A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I’ve been very quiet on here recently. This is because I’m in the fifth week of a BA in Theology, and three essays per fortnight does not leave a lot of brain-space for anything except essays. So my contribution, such as it is, to Academic Book Week is a quick look at some of the books currently on my desk: a selection that hopefully gives some idea of what an academic theology degree looks like.* (Click on the titles for more information.)
Jeremy Duff: The Elements of New Testament Greek (Third edition). Because I am a Senior Status student (i.e. I went directly into the second year of the course), I missed out on the first-year language classes. As such, Duff and an interlinear Greek-English New Testament are my constant companions. I’m at the stage with Greek where I can construct a sentence so long as it’s in the present tense and all the nouns are masculine: bread, angels, slaves, love, death, the Lord, etc.
Wilhelm Wrede: Das Messiasgeheimnis / The Messianic Secret. This seminal work from 1901 is what my tutor would call Interestingly Wrong, which is why we all have to read it. Wrede’s argument – that the author of the Gospel of Mark had Jesus issue secrecy commands and speak in parables essentially in order to explain the marginal nature of early Christian communities – no longer quite holds water under scrutiny, but his study was groundbreaking for the close attention it paid to Mark’s gospel and for its insistence that Mark came first, which is now widely accepted. If you want to think about Mark – and believe me, you want to think about Mark – you can’t get around engaging with Wrede. Relatively few academic books have this sort of lasting impact after their methodologies have withered away.
Rowan Williams: The Wound of Knowledge (Third edition). The thing about biblical studies is that you always arrive with some kind of idea of what you think the gospels are supposed to mean. It’s wrong, of course, and you then have to carefully disentangle your assumptions (religious or otherwise) from what the texts actually say, and why they might have said it, and what they don’t say – but it’s a start. However, you can quite easily begin to study patristics – the church fathers, i.e. Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, etc. – with only the foggiest idea of who these people were and what they wrote about. Or, at least, I managed it. So the first thing I do when presented with a new church father is to get out Rowan Williams’ excellent The Wound of Knowledge, which manages to give you the quick and easy essentials of a range of early theologians without in any way smoothing over the ambiguities. One would expect no less, really.
Geza Vermes: The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. This is a new acquisition and I’m really looking forward to putting it to use. The manuscripts found at Qumran, near the Dead Sea, shed light on the life and rule of an ancient Jewish sectarian community (possibly the Essenes), which was destroyed by the Romans in 68 CE. Hugely interesting in its own right, the literature is also an illuminating comparison for New Testament scholars.
David W. Baker and Bill T. Arnold (eds.): The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches. I don’t start Old Testament studies until next term, but I’ve been attending the lectures and getting very enthused about the whole endeavour. Asking difficult questions of a vast, diverse and complicated body of literature spanning hundreds of years is exactly the sort of thing I came here to do, and I can’t wait.
Kirsty Jane McCluskey is a student of Theology at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.
* Some things it isn’t: preparation for the priesthood (although many priests have one); a three-year quest to prove the existence of God; a degree in being religious.