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Reviews | Building a Library

Building a Library

Tecwyn Morgan

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

182 pages

Building a Library

The Christadelphian review (from November 2008)

“To encourage you to read more …”

The ‘Preacher’ said, “Of making many books there is no end … ” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) and this observation was made before the invention of the printing press! It is now even more applicable to books that are produced to assist in the better understanding of the Book of Books.

A wide range of recommendations

Building a Library is the latest of a line of volumes intended to assist in selecting the most appropriate books for the Bible student. Spurgeon’s classic nineteenth century guide, Commentaries and Commenting, has been followed more recently by Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey and Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey. However, these books are confined to a consideration of commentaries while Brother Morgan’s book considers a wide range of Bible study aids including Bible dictionaries, concordances, lexicons and atlases as well as commentaries. A further advantage of this book is that the recommendations are made from a Christadelphian perspective, based on the author’s extensive knowledge of the literature, with additional recommendations contributed by widely-read respected brethren. The purpose of this book is “to encourage you to read more and to read more widely” and also “to encourage more thoughtful reading”.

The format is very user-friendly, comprising twenty short chapters giving an introductory overview of the topic, each of which is supplemented by a more comprehensive appendix where further, detailed, suggestions are to be found. After explaining the purpose and importance of Bible study, preliminary suggestions are made for suitable books with which to start (mostly but not entirely written by Christadelphians) based on recommendations which the author canvassed from “keen readers” (Chapter 2). In the following supplementary chapter a short review is provided for each selected book.

Each chapter (and appendix) considers one of the various categories of books that a good library should have. The first of these is the Bible dictionary where information can be found on the meaning of words and also succinct summaries or overviews of Bible topics. Expository dictionaries and concordances are next. These help us not only to find every location of particular words but also provide information on their meaning and usage in the original languages. A more detailed consideration of Bible words is to be found in the next chapter, which reviews the available lexicons for Greek and Hebrew.

Where appropriate, sample extracts are provided in order that the reader may appreciate the range of styles and contents of the various options. For example, in Chapter 8a, “More about lexicons”, the treatment of a sample word is compared in six Hebrew and five Greek lexicons, ranging from the familiar Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words to the comprehensive Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament Scriptures. A problem with the typography in this section has resulted in the Hebrew words appearing with their letters the correct way round but reading from left to right rather than right to left. However, this is a minor problem and hardly detracts from the value of these extracts in giving a flavour of the originals.

Bible atlases, some covering more than topography by giving historical and cultural details, are considered in Chapter 9. Subsequent chapters provide guidance on books which supply accounts of how we got our Bible, the basis of our distinctive doctrines, exhortations and preaching, Bible characters, history, archaeology, prophecy and Israel today. The remainder of the book is concerned with Bible commentaries. Multi-volume and single-volume treatments of the whole Bible are considered before those devoted to single Old Testament and New Testament books. Commentaries by Christadelphian authors and non-Christadelphians are treated separately, being listed in Bible sequence.

By now it will be evident that the coverage is quite extensive, yet an unexpected oversight is the absence of recommendations regarding Gospel Parallels. It is fascinating to be able to compare the Gospel records without having to flick backwards and forwards in the text. This omission will, no doubt, be rectified in any future edition and on the website. The most helpful version is probably that by Sparks [1] where, by means of a typographical tour de force, the equivalent words appear on the same line in each Gospel. This is now out of print but second-hand copies appear from time to time. Similarly, it would have been helpful to mention the parallel of the texts of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles by Crockett. [2]

A useful book for all

In sum, this is a very useful book both for those who are beginning Bible study and also for those who have many years of experience. It is of a convenient size to consult when on a book-finding excursion and it would also be useful to have a copy in each ecclesial library to provide guidance when searching for a suitable book on a particular subject. Perhaps the most appropriate comment I can make is to say how I wish such a volume had been available when I began to build a library; it would have ensured that every book purchased was worthy of a place on the shelves.

JOHN M. HELLAWELL

[1] Sparks, H. F. D. (1964/1974), A Synopsis of the Gospels (A & C Black). This was available in two volumes: Part I, The Synoptic Gospels and Johannine Parallels; Part II, John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Parallels. A combined, single, volume was also published in 1977.In what is called the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament

[2] W. D. Crockett (1985 reprint), A Harmony of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles (Baker Book House). There is also Somervell. R. (1897/1901), The Parallel History of the Jewish Monarchy (Cambridge University Press) in two slim volumes.

The Testimony review (from November 2009)

Books to help Bible study

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS might be thought to be of interest only to truly committed bibliophiles. To many it would seem an arcane exercise to compile a book about books; quite a few readers might expect such a work to be quite dull. Such people might change their mind, however, if they read Brother Tecwyn Morgan’s highly entertaining book Building a Library, published by the Christadelphian in 2008.

This book started as a series of articles in the magazine. The objective was to assist Bible students, especially new students, with recommendations of what is available in printed form to help them in their studies. Each article discussed a category of books (for example, Biblical Geography, Israel Today) and commented on the strengths and weaknesses of some of the works available. The articles published in the magazine were complemented by more detailed discussion on the magazine’s website. Readers were also invited to write to Brother Morgan offering suggestions of other works they had found useful.

An entertaining read

The magazine articles and the website material have now been compiled in book form, and some of the suggestions provided by readers of the series have also been incorporated in the work. Personally I found the material more entertaining as a book than I did as the series, partly because I often failed to read the more detailed notes that were available online each month.

Those who know Brother Morgan can well picture his impish smile as he makes some of the observations found in the book, for example his wry observation about Abba Eban’s autobiography. What could have been a dry, expanded bibliography is elevated to a new level by the deft use of wit and humour. All readers will be very grateful for the effort made to put this valuable resource together, even if it does remind them of how much remains unread and leaves them in awe of Brother Morgan’s diligent and industrious reading (and of Sister Morgan’s indulgence of her husband’s appetite for the written word).

While Brother Morgan concentrates on works published within the Christadelphian brotherhood, he also includes recommendations from a wide range of sources. He does not restrict himself to works that are still in print, but does offer comments if a particular work is likely to be hard to obtain. At times attention is drawn to works that adopt differing approaches to a particular issue, implicitly encouraging the prospective student to consider both options. At the end of the book there are two lengthy catalogues of books that can be recommended on each book of the Bible. One of these lists works by Christadelphian authors and the other lists books by non-Christadelphian writers.

One of the non-Christadelphian authors recommended by Brother Morgan is Grattan Guinness, a most interesting writer from the nineteenth century, in particular on prophecy. It is worth pointing out that Brother Thomas had contact with Grattan Guinness and published some of his writings in Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come.

Brother Tecwyn encourages the reader to seek second-hand copies of works no longer in print, and points out that the Christadelphian (as does the Testimony) sells second-hand books. Brother Morgan notes that an unexpected bonus when buying second-hand books can be the notes made in the margin by previous owners. In this regard he refers to Brother C. C. Walker’s marginal notes and the curious symbols he used. As the owner of a second-hand copy of several of Brother Walker’s books I can testify to the value they add to the work. If Brother Morgan’s book were ever to be reprinted it might be worth reproducing Brother Walker’s symbols. Brother Michael Walker (Brother C. C. Walker’s grandson) in London, Ontario, very kindly gave me this copy of the legend to these cryptic symbols (the reverse side of the legend was not available).

Some further suggestions

As noted above, readers of the magazine series were invited to send in suggestions of recommended books. I had good intentions of offering comments at various times when the series was running, but they came to nothing. This invitation to offer suggestions has been renewed even though the book has been published. At the end of the book the reader is informed that it is available on the website of the Christadelphian, and the electronic version will be updated as appropriate. With this in mind the following observations are offered.

  • Doctrine: Some very useful recommendations are made in chapter 11, but there might have been scope for some additional recommendations relating to God-manifestation, a teaching that sets us apart from many other communities. Obvious candidates here include Brother Thomas’s Phanerosis, Sister Lasius’s Yahweh Elohim, Brother Walker’s God Manifestation (previously titled Theophany) and Brother Nicholls’ The Name That is Above Every Name.
  • History: There are several recommendations about ancient history in chapters 14, 15 and 17, but there may have been value in a chapter on history in general, perhaps building on Brother Roberts’ list of suggested books in Helps to the Memory of History. (Given that this has been long out of print, perhaps that list could have been reproduced as a starting point.) Brother Roberts’ list, however, is over 100 years old, and there are many later writers who can be more or less recommended, A. J. P. Taylor and Barbara Tuchman, for instance. General history is perhaps mainly of relevance to supporters of the continuous-historic interpretation of prophecy, but we all do well to have a broad acquaintance with history.
  • Youth: There might have been a case for a chapter on books for youth. Ones that come to mind include Brother Collyer’s Letters to Young Christadelphians (reprinted in recent years by the CSSS), Brother Nicholls’ Youth at the Crossroads (now dated and out of print, but still worth reading), Brother Brooker’s A New Creation, and a compilation prepared in Melbourne entitled Taking Control (reviewed in the Testimony in February 2008).
  • Conscience: This is another area that could have been covered in a discrete chapter. Most of the publications in this category are pamphlets, but there are several substantial books. Brother Botten’s The Captive Conscience and the AACE’s Conscience in Action are two obvious candidates; there is an extensive bibliography in Conscience in Action that lists many other relevant titles.
  • Fiction: It was pleasing to see a few recommendations for helpful fiction in the chapter on “Israel Today”. It may have been worth including reference to Sister Knight’s A Time to Hear, a novel set in the time of John Baptist, and the very interesting anonymous work, Cornelia’s Story, a fictionalised account of life for a young sister in Caesarea in the sixties A.D., although it might have been hard to fit these into one of the existing chapters; the chapter on “Biblical History” might have been a candidate.

These suggestions are offered with some reservation, because with a work like this the hardest question is, Where do you stop? That is a challenge. You have to call a halt somewhere. The comments above are not meant in any way to denigrate what is both a fascinating and a valuable book. It is heartily recommended to all, especially to those who are new to Bible study.

GEOFF HENSTOCK

(Originally published in the November 2009 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 344-346), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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