Friday, August 5, 2016

Commentaries on Genesis 1-3 (IVP Academic)

Genesis is one of the books of the Bible that I have read many times over. I'd like to say it's because I am a scholar of Genesis and wanted to understand all its intricacies and nuances. The reality is that I have read it so many times, because I have tried to read the Bible from start to finish, and Genesis is the first book in the Bible. I did succeed once in making it from Genesis to Revelation, but it was tough! Let's get back to Genesis. I think all those times reading Genesis has made it one of my favorite Biblical books, and if I was to get even more specific, I love the first three chapters most of all. Today, I'd like to tell you about a book that explains those three chapters.

Commentaries on Genesis 1-3 is a collection of commentaries by Severian of Gabala and Bede the Venerable. Most every Catholic recognizes the name Bede, but Severian is not one many would. He has a very mixed history associated with him. He was a bishop of Gabala and known as a great preacher. However, he was an opponent of St. John Chrysostom and had him banished. It seems to be a case of jealousy and pride on his part, and it was clearly a foolish error on his part. Knowing that, I read his section of the book with caution. Before each author's section, there are ample introductory notes, which tell who the authors are, the historical setting for their lives and their writings, and information on their writing styles.

Severian's writings were homily format, and they come across as very technical. He walks his audience/congregation through the Scripture phrase by phrase, and stops on certain words and expounds on them. There are times when this comes off as fascinating, and other times, it comes off as tedious. One of the fascinating parts was when he compared the beginning of Genesis with the beginning of the Gospel of John. Moses (Genesis' author) tells us that "God made," whereas John tells us that God was. Moses focused on God the Creator, and John focused on God the Eternal Being.

Bede's writings are actual commentary format, and verse-by-verse format at that. This is my preferred way to read commentaries, so it was a welcome text to read. Instead of focusing on the parts of the commentary that dealt with the days of Creation, I found the explanation of the flowing rivers from Eden to be very fascinating. I was wondering if Bede would have had better insight that modern scholars on Eden's location, but instead he defers to scholars and their accepted understanding of the modern names for the four rivers. This particular section has always fascinated me, and while he provided no answers/speculations of where Eden was, it was still an interesting read.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this volume. On the one hand, it was interesting to read the writings of Severian, because he is not one I have had the ability to read before. On the other hand, he was an opponent of Chrysostom, so I have to ask, why they didn't pick someone else to fill this volume. I personally would have picked Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, or my personal favorite, Ambrose's Hexameron. If they were insistent of Severian, then they could have also published Chrysostom. They were opponents after all, so a side-by-side comparison of their writings, would have made perfect sense. I think I would give this book between 3 and 3.5 stars. It was interesting, but when you have the ability to publish the words of the saints, why would you print the words of someone who opposed a saint?

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