Book Review: The Shepherd Of Hermas

The Shepherd of Hermas, by Hermas

It is hard to know what to think about this particular fragmentary book.  This particular edition of the book is about as no frills as one can imagine.  It features no introduction or foreword to set a context for the work, no discussion of why the text is missing the first twenty pages or so of its original text and why the text ends in such an odd way:  “Moreover, I sent you these virgins, that they may dwell with you.  For I saw that they were courteous to you.  You will therefore have them as assistants, that you may be the better able to keep his commands:  for it is… (104)”  Honestly, can I be blamed for wanting to know more where the text drops off, and finding at least some fault in the people who marketed this book, a standalone volume, for not including the full text even if one had to reconstruct that text from multiple manuscripts or even mss from a different language?  Perhaps not, but the text that is here is the text that is here, and although I would have preferred a complete text, one cannot review the books one wants to have read but rather the ones that one has read, and so with that in mind I would like to comment on the Shepherd of Hermas.

The Shepherd of Hermas is an interesting example of a text within the collection of the Apostolic Fathers [1], and what makes it interesting from a historical perspective does not always make it interesting from the perspective of a reader.  Hermas was a freed slave (there is some personal drama here but I will avoid discussing it at this time) who happened to be the brother of an early bishop of Rome, which accounts for his prominence as a writer in ancient history.  The book is notable for its view of moral conduct on the part of believers and the somewhat tedious and repetitious way that the book recounts some sort of dream or vision or similitude seen by Hermas and then described by some wiseacre angel who goes into vivid detail about various types of believers who have fallen astray in some fashion.  Indeed, there is a bit of a divide in this work between the way that it seeks to present Hermas, at least indirectly, as a moral authority for the Church in his time while simultaneously undercutting his moral authority by looking at his own moral failures and failures of understanding.

For the most part, though, it must be emphasized that this book is immensely tedious and repetitious.  Over and over again Hermas sees obviously symbolic images and these symbols are tediously described with every detail covered in the explanations that Hermas so frequently states.  Indeed, the persistence of Hermas in wanting to understand every detail of what he is shown is so repeated that it becomes part of the commentary of the text itself, such as when the following dialogue occurs:  “”Are you still,” he said, “without sense and understanding?”  “I must, sir,” I said, ask you of all things, because I am wholly unable to understand them; for all these things are great and glorious, and difficult for man to understand (91).”  Indeed, although this is not the most exciting ancient text, it is an interesting one in terms of the way it explores various genres of writing and it is certainly a lengthy text and a rare voice of the author’s time, even if all of that historical importance does not make it an enjoyable work to read, nor make this version a complete one instead of an obviously defective fragment.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: The Shepherd Of Hermas

  1. Pingback: The Apostolic Fathers And The Rule Of Faith | Edge Induced Cohesion

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