Book Review: The Two Ways: The Early Christian Vision Of Discipleship From The Didache & The Shepherd Of Hermas, with an introduction by Rowan Williams
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Plough Publishing House and Edelweiss/Net Gallery. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Having already read and made myself familiar with the collection of apostolic fathers and even started writing at some length about them , I came across this book somewhat by chance, as the publisher sent me an e-mail requesting a review since I had reviewed a previous book of theirs. While I do not think the publisher was aware that the Apostolic Fathers were such a serious interest of mine as a writer, it so happens that I can definitely appreciate this work, which comes in at just under 100 pages and serves as a worthwhile introduction to two of the works of this venerable and all-too-obscure collection of ancient texts. With a thoughtful introduction by Rowan Williams, this book clearly appeals to those who have an interest in Hellenistic Christianity and would like to better understand some of the ways in which that way of thinking started in the early centuries of the Christian era.
The contents of this book are simple and straightforward. For one, there is an introduction which places this book in a friendly context, tying the writings of the Apostolic Fathers as a whole to the persecutions of the Roman Empire and to the ambivalent at best relationship with the Roman state that early Christians had. The introduction also speaks out against the militarism that has become all too common among contemporary Christians as well. After this there comes an elegant and straightforward translation of both the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas in a form that is easy to read and understand and that should find a great deal of interest from readers. The books are not written for scholarly interpretation, and they are largely free of textual notes, but they are definitely accessible for a mass reading audience that will likely appreciate the low cost and ease of reading that can be found in this particular collection. At present the Apostolic Fathers as a whole are an extremely obscure set of books, but with more volumes like this one in mass circulation they will probably become much better known than they are at present.
One of the aspects that makes this version of the Shepherd of Hermas in particular far better than many of its competitors is being a complete version (rather than beginning abruptly as some do) and in having introductory material that helps place the book in the context of its writing in the second century. Likewise, the Didache version included here is a very excellent one–the translation work done is quite excellent overall. This is the sort of book that is easy to appreciate, and even when a reader is not necessarily one for whom the label of Hellenistic Christian fits, and who has some questions about what is meant by the Didache in particular , this is definitely a welcome volume. Although not all readers of this book are likely to have a scholarly interest in early Christianity, it is likely that a great many readers will find much to admire here. Those looking for ancient warrant for their own beliefs and in their own interpretations of scripture as well as their own efforts at enjoying (and perhaps creating) Christian literature will find much to appreciate in this volume as well. Overall, I’m quite glad that this book providentially came my way.
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