This reviewer has joked frequently about doing a twenty minute survey of the Hebrew scripture in her introductory religion classes. Prolific scholar, Joseph Kelly, has done the reviewer one better in his Collegeville Church History Time-Line. In a breathless twenty-four pages he has provided a handy and accessible tool for those who wish to learn more about church history or who might profit from a visual approach to the panorama of events over time. While clearly not a substitute for in-depth reading on the subject, this publication should prove helpful not only to students but to those in adult education. Kelly’s timeline gives a thumbnail sketch of major events and personages in the history of Catholicism. Maps, pictures, and a pull-out centerfold make the volume user-friendly and appealing. Without the usual academic footnotes Kelly exercises the stature his scholarship has earned by occasionally offering opinion rather than simply reporting data. He, for example, asserts that the fourth century is “the most significant period in church history.” Meant to be a survey, the short volume does not provide bibliography or other scholarly appendages. While this might be considered a weakness, that judgment is true only if the book does not whet the readers’ appetites for search for more on their own. Which it does.
The reader might expect a more filling meal in Robert J. Karris’ book, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, than Karris actually provides. While this book is not written for the sophisticated scholar, it does provide some fresh insight into the gospel of Luke from the unusual perspective of references not only to eating but to food in any form. In the initial chapter Karris introduces readers to practices and diets that might have characterized the biblical time period, including the importance of hospitality exemplified in the Lucan narrative. The author shows the Lucan Jesus at table as human: “glutton, drunkard,” comfortable, associating with first century characters of dubious status (sinners, tax collectors, women), offering hospitality with a nice cloth napkin on his lap. The excellent questions for further discussion and bibliography at the end of each chapter will draw readers into further thought and dialogue. Karris offers an index, correlation of passages he has discussed to the Sunday Cycle C readings, and a good “menu” of books for further exploration. The reviewer found some of the colloquial cuteness of the author’s style somewhat off putting, but on the whole the book reflects the depth of Karris’ work and insights. This tidy volume will serve the purpose of providing what might be described as well prepared and nourishing fast food.
In The Gospel According to John and the Johannine Letters, an addition to the New Collegeville Bible Commentary series, Scott M. Lewis does a good job of picking up the major Johannine themes and differentiating the fourth gospel from its older siblings. He manages, in this brief commentary, skillfully to weave in the textures of the Johannine uniqueness—such things as the use of irony, the seven “signs,” the I AM sayings—without sounding pretentious or overly heavy-handed. For the non-professional reader he provides information on the historical context and an explanation of the Jewish feasts, a key element in John’s rendition of the gospel. The book offers a few maps and pictures, as well as questions for discussion and bibliography.
While one might raise the question of how urgent another general commentary on John is, Lewis’ work assuages that concern. Lewis is deft as he indicates the prevalent wisdom about certain passages and their interpretation. He tries to discharge the persistent anti-Jewish prejudice that John’s use of the term, “the Jews,” leaves for those who do not understand the context of the fourth gospel. Some nice turns of phrase distinguish the author’s style. An example, from his commentary on Chapter 6, illustrates: “One must assimilate Jesus as one would food, allowing his life-giving presence to become the very fiber of one’s being.” The commentary is very readable, and has the scriptural text available on the same page as the commentary, saving the reader from the hassle of moving back and forth from text to tract. Although this volume will not replace other basic commentaries on the fourth gospel, it can be recommended highly for use with discussion groups or as one resource for an introductory class on John.
All in all Liturgical Press continues to provide serious disciples—those who seek to learn more about their faith than can be provided in the Sunday homily—resources that are based in good scholarship, written in an understandable but not trivial manner, and offering tools for future growth. These three small contributions add to that list.