Book Note: Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History (Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli)

I came across this 2-volume set last spring and was thoroughly pleased to see such an even treatment of canonical and non-canonical material. Applause!

The volumes were published in 2005 by Hendrickson Publishers. The first volume covers early Christian literature from Paul to the Age of Constantine. The second, from the Nicea to the beginning of the Medieval period. The books generally are up-to-date on scholarship, providing tight narrative outlines of the literature followed by very brief bibliographies. The coverage is comparable to what might be found on certain subjects in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

However, because of the overview nature of the "entries," not even a nod is made to a comprehensive treatment of the given topics. Rather, the work is written through the personal digest of Moreschini and Norelli, representing their understanding of the material. So these books are good places to go to get a quick overview of a subject, but should not be regarded as comprehensively representing the field on any given topic. This is not a criticism as much as a caution to readers.

I love the set up of volume 1 which is of most interest to me because of its coverage of the pre-Nicene period. It is set up chronologically beginning with the letters of Paul and the Pauline "pseudepigraphical" letters. The Gospels follow with Quelle, synoptics, Acts, Jewish-Christian, Egyptians, Fragmentary gospels, Thomas, Peter, John. The Apocalypses follow with John, Isaiah, and Peter. Then the Non-Pauline letters. And so forth. Fair language and even treatment of the literature is seen throughout the book.

The only sad remark I have to make, is where is the Coptic literature (besides the Gospel of Thomas which is included because it has greek fragments?)? I understand that the title of the book would have to be changed, but the missing Coptic material creates a silence, an emptiness of the Gnostic and (and later, monastic) voices.