The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings (review)
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Reviewed by
Michael W. Holmes, editor. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2d rev. ed.Translated by J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992. Pp. x + 609. $34.99.

In order to make some appraisal of this volume it may be helpful to provide a brief review of the publication history that lies behind the text as it now appears, a history which has two paths. The story begins over a century ago with the publication of J. B. Lightfoot's scholarly analysis of Clement of Rome (1869), a monumental work which eventually was followed by his similar treatments of Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna (1885). The second edition of these studies was published by Macmillan as a five-volume collection (1889-90) and currently is available through the reprint edition of Baker Book House (1981). The second path of publication for our text began shortly after the death of Lightfoot, at which time various remnants of his unpublished translations and notes were assembled by a junior colleague and associate, J. R. Harmer. To these works Harmer added his own revisions and additions of the Didache, Barnabas, Hermas, and Diognetus, thereby to construct a [End Page 81]much abbreviated one-volume edition of Lightfoot's original conclusions (1891). It is the revised form of this Lightfoot-Harmer edition which has become the most widely recognized and popular version of Lightfoot's work, in part due to its general accessibility (Baker 1956; reissued 1984). In recent years Michael W. Holmes has offered a newly revised version of this volume (1989), the second edition of which now serves as the subject of this review (1992).

The movement from Lightfoot's original work to Holmes's present volume certainly reflects a century's worth of editorial emendation—from a work which at one time focused upon original, scholarly investigation to a work which currently focuses upon the translation of texts. The numerous alterations to the original publication have resulted in what is now a mere shadow of Lightfoot's initial studies, to be certain. And yet the Holmes volume fills a crucial niche in the field of early patristic studies.

As has been suggested above, there is a solid scholarly foundation that stands behind the current volume. And thankfully, Holmes is careful to make continual reference to Lightfoot's original findings and ideas throughout the present edition. Yet the Holmes volume is not so entrenched in the work of Lightfoot that it does not manage to address some of the deficiencies of which both the Lightfoot and Lightfoot-Harmer texts were accused upon their publication. Let me offer two illustrations.

In the first instance, one discovers that the mere passage of time has assisted Holmes in his revision of Lightfoot. I find a critique of the 1891 edition which noted that Lightfoot "has the rare faculty of discovering both the excellencies and defects of this early Christian literature, but he has embodied little of his original reflections in the work before us" (anonymous, Methodist Review73 [1891]: 994), and further, that " [t]he value of the collection is yet to be explained in light of the dubious nature of authorship and authenticity" (p. 993). In response to the first charge, it is an ironic twist of fate that the very investigations which are offered in the present edition by Holmes generally are believed to illustrate the high degree of research excellence that now is associated with the name of J. B. Lightfoot. In response to the second concern, a century of scholarship has turned toward many of Lightfoot's own suggestions about the Apostolic Fathers to serve as the standards by which early Christian texts are to be measured! In conclusion, therefore, the efforts of Holmes to preserve, revise, and offer the work of Lightfoot to our own generation stand as a valuable testimony to the achievements of a prominent scholar from the past century.

In a second instance, one observes that this particular edition by Holmes seems to circumvent a common critique of Baker's 1984 republication of the 1891 version, namely, that "[t]heological and...