The Epistles or John by Raymond E. Brown (Anchor Bible; Geoffrey Chapman, £19.95).
1111S IS a massive tome, and a welcome one.
We were already in Fr Brown's debt for what he taught us, a decade and more ago now, about the Johannine community in his magisterial two-volume Anchor Bible commentary on John's gospel.
Now he increases that debt, bringing the same monumental erudition and scholarly care to the Johannine Epistles, as well as one or two new insights, notably on the relationship of the Epistles to the Gospel, that the intervening years have produced.
The format will be familiar to those who read the commentary on the gospel: an extensive introduction, some very helpful appendices at the end, and detailed notes followed by more extended comments unit by unit, with each unit freshly, and in many cases illuminatingly, translated.
John one in particular, though superficially very easy to understand, is often infuriatingly obscure, partly because the author does not always give the impression that he is going anywhere in particular. It would nett in every case be true to say that Fr Brown has shed light on the obscurity (see, for instance, his treatment of the notoriously difficult "Johanninc comma"), but at least he has shown us that it is obscure.
One of Fr Brown's great merits is his scrupulous fairness (would that those who have criticised him had always been as principled!), and in this book you will find carefully reported the evidence for virtually any view that commentators have ever held on any part of the Johannine epistles, and, often enough, the considerations that serve to undermine that view.
So if you want to convince people of almost anything with regard to these intriguing documents, this is the book for you; and if those with whom you are discussing the matter are still not convinced, over 800 pages makes it a handy weapon with which to beat obdurate opponents about the head.
How to Read the Old Testament and How to Read the New Testament by Etienne Charpcntier, SCM Press, £3.95 each.
THE FIRST-TIME visitor to the library of books that we call "The Bible" has a difficult job on his hands.
The Bible has its own very distinctive world of meaning and those unfamiliar with it, or unfamiliar with modern ways of looking at it, require all the help they can get.
These two books are part of a growing number of works aimed at those who wish both to pray the Scriptures and to keep in touch with what modern scholarship is saying about them.
They are beautifully produced, and would be ideal for group discussion; the approach to the text will be found • extremely helpful, especially the "toolbox" on pages 14 and 15 of the first volume.
There is also in this volume a sound and vivid introduction to the four-source theory of the Pentatauch.
Fr Charpentier, tragically killed last year, adopts a chronoligical approach to the material, and so enables the reader to see the documents against their probable historical background. He indulges in some pleasantly humorous touches, such as a tongue-incheek exhortation not to read Ezeeial 16 or 23; above all, Fr Charpentier has the precious gift of linking the OT outwards to the NT without for one moment compromising the autonomy of the OT.
The work of the NT requires the previous one, but for my money it is even better, the introductory chapter, which shows how little threatening it is to the believer to take seriously the findings of modern biblical scholarship, is the best of its kind I have seen anywhere.
The translation is normally of a very high standard, except that on p. 32 of the OT volume the translation of the French "historique" has blurred the important English distinction between "historic" and "historical", and p. 40 of the NT volume has one quite awful literalism, but these are rare lapses by John Bowden, a skilled and justly celebrated translator; they may be inserted to keep the reader awake, but this reader at least found nothing soporific about either of these works.
Five Roads to the Cross according to the Gospels by Etienne Charpentier and Marc Joulin, translated by Margaret Lydamore. SCM Press, £2.75.
FR CH ARPENITIER'S excellent :'-!ow to Read" have already been reviewed.
This volume, sadly left incomplete at the author's untimely death, aimed at a similar blend of biblical scholarship and a sensible Modern devotional approach.
The intention of the projected work was to produce 14 stations of the cross, from the Transfiguration to the Resurrection, using not the conventional stations, but key moments in each of the four passion-narratives.
The great merit of this approach is that it allows each of the evangelists to tell the story of Our Lord's passion in his own way, so treating the gospels with the seriousness which the word demands.
Unhappily Fr Charpentier's death interrupted the project, and it might have been better left there, for Marc Joulin's continuation of it cannot be accounted a success, since he has not the same sure-footedness,
Nicholas King Si