With many thanks to Baker Academic (Twitter: @BakerAcademic) for providing the review copy.
Title: Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction (Second Edition)
Author: Clayton N. Jefford
Publisher: Baker Academic
Pages: xxviii, 196 (with Glossary and Index of Ancient Literature)
This second edition of Jefford’s Reading the Apostolic Fathers (amazon.com) is a worthy successor to the first edition (published by Hendrickson Publishers in 1995).
When one initially starts to read about the Apostolic Fathers, one invariably turns to the text itself. But there are so many questions: Who are these guys? Why did they write? Where did they come from? When did they live? How was their stuff received? Is there anything really weird or wacky in there, or are these guy OK?
The documents themselves are great, but what the new reader of the Apostolic Fathers material really needs is someone to paint the landscape. To ask and answer the questions that someone used to thinking about the New Testament would ask.
Jefford provides that in this book. Almost literally.
The format is unique, and I think it works well for the target audience and the material. Jefford has one chapter for each of the major portions of the conglomeration of material we call “Apostolic Fathers”:
- Letter of Barnabas
- Letters of Ignatius
- Fragments of Papias
- Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians
- Martyrdom of Polycarp
- First Letter of Clement
- Second Letter of Clement (aka “An Ancient Homily”)
- The Shepherd of Hermas
- The Letter to Diognetus
Each of these sections is ordered in an Answer-and-Question format. The very first section of each portion gives the “Answers”. These correspond to section titles throughout the portion, which are “Questions”. The text of the section then answers the question. For example, here are the “Answers” for Second Clement (chapter 8, p. 123):
- 8.1.1 Manuscript Tradition—one complete Greek text; one partial Greek text (1.1–12.5); one Syriac text
- 8.1.2 Literary form—early Christian homily or sermon (mistakenly called a letter by tradition)
- 8.1.3 Authorship—unknown Christian (Clement of Rome by tradition, though unlikely)
- 8.1.4 Date—AD 98–174 (probably AD 120–140)
- 8.1.5 Setting—unknown (probably Corinth, Alexandria, or Rome)
- 8.1.6 Purpose—to support Christian unity against false teachings (perhaps delivered at a service of baptism)
- 8.1.7 Primary elements—Christology; obedience of the believer; concern for end times
- 8.1.8 Special images—knowledge of God; immortal contest; potter’s clay; neither male nor female; preexistent church
- 8.1.9 Relationship to scripture—focus on Isaiah; special emphasis on New Testament Gospels and writings of Paul
In this way the high points and relevant information of the entire book are summarized. After this come the questions. In 2 Clement’s case, they are all with sections titles of 8.2.X, corresponding to these answers. The question for 8.2.1 is “Where did we get our text?” and the discussion goes on for over a page.
In the midst of the discussion, there are several boldface words. This indicates a word that is found in the glossary in the back of the book. In the page on 2 Clement textual source, items such as Codex Alexandrinus, Clement of Alexandria, and Pseudo-Clementines appear. These are all defined, a sentence or two per entry, in the glossary in the back of the book. This, particularly for an introduction, is a nice touch.
After the answers (8.1) and questions (8.2) are the contents (8.3) which consists of an “Outline of the Materials” and a short “Summary of the Argument” which is a few paragraphs. Following this is 8.4, “Related Literature", which is a bibliography, helpfully listing non-English materials in a separate section.
Each major portion has a similar four-part structure. This structure throughout the book allows the reader to get a quick overview of the material (the “answer” section), more in-depth discussion on any particular area of interest (the “question” section) as well as a quick summary of the material.
Jefford’s treatment of the material is even-handed. He mentions the possibilities and does well to not let slip where his own affinities lie. All in all, particularly for someone who knows little to nothing about the Apostolic Fathers, this is an excellent introduction that will serve the reader well—both as an introduction, and also as a quick reference after it is read.
Final note: This is a second edition. There was one major update (addition of chapter on Papias) and some minor items I noticed, discussed in more detail here: Updates to Jefford’s “Reading the Apostolic Fathers”