This is the latest offering from the retiring Professor of New Testament in Oxford, the recent recipient of the British Academy’s Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies. Full disclosure: Chris Tuckett is a senior colleague of mine in Oxford whose work I have long admired. That said, even were I not predisposed to appreciate this volume, the book itself would have won me over.
Tuckett’s work is marked by unsensational sanity and eminently reasonable textual decisions, virtues one sometimes feels lacking among certain scholars of the second century. In particular, he brings to bear his considerable expertise in the source and redaction criticism of gospel traditions, in so-called Gnosticism and related phenomena, and in the apostolic fathers to produce a splendid treatment of the curious document known to us as 2 Clement.
As with some other writings traditionally classed among the Apostolic Fathers, 2 Clement has not been well served by major commentarial or monographic treatments in English. One struggles to think of anything beyond Lightfoot’s magisterial treatment in the 1890s and Donfried’s 1974 NovTSup volume. While there have been several major treatments in German, this volume is a welcome addition to the English-language literature on 2 Clement, and a major augmentation to scholarship in any language on the text. This augurs well for the series it inaugurates, Oxford Apostolic Fathers, for which Andrew Gregory and Paul Foster join Tuckett as editors (‘A series of critical editions of early Christian texts, comprising the text itself in the original language, a facing translation, a substantial introduction, and extensive notes’).
In his 80-page introduction, Tuckett argues that an otherwise unknown author penned 2 Clement as a type of ‘sermon’ with a paraenetic purpose (though resisting some definitions of ‘sermon’ as too narrow for 2 Clement), and tentatively places its composition in Rome in the early-middle 2nd century in light of the possible links to Valentinian terminology that do not seem encumbered by later strong rejection of that theology by the majority church. 2 Clement’s major purpose is apparently to redress a situation in which the ethical resolve of its community seems to have weakened, but one should be wary of theories that depend on the identification of a particular set of opponents behind the text. Moreover, Tuckett provides some useful cautions against assuming that the case against the originality of chs. 19-20 is watertight and urges it to be seen rather as indecisive. He also offers an overview of the theology of the sermon and its citations. If the caution with which Tuckett approaches the text does not satisfy those with a lust for grand hypotheses, it arguably does more justice to the nature of the evidence in question.
Part II (pp. 83-123) offers a facing page Greek-English edition and translation of the text, in which the textual decisions are reasonable and the translation readable. The remainder of the book (pp. 125-303) is comprised of a substantial commentary on 2 Clement. One of the most useful features of the commentary is the section addressing ‘parallels’ that begins each new chapter. Possible sources for 2 Clement’s many citations are evaluated, and Tuckett’s expertise in evaluating gospel traditions is on display in suggesting plausible solutions to notable cruces. While on the whole I might be more inclined to see Pauline influence on 2 Clement than is Tuckett (in my view, the cumulative case for such influence is stronger than any particular link in the chain), he offers well-reasoned arguments for discerning the sources of the sermon that should be taken seriously by all future scholarship on the text.
In short, then, this is an important book in an important series. Scholars and serious students of the apostolic fathers will want to own it, while others should ensure that the libraries of their academic institutions have purchased it for their reference.