Monday, January 18, 2016

Homilies on Numbers (InterVarsity Press)

If you have ever tried to read the Bible in a year, you know what a daunting task it can be. There are many different methods people recommend for doing so. Some say to just read ten minutes a day, and it will be super easy. Others tell you to read one Old Testament chapter, one New Testament chapter, and one book from Psalms. And still others say to read four or five chapters a day. No matter what route you go, as soon as you hit the books of Leviticus and Numbers, it's like hitting a brick wall. All those laws and all those numbers can really wear you down. Even now that I know their significance, they still cause dread in me when I approach them. Therefore, when I learned that Origen wrote a series of homilies on Numbers, I knew I had to give it a read.

Published by InterVarsity Press, Homilies on Numbers is part of the Ancient Christian Texts series. It contains 28 homilies by Origen, a man I believe has gotten a bum rap, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential and prolific writers before the Council of Nicaea. The book begins with an introduction by the translator, which gives a brief biography of Origen; speaks of Origen's exegetical method and surviving works; and tells us about Rufinus of Aquileia, the man responsible for translating Origen from Greek to Latin. The actual text then begins with an introduction by Rufinus and then dives into commentaries starting of course with Numbers 1.

The first few chapters of Numbers talk about the census that is taking place. In this book, we learn that only certain people are to be counted. Women aren't counted. Slaves aren't counted. The Levites aren't counted. The role of the Levites and their priestly office is then discussed at length. Some of the most interesting sections of Numbers to me dealt with the Israelites' time in the desert, Aaron and Miriam's jealousy of Moses, and the scouting of the Promised Land. Unfortunately in these homilies, Numbers 5 through 10 are missing. However, the most interesting story in Numbers and one of the most interesting in the whole Bible has to do with Balaam and his talking donkey. I believe Origen would agree wholeheartedly with this assessment as he devoted numerous pages and homilies to this very subject.

Overall, I found this book to be very edifying. It isn't really a book that you use for a Bible reading plan as I spoke of above. Instead, I recommend taking some time, reading a chapter of Numbers and then seeing what Origen said about that particular chapter. Remember,this is a book of homilies, not a verse by verse commentary. You will be provided with a broad, but enlightening view of what the chapter or passage means, but it won't be dissected word-by-word or even verse-by verse. So if you are looking for a better understanding of one of the toughest books to read in the Bible, don't look to modern authors, but turn instead to antiquity and see what one of the greatest minds of the Church had to say on the subject.

This book was provided to me for free by InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!