Monday, June 22, 2009

The Book of Life: My Review

I'd like to thank the Catholic Company for the opportunity to review The Book of Life: The New Testament Retold.

This book, which was first published in French in 1955 and was translated into English in 1956. It is published now as an "Arkive Edition" from Sophia Institute Press. Arkive editions are exact photographic reproductions of books published in previous decades or centuries. They have not been updated for modern readers, which will explain some of the things I'll discuss below.

The Book of Life appears to have been written for children, both because the author addresses the readers as "children" at times, and because he speaks of things like obeying one's parents and attending catechism classes. However, the language is not simplistic, so I'd guess the original target audience was older elementary/middle school. Though the subtitle is "The New Testament Retold", it should say "The Gospels Retold", because besides a few words about things that happened in The Acts of the Apostles, everything came from the gospels. The author, Henri Daniel-Rops, basically takes the stories from all four gospels and puts them together in a running narrative. The writing style was obviously pedagogical. The purpose of the book is to teach, and Daniel-Rops sounds like a teacher.

The commonly used Bible among Catholics in 1955 was the Douay Rheims version. The Book of Life, as the Douay Rheims, uses the word "Messias" rather than "Messiah" and Isiais rather than "Isaiah". Also, when speaking of the four Evangelists, The Book of Life states that they were written in the order presented, whereas today scripture scholars generally believe Mark was written first. I point these things out simply as a reminder that this is an old book.

One thing I found interesting is a list of dates at the back of the book. The author lists John the Baptist's ministry as starting in December of A.D. 27. In the years A.D. 28, 29 and 30, he gives the months during which various gospel events took place, and he lists the exact dates of Holy Week. Since this is a children's book rather than a scholarly tome, he didn't footnote or give reasons for his choice of months, but I'd be fascinated to know what they were.

The book also includes maps of the area and a diagram of the temple. Most chapters have black and white line drawings illustrating one of the described events.

There is a lot of interesting information in this book, but I personally didn't care for the writing style.

1 comment:

  1. I find that 'old' Catholic books are not a writing style I enjoy for the most part either


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