- Bede's Temple: An Image and Its Interpretationby Conor O'Brien
In Bede's Temple, Conor O'Brien presents an "extensive tour of Bede's thinking on the temple" (p. 5). He tackles the entirety of Bede's exegesis on that iconic structure, not only his main trilogy— On the Tabernacle, On the Temple, and On Ezra and Nehemiah—but also all other Bedan works referencing the temple. Moreover, O'Brien engages with contemporary, comparative representations of the temple image, namely, those in the Codex Amiatinus, adding visual components to his largely textual study. This monograph is well written and easy to read, engaging as subtly with complex primary texts as with the broad historiographical field. It offers a much-needed and successful exploration of Bede's interpretation of the temple that breathes life and color into these early medieval exegetical works.
After three black-and-white figures from the Codex Amiatinus, Bede's Templeopens with a helpful "Possible Chronology of Bede's works" (pp. xix–xx). O'Brien then evenly divides the monograph into eight chapters. The first serves as an introduction in which he explains the term dominating his study—the temple image. Where templealone would narrowly refer only to the physical building, temple image"combine[s] the static architecture of the temple with the dynamic ritual of its priests, thus allowing Bede to speak about both the eternal reality of the Church and the living experience of its members through a single divinely sanctioned image" (p. 5). Rounding out his introduction, O'Brien offers a concise literature review and a sweeping, though brief, historical overview of Bede's world. The second chapter then explores the intellectual context of Bede's vision of the temple, including both resources available at his monastery and the Christian exegetical tradition.
Chapters three through seven are the heart of the book. They embrace a thematic organization that moves through Bede's many interpretations and fully lays out O'Brien's central argument "that Bede's temple is a multifaceted image which, nonetheless, teaches us much about the structure of Bede's thought" (p. 6). Here one shifts in scale, from Bede's largest interpretations of the temple as history (chap. 3) and cosmos (chap. 4), to his middle-level vision of the temple as body of Christ (chap. 5) and as Church (chap. 6), and finally narrowing to his understanding of the temple as individual (chap. 7).
At one end, the temple image provided the keystone for Bede's sweeping vision of history, connecting Old Testament and New; linking Jewish past and Christian present; and representing "a harmonious vision of salvation history" (p. 72). At the other end, the temple image represents the individual soul, just as it referred to the entire Church. Together these chapters drive home O'Brien's argument for "the consistent importance of unity to Bede's world view and the theological importance of Christ as the guarantor and enabler of that unity" (p. 7). However Bede interpreted it, the temple image served to unify disparate entities—Jew and Christian, earth and heaven, God and man. [End Page 564]
O'Brien's eighth and final chapter serves as a conclusion. First, he undertakes a diachronic approach to Bede's writing, and then he discusses Bede within the context of his monastery. Here O'Brien can return to the final portion of his argument, that while Bede's thinking on the temple reveals much about the individual, it also speaks to more than this one exceptional man's ideas. Placing Bede at Wear-mouth-Jarrow, O'Brien demonstrates how Bede's temple emerged out of both a significant Christian tradition and his particular historical context, that is, the intellectual environment at his monastery. This concise and focused monograph thus forcefully illuminates not only Bede's thinking on the temple image, but also the man himself as well as monastic life and theological writing in the eighth century...