"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, June 20, 2022

Russian Orthodoxy in American Culture Wars

I confess that the "culture wars" engrossing (truly the apt word in so many ways) so-called American Christianity, already so swollen on reactionary politics and its various authoritarian fetishes, are things for which I have no patience left. But reading good scholarly analysis of the same, and seeing the connections between reactionary politics in America and Russia will make for very fascinating reading indeed when, later this year, the following book is released: The Moralist International: Russia in the Global Culture Wars  by Kristina Stoeckland Dmitry Uzlaner (Fordham University Press, December 2022), 208pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The Moralist International analyzes the role of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state in the global culture wars over gender- and reproductive rights and religious freedom. It shows how the Russian Orthodox Church in the last thirty years first acquired knowledge about the dynamics, issues, and strategies of Western Christian Right groups; how the Moscow Patriarchate has shaped its traditionalist agenda accordingly; and how the close alliance between church and state has turned Russia into a norm entrepreneur for international moral conservativism. Including detailed case-studies of the World Congress of Families, anti-abortion activism and the global homeschooling movement, the book identifies the key factors, causes and actors of this process. Kristina Stoeckl and Dmitry Uzlaner then develop the concept of conservative aggiornamento to describe Russian traditionalism as the result of conservative religious modernization and the globalization of Christian social conservatism.

The Moralist International continues a line of research on the globalization of the culture wars that challenges the widespread perception that it is only progressive actors who use the international human rights regime to achieve their goals by demonstrating that conservative actors do the same. The book offers a new, original perspective that firmly embeds the conservative turn of post-Soviet Russia in the transnational dynamics of the global culture wars.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Life of Bishoi in Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic

I have long watched the history and development of the Coptic tradition with great affection and interest. Tim Vivian, editor of this new book, is well known for his work in this area and in patristics more generally. I published some of his work in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies over the years. He and his co-workers have just released The Life of Bishoi: The Greek, Arabic, Syriac, and Ethiopic Lives, eds. Tim Vivian and Maged S.A. Mikhail.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Four translations of major accounts of the life of the fourth-century Egyptian desert father St. Bishoi, in one volume

Saint Bishoi of Scetis (d. ca. 417) enjoys tremendous popularity throughout the Christian east, particularly among the Copts. He lived during a remarkable era in which a litany of larger-than-life monastics lived and interacted with one another. Even then, Bishoi stood out as the founder of one of the four great monasteries of Scetis (Wadi al-Natrun): those of Macarius, John the Little, Bishoi, and the Baramus. Yet in spite of Bishoi’s prominence, the various recensions of his hagio-biography have received sporadic, scattered attention.

The Life of Bishoi joins other Lives of eminent monastics of early-Egyptian monasticism: the Lives of Antony, Daniel, John the Little, Macarius, Paphnutius, Shenoute, and Syncletica. These Lives are vital for what they tell us about monastic politeia (way of life), spirituality, and theology, both of the early monastics and of those who later wrote, translated, and revised the Lives. They appeared first in Greek and Coptic, and later generations translated and revised them into Syriac, Arabic and Ge‘ez (Ethiopic).

This definitive volume contains the first English translation of the Greek, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic Lives of Bishoi, each translation accompanied by an introduction that focuses on certain aspects of the source text. It also has the first transcription and English translation of an important early Greek text. The General Introduction provides rich context about the texts and textual traditions in the various languages, and thoroughly revises our knowledge about the Syriac tradition, the translation of the Syriac text here now consequently providing what is the best translation in any modern language.


Tim Vivian, California State University, Bakersfield

Maged S.A. Mikhail, California State University, Fullerton

Rowan Allen Greer III (1935–2014), an Episcopal priest and Walter H. Gray Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School, was author of Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life in the Early Church and Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present.

Robert Kitchen is a retired minister of the United Church of Canada, living in Regina, Saskatchewan. He read for the D.Phil. (Oxford) in Syriac Language and Literature and has taught Syriac studies in Sweden and Austria.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Powerful Paintings in Late Antique Christianity

As I have noted on here over the years, and in public lectures about iconoclasm and iconographic history, all artwork is political, and some of it powerful enough to provoke, or at least accompany, political change. As James Noyes first remarked, iconoclasm is always a herald to political change.

This month sees the release of a new book that reminds us of the power of pictures: Late Antique Portraits and Early Christian Icons: The Power of the Painted Gaze by Andrew Paterson (Routledge, June 2022), 212pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book focuses on the earliest surviving Christian icons, dated to the sixth and seventh centuries, which bear many resemblances to three other well-established genres of 'sacred portrait' also produced during late antiquity, namely Roman imperial portraiture, Graeco-Egyptian funerary portraiture and panel paintings depicting non-Christian deities.

Andrew Paterson addresses two fundamental questions about devotional portraiture - both Christian and non-Christian - in the late antique period. Firstly, how did artists visualise and construct these images of divine or sanctified figures? And secondly, how did their intended viewers look at, respond to, and even interact with these images? Paterson argues that a key factor of many of these portrait images is the emphasis given to the depicted gaze, which invites an intensified form of personal encounter with the portrait's subject.

The book will be of interest to scholars working in art history, theology, religion and classical studies.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Divine Inspiration in Byzantium

As noted earlier in the week, interest in all aspects of Byzantine art and its history remains high. Late next month another scholarly work will deepen our understanding: Divine Inspiration in Byzantium: Notions of Authenticity in Art and Theology by Karin Krause (Cambridge UP, July 2022), 350pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:

In this volume, Karin Krause examines conceptions of divine inspiration and authenticity in the religious literature and visual arts of Byzantium. During antiquity and the medieval era, “inspiration” encompassed a range of ideas regarding the divine contribution to the creation of holy texts, icons, and other material objects by human beings. Krause traces the origins of the notion of divine inspiration in the Jewish and polytheistic cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds and their reception in Byzantine religious culture. Exploring how conceptions of authenticity are employed in Eastern Orthodox Christianity to claim religious authority, she analyzes texts in a range of genres, as well as images in different media, including manuscript illumination, icons, and mosaics. Her interdisciplinary study demonstrates the pivotal role that claims to the divine inspiration of religious literature and art played in the construction of Byzantine cultural identity.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Byzantine and Russian Icons

Interest in Byzantine iconography has seemed to remain constant for a decade and more now. Later this year we will have a new book form a docent at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, which I visited and greatly enjoyed several years ago now: Visible Image of the Invisible God: A Guide to Russian and Byzantine Icons by Dennis J. Sardella (October 2022), 192pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

A comprehensive and beautifully illustrated guide to Russian icons — the "beating heart of the Christian East" 

Religious icons have been at the spiritual heart of the Christian East for nearly two thousand years. Their mysterious, peaceful quality and almost magnetic power can stop us in our tracks and draw our gaze, without us even knowing why. The sophisticated composition and symbolism of icons emphasize that their subjects are inhabitants of another, transcendent, world. They are not simply the art of the Christian East, but the expression and pulse of its spirituality. And on a personal level for many Christians of all backgrounds, icons are not only objects of admiration, but a deep wellspring of meditation, reflection, and veneration. 

A docent at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, for many years, Dennis J. Sardella now offers an inviting guide to the most famous icons in the collection. This vibrantly illustrated book will:  

• Introduce you to icons and instill a desire for a deeper appreciation of them 

• Teach you about their origin, their historical evolution, their complex symbolic language, and their role in the spiritual and liturgical life of the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic 

• Answer your questions about when and where the first icons were created 

• Show the physical and spiritual steps in their creation 

• Explain the different types of icons, the symbolism that is key to deciphering them, as well as their role in Eastern Christian spirituality and liturgy. 

Those who are knowledgeable about Russian icons and Byzantine icons, as well as newcomers, will find Visible Image of the Invisible God to be a treasured resource. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Ps-Denys the Areopagite Unmasked at Oxford!

Freshly released last week from the world's oldest and most prestigious academic press is The Oxford Handbook of Dionysius the Areopagite, eds. Mark Edwards, Dimitrios Pallis, and Georgios Steiris (Oxford UP, 2022), 752pp. It concerns the life and work of one of the oldest and most mysterious figures in antique Christianity. The publisher further tells us this:

This Handbook contains forty essays by an international team of experts on the antecedents, the content, and the reception of the Dionysian corpus, a body of writings falsely ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, a convert of St Paul, but actually written about 500 AD. The first section contains discussions of the genesis of the corpus, its Christian antecedents, and its Neoplatonic influences. In the second section, studies on the Syriac reception, the relation of the Syriac to the original Greek, and the editing of the Greek by John of Scythopolis are followed by contributions on the use of the corpus in such Byzantine authors as Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, Theodore the Studite, Niketas Stethatos, Gregory Palamas, and Gemistus Pletho. In the third section attention turns to the Western tradition, represented first by the translators John Scotus Eriugena, John Sarracenus, and Robert Grosseteste and then by such readers as the Victorines, the early Franciscans, Albert the Great, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Dante, the English mystics, Nicholas of Cusa, and Marsilio Ficino. The contributors to the final section survey the effect on Western readers of Lorenzo Valla's proof of the inauthenticity of the corpus and the subsequent exposure of its dependence on Proclus by Koch and Stiglmayr. The authors studied in this section include Erasmus, Luther and his followers, Vladimir Lossky, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Jacques Derrida, as well as modern thinkers of the Greek Church. Essays on Dionysius as a mystic and a political theologian conclude the volume.

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