Book Reviews April/May/June 2022

The Jerome Biblical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century
With a foreword by Pope Francis, edited by John J. Collins, Gina Hens-Piazza, Barbara Reid OP, Donald Senior CP
ISBN 978-1474248853
2022 Bloomsbury Publishing
Hardback 2224pp, £75.00
Pastoral Review bookshop £67.50

Bible reading takes many forms. Inevitably we do it in response to the Zeitgeist, the mood of the times. So we read the biblical text in very different ways, depending on whether we are approaching it in the sixteenth-century context of the Reformers’ reservations about the Church, or the scepticism of the nineteenth century, or again, the heady days of 1968. Each of these was a rather different era from that in which we now find ourselves living. This splendid book is the grandchild of the Jerome Biblical Commentary, with its memory of the glory days of Catholic biblical scholarship. That volume appeared in 1968 in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Now it is not disparaging it to say that it was of its time; for all biblical scholarship is of its time. The JBC came out of that world, where Divino Afflante Spiritu had set biblical scholars free, and the old defensive postures of Church authorities in the eighteenth and nineteenth (and even twentieth, let it not be forgotten) centuries were no longer ‘go-to’ responses to movements in biblical scholarship. The editors of this new edition are without exception heavy hitters (if they will not mind a metaphor of that sort); what you have here is serious scholarship addressed to the concerns of our age (as is the case in all good biblical studies) and building on the work of Catholic biblical scholars down the centuries, including of course the parent of this volume, namely The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990). One of the most striking features is a foreword by Pope Francis; this is striking partly because to have the Bishop of Rome make a contribution would have been unimaginable thirty and fifty years ago. It is also striking because Pope Francis is so thoroughly imbued with Scripture and fits it freshly into the life of the Church. He is a model for our time. This hefty volume is the kind of book that readers should keep open and ready to hand when they are reading any part of the Bible. This is good and reliable scholarship, made accessible for contemporary readers.

The list of contributors is a distinguished one; some of them contributed to the 1968 version, while others are younger. Happily there is among them a far greater proportion of women, and lay people, as well as people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Inevitably this gives a different tone, a wider reach, a broader feel, all of which points a way ahead for Catholic biblical scholarship between now and the next edition, listening out for fresh (and perhaps subversive) voices.

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