The rules of our Five Questions interview series are simple: we send authors a long list of questions. Some are serious; some are . . . not so serious. They choose their five favorites and respond.

Our guest today is Torrey Seland, who is professor emeritus of New Testament and former dean of studies at the School of Mission and Theology, Stavanger, Norway, and editor of the new book Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria.

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Reading Philo

Reading Philo

What led you to put together Reading Philo?

The book started out as a Scandinavian project, originating in Finland, but when the project stalled and I took over, I wanted to make a book that would be the go-to book for students entering the world of Philo studies. Furthermore, I realized that we had to include more Philonic scholars than those available in the Scandinavian or Nordic countries; hence we invited several additional scholars from around the globe to join us, and they all agreed to contribute to the volume. The book is about why and how to read Philo, and every chapter is meant to contribute to that focus: why is Philo important, and for whom, and how are we to read him?

What makes the book such a unique contribution?

I would like to think that what makes this book unique is its practical focus on how and why to read Philo. There are already several very good handbooks to Philo out there in the market today, but this one distinguishes itself by focusing on how and why Philo is relevant, and by offering guidance to readers as they start out on their journeys into Philo’s literary and social world. Philo himself is not easy reading, and even though no introductory handbook can replace reading his own works, some practical help acclimating to his world may be welcome.

Whom do you envision reading and using this volume?

I state several times in the book that it should be relevant for MA and especially PhD students starting to deal with Philo. But in fact, I think that both interested general readers and seasoned scholars might find something relevant and worthwhile in the volume. As Philo was living as a Jew in the western Diaspora in the first century C.E., he can offer wisdom to both Jews and Christians coming to terms with what it means to live as a minority group in this world and how to cope with the challenge of establishing a contrasting yet secure identity within the dominant culture. In addition, the works of Philo are highly relevant for students of both ancient philosophies and the development of early Christian theologies.

Torrey Seland

Torrey Seland

What are you reading right now for work?

I retired last summer, so — in theory — I should have plenty of time to read, but everyday life often seems to have other things in store for me. Nevertheless, I am trying to dig into the world of post-colonial theories and perspectives. This is necessary for me to understand one of the most popular trends in both historical and biblical studies these days. And in fact, as I read more into the subject, I am beginning to wonder if post-colonial theories and perspectives may have something meaningful to contribute to our understanding of the life and works of the Jews in the western Diaspora.

What are you doing when you’re not reading, writing, teaching, or answering questions for EerdWord?

Well, that’s a hard question. Anyway, I know what I would like to do: besides being a husband, father, and grandfather, I would definitely like to be able to play more golf!

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Table of Contents for Reading Philo

Introduction and Motivation

Philo of Alexandria: An Introduction
Torrey Seland

Philo of Alexandria in Context

Philo as a Jew
Karl-Gustav Sandelin

Philo as a Citizen: Homo politicus
Torrey Seland

Philo — An Interpreter of the Laws of Moses
Peder Borgen

Philo and Classical Education
Erkki Koskenniemi

“The Jewish Philosophy”: Reading Moses via Hellenistic Philosophy according to Philo
Gregory E. Sterling

Why and How to Study Philo

Why Study Philo? How?
Torrey Seland

Philo’s Exposition of the Law and Social History: Methodological Considerations
Adele Reinhartz

Philo’s Relevance for the Study of Jews and Judaism in Antiquity
Ellen Birnbaum

Philo’s Relevance for the Study of the New Testament
Per Jarle Bekken

Philo in the Patristic Tradition: A List of Direct References
David T. Runia

Click to order Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria.


The November weather may be wet and blustery; the November world may be dreary and brown. Even so, take heart: some things in life are still leafy and colorful.

Picture books, for example.

Leaf through a good picture book, and, likely as not, you’ll find every color of the rainbow smiling back at you.

To celebrate Picture Book Month in November, we’re highlighting a few of our many beautiful picture books on this month.

Visit our website to view the complete collection, or read on to discover five great books . . .

Thank You, God

Thank You, God

Thank You, God
Written by J. Bradley Wigger
Illustrated by Jago

This bright, lyrical book offers readers of all ages and backgrounds the perfect chance to reflect on all the things that they have to be grateful for. Thank You, God is a celebration of family and friends, of homes and food to share, and of the wonder of creation from the first light of day to the calm, peaceful night.

With its elegant yet accessible text and vibrant illustrations, Thank You, God is sure to have a powerful impact on readers as it encourages them to view the world around them with fresh eyes.

“An inspiring and accessible introduction to the practice of prayer.”
— Publishers Weekly (STARRED review)

Watch the book trailer.

Brother Hugo and the Bear

Brother Hugo and the Bear

Brother Hugo and the Bear
Written by Katy Beebe
Illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Brother Hugo can’t return his library book — the letters of St. Augustine — because, it turns out, the precious book has been devoured by a bear! Instructed by the abbot to borrow another monastery’s copy and create a replacement, the hapless monk painstakingly crafts a new book, copying it letter by letter and line by line. But when he sets off to return the borrowed copy, he finds himself trailed by his hungry new friend. Once a bear has a taste of letters, it appears, he’s rarely satisfied!

Brother Hugo and the Bear is loosely based on a note found in a twelfth-century manuscript — and largely on the creative imaginings of author Katy Beebe. Lavishly illustrated by S. D. Schindler in the style of medieval manuscripts, this humorous tale is sure to delight readers who have acquired their own taste for books.

“Combines suspense, humor, and information in a handsome, entertaining package.”
— School Library Journal (STARRED review)

Watch the book trailer

The Big Book of Slumber

The Big Book of Slumber

The Big Book of Slumber
Written by Giovana Zoboli
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani

All creatures of the world find time to rest. And in this charming lullaby book, countless cozy animals settle down in their beds. Bears lie under their blankets, the fox snuggles beneath a tree in the light of the moon, and the monkey tucks his banana close beside him.

This brilliant pairing of author and illustrator brings us a vibrant yet elegant bedtime book that is sure to enchant young readers as they drift sweetly into their own dreams.

“The juxtapositions are funny but unfrantic, gentled by the sweet couplets and piquant but restful paintings.”
The New York Times Book Review

“With their deep, jewel-like colors and comforting coziness, what small child wouldn’t want to join this snoozing menagerie?”
— The Wall Street Journal

The Sheep Go on Strike

The Sheep Go on Strike

The Sheep Go on Strike
Jean-Franςois Dumont

The sheep on the farm are sick of getting sheared — so they decide to go on strike! Things get heated as the rest of the animals start to take sides, eventually leading to a furry, feathery scuffle. But when they all sit down together, the sheep learn how important their wool is to the farm, and the animals come up with a creative solution to everyone’s problem.

This colorful, rollicking story demonstrates the importance of collaboration and teamwork and can lead to a wonderful conversation about the art of compromise.

“Fun on the farm, with plenty of fodder for conversations about social justice.”
— Publishers Weekly

The Right Word

The Right Word

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and used it to organize his ideas and find exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.

This book is an inviting, visually engrossing portrayal of Peter Mark Roget and the creation of the thesaurus. Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.

“In brilliant pages teeming with enthusiasm for language and learning, Bryant and Sweet joyfully celebrate curiosity, the love of knowledge, and the power of words.”
Booklist (STARRED review)

Watch the book trailer

Click to view the rest of our featured picture book collection.

J. Patout Burns Jr. is Edward A. Malloy Professor Emeritus of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Robin M. Jensen is Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship at Vanderbilt University. Together they are the authors of Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs

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Christianity in Roman Africa

Christianity in Roman Africa

Opening a conference in Algiers on 1 April 2001, M. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, exhorted the scholars assembled before him to explore the culture common to the peoples of the western Mediterranean. He cited the words of Henri Irénée Marrou, spoken twenty-five years earlier in a similar context, urging a joint effort to recover the religious heritage of African Christianity. Its great thinkers, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, were the ancestors of Africans and Europeans, Christians and Muslims. Three participants in that conference represented collaborators in the attempt at cultural recovery that resulted in this book.

As Marrou had asserted and Bouteflika recalled, the foundations of Latin Christianity were laid in the Maghreb, the southern coast of the Mediterranean running from modern Libya to Morocco. The first Christians to read the Bible in Latin and to understand it as Romans were members of a layered civilization of Libyans and Moors, who antedated and assimilated first Punic coastal traders, and finally Romans builders and organizers. This Christian civilization would add Vandal and Byzantine strata before itself being absorbed by Islamic Arabs. Unlike the Greek-speaking immigrants who formed the first western Christian communities in Italy and Gaul, the African Christians were native Latin-speakers who inculturated the Christian message into the Roman world. They organized a church whose local bishops presided over professional clergy and met, in provincial and in pan-African plenaries, to make laws and enforce discipline. Their decisions were supported and theorized by appeal to scripture and established practice. They were resilient and adaptive in facing persecution by imperial authorities and divisions in their own ranks. The result, as Marrou and Bouteflika suggested, was an outsized influence on the religious and civil cultures of both Africa and Europe.

J. Patout Burns Jr.

J. Patout Burns Jr.

Five years before the year of international dialogue between cultures proclaimed by the United Nations, to which President Bouteflika dedicated the conference on the Algerian philosopher Augustine’s thought and influence, a team of scholars was on the ground in Tunisia studying the development of a Christianity that was both Roman and African. They were supported by a major grant from the United States National Endowment for the Humanities. After a week in June 1996 spent reviewing the results of the United Nation’s earlier Save Carthage archeological campaign, they set off on a counter-clockwise loop around Tunisia, beginning in Tabarka and ending in Hadrumetum.

The days spent in the remains of Roman Sufetula were exemplary of their work. Though far from the coast, this Roman metropolis was endowed with a spacious forum, temples dedicated to the Capitoline and other gods, and six Christian basilicas–one of them a converted temple in which the baptistery replaced the statue of the god. Its bishops included men who participated in the decisive episcopal synod in Carthage in 256, represented both Caecilianist and Donatist parties at the imperial conference in 411, were exiled by the Vandal ruler after in 483, and died just before the Arab conquest. The last Byzantine ruler in Africa made his unsuccessful stand against the invaders at Sufetula in 647. The well-excavated remains of this city and the exhibits of its museum bear witness to every stage of Christian life in Africa.

Following the trip through Tunisia, the team invited colleagues for semi-annual seminars in the U.S, each of which dealt with the evolution of a particular Christian practice and the theory supporting it. Integrating the literary and archeological evidence proved a challenge because the former was predominately from an earlier period than the latter. In addition, some practices were poorly witnessed in one or the other set of remains. Consultation with specialists in Roman imperial culture and religion was especially important for understanding the interaction of traditional and Christian institutions and customs, such as marriage, care for the dead, and the sharing of goods within and across communities.  The team settled on the topics to be covered in its report and individuals examined various aspects of each. Often enough, practice and theology could be coordinated, but in many instances conflicts emerged between different forms of practice or between practice and theory. Some of these were resolved over time; others perdured in competing forms of Christianity.

Essays and images were reviewed, commented upon, and posted to a website for broader consultation. Two members of the team volunteered to produce a draft of the report. That draft was reviewed by the entire team and Eerdmans Publishing undertook the production of what had become a large project.

As this volume was making its way through the press, other scholars were already building on the research that had been reported in conference papers and published essays.  Readers and researchers can look forward to further collaborative work in the study of African Christianity and its influence.

Click to order J. Patout Burns and Robin Jensen’s Christianity in Roman Africa.


The following excerpt comes from John D. Witvliet’s foreword to Joyce Ann Zimmerman’s new book Worship with Gladness: Understanding Worship from the Heart. Available this month, it’s the latest volume in the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies series. 

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As Joyce Ann Zimmerman observes, starting a conversation about worship’s deep meaning and purpose is no easy assignment. It is relatively easy for churchgoers to talk about things like the style of worship or their musical or artistic preferences or their opinions about their own leaders or presiders in worship. But trying to steer the conversation deeper — toward recognition of the core elements in worship or the ways in which we both address and are addressed by God in worship — is often extremely challenging.

Worship with Gladness

Worship with Gladness

Part of this difficulty is understandable. Christian worship transcends description. It is full of wonder that can’t be captured adequately in words. It is good not to speak too quickly or glibly about its deeper purposes and dynamics.

But part of this difficulty also arises because many Christian communities are not convinced that reflecting on the deeper dynamics of worship is all that valuable. When we don’t practice how to have those conversations, we lack the motivation and capacity to do so.

Here are a few reasons why this avoidance is misguided, and why theological reflection on worship’s deep purpose and dynamics can be so fruitful.

1. Reflecting on a practice shapes how we perceive the practice, what we pay attention to.

During baseball games, I may become mesmerized by the type font used on the scoreboard or the color of the package of the peanuts. But few would argue that this is the ideal center of my attention at a baseball game. While these may be benign interests, baseball aficionados would much rather have me pay attention to the beauty of a well-thrown curve ball, the effective execution of bunt, and a hundred other nuances of the game. Likewise in worship, whatever else we may be attending to, we miss a great deal if we do not learn to notice how God not only receives but also prompts and perfects our worship, or how worship functions to strengthen a marriage-like covenantal relationship between God and the gathered community.

2. Reflecting on a practice amplifies the potential of that practice to shape and form us.

All practices form us, but not all practices form us equally. If I go to a gym, I may well stumble upon a great work-out plan and be formed into a fine athlete. But if I learn how exercises form me, I can be a much better steward of that formative physical activity. Similarly, worship shapes us, whether or not we reflect on it. But reflecting on it can help us notice, testify about, and lean into the ways that participation can sanctify us.

3. Reflection on a practice strengthens our capacity to deepen the practice.

Few people really like rote teaching. We are blessed by teachers who reflect on their pedagogy, and pay attention not just to how teachers teach, but to how learners learn. Likewise, few people really cherish communal worship practices that are legalistic on the one hand or sloppy and sentimental on the other. We are blessed by congregational leaders who reflect on worship and pay attention to the ways in which it can embody deep biblical wisdom, in ways that avoid fussiness and sloppiness.

4. Reflection on a practice helps us root out false and destructive forms of practice.

Sub-par dieticians have led people who want to lose weight into all sorts of pernicious, self-destructive habits. It takes considerable medical expertise to discern which kinds of diets can really build a sustainable, healthy way of life. Similarly, sub-par worship leaders have led people into all sorts of spiritually self-destructive habits, reinforcing racism, narcissism, intolerance, hypocrisy, superstition, and a thousand other awful “isms.” Praise God for faithful believers over the centuries who have reflected deeply on worship and found ways to resist this, promoting forms of worship that foster hospitality, wonder, mutual love, and self-giving.

5. Reflecting on the practice of Christian worship in particular helps us discover (again and again) the gifts we’ve been given.

We recognize the sheer depths of God’s love for us in Jesus, the sheer beauty of God’s self-giving embrace, the sheer wonder of the way the Holy Spirit works to help us resist the temptation not to curve in on ourselves. Just as reflection on baseball or cooking or music or art can help us savor what we experience, so too reflection on worship can help us perceive more deeply the stunning grace that we celebrate in worship.

Theological reflection on corporate worship practices can take many forms, many of them informal and woven into the fabric of daily life: paragraph-long teaching notes in church or parish bulletins, four-minute lessons to young children or new Christians about an aspect of worship, short teaching moments in choir or worship team rehearsals — and many more!

There is also great value in deeper reflection that can feed, nourish, and strengthen those informal moments of reflection. And that is where this book comes in. Perhaps you are a new Christian wondering what worship is all about; perhaps you are a leader who shapes these informal moments of learning all the time; perhaps you are a veteran Christian who wants to grow beyond “auto-pilot” worship on Sunday; or perhaps you are looking for a book for study group or spiritual retreat. In each of these cases, this book offers an invitation to enter into the kinds of conversations that promise to renew and strengthen your own full, conscious, and active participation in worship. May God’s Spirit use your engagement with this book not only to strengthen your faith, but also to enrich the community in which you live and worship.

Click to order Joyce Ann Zimmerman’s Worship with Gladness: Understanding Worship from the Heart

Welcome once again to Eerdmans All Over, a Friday roundup of all the Eerdmans-related news, reviews, interviews, and other interesting online content we can gather in a given week.

New Releases


Revelation as Testimony: A Philosophical-Theological Study
Mats Wahlberg

News from Eerdmans . . .

. . . and Elsewhere

  • Vainglory


    Christianity Today published a review of Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s Vainglory by Karen Swallow Prior, who calls the book “an exceedingly relevant and fascinating examination of a concept we ought to rescue from obsolescence.”

  • The Right Word (Jen Bryant; illus. Melissa Sweet) was included in Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014; was reviewed in The Washington Post; received a five star review from Elizabeth Kennedy on; showed up as part of John Schu and Colby Sharp’s 2015 Mock Caldecott unit; and was featured in an article about books for learning disabled students published in The Herald Sun (Durham, North Carolina).
  • Mark Mellinger reviewed Chuck DeGroat’s Toughest People to Love for The Gospel Coalition, calling the book “a wonderful contribution to contemporary evangelical discipleship/counseling literature.”
  • James K. A. Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular was one of Kurt Armstrong’s “Four New Books Worth Reading,” in an article for the Geez Magazine blog. Armstrong recommends the book as “a digestible account of some brilliant, heady stuff.”
  • The Right Word

    The Right Word

    Jen Bryant is currently offering a fun trivia challenge — with a fat stack of children’s books for the winner – on her website. Readers who score an A+ on Bryant’s “Location, Location, Location!” giveaway, which runs until Thanksgiving, will be entered in a drawing to win copies of all ten of her picture books and novels, including The Right WordA River of Words, and Georgia’s Bones.

  • Katy Beebe’s Brother Hugo and the Bear (illus. David Schindler) is the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s book of the week.
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins wrote about his new book Manger  (illus. Helen Cann) on his blog.

Have we missed any news, reviews, or other online miscellany dealing with Eerdmans or EBYR books or authors from the last week? Please let us know in the comments. You also can post items on our Facebook timeline, mention us on Twitter (@eerdmansbooks or @ebyrbooks), or write to us