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Neues Testament


Treloar, Geoffrey R.


Lightfoot the Historian. The Nature and Role of History in the Life and Thought of J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) as Churchman and Scholar.


Tübingen: Siebeck 1998. XIII, 465 S. gr.8 = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 103. Kart. DM 128,-. ISBN 3-16-146866-X.


Henry Chadwick

Joseph Barber Lightfoot deserves the energetic treatment given to him in this book with his learned commentaries on Paul and especially the five volumes of his edition and commentary on the Apostolic Fathers, 2nd edition 1890. Manuscripts in English libraries have been searched for letters. The thrust of the book is directed not so much to Lightfoot’s scholarly problems as to his religious convictions. He shared the belief of many in the age before 1914: Providence was guiding human progress, but this needed to be bound up with the gospel ethic to give a growing apprehension of divine purpose in history. His mind was not very philosophical, but he had an instinct for good history, mastery of all the languages needed, and immense capacity for hard work. He possessed and had read all available Teubner texts. He much admired Mommsen, especially for the corpus of Latin insriptions, a set of which, complete to the time of his death, stood on his shelves. His memory had rare powers of recall. He was a friend of William Ramsay and in touch with his epigraphic discoveries in Asia Minor.

On Paul his earliest statement was a critical assessment of a commentary by Jowett and Stanley, published in the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology, which he had founded, edited, and was using as an academic diary. He was grieved that the commentary could not bear comparison with the best German work. Religious convictions merged with deep erudition to motivate successive commentaries on Galatians (1865), Philippians (1868), and best of the set Colossians (1875). Each commentary was enriched by dispassionate dissertations on subjects such as the development of ministerial office. In 1877 articles by him in the Dictionary of Christian Biography included a famous piece on Eusebius of Caesarea. His first study of Clement of Rome had come in 1869, but in 1877 he published an important supplement, which greatly excited Harnack to whom he sent a copy. The whole was recast in the posthumous second edition of 1890. Ignatius and Polycarp appeared in 1885, agreeing with Pearson on the authenticity of the seven-letter canon known to Eusebius.

D. F. Strauss and F. C. Baur were read by him with very qualified admiration. He wholly distrusted speculative reconstructions. Yet he shared Baur’s central insight that the documents of the New Testament are part of church history and have to be fitted in to a coherent narrative of early Christian development. The relative conservatism of his conclusions reassured unsettled minds. But of course he was no conservative in his method. He had much in common with Louis Duchesne in being a man for the facts who was unattracted by dogmatics or too much historical guesswork. In theology proper he felt sure of a few central ideas, one being the incarnation, but where he was uncertain, he would give no opinion.

Treloar has a remarkable bibliography of almost 50 pages in small print. Some readers may perhaps regret that this book does not engage more with the historical problems confronting Lightfoot; but that would much have lengthened this valuable study. The letters of Caroline Jebb, American wife of Richard Jebb, might have been quoted on his delightful conversation and the ugliness of his face.