The Dissolution of the Monasteries: A new history by James G. Clark (Yale, £25 (£22.50); 978-0-300-11572-7).
“The first account of the dissolution of the monasteries for fifty years — exploring its profound impact on the people of Tudor England. Shortly before Easter, 1540 saw the end of almost a millennium of monastic life in England. Until then, religious houses had acted as a focus for education, literary, and artistic expression and even the creation of regional and national identity. Their closure, carried out in just four years between 1536 and 1540, caused a dislocation of people and a disruption of life not seen in England since the Norman Conquest. Drawing on the records of national and regional archives as well as archaeological remains, James Clark explores the little-known lives of the last men and women who lived in England’s monasteries before the Reformation. Clark challenges received wisdom, showing that buildings were not immediately demolished and Henry VIII’s subjects were so attached to the religious houses that they kept fixtures and fittings as souvenirs. This rich, vivid history brings back into focus the prominent place of abbeys, priories, and friaries in the lives of the English people.”
God: An anatomy by Francesca Stavrakopoulou (Picador, £25 (£22.50); 978-1-5098-6733-2).
“Three thousand years ago, in the south-west Asian lands we now call Israel and Palestine, a group of people worshipped a complex pantheon of deities, led by a father god called El. El had seventy children, who were gods in their own right. One of them was a minor storm deity, known as Yahweh. Yahweh had a body, a wife, offspring and colleagues. He fought monsters and mortals. He gorged on food and wine, wrote books, and took walks and naps. But he would become something far larger and far more abstract: the God of the great monotheistic religions. But, as Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou reveals, God’s cultural DNA stretches back centuries before the Bible was written, and persists in the tics and twitches of our own society, whether we are believers or not. The Bible has shaped our ideas about God and religion, but also our cultural preferences about human existence and experience; our concept of life and death; our attitude to sex and gender; our habits of eating and drinking; our understanding of history. Examining God’s body, from his head to his hands, feet and genitals, she shows how the Western idea of God developed. She explores the places and artefacts that shaped our view of this singular God and the ancient religions and societies of the biblical world. And in doing so she analyses not only the origins of our oldest monotheistic religions, but also the origins of Western culture.”
The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels: Second edition, edited by Stephen C. Barton and Todd Brewer (Cambridge University Press, £22.99 (£20.69); 978-1-108-45887-0).
“Throughout the history of Christianity, the four canonical gospels have proven to be vital resources for Christian thought and practice, and an inspiration for humanistic culture generally. Indeed, the gospels and their interpretation have had a profound impact on theology, philosophy, the sciences, ethics, worship, architecture, and the creative arts. Building on the strengths of the first edition, The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, 2nd edition takes account of new directions in gospels research, notably: the milieu in which the gospels were read, copied, and circulated alongside non-canonical gospels; renewed debates about the sources of the gospels and their interrelations; how central gospel themes are illuminated by a variety of critical approaches and theological readings; the reception of the gospels over time and in various media; and how the gospels give insight into the human condition.
Selected by Aude Pasquier, of the Church House Bookshop, which operates the Church Times Bookshop.