Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: CCSS "Revelation" by Peter Williamson

There are few books in the Bible that are as difficult and cause such disagreement in interpretation than the book of Revelation.  All one has to do is either turn on the TV to a local televangelist or search any online bookseller to see how Revelation can be used for any number of supposed real time applications and predictions.  Some people seem to obsess over this book, while many more simply avoid it.  This makes teaching the Book of Revelation all the more difficult.  Students, both new and seasoned, come to this book with a whole lot of preconceptions about what is in it.  In the past, I have utilized a number of commentaries, including ones by Metzger, Barber, Koester, among others, all of which are quite good in their own way.  Because of this, in the past when I was asked to recommend one particular commentary on Revelation, I would usually recommend at least two.  This was due to my desire to offer something that touched both the scholarly and pastoral elements of this book.  Now, I will simply be encouraging people to get Peter Williamson's Revelation in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series.   In my opinion, it does the best job in offering the average Catholic a gateway into this book, without sacrificing scholarly rigor.  I could see this being used in undergraduate scripture classes, as well as serious parish bible study groups.

Revelation offers a helpful section by section commentary of the book, utilizing the NABRE translation, combined with numerous additional essays, maps, images, quotes from Christian writers of the past and present, and a glossary keyed to the text.  As the description rightly points out, the commentary is "supplemented by features designed to help readers understand the Bible more deeply and use it more effectively in teaching, preaching, evangelization, and other forms of ministry. Drawn from the best of contemporary scholarship, series volumes are keyed to the liturgical year and include an index of pastoral subjects."  Each section (pericope) contains the NABRE text and Williamson's commentary, along with an extremely helpful reference section that includes OT and NT references, connections to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and lectionary reference.  This, of course, allows the reader the opportunity to dig a little deeper if they desire.  And they should!  Each page also includes footnotes to other commentaries utilized, as well as discussions about how a particular word or passage is translated.  Although the CCSS uses the NABRE as its base translation, each author in the series regularly points out other renderings from translations like the RSV, NRSV, ESV, and NJB.  This is very helpful, making this commentary series applicable no matter which translation you prefer.  (I should mention that the extent to which Williamson refers to other translations is not necessarily found in other volumes in this series.  Certainly in his edition on Ephesians he refers often to alternative renderings, but, for example, the other newly released volume in the series, on the Gospel of John by Martin and Wright, rarely refers to other renderings in the major English translations.)

There is so much in this edition that I like, outside of Williamson's commentary, but I am just going to mention a few elements which I think particularly stand out.  First off, one of the first things you notice when you open this volume of the CCSS is that there is a 20 page introduction.  The typical issues are considered including author, date, audience, theological perspective, literary style, message, and interpretation.  Within this introduction is a concise examination of the four views of interpreting Revelation, known popularly as the historicist, preterist, futurist, and idealist.  Understanding these views is necessary, particularly when engaging other commentaries about Revelation.  Williamson examines each of these, giving a sympathetic description and recognizing the insights found in each view.

Secondly, the jewel of this volume are the extremely helpful and insightful sidebars that "present historical, literary, or theological information" that tackle many of the confusing and debated issues found in the Book of Revelation.  I counted a total of 57 sidebars which enhance your study of Revelation.  Some example, which I found particularly helpful, were "The Catechism of the AntiChrist", "Food Offered to Idols and the New Testament", "Interpretation of Babylon in Christian Tradition", and "Mary, the Woman Clothed with the Sun".  All of these sidebars are strategically placed in the within the commentary to match them to the scriptural passage.  There is also a helpful index at the back of the volume which lists all the sidebars.

Thirdly, I really enjoy the illustations and pictures that are included in this volume.  There are a total of 22, which cover not only artistic renditions of the Book of Revelation, for example Albrecht Durer's woodcuts, but also images of such archaeological finds like a coin of Jewish revolutionary Bar Kochba and a bust of the emperor Nero.  In the back, there is also included a map for Asia Minor.

Let me conclude with a brief comment about this series in general.  One of the things that makes it unique, in my opinion, is that it has garnered support from the full spectrum of Catholic Biblical scholars and clergy.  A quick look at their endorsements page show this.  I think there is something to be said about this, particularly in a time when there continues to be polarization in the Church.


Anonymous said...

Really great review Timothy.
Thank you


losabio said...

Yes, thanks for the great review Timothy. Even though I will confidently and happily join into Bible discussions with Protestant friends and co-workers, I feel like a fish out of water when discussions turn to Rapture/Millenialism theology. I've read the CSSI Bible study "Will Catholics Be Left Behind?", and can now somewhat understand the foundations for some of the modern takes on eschatology, although it does seem like quite a large gap between my Catholic understanding of the Parousia (i.e. God will come to judge the world with justice, and the glory of the Lord will transform and renew all of Creation; Jesus is the prototype of Creation 2.0), and all the talk of a Rapture. I have added this CCSS volume on Revelation to my reading list, and am looking forward to becoming more familiar and comfortable with the Apocalypse. I very recently added a number of CCSS volumes to my Logos/Verbum library, and do find them to be very enriching resources. After seeing Dr. Mary Healy on The Journey Home, I just had to see what the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series was all about, and am not surprised that they are excellent books. Thanks again Tim for always trying to tell the Catholic Bibles Blog readers about good resources.

Stuart Dunn said...

Great review, Tim. I have this book on my shelf (actually had to buy this one), and am looking forward to diving into it. If you/your readers are looking for older commentaries on Revelation, I'd recommend the Greek and or Latin Commentaries on Revelation available from InterVarsity Press.