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Reviews - What do customers think about Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in Its Mediterranean Setting (New Testament Monographs)?
A Good Start in Exposing a Major Biblical Theme Jan 27, 2007
This book by Arterbury is a worthy addition to the field of theological socio-historical studies. Specifically, Arterbury adds his voice to a growing chorus of scholars who have examined biblical hospitality from a variety of angles. Arterbury's particular angle is very good and is packed with great potential, but such potential is not totally realized in this book.
Arterbury's major thesis is that in the Peter and Cornelius story of Acts 10-11, it is God who is in fact extending a radical hospitality to Gentiles. By rolling up into one discussion the missionary activity of the church and God's loving orientation towards gentiles, and discussing both within the particular device of (covenantal) hospitality is quite insightful, and in my view, correct. The entire Bible regularly touches on issues of hospitality, both expressed and implied, and it is a theme that has been too often ignored in socio-historical studies, not to mention larger theological and bibliological proposals. Arterbury's proposal is helpful in presenting hospitality is something far more than simply offering someone a drink.
In order to arrive at his argument regarding Acts 10-11, Arterbury spends a good amount of time rehearsing hospitality practices in Jewish and Greco-Roman society. His coverage of this material is helpful if not exhaustive, and his analysis draws from the more established work of Malina, Koenig, Malherbe and others. While the reader should understand that there is considerably more on-topic Mediterranean source material than Arterbury brings into the discussion, the conclusions Arterbury reaches about the nature, extent, and significance of hospitality is mostly on target (though I think he, along with others in the field, misdiagnose the reciprocity angle of Mediterranean hospitality which does have an impact on how one can interpret biblical hospitality passages).
In my view, Arterbury largely succeeds in providing a persuasive interpretation of Acts 10-11. Unfortunately, I found the study to be a bit deminimus on this score. In addition to the Acts passage, Arterbury touches on a few other passages, most notably in the Johannine writings. His analysis of these passages is good, but at least in my view, could have been employed to produce much greater fruit that would support his thesis - particularly the John 4 passage. In addition, for a book that's almost 250 pages long, it struck me as a bit odd that his detailed focus on Acts 10-11 comprised only 30 pages of the study. It seemed as if Arterbury was simultaneously trying to cover too much and too little ground all in the same study. He spends a lot of time exploring the larger Mediterranean hospitality context, and this is good. But his exploration actually could have been much more thorough than it was, so it was not as meaty as it could have been. When he then turns his attention to the Biblical texts, he only treats a handful of texts, and with the exception of the Acts passage, doesn't spend a whole lot of time on them. In the end, I was a bit confused by what Arterbury was trying to accomplish. By trying to do too much, he ended up doing less than what his thesis warrants.
The fact is, hospitality between God and man, and between men, is a critical theme of many parts of the Bible and provides continuity among a number of Scriptural writings. Arterbury correctly sees an aspect of the God/man relationship in terms of hospitality. But having seized upon a very good proposal with wide-ranging interpretive and practical implications, Arterbury leaves a lot of potential untapped. The result is a book that provides a good starting point for others to properly finish the job.