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Oxford University Press: Review of Oxford Apostolic Fathers Commentary Series

oxford university press-logo Oxford University Press has put together a reputable team for a new series of commentaries. The Oxford Apostolic Fathers is a new OUP publication of up-to-date scholarship on the Apostolic Fathers. This series intends to provide critical commentaries on the background, text, and interpretation of the Apostolic Fathers.

Published thus far are:

I’m unable to find a full list of forthcoming commentaries. Confirmed through correspondence, Jonathan Draper is on contract to write the Didache volume. Publication date, however, is unknown.

Series Overview

The commentary series, as a whole, will be promising and deliver an exquisite repository of English commentaries on the Apostolic Fathers. No English commentaries have appeared in over 50 years. Although the Hermeneia commentary series has produced commentaries on the Didache, Ignatius of Antioch, and Shepherd of Hermas, the Oxford Apostolic Fathers are producing equal critical scholarship on the Apostolic Fathers. And most likely, OUP will produce all the volumes prior to Hermeneia's next few volumes.

Each volume follows a 3-part pattern. Part I. Introduction provides up-to-date information discussing authorship, text and manuscript tradition, literary analysis, date, themes and theology, intertextuality with other potential religious documents or texts, and more. Of the three current commentaries, Jefford’s introduction is by far the most extensive totaling 127 pages. In private conversation, he mentioned the length of the introduction would be the greater strength to his commentary than his comments on the text. With the poor textual history, a lengthy introduction, in his mind, was needed.

Following introductory material, Part II. Text and Translation creates a diglot with text-critical notes. On one side of the page, Greek and Latin texts are followed by brief textual traditions. The other side of the page is fresh translations of the texts. Hartog assumes a previous textual tradition. He adopts Boudewijn Dehandschutter’s text-critical work of the Martyrdom of Polycarp (Hartog, vii). No complete Greek MS is extant for Epistle to the Philippians, but the 13–14 Latin MSS, fairly reliable, comprise the entirety of the letter (Hartog, 27). Jefford’s edition, for obvious reasons, has separate sections highlighting what text he is using. Accordingly, scholars have attributed the “more widely known transcription of Henricus Stephanus as the virtual editio princeps for the text” (Jefford, 130). But scholars are left with a poorly attested text: a MS exemplar, now lost; three transcriptions, but now lost, and; surviving comments from scholars of past time on a text now destroyed (Jefford, 130). “This is hardly a secure foundation on which to make assertions about the nature of an intriguing piece of early Christian literature” (Jefford, 130).

Finally, Part III. Commentary critically engages the original text, and German and French scholarship. Other modern texts write on introductory matters. Other modern works can provide readers the original texts with up-to-date translations. What sets these commentaries apart, however, is their critical engagement of interpreting the text, engaging foreign scholarship, and writing in English. The predominance of Apostolic Fathers commentaries are outside the English tongue, unless one is willing to use brief and out-of-date sources.

Brief Comments on the Individual Commentaries

2 Clement is the initial volume in this series. Tuckett concludes with the majority of 21st-century scholarship regarding anonymous authorship (Tuckett, 17), yet provides a brief history of differing theories. The genre of 2 Clement reads much different than epistolary literature. It is self-attested as a “word of exhortation” (17.3). Tuckett engages theories of 2 Clement as a letter, sermon, συμβουλευτικόν (i.e., ‘advice’ contained in address), or a paraenesis (Tuckett, 18–26). Accordingly, Tuckett argues for 2 Clement to be “some kind of ‘sermon’, addressed to those who are already Christians, and intended to be read in the context of a liturgical gathering for worship” (Tuckett, 25).

Paul Hartog’s volume interacts with the Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. Dating the composition of Martyrdom of Polycarp has proved problematic in Early Christian Scholarship. Martyrdom of Polycarp claims to be an eyewitness account of Polycarp’s death (15.1). Polycarp, an 86 year old Bishop from Smyrna, is martyred on February 22 or 23 (21.1) in 167 (assuming Eusebian dating; Hartog, 200). However, in light of SBL 2013, Hartog, Candida Moss, and Michael Holmes revisit the dating of Martyrdom of Polycarp. So the dating of Polycarp’s death and composition of the eyewitness account are not settled, nor out of the per view of Martyrdom Scholarship. Hartog argues only in terms of “possibilities and probabilities” and how Martyrdom of Polycarp is “an enhanced composition in the third quarter of the second century (rooted in earlier traditions)” (Hartog, 186).

By far the most valuable portions of Clayton Jefford’s The Epistle to Diognetus is the introductory material. In it, Jefford provides a brief history of scholarship (Jefford, 8–11). At one point Diognetus was incorporated into a collection of writings attributed to Justin Martyr, but this view no longer holds weight among historical scholarship (15–16). Von Harnack and Marrou have attributed authorship, or at least editorial attribution, to Clement of Alexndria (Jefford, 16–20). Jefford, however, concedes to the possibility of Clement of Alexandria, but reverts to uncertainty (Jefford, 29). In the section prior to providing the Greek text, Jefford assists readers in the problematic historicity of the text. He supplies a list of all texts, surviving comments from scholars of old on the reconstruction of the text (Jefford, 132). I trust this will be a valuable source to those involved in historical and textual study on Diognetus.


Any scholar, student, or laymen interested in advanced studies of the Apostolic Fathers would do well to reach for this volume. Due to the price of each volume, however, it will truncate a broader readership. The prices will limit volumes to academic libraries and serious Apostolic Fathers scholars and students. If the Hermeneia series continues to make progress on Patristic and Apostolic literature, they will most likely gain a broader reading purely due to price. Being composed in English is the most valuable reason to engage this commentary series. This and the Hermeneia series are the only critical texts on the ancient literature. Beyond this, they do not disappoint by critically engaging the texts, providing thorough bibliographies, and interacting with trans-Atlantic scholarship.

Thank you to Oxford University Press for the opportunity to review these volumes.

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