Category Archives: Book Reviews

Abstract of Dignas, Beate. Economy of the Sacred in Hellensitic and Roman Asia Minor.

Dignas, Beate.  Economy of the Sacred in Hellensitic and Roman Asia Minor.  Oxford Classical Monographs.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. [Israel/Rome]

Abstract:  This book challenges the idea that sanctuaries in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor were fully institutionalised within the cities that hosted them. Examining the forms of interaction between rulers, cities, and sanctuaries, the book proposes a triangular relationship in which the rulers often acted as mediators between differing interests of city and cult. A close analysis of the epigraphical evidence based on inscriptions illustrates that neither the Hellenistic kings nor the representatives of Roman rule appropriated the property of the gods but actively supported the functioning of the sanctuaries and their revenues. The powerful role of the sanctuaries was to a large extent based on economic features, which the sanctuaries possessed precisely because of their religious character. Nevertheless, a study of the finances of the cults reveals frequent problems concerning the upkeep of cults and a particular need to guard the privileges and property of the gods. Their situation oscillated between glut and dearth. When the harmonious identity between city and cult was disturbed, those closely attached to the cult acted on behalf of their domain.

Review of Thiessen, Matthew. Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Christianity.

Thiessen, Matthew.  Contesting Conversion: Genealogy, Circumcision and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Christianity.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. [Israel/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship/Covenants]

Review:  In this new book, Matthew Thiessen argues that in the Second Temple Period and even beyond 70 CE the genealogical nature of Jewishness remained contested, even by Jews. Much scholarship suggests that by the Second Temple Period, Jews willingly accepted converts into their midst, and circumcision was the rite through which one became a Jew. With this book, however, Thiessen upsets this consensus among modern scholars and challenges the idea that consensus could be found among ancient Jews and Christians. The main question of his book is how did ancient Jews define their Jewishness? How much of their definition was based on genealogy, and if so, was that genealogy permeable or not? Thiessen argues that Jewish understandings of “Jewishness” were not united nor monolithic, and that many Jews, and even some early followers of Jesus, following biblical precedence, remained adamant that Jewishness was not a choice but an immutable inheritance of a particular people: Israel. Continue reading

Summary of Gussmann, Oliver. Das Priesterverstandnis des Flavius Josephus.

Gussmann, Oliver.  Das Priesterverstandnis des Flavius Josephus.  Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 124.  Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008. [Israel/Herod/Priesthood/Architecture/Sacred Vestments/Symbolism]

Summary:  The ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus served as a priest of the Herodian temple of Jerusalem. He was not a member of one of the different religious parties of the Jewish community before the Jewish War (70 CE), but he ascribed his own origins to the old Hasmonean high priestly family. Oliver Gussmann presents Josephus’ understanding of the priesthood by dealing with genealogy, priesthood and prophecy, theocracy, the architecture of the Second Temple and the symbolism of the high priestly vestments. This book is a contribution to the research on Josephus and the priesthood of ancient Judaism in the first century CE.

Review of W. T. Woodfin, The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium

Review of Woodfin, Warren T. The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

The Embodied Icon is an essential study of the liturgical (and imperial) vestments that were used in the Byzantine Empire and by the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Woodfin lays out, in a clear and concise manner, the types, decoration, and function of sacred clothing, as well as how these served in liturgical settings and also in the balance of power in the empire.

Continue reading

Review of Greene, Mark H., III. The Scriptural Temple

Greene, Mark H., III.  The Scriptural Temple.  Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2004. [Israel/Solomon/Second Temple/Mormon/Theology/Mountain/New Temple/Ritual/Liturgy/ Worship]

It is only fair to acknowledge a few things at the outset of this review.  First, the intended audience of this book is the Mormon community, therefore, this review is primarily for Latter-day Saints.  It will not likely be of much interest to non-Mormon users of this website.  Second, I acknowledge that book reviews are highly subjective.  Reviewers typically discuss those things that appeal to them and those things that do not.  I will follow that pattern here, calling attention to its subjective nature.  Third, it is not common for reviewers of non-academic LDS publications to be very critical of the work they are reviewing, even if it may not be a very good book however the reviewer may define that term. Continue reading

Review of Holzapfel, Richard, and David Seely. My Father’s House: Temple Worship and Symbolism in the New Testament.

Holzapfel, Richard, and David Seely.  My Father’s House: Temple Worship and Symbolism in the New Testament.   Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994. [Israel/Solomon/Herod/Christian/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship/Symbolism/Theology]

This now rare book dealing with the Temple in the New Testament is uneven in quality.  There are many, many good explanations and insights, but there are also places where there are virtually none. Continue reading

Review of Charles, John D. Endowed from on High: Understanding the Symbols of the Endowment.

Charles, John D.  Endowed from on High: Understanding the Symbols of the Endowment.  Salt Lake City: Horizon, 1997. [Mormon/Symbolism/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship]

The Editor’s Preface is about as interesting as the book.  I think this is the only time I have ever read of a publisher praying about whether or not to publish a book. Continue reading

Review of Billeter, Julius C. The Temple of Promise: Jackson County, Missouri.

Billeter, Julius C.  The Temple of Promise: Jackson County, Missouri.  Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Press, 1946. [Mormon/Independence]

This is an old and small book (small in format and 155 pages in length), about the projected temple in Independence, Missouri.  Since nothing was actually built there, the book devotes itself largely to the history of the site’s location and dedication and the subsequent Missouri persecutions.  However, the last few chapters about the RLDS-Church of Christ (Temple lot) controversy over the property, and the subsequent failed effort of the Church of Christ to build a temple there in the late 1920s does contain some interesting material not generally found elsewhere.

Review of Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture

Skinner, Andrew C. and Gaye Strathearn, eds. Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture. Salt Lake City; Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute; Deseret Book, 2012.

This volume represents the published proceedings of a conference by the same title sponsored by the Maxwell Institute’s Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, held September 26-27, 2008.  The essays included “address issues in 3 Nephi from textual, literary, and theological perspectives” and are organized by topic as these subjects arise in the book of 3 Nephi itself.  There are fifteen papers presented, including the keynote address by John W. Welch, as well as a transcript of the panel discussion that was held at the end of the conference.  These studies emphasize the importance of the book of 3 Nephi to the Book of Mormon as a whole and to our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The range of topics covered includes: identification of temple themes, exegesis of particular passages, intertextual studies, ritual studies, theological treatises, use of biblical passages, and a study on musical form in 3 Nephi.  There are a number of pieces that are of particular value to those interested in temple studies. Continue reading