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IF any general readers find their way to this book, they will not find much
in the way of lightheartedness. Only one example, in fact. In 1958, we learn,
the late Ulrich Simon, then teaching at King’s College, London, was asked by a
student, “Dr Simon, what is a Festschrift?” He was answered: “When you are old,
and have lost all interest in your subject, they give you a book of essays
about those things concerning which you no longer wish to know.”
Anyone acquainted with James Dunn, to whom this book of essays is given by
friends, colleagues and admirers, to mark his recent retirement from his Durham
chair, will not for a moment suspect that his interest in the study of the New
Testament risks imminent decay.
There are no fewer than 27 essays, by scholars from this country, the United
States, Germany, and elsewhere. The range reflects Dunn’s central position in
the world of NT studies over many years. His first publications, listed at the
end of this book, came in 1970, and they have flowed steadily and abundantly
He has ranged pretty widely, but, if one theme has recurred in his work, it
relates to the central thought of Paul the Apostle, especially the theme of the
Spirit. Indeed, his first book, which created substantial interest, was Baptism
in the Holy Spirit, a topic then of growing importance in some parts of the
The present collection continues to reflect that interest, though without
paying too much attention to ecclesiastical aspects. It concentrates on the
writings of Paul, 11 essays being concerned with matters Pauline. This central
bloc is preceded by essays on topics in the Gospels; and, apart from a handful
on later NT books, the rest take the subject of the Spirit (without any
startling results, except, perhaps, that absence itself?) in writings from the
Any reader finds light more in one place than another. I followed to my
profit the dense argument of David Catchpole on Romans 7, and its somewhat
lighter companion on the same passage by Peter Borgen; also Morna Hooker on the
baptism of John as a prophetic sign.
Any complaints or cautions? As is common with the genre, this is very much a
book for the skilled member of the guild of NT experts and their near
relations. There might be a reaction that it is the sort of book that gets
academic theology, with its narrow specialising and its ever more introverted
life, a bad name.
In being so far removed from even domestic church interests, this collection
does not do justice to the life and work of the one for whom it was made. It
would have been good if one or two contributors had been recruited who might
have stood back a little and asked what much of the material here surveyed
could now be taken to signify.
The book is indeed a product of Christian circles, chiefly Protestant, with
a few Anglicans, but few appear to find themselves looking out through the
windows, let alone opening the door.
Finally, perhaps there is one more joke — I am not sure. To keep referring
to Professor Dunn as the book’s “honoree” was, in my view, a neologism. It
seems to be of American provenance. It should surely be suppressed.
The Revd Leslie Houlden is a former Professor of Theology at King’s
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