longterm interest in the rootedness of the biblical materials in space and time, in soil and its periods. When completing a short monograph on Amos, I had been able to react briefly to his very different and more substantial study of The Religious Polemics of Amos. In turn, his “No Prophets?” included a response to some essays I had published in the 1980’s. From his arrival as Professor at the beginning of 2006 till my retirement at the end of 2007, we spent two very congenial years as colleagues in the University of Edinburgh. It was soon after he came to the University that I promised him some interaction with his “No Prophets?” It is a great pleasure now to offer within a volume in his honour this tardy set of reactions (p. 7).

Auld is one of my favorite scholars. He’s extraordinarily smart.  And extraordinarily expressive.  He personifies the spirit of the contributors as a group- erudition and wit mixed together with a massive dollop of unnecessary humility.

The whole collection is littered (or maybe better, festooned) with the bodies of inadequate readings replaced, gloriously, by more telling, accurate, appropriate, and insightful ones.  The essays teach.  The honoree is well deserving of the brilliance here encased and the essayists are exactly the very people best suited to promulgate the most learned learning.

This volume cannot be commended heartily enough.

The Unseen Realm

Unseen_Paperback_3DThe nice folk at Faithlife sent a copy of Michael Heiser’s new book of that title, which is subtitled ‘Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible’. Here’s a copy of the TABLE OF CONTENTS.

All of the book’s particulars are available here.  I must confess that I am somewhat surprised that a book which seeks to discuss the ‘supernatural’ has been published.  I’m very keen to see what Heiser has to say.

When my review is done, I’ll post it here.