Archive for ‘Church History’

Tell Me a Story

by   |  11.02.17  |  Christianity, Church History, Narrative

Tell Me a Story

I had their attention, and holding the attention of 20 five-year-olds is no easy task, but I had it and I knew that whether or not I knew what I would say next, I had better make it compelling. I held their attention as I recounted a story that we all know, a story that they all knew as well, but I told it with excitement and enthusiasm as if should I fail to share this story I might very well burst. They listened with wide eyes and eager hearts, and once the story of the three bears was done, they craved another. This, perhaps, is less about my ability to make even the most rote stories exciting for a preschool class and more about the ways in which we all crave a sense of connection found in the telling and the hearing of stories.

On the liturgical calendar, we have just celebrated All Saints’ Day; it is one of my favorite feast days among the church calendar. I love this feast day because it is a day set aside for stories. It is a day in which we recount the saints with which we are familiar, and perhaps we learn about ones that are more obscure. In many Christian traditions, the communion of saints is celebrated, among which we celebrate those whose lives were dedicated to following Christ.

Most Episcopal churches, the Christian tradition of which I am a part, will have a necrology read on the Sunday following All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1); it is a solemn, holy listing, because to hear name after name after name of people who have died is to remember that the story of their life touched not only their families or their friends, but all of us who share in the communion of saints with them. It is joyous, also, because to remember them is to remember that their lives were not solely marked by the story of their death, but by the everlasting hope of the resurrection.

I love All Saints’ Day because it is a chance to hear the story; it is a chance to hear the story of how faithful Christians, century after century, strived to live into the hope of the resurrection that we know to be true. It is a chance to hear the ways in which our grandmothers and grandfathers in faith allowed their lives to be shaped by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and if ever there is a story that it is compelling, it is that of those attempting to follow the way of the cross.

The communion of saints also allows us to acknowledge those who have shaped how we choose, every day, to continue in this path. We walk the path of discipleship not alone, but within a community; our communities of faith shape and mold us as we learn and grow together and towards God. To celebrate the communion that we share with those saints who have gone on before us allows us to acknowledge that we did not get here alone.

Throughout the first few months of my ordained, full-time ministry, I have found that I am desperate to hear the story. Not just the story of Mary and Joseph that is recounted each Advent or the story of Christ’s passion that is recounted each Lent, but I am desperate to hear the story of Christ’s life and the stories of the disciples that follow him. I crave, with wide eyes and an eager heart, to hear the ways in which the story of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection have shaped not just the Saints proper, or the whole communion of saints, but each person that I see. Each time I get into the pulpit, I see faces looking back at me with hearts and minds that are full of the stories of their lives so far; my hope for my ministry and for our spiritual community is that in coming to hear the stories of the saints, we get the chance to tell the ways in which our own lives have been shaped by following the way of the cross together.

About the author:

Rev. Becca Kello (’16)


The Rev. Becca Kello (‘16) graduated with a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology and earned a Postgraduate Diploma in Anglican Studies from Virginia Theological Seminary. She serves as Associate Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY.

Carmichael-Walling Lectures

by   |  10.15.15  |  Announcements, Bible, Church History, GST Events

Please join us fCW2015or the 29th annual Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University. Lectures are free and open to the public, and will take place in Room 114 of the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building on Thursday, November 12, 2015. For more information, contact Jeff Childers at ACU’s Graduate School of Theology:

Scripture & Women in the Apocalypse: Revelation’s Allusive Text

Dr. Adela Yarbro Collins
4:00 p.m. Intertextuality in the Book of Revelation
7:30 p.m. Women as Symbols in the Book of Revelation

The book of Revelation is rich in both Scriptural allusion and symbolic imagery.  The first lecture will provide an overview and critical assessment of scholarship on intertextuality in Revelation, highlighting the book’s use of Scripture.  The second lecture will consider female symbols in Revelation, particularly focusing on the symbolic woman of Revelation 17 often referred to as “The Whore of Babylon.”

About the Speaker:

Zurich photoDr. Adela Yarbro Collins is Buckingham Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation Emerita, Yale Divinity School. She previously taught at the University of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame, and McCormick Theological Seminary. She has served as President of the Society of New Testament Studies, regional President of the Society of Biblical Literature, and on a number of editorial boards. Her recent publications include King and Messiah as Son of God. Eerdmans, 2008 (co-authored with John J. Collins); Mark: A Commentary. Fortress, 2007; “Rewritten Prophets: The Use of Older Scripture in Revelation,” in Poetik und Intertexualität, ed. Stefan Alkier et al., 2015; and “The Transformation of Paul’s Apocalyptic Ideas in the First Two Centuries,” in Revealed Wisdom, ed. John Ashton, Brill, 2014.


CHARIS Lectures: Dr. Anthony R. Cross

by   |  10.10.15  |  Announcements, Church History

Oxford scholar, Dr. Anthony R. Cross, will be on campus October 12-13 for a series of lectures on baptism. “Knowing God through Experience: Insight into Baptist Baptismal Spirituality through Personal Testimonies,” will take place at Chapel on the Hill on Monday, Oct. 12 from 4:30pm-6:00pm. A response by Dr. Everett Ferguson, ACU Distinguished Scholar in Residence, will follow. Refreshments will be served.

“The Sacrament of Baptism Among the First Baptists,” will take place in the Biblical Studies Building, room 130 on Tuesday, Oct. 13 from 11:45am-12:45pm. A response by Dr. Doug Foster, ACU Professor of Church History, will follow. RSVP for lunch to

Congratulations Students

by   |  02.02.15  |  Announcements, Church History, Restoration History

Three GST students have been selected to present at the annual Stone-Campbell Journal Conference April 9-11.  This conference brings scholars and students from across the country both from schools affiliated with the Stone-Campbell Movement and beyond–including ACU, TCU, Claremont, Lipscomb, Vanderbilt, etc.
Sarah Dannemiler is one of three finalists in the general graduate student paper competition discussing her work on the influence of right wing politics on Pepperdine University in the 1960s. Kipp Swinney has been selected to present his paper on the use of the book of Job in Alexander Campbell’s “canon” in the “Issues in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement” study group. And Laura Estes won the Isaac Errett competition for Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement history studies with her paper on the first Stone-Campbell mission to Jerusalem and the theological rationale of a shift of focus from the Jewish population to the Muslims.
Appreciation goes to Dr. Doug Foster for mentoring and facilitating student research in the Stone-Campbell tradition.

August in England

by   |  09.01.11  |  Church History, Sabbatical, Translation

Dr. Jeff W. Childers, Carmichael-Walling Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, offers some reflections on his recent research trip to England:

August in England


I can think of several good reasons to go to England in August:  For one thing, it is cooler. Whereas the high temperatures in Abilene, Texas during the first week of August were consistently around 106º, the same week in Oxford, England saw highs between about 70º–82º. The hills are green and there are trees. The culture is delightfully diverse, and the food equally so. Also, there is no better place to have a Will-and-Kate sighting than England.

But none of these things drew me to England this time. Instead, I was lured there by two of my favorite things: old libraries and ancient manuscripts. Surprising as it may seem, the U.K. is home to some of the world’s great collections of ancient Syriac manuscripts.

As you may recall, Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, still in use today but flourishing especially in Christian communities in the Middle East during the 3rd–13th centuries. Many old Syriac texts survive and remain to be studied, but these days I am especially interested in the 5th-century Syriac translation of John Chrysostom’s Commentary on the Gospel of John. With the help of ACU and the Loeb Classical Foundation, I am preparing this lengthy text for publication and translating it into English in order to make it available to a wider readership. But that requires getting my hands on the manuscripts themselves—thereby explaining this year’s travels to St Catharine’s Monastery at Mt. Sinai, the Vatican Library, and now several libraries in the U.K.

Jeff at the British Library, London

First on the list is the British Library in London (BL), home to 10 of the surviving manuscripts, whose dates span the 6th–13th centuries. In fact, the BL has hundreds of very old Syriac manuscripts. This is thanks to Moses of Nisibis, a 10th-century monk who collected Syriac books when he was traveling to Baghdad in order to ask the caliph for tax breaks. He acquired many old manuscripts along the way, bringing them back to his monastery at Wadi al-Natrun (Scetis) in the Egyptian desert, where they stayed until most of them were relocated to European libraries in the 18th and 19th centuries. The BL ended up with the largest portion, by far. The oldest dated biblical manuscript in existence —in any language—is a Syriac manuscript of the Pentateuch from this collection, now residing in the BL.

I spent many hours poring over the Syriac Chrysostom in the Asian & African Studies reading room, taking breaks only to grab a quick lunch in the Library café with my friend and colleague, Bill Rankin. Bill was also conducting research in the BL, working on—appropriately enough—the history of the book. Alongside several long and fairly complete manuscripts that I needed at the BL, I was also able to look at a recently identified fragment that had originally been part of a larger manuscript at St. Catharine’s Monastery.

Jeff at the University of Birmingham, England

The other known piece of that same manuscript brought me to the second library on my list, that of the University of Birmingham. Though my time there was brief, it came with an extra treat: staying at a hotel adjacent to the Cadbury Chocolate factory in suburban Bournville. The aroma was caloric.

Naturally, I also spent time in Oxford. But although I was briefly in Oxford’s Bodleian Library—and in the world’s oldest continuously functioning Library at my own Merton College—my time at Oxford was dominated by the International Conference on Patristic Studies, where I read a paper about my recent work and sought feedback from other Syriacists and Chrysostom-specialists. Their input was very helpful.

Merton College Library, Mob Quad, Oxford

Since my alma mater had none of the manuscripts I needed, I left Oxford and went to The Other Place and the third library on my list, the resting place of two fairly late Syriac manuscripts awaiting my inspection. Although the manuscripts turned out not to be as useful as I hoped, the library staff were very helpful and quite nice.

Cambridge University Library

After several airplane flights and train journeys, I now have all the manuscript data I need to finish work on my project! Now I need only the time, the energy, and the focus. Somehow Sir Henry Savile, Warden of Merton College and Queen Elizabeth’s Greek tutor, was able to find time while translating the King James Version of the Bible to publish in 1610 a massive 8-volume folio edition of Chrysostom’s works in Greek, “the first major work of patristic scholarship to be published in England”[1] and “the one great work of Renaissance scholarship carried out in England.”[2] While I don’t expect the modest Chrysostom project of this Mertonian to have quite the same impact as Savile’s opus, his work inspires me to get it done!

As Chrysostom himself exhorts near the beginning of his Commentary on John, “Let us give diligent attention to the book that is laid open before us…” (Memra 2.11). His ancient meditations on John lay open before me, and as I read and translate them line-by-line, I am learning the truth of his insistence that the hard work of constant digging in the study of sacred things pays off in the discovery of pure gold for the soul (Memra 40.1).

Jeff in the British Library—relaxing, or happily shackled to the books?


[1] Jean-Louis Quantin, The Church of England and Christian Antiquity. The Construction of a Confessional Identity in the 17th Century (Oxford: University Press, 2009), 405.

[2] Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries. The Making of the King James Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 167.

Do We Ever Really Move? A Book Review

by   |  05.03.11  |  Christianity, Church History, Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Review of Susan Campbell, Dating Jesus (Boston: Beacon, 2009).  By Mark Hamilton at the 2010 Christian Scholars Conference, Lipscomb University

On picking up this book, I frankly expected to hate it.  What could be more clichéd than a story of a self-conscious young person growing up in a suffocating, oppressive conservative religious group and then coming of age (read: becoming secular and successful back east)?  Such memoirs have become a sort of rite of passage, a passport to the guild of the literati, and whatever artistic merit or intellectual bite they may once have had has long since sunk into the swamp of the smugness and overweening ignorance of what passes for our culture’s post-Christian elites.  Had my fears come true, my own pitiable role as reviewer would then be either to defend practices and beliefs I have worked my adult life to correct or at least temper, or I would have had to join in the flagellation of the unwashed – or, in this case, fully immersed but still unenlightened – an even more contemptible form of life to which the odious word quisling might well apply.

Fortunately for me, and for you, Susan Campbell’s book is not exactly what I expected.  It is better than that.  She speaks honestly of the struggles of her childhood growing up in churches of Christ (small c, big c) in Missouri, her incipient feminism that could not see why a loving God would silence half the human race in God’s own house, her struggles with family and with the vagaries of what she calls, with a refreshing refusal to be apologetic, hillbilly culture.  Though sometimes meandering and repetitive, this memoir of a life tells well the story of a woman who loves Jesus but is mighty uncomfortable with some of his followers.

Any reviewer must ask why he or she should review another person’s work.  I can only assume that my assignment does not derive solely from my having been raised on the other side of the Boston Mountains as Ms. Campbell or having been, like her, a Bible bowl champion at Green Valley Bible Camp (where, by the way, I was baptized in June, 1977 at the age of 12), or my also having been bitten by a German shepherd while door knocking (I was door knocking, not the German shepherd).  I can only assume that my role is to represent those who experienced many of the intramural debates and mad restrictions she describes but stayed around anyway.  It’s not just that fundamentalism broke off inside of me, as she says her brother put it to her about them both, but that I have become something other than a fundamentalist but found a home here anyhow.  At least I hope that’s why I’m here.

Let me explore that role for awhile, then.  Campbell’s work raises for me a number of questions.  The first and most obvious is, why do some people stay and others leave? It is tempting to reduce the answer to the differences in our genders and the roles gender plays in Churches of Christ.  It would never have occurred to me, for example, to entitle any memoir of my life so far in this movement with the overtly, if self-mockingly, erotic way for which Ms. Campbell opts.  Here, however, Campbell is in good company with Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, whom she mentions, and Teresa of Avila and a host of others she doesn’t.  Also, to be honest, I remember my distinct discomfort as a teenage boy in singing the hymn “Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on his gentle breast,” and feeling more than a little threatened – can you unman a boy? – by that.  Eros’s strange affair with logos, and especially the Logos, plays in more than one way.

Yet life is never simple, and gender has never been as simple as an outsider would imagine by reading Campbell’s book.  It’s not just that we boys who were clumsy or bookish were at least as uncomfortable at the sports-oriented world of Green Valley as Campbell could ever have been.  It’s also that strong women did the most vital work of our congregation.  Many of them felt that the work of waiting the Lord’s table and all the rest was somewhat beneath their dignity.  Good enough for the men, important, but not all that crucial.  And I have often heard some of those women dissecting sermons and pointing out the mistakes the preacher made, not unkindly, but as a sort of warning to us men, especially us aspiring preacher boys, to get it right.  There was, and is, even in the most restrictive and closed environments in our churches, a sort of leaven at work, a clandestine theological discourse that is often richer than the public one and often at cross-purposes to it.  No, things are never quite as clear-cut as they seem.

Now it is also clear that my call to be a minister, which came even before my baptism, and which I would learn only much later to identify as a call, entailed a great deal of affirmation from both men and women and opportunities.  I preached my first sermon at 13 and was a boy preacher in Crawford County throughout high school.  I engaged in a written debate with a Nigerian Jehovah’s Witness when I was 15 or 16, an experience that Campbell had in her own way floating in a lake in the Ozarks.  There were rewards for such precocity.  But there were also distinct and painful punishments when I came home after a semester or two of college full of second thoughts and questions and ideas.  So the expectations do cut both ways.  With opportunity comes responsibility, not always in an easy to understand way.

At the same time, I think that staying and going are about more than just gender, just as they are about more than individual choices or sheer random variation.  They concern the structures of resources and responsibilities. And this seems to me to be the nub of the problem.  How can a religious movement that we both love, one of us enough to leave and another of us enough to stay, reform itself?  What resources lie within it for such a thing?  As someone who is experiencing that reform – it is not wishful thinking – let me talk about what I see.

Two words perhaps capture this: longing and loving.  Take the longing first.  At the risk of sounding like an exegete of bad country music, let me ask what this movement longs for.  Campbell herself says it well when she describes Churches of Christ as “frontier revivalism frozen in amber” but adds

“If that sounds grim, it isn’t.  If it sounds soulless, it isn’t that, either.  The traditions plant in the believer – even someone who walks away from the church – a deep and soulful need (38).”

What is this longing?  What makes people do the crazy things they do?  Why have so many parts of our little group, or not so little, actually fought over issues that seemed to most Christians idiosyncratic at best?

Part of the answer must lie in the sheer cussedness and stubbornness of Southerners, especially those from the working classes that mostly fed our congregations until the past generation or two.  Stubbornness was an adaptive skill, a way of defending oneself against the powerful.  But surely beneath that obstinacy at least sometimes lies a commendable willingness to defy the structures of power, a healthy conviction that, if God is real, human pretensions to mastery are not.  This is why my grandmother, who finished only the eighth grade but raised four kids to go to college and served as an elder’s wife and made a huge garden besides, could sing with such enthusiasm, “I’m satisfied with just a cottage below… I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltops.”  No irony there, no snideness, but deep longing.

Behind the overly literal readings of the Bible, the inflexible and often self-defeating adherence to trivial or even specious ideas, and the blindness to social corruption lies a deep longing to do the will of God.  You don’t need to date Jesus when you’re part of his bride. Or to put things a little more formally, at our best, Churches of Christ long for what another Campbell, Thomas this time, proposed as the basic attitude of the uniting church he sought to build:

[A]ll that are enabled, thro’ grace, to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance.  Whom God hath thus joined together, no man should dare to put asunder.  D & A, Proposition 9

This vision seems compelling enough for our contemporaries, and if we can recapture it, we can avoid giving our sons and daughters the same sorts of tortured theologies and self-understandings that Campbell describes.  We can do so because longing implies loving.

What is it we love?  The surprise for me in Dating Jesus’ version of Churches of Christ was the relatively little attention Campbell played to singing, except when mentioning the atavistic, tribal, almost primitive attachment we sometimes have toward a cappella music.  For me, this was and is one of the most life-giving aspects of our tradition.  More than just a curiosity, like the Amish’s refusal to wear buttons, it is a practice through which we have done our best theology.  It has been ecumenical in that we have sung the hymns of those with whom we would otherwise have had strong disagreements.  It has given us powerful ways to speak of our love for God and people.  It has inspired our faithful actions and challenged us in our self-indulgence.  Though I fear for its survival, given its current captivity to the schmaltzy side of the Christian liturgotainment industry, it has been and to some extent still is our language of love.  “There is a name I love to hear…”  “there is a habitation built by the living God.”  Perhaps the recapturing of that love will serve us in good stead.

Finally, I am grateful for Dating Jesus because, even if she is too polite to say so, Ms. Campbell calls on the church, and on Churches of Christ in particular, to do a better job of remembering its first love and find language and practices that articulate it for everyone, including baseball-playing tomboys from Missouri.  She has helped us do that, and for that we must be grateful.

Sojourn in the Eternal City

by   |  04.19.11  |  Church History, Sabbatical, Translation

Dr. Jeff W. Childers, Carmichael-Walling Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, offers some reflections on his recent trip to the Vatican Library in Rome:

Sojourn in the Eternal City


Romipetae they called them—‘Rome-seekers:’ determined pilgrims crossing land and sea to reach the Eternal City, in hopes of receiving some benefit by visiting its holy places and communing with its sacred relics. Such a traveler was I.

Jeff in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City

In April 2011 I went to Rome, seeking the relics of John Chrysostom—but not the great preacher’s old bones, entombed in the Chapel of the Choir in St. Peter’s Basilica on Vatican Hill. Instead, I sought a different sort of relic, yards away from the Basilica. I wanted to get closer to the Golden Voice itself, by reading the words of Chrysostom preserved in ancient manuscripts housed in the Pope’s own library.

Exterior of the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana

Boasting the world’s greatest collection of ancient Christian texts, the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) reopened in September 2010 after a three-year closure for restoration work. The reopening cleared the way for me to request access to the Syriac manuscripts of Chrysostom’s works archived among the Library’s many treasures. Following on the heels of my sojourn at St. Catharine’s Monastery in February, my journey to Rome in April was the second leg of a quest to gather the surviving textual data of Chrysostom’s 5th-century Commentary on the Gospel of John in Syriac and prepare them for publication.

Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, still in use today but flourishing especially in Christian communities in the Middle East during the 3rd–13th centuries. Among the many Syriac texts that survive, manuscripts with the Syriac version of Chrysostom’s Commentary on John are very old but have never been edited, translated, or published. The goal of my project is to make these texts available to a wider readership, but first I must visit the various libraries where these literary relics now reside, study the manuscripts, and collect the texts. The support of ACU and the Loeb Classical Foundation has provided me the time and financial resources I need to make these pilgrimages.

Reading Room, BAV

The restored BAV is a lovely place to work, providing a marvelous environment in which to meditate on the eloquent words of the Golden Mouth as he explicates scripture. ‘Great is the profit from the divine scriptures and unending help comes from them,’ opens one of his homilies partly preserved in the manuscript Vatican Syriac 253, ‘for the divine sayings are a treasury of all sorts of medicines.’ As Chrysostom goes on to examine the account of the paralytic’s healing in John 5, he celebrates the beauty of the passage and administers its pastoral benefits to his audience—including one late-comer, a 21st-century researcher from the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University.

Leaf from 6th-7th century Syriac manuscript of Chrysostom

Chrysostom’s exegeses and preaching are marked by his devotion to Christ’s example, by passionate indictment against those who abuse authority, whether political or ecclesiastical, and by a relentless insistence that wealth pleases God only to the extent that it is used to relieve suffering and restore peace. At his affluent church in Constantinople, the capital of the emerging Byzantine Empire, these themes caused trouble for John among the rich and powerful. Largely due to his fiery preaching, he was banished from the pulpit, dying in exile as he journeyed to far-off Georgia in 407. He certainly never traveled to Rome—at least, not until manuscripts bearing his words made their way to the city, words destined to long outlive the deeds of his persecutors.

More than the remains of his mortal body, carried to Rome after Crusaders pinched them from Constantinople in 1204, I find the manuscript relics of Chrysostom’s teaching better preserve the force of his passion. He deserves the widest possible audience. Soon I hope to be able to expand his hearing by making available these remarkable texts in their Syriac version.

Jeff and his wife Linda tour Ancient Rome

Out of Egypt

by   |  03.14.11  |  Church History, Sabbatical, St. Catherine's, Translation

Dr. Jeff W. Childers, Carmichael-Walling Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, offers some reflections on his recent trip to Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai:

Out of Egypt


For a book nerd like me, it was a dream come true. In my hands I held a volume whose well-thumbed margins had grown dark from generations of reverent use. Scattered across the table-top in front of me were numerous fragments from books that had fared less well, bearing the scars of centuries—tears, stains, and the accretion of desert soil. Some had only recently come to light; some were even awaiting identification.

After years of expectation, months of planning, and weeks of uncertainty due to the precarious political situation in Egypt, in late February 2011 I had journeyed at last to Mount Sinai, as the latest in a long stream of pilgrims searching for wisdom in ancient texts from the holy mountain.

Jeff at the summit of Jebel Musa (Mount Sinai), 2500 ft. above the monastery.

St. Catharine’s is the oldest Christian monastery in the world still in use for its initial purpose. Its library is nearly unparalleled—only the Vatican has more ancient Christian manuscripts. This remote outpost of Christian learning and desert spirituality, set in the arid climate of the Sinai wilderness, turned out to be well suited for the preservation of books written there and from other places. Bible students everywhere have heard the story of Tischendorf’s 19th-century “discovery” at St. Catharine’s of the celebrated Codex Sinaiticus, containing the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Yet the monks of St. Catharine’s are the guardians of many other extraordinary texts as well, and it was to gain a look at some of these that my research brought me to Mount Sinai.

Father Justin recounts tales of the monastery’s extraordinary library.

Along with manuscripts in many other languages the Library holds a remarkable collection of Syriac texts. A dialect of Aramaic, Syriac is a language used by a number of early Christian communities throughout the middle-east. Today Syriac-speaking Christians are still proud to have Jesus’ native language as their own mother tongue and language of worship. Among the many original texts and translations that survive in Syriac, the versions of John Chrysostom’s 5th-century commentary on the New Testament have caught my attention—especially his homiletic commentary on the Gospel of John. Despite their early date and rich content, the Syriac manuscripts of this patristic commentary have never been edited, translated, and published, much less thoroughly studied. But in order to make them available to a wider readership, it is necessary first to gather the data from their ancient resting places in various places around the world—including the archives of St. Catharine’s monastery. The Sinai collection includes several manuscripts containing portions of the commentary, some of which have only recently come to light as part of the monastery’s “New Finds,” that are still in the process of being catalogued.

Jeff and daughter Rebekah in front of St. Catharine’s Monastery.

Upon learning of my interest in the collection, the Archbishop and the Holy Council of Fathers invited me to visit Sinai and use the Library. With the gracious and capable assistance of the librarian, Father Justin, I spent many hours poring over parchment books and fragments copied centuries ago, drinking in their biblical meditations, transcribing the texts, comparing them to each other and to texts found elsewhere. As a bonus, my daughter Rebekah accompanied me to St. Catharine’s, where she conducted interviews of the monks, gathering living data for her senior Honors capstone project at ACU on “Thin Places and Holy Sites.” Each day we worked side by side in the venerable monastery, taking advantage of prescribed breaks to join the monks for worship, to enjoy the art and gardens of the monastery, to become better acquainted with the local Bedouins, and to climb the rugged Mount Sinai (7498 ft.) together. It was an unforgettable and enriching experience.

Jeff attempts to decipher tattered Syriac fragments of the ancient commentary text.

As for the Syriac Chrysostom, it will be some time before I can assess and prepare all the data for eventual publication, yet it is already apparent that the evidence from Sinai is even richer than I had supposed. I am grateful to the monks, and for the financial support of ACU and the Loeb Classical Foundation that helped make the trip possible. But I am especially grateful for the faith of Christians of long ago, whose diligent labors in copying and preserving these ancient books has ensured that the testimony of past believers may still edify us today.

Dr. Jeff Childers
Carmichael-Walling Chair of NT and Early Christianity
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699