John J. PILCH, The Cultural World of the Apostles: The Second Reading, Sunday by Sunday, Year C. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2003. Pp. 132. $11.95 pb. ISBN 0-8146-2782-X.
Reviewed by Paul MISNER, Marquette University, MILWAUKEE, WI 53201-1881.

As an aid in particular to preachers who give homilies on the Common Lectionary, this mini-commentary on the NT Epistles scheduled to be read in the current year meets a real need. Who has not heard ill-considered efforts to bring the second reading into a sermon based primarily on the Gospel reading of the day? Pilch is not recommending this practice so much as showing how it could be done responsibly. He has previously published three volumes on the Gospel readings of Years A, B, and C, entitled The Cultural World of Jesus. His take, there as here, is to enhance understanding of the biblical texts in their original cultural context, so different in sometimes unsuspected ways from the cultural presuppositions that we bring to them. He succeeds in this endeavor sometimes by dint of repetition, e.g. as to the "anti-introspective culture of the Middle East" that took outward indications of actual states of mind so seriously. Other instances have to do with the centrality, in the common sense and social relations of ancient times and traditional societies, of "honor" (with its cognate opposite, shame), faith as "loyalty," or the harsh "pedagogy" inflicted upon male children. This approach affords insights into the original bearing of the arguments and exhortations of the readings that the perceptive homilist can transpose into current situations. I would recommend the work also for bible study or RCIA groups. They might have the leisure to read the whole biblical book from which the snippets read in the Service of the Word are taken. If they have concentrated previously on the Gospel readings and the coordinated first readings, they might usefully concentrate on the second readings for a season or a year. In his brief introduction, Pilch explains the rationale, such as it is, of the choice of second readings they have not been selected to go with the first and third readings. Nevertheless, Pilch notes in a sentence how each Sunday's second and third readings could be linked if the homilist or private hearer of the Word so desire. In general, the brevity of each commentary (a page or two) only commends the book for purposes of a quick check during preparations for Sunday worship. The brevity also means that the reader must have some previous acquaintance with modern biblical scholarship to appreciate what is being offered. A listing of recommended resources (Bruce Malina, Jerome Neyrey, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor) offers back-up assistance if needed.

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