Clayton N. JEFFORD. Reading the Apostolic Fathers. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. pp. 224. &29.99 pb. ISBN: 978-0-8010-4857-9. Reviewed by Daniel LLOYD, Saint Leo University, North Charleston, SC 29406.
Clayton N. Jefford’s first edition of Reading the Apostolic Fathers (1996) deserved the strong praise it received. Writing for a general audience, Jefford offered an approachable introduction to the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. The book dedicated individual chapters to significant writings or authors of the period (for example, a chapter on The Shepherd of Hermas and a chapter on the letters of Ignatius). Although he avoided both footnotes and endnotes, Jefford integrated pertinent and advanced scholarly information into his text about each author and writing. In his preface to the second edition, Jefford points out that the original book presents “consensus perspective where these were available” and it makes “specific observations when such were warranted” (xi). In addition to the clear presentation of the structures and theological themes of each work, Reading also included a series of helpful charts and maps as well as a glossary.
The revisions made to the text for the second edition do not change the overall approach or success of the original. Jefford’s expertise, clear writing, and balanced approach to the various perspectives found in scholarship makes his revised edition valuable mainly to the intended audience, non-specialists. Those with more advanced theological training will find some useful insights throughout the text, but may be slightly frustrated by such things as spotty attention to cross-references. For example, when discussing the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Jefford provides the location of the reference in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. He neglects to do the same when discussing references to Papias in either Eusebius’ text or Irenaeus’ work.
The chief addition to the revised edition consists of an entirely new chapter on the fragments of Papias. For this new chapter, Jefford follows the pattern of presentation he uses for the others. He first provides “a brief summary of information about the relevant text” (xiii). Second, he analyzes the “details that make each text unique” (xiii). Third, Jefford presents an outline and summary of the text. Finally, he provides a bibliography of relevant studies. Such a system works well throughout the book since a consistent format of presentations can contribute to an easier ability for readers to study and retain the information he offers.
The changes to the original text are rarely more than a sentence or two in order to clarify a topic, however Jefford revises more significant portions of his chapter on the Letter to Diognetus. Taking into account recent scholarship, Jefford incorporates some changing opinions about authorship and the possible integrity of the text. He also adapts his discussion about the date of composition to clarify issues related to the development of Trinitarian thought and the development of Christianity’s contact with Judaism and philosophy. Finally, Jefford concludes that the pervasiveness of biblical words and ideas “suggest that the text was composed with a biblical consciousness that was fully informed by Christian theology and found its authority within that tradition” (174). This observation corrects any presumption that the letter avoids significant contact with Scripture.
The revised edition also improves the text’s layout. Originally, the subheadings in each chapter were placed in the margins, whereas the new edition shifts the subheadings into the field of the text. The charts are likewise updated in format, now utilizing alternating shaded rows with unshaded, making the information easier to see. These changes make reading the text more pleasant.
In the preface, Jefford notes that a major revision of the book entails the expansion of each chapter’s bibliography. Usually this just means citing more recent scholarship, but sometimes Jefford includes older technical sources left out of the first edition’s shorter form. He also adds a small section for German, French, and Italian bibliographic sources. Surely some will question the rationale for a larger technical bibliography when the text itself contains no annotations to assist the reader with the scholarship. In fact, Jefford avoids identifying any position with any specific scholar. For example, he notes that a small minority of scholars argue against the authenticity of the Ignatian letters, but he gives no indication of where a reader could find this argument (47-48). Since Jefford expands the bibliography to be a better research tool, then a brief set of endnotes identifying scholars with their positions would have assisted the student engaged in more research. Surely the inclusion of such notes would not have interfered with the structure and goal of the work as an introduction.
Reading the Apostolic Fathers is an excellent introduction to this body of texts. It introduces the non-specialist to the necessary technical ideas related to the structure of the texts, the core theological themes, and important cultural contacts on which the authors of these writings depended.