Book Reviews

Here is a selection of reviews which I did for the Amazon site.


Tertullian, First Theologian of the West
by Eric Francis Osborn
Hardcover (November 1997) 
Cambridge Univ Pr (Short); ISBN: 0521590353 

A Theological Perspective, August 14, 2001 

I was not very certain who the intended audience for this book was, but it
contains some very interesting material, and I wondered whether it is in
fact an apologia for Tertullian to a modern secularised theological
audience. If so, it is rather well done. It is telling that he begins with a
well-phrased demand that some attempt should be made to understand
Tertullian rather than moving swiftly to abuse him. He remarks that "Since
the Enlightenment, no ancient Christian writer has attracted more hostility"
and he acutely observes that much of the discussion in the past has failed
to read the context of these remarks, and has therefore consisted "of the
common game of 'telling men of straw that they have no brains.' "(p.xv). 

Osborn describes the different reactions in the literature to 'What has
Athens to do with Jerusalem' and 'Credo quia absurdum' in some depth. He
tries to give a fair statement of the positions adopted; that Tertullian is
an anti-rationalist; a rationalist; a mediaevalist - and then offers his own
insights. There is constant interest in the Stoic influence on Tertullian,
and in the connection with philosophy. Chapters follow on Adversus
Marcionem, Trinity and Christology and Montanism - where he makes the
interesting suggestion that Tertullian's theological views did not in fact
change at all throughout his extant work; only the way in which they were
expressed. 

A barrier to the correct understanding of much of what Tertullian wrote he
describes as 'Tertullian's trick', by which he means that 'missing' portions
of the argument are often to be found elsewhere in Tertullian's output, and
that Tertullian expects us to recognise it. It is also pleasing to find
recognition of the humour in Tertullian. The book is not always as easy to
read as it might be, perhaps because Dr. Osborn (rightly) tries to avoid
imposing his own opinions on it. On the other hand he is evidently
appreciative of the splendour of Tertullian's prose, and produces some nice
translations of selected phrases. 

These are just a few highlights from the book. Certainly worth a look, if
you can cope with the vocabulary. The use of theological jargon such as the
'economy of God' without explanation may be a barrier to some readers.


Tertullian : Apology and De Spectaculis (Loeb 250)
by Tertullian, G. H. Rendall (Translator), 
Hardcover (June 1977) 
Dimensions (in Inches): 0.90 x 6.64 x 4.41
Harvard Univ Pr; ISBN: 0674992768 

A useful small edition, February 19, 2001 

The Latin text of the Apologeticum is the rather elderly 1851 Oehler text;
the text of De Spectaculis is that from the serviceable 1890 Vienna edition
(CSEL 20). The translation by T.R.Glover is very readable. There are a small
number of critical notes at the foot of the Latin, although not a critical
apparatus by any means, and a useful preface. Glover draws attention to the
difficult problem of the dual Latin text and possible two editions of the
Apologeticum. A modern bibliography is on the fly-leaf.

The Apologeticum is Tertullian's most important work, and this is a sterling
translation of it. While the edition is now somewhat aged (from the 20's, I
would guess), it still is one of the best introductions to Tertullian.

De Spectaculis is a rare work by Tertullian, preserved only in a single
manuscript, and this edition makes it readily available.

The volume is completed with a Latin text and pleasant English translation
of the Octavius of Minucius Felix. This last work deserves to be better
known than it is. Preserved by the slenderest of threads, the little book
describes three friends walking along the beach at Ostia, and then holding a
Ciceronian debate about the truth or falsehood of the Christians.

Note that, as with all the older editions, a portion of the Latin of the
Octavius which is obscene is left untranslated.


Early Latin theology; selections from Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Jerome 
by S. L. Greenslade 

Out of Print--Limited Availability


A curious mixture August 31, 2001 

415 pages, publ. 1956. A series of works with prefaces are translated with
limited notes, mostly historical or giving the scripture references. Here
are the contents:

Tertullian: De praescriptione haereticorum (with selections from Irenaeus,
Adv. Haer, and Tertullian, De Pudicitia, as appendices); De idololatria.

Cyprian: De unitate; letter 33 (on the lapsed); letters 69 & 73 (on the
baptismal controversy)

Ambrose: Letter 10 (on the council of Aquileia, AD. 381); letter 17 (on the
altar of victory); letters 20 & 21 (on the struggle over the basilicas);
letter 24 (Ambrose and Maximus); letters 40 & 41 (on the synagogue at
Callinicum); letter 51 (on the massacre at Thessalonica); letter 57 (Ambrose
& Eugenius); letter 63 (the episcopal election at Vercellae)

Jerome: Letters 14 (To Heliodorus), 15 (To Pope Damasus), 52 (To
Nepotianus), 107 (To Laeta), 108 (To Eustochium) and 146 (To Evangelus).

This review will concentrate on the material by Tertullian.

Dr. Greenslade gives an excellent modern translation of the important text,
De praescriptione, and indeed I bought the book for this alone, as it is the
most modern English version of this work. The editor, in common with most
others, rejects the CSEL text of Kroymann as too arbitary, and so based his
translation on an eclectic text of his own selection. Occasionally one may
quibble at some of the text choices made - in 40, 4, following Kroymann and
the Corpus Cluniacense he omits the name of Mithras, presumably as a gloss,
although it is present in the Agobardinus, and included by Rigalt and
Oehler. It is unfortunate that the critical text of Refoule seems to have
come to hand too late to be more than mentioned in the preface. But it is a
good translation, and carries much of the force of Tertullian's work for the
general reader, and the notes will inform but not stifle.

The selections added are interesting; De pudicitia lacks any English
translation other than the elderly Ante-Nicene Fathers one, and an
unpublished version by Gosta Claesson, abandoned in favour of his magnum
opus, the Index Tertullianeus. As such, it is useful to have even such
scraps as these.

The 1890 CSEL 20 text is used for De idololatria. This translation does not
have the sparkle of the former; probably reflecting the less polished nature
of the work. It is a useful work; but there is now a more modern version by
J.H. Waszink etc which supercedes it.

The selections from other authors on other subjects did not spark my
interest, and indeed I have been unable to find the time to read most of
them. These suffer from the lack of any clear theme to the selections.

In summary, a useful volume of good clear modern translations. 


St. Irenaeus : Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (Ancient Christian
Writers, No 16) 
by W. J. Burghard, T.C. Lawler 

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Back Ordered
Paulist Press
Hardcover 
(June 1952) 

Irenaeus, the Old Testament, and the Trinity August 14, 2001 

This work is not to be found in the online collection of the Ante-Nicene
Fathers. Long thought lost, it is in fact extant only in a single 9th
century Armenian manuscript, and was discovered there at the beginning of
the 20th century. Once again the work of Irenaeus in Greek is lost; but
fortunately the Armenian is a fairly literal version, evidently intended as
a 'crib' in an era when fluency in Greek had already departed. The work was
divided (by Harnack) into 100 chapters for ease of reference. Since Armenian
is not a widely-known language of scholarship, the text has been difficult
of access to scholars.

This edition is extremely valuable to those unable to read earlier work in
German. It has copious notes on the text, a lengthy and useful introduction,
and a very readable translation. As is usual with the series, the notes are
oriented towards points of philology rather than theology.

Irenaeus puts forward the teaching of the apostles (he knew Polycarp, the
disciple of John, personally) on matters disputed by the gnostics, heretics
who attempted to corrupt Christianity with contemporary pop-paganism. In so
doing he outlines the teaching on God, the Father, the Son and the Spirit,
and without using the word gives a splendid outline of the doctrine of the
Trinity. While deriding some of the gnostic ideas, Irenaeus concentrates on
expounding the apostolic preaching, and on showing that the Old Testament in
fact preaches the same deity in three persons as the New.

The book will be useful to everyone interested in the second-century
Fathers. In view of the interest in gnosticism in our day, it will also be
useful as a reminder to those who choose to forget that those with personal
contact with the apostles and their appointees did not regard gnosticism as
a legitimate form of Christian belief. Recommended. 


Tertullian, First Theologian of the West 
by Eric Francis Osborn 

List Price: $90.00
Our Price: $90.00
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Cambridge Univ Pr (Short)
Hardcover 
(November 1997) 


A Theological Perspective August 14, 2001

I was not very certain who the intended audience for this book was, but it
contains some very interesting material, and I wondered whether it is in
fact an apologia for Tertullian to a modern secularised theological
audience. If so, it is rather well done. It is telling that he begins with a
well-phrased demand that some attempt should be made to understand
Tertullian rather than moving swiftly to abuse him. He remarks that "Since
the Enlightenment, no ancient Christian writer has attracted more hostility"
and he acutely observes that much of the discussion in the past has failed
to read the context of these remarks, and has therefore consisted "of the
common game of 'telling men of straw that they have no brains.' "(p.xv). 

Osborn describes the different reactions in the literature to 'What has
Athens to do with Jerusalem' and 'Credo quia absurdum' in some depth. He
tries to give a fair statement of the positions adopted; that Tertullian is
an anti-rationalist; a rationalist; a mediaevalist - and then offers his own
insights. There is constant interest in the Stoic influence on Tertullian,
and in the connection with philosophy. Chapters follow on Adversus
Marcionem, Trinity and Christology and Montanism - where he makes the
interesting suggestion that Tertullian's theological views did not in fact
change at all throughout his extant work; only the way in which they were
expressed. 

A barrier to the correct understanding of much of what Tertullian wrote he
describes as 'Tertullian's trick', by which he means that 'missing' portions
of the argument are often to be found elsewhere in Tertullian's output, and
that Tertullian expects us to recognise it. It is also pleasing to find
recognition of the humour in Tertullian. The book is not always as easy to
read as it might be, perhaps because Dr. Osborn (rightly) tries to avoid
imposing his own opinions on it. On the other hand he is evidently
appreciative of the splendour of Tertullian's prose, and produces some nice
translations of selected phrases. 

These are just a few highlights from the book. Certainly worth a look, if
you can cope with the vocabulary. The use of theological jargon such as the
'economy of God' without explanation may be a barrier to some readers. 


Studies in Tertullian and Augustine. 
by Benjamin Breckinridge, Warfield 

Our Price: $35.00
Limited Availability
Greenwood Publishing Group
Hardcover 
Reprint edition (June 1970) 


Orthodox, theological but a bit stodgy August 7, 2001 

The Tertullian portion of this work is rather old-fashioned and not very
enthralling. It does contain a review of the misunderstanding often
encountered on Tertullian's Adversus Hermogenem that Tertullian did not
believe in the coeternity of the Son. However this is not enough to make it
a necessary purchase. Not bad - just a bit too old-fashioned. 


Index Tertullianeus 
by Gosta Claesson 

Out of Print--Limited Availability


An essential philological tool August 7, 2001 

This work is in three volumes. A brief introduction in French; and then the
main body of the work. 

The book contains the Latin words used by Tertullian - even simple ones like
'et' and 'ac' - with references to the places in his works that they appear.
The typeface is that of a typewriter. 

Claesson has used the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL)
text as the base of his edition. For those who only possess the Corpus
Christianorum volumes, he draws attention to the fact that the latter
usually mark the CSEL page in their apparatus.

The book is a vital tool for all philologists, and as such must be regarded
as a huge advance in the study of the Latin of Tertullian, replacing the
limited concordances of individual works.

The only problem with this work is the text on which it is based. The CSEL
texts edited by Kroymann are notorious for the arbitrary treatment given to
the transmitted text by this disciple of 19th century methods. As such, few
of his conjectures have been upheld. However it is difficult to see what
alternative was available; and a good, well-edited collected edition of
Tertullian's works is still a desideratum. 

Only now with the availability of electronic CDROM's such as the Patrologia
Latina and the Brepols CDROMS of the CCSL is this work being overtaken.

The late Dr. Claesson deserves our thanks and our gratitude for this
thankless task well performed. A classic. 


Tertullian the Puritan and His Influence : An Essay in Historical
Theology 
by Cahal B. Daly 

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Hardcover 
(August 1993) 


A strange volume August 7, 2001 

The preface tells us that this volume was the thesis of the young Cahal
Daly, originally written in 1945 at the Catholic training college at
Maynooth. As such, it is a little odd to publish it now, decades later, in a
world where even Catholic verities are not quite as simple as they were
then.

Daly's book is strange, on first reading. No-one would gather from the title
that it is as much about Cyprian as about Tertullian. At every point the two
are compared; and invariably to Tertullian's disadvantage. The emphasis of
the book is on the degree to which these two authors reflect Roman Catholic
teaching in Ireland at that date. Cyprian is good; Tertullian is bad. But
neither, good or bad, lives in the book, and no picture of either man
emerges.

The title of Tertullian as a 'Puritan' is highly anachronistic; and in the
mouth of an Irish Catholic of 1945 highly uncomplimentary. But it is the key
to the book.

For this book does not make much sense as a book about Tertullian, nor even
about Cyprian. With a sudden sense of incredulity, the reader recognises
that it is a book about Catholic and Protestant in Ireland. Cyprian is the
figure of all that is right and worthy, the Republican Catholic; Tertullian
the image of those vile Protestants in the north. Thus the title; thus the
constant condemnation of Tertullian.

With this a certain distaste sweeps over the reader. It is as well to
remember the date at which it was written. The world was in flames. Hitler
lay dead in his bunker, and an Irish PM sent his condolences to the Nazi
ambassador. Eire was neutral, while the death-camps were liberated by the
soldiers of nations to whom Eire had given no aid. And at that time, of all
times, a young man sat down with venom in his heart to blacken his
hereditary enemies. It is difficult not to be revolted.

The book does have a certain value, as a source of references on Catholic
practise, and indeed is probably more useful as a guide to the ideas of
Cyprian. 


The Jesus Puzzle. Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? :
Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus 
by Earl J. Doherty 

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Canadian Humanist Publications
Mass Market Paperback - 390 pages 
1st edition (October 19, 1999) 



6 of 16 people found the following review helpful:
The myth makers August 7, 2001 

Doherty's book has made quite a splash on the internet. Earlier drafts of
his work are available online. Now he has bundled it all up into a
popularising book, which has certainly been found convincing by many people.

His thesis is that there is no evidence that Christianity, the world's
largest organisation, was in fact founded by a man known as Christ. This
idea enjoyed considerable popularity among atheists a century ago, in the
era before archaeology was possible in the bible lands. Doherty unashamedly
refers to the ideas of this period, and clearly would like to revive the
exploded Tubingen thesis of F.C.Baur.

Most people will presume Doherty to be the master of his material, and he
affects scholarship. However there are elements in his writing that raise
questions about this. 

Rather than discuss the whole volume of his work, perhaps it would be most
useful to zero in on the portion for which we have most evidence in the
surviving literature, the second century.

His extended discussion of the meaning of the Latin word 'nam' to show that
it is a conjunction (which any basic dictionary would tell him) tends to
suggest an undergraduate knowledge of the subject, and not specially in
Latin. 

The dating of Minucius Felix to 150 is far too early, and ignores the
massive literature, such as Axelson's Das Prioritatsproblem, on the vexed
question of the interdependence of Tertullian and MF. Modern philologists
unanimously date MF to around 230AD - some even to 258 (vide notices in the
Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea). Once it is recognised that the author
was a contemporary and colleague of Cyprian, what then becomes of the
author's argument about a 'smoking gun'? The idea that MF was second century
(160, not 150) is again dateable to 1910, and shows the antiquity of
Doherty's information.

Most readers of his discussion on the second century will come away with the
impression that a few writers support the standard view, most say nothing,
and from this silence it follows that they did not care about the issue. But
a review of all the c.2 writers shows that, of the 10 writers, 6 (perhaps 8)
explicitly assert the incarnation of God as man, and only 4 (perhaps 2) are
silent. The silent writers are also those for whom the least works have
survived. Those for whom we have some theological works both deny his
thesis, and deny that it is unimportant. Doherty's failure to grasp this is
difficult to explain.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Doherty has not done his
homework, or indeed been concerned to do it. Where his presentation can be
checked, it is misleading. Where he intends to give an impression of
scholarship, he in fact indicates that he lacks it. Any interested reader
will be frustrated by the lack of proper references.

The work is, in short, a polemic with references to data stuck on to it for
decoration. But those who really want to know would be well advised to seek
out the readily accesible primary data, devise ways to test the ideas, look
for the logical fallacies, and, above all, obtain more up to date
information on the present state of scholarship.

Does the work have value? Not to scholars, certainly; but then it is hardly
targetted at those with the facts at their fingers. Those who wish to obtain
a history of the period must go elsewhere. 

But it will be of interest to any who wish to see how strongly an argument
based on absence of evidence can be made to those unequipped to perceive the
fallacy. As such it will be a useful bibliographical reference for ideas
that will certainly be widely canvassed, and a useful way to find the source
of the many myths that will be derived from it. As such it is perhaps a
useful purchase to anyone discussing these issues, so long as they ignore
the persuasive style and look at the testable facts. 


Tertullian : The Treatise Against Hermogenes (Ancient Christian
Writers, No 24) 
by W.J. Burghardt 

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(December 1956) 


A solid translation of a difficult text July 20, 2001 

The subject of the work is the origin of the world, and therefore creation.
Hermogenes, a second century painter, cod-stoic, and heretic, following
Stoic ideas, believed that matter was coeternal with God. Tertullian was by
no means unwilling to make use of Stoic technical concepts himself, but drew
the line at importing Stoic religious ideas in preference to the biblical
teaching; and so was led to write this work. This volume is the translation
made by J.H. Waszink, the eminent Dutch scholar. Waszink also published the
Latin text from which this translation was made: Tertullianus: Adversus
Hermogenem liber. Ed. by J.H. Waszink. (Stromata patristica et Mediaevalia).
Utrecht, 1956. He went on to publish a text and German translation of
Tertullian's work De Anima, also against Hermogenes, in which he established
the definitive edition of that difficult work and make real progress in
understanding the difficult terminology involved.

Waszink was primarily a philologist of considerable reputation, and his text
is oriented at solving the many problems which the inadequate state of the
manuscripts pose for a work on so obscure a subject. 

The translation is the most recent in English of the work. At points it can
be a little stilted, since the subject is difficult, English was not
Waszink's first language, and in any event he wanted to give the literal
meaning, not a paraphrase. However it is superior to the only other English
version available, the 19th century Ante-Nicene Fathers version based on the
now very dated and inferior Oehler text. The notes are philological rather
than theological.

The most up to date version of both text and translation is the new Sources
Chretiennes Latin-French text. However Waszink's translation will be the
standard where quotation in English is a desideratum.

In summary, a good workmanlike translation of a little-known work. 


Tertullian : Apology and De Spectaculis (Loeb 250) 
by Tertullian, et al 

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Hardcover 
(June 1977) 



1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A useful small edition February 19, 2001 

The Latin text of the Apologeticum is the rather elderly 1851 Oehler text;
the text of De Spectaculis is that from the serviceable 1890 Vienna edition
(CSEL 20). The translation by T.R.Glover is very readable. There are a small
number of critical notes at the foot of the Latin, although not a critical
apparatus by any means, and a useful preface. Glover draws attention to the
difficult problem of the dual Latin text and possible two editions of the
Apologeticum. A modern bibliography is on the fly-leaf.

The Apologeticum is Tertullian's most important work, and this is a sterling
translation of it. While the edition is now somewhat aged (from the 20's, I
would guess), it still is one of the best introductions to Tertullian.

De Spectaculis is a rare work by Tertullian, preserved only in a single
manuscript, and this edition makes it readily available.

The volume is completed with a Latin text and pleasant English translation
of the Octavius of Minucius Felix. This last work deserves to be better
known than it is. Preserved by the slenderest of threads, the little book
describes three friends walking along the beach at Ostia, and then holding a
Ciceronian debate about the truth or falsehood of the Christians.

Note that, as with all the older editions, a portion of the Latin of the
Octavius which is obscene is left untranslated. 

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.

Written 12th October 2001.

This page has been accessed by  ****** people since 15th June 2001.

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