K:JNWTS 29/1 (May 2014): 14-15

Book Review

Richard J. Dillon, The Hymns of Saint Luke: Lyricism and Narrative Strategy in Luke 1-2. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association, 2013. 181pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-915170-49-3. $15.00.

In 1985, Stephen Farris wrote The Hymns of Luke’s Infancy Narratives: Their Origin, Meaning and Significance. This was a helpful foray into the theology of the four Advent canticles of the third gospel. Raymond Brown followed in 1993 with his important (if sometimes disappointing) The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke. Dillon has built upon this previous work on Luke 1 and 2 (and more; cf. his extensive bibliography [pp. 157-66] which exploits German critical scholarship) with a more penetrating literary and narrative analysis of the Magnificat (1:46-55), Benedictus (1:68-79), Gloria (2:14) and Nunc Dimittis (2:29-35).[1] For each pericope, Dillon provides a thorough review of the text, some speculation on its origin (Luke alone under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is sufficient in our opinion; all other theories about his sources are spun out of the fertile illusions of modern critical scholars), integration with the unfolding argument (Dillon calls it “macrocontext”) of Luke’s early gospel chapters, and a conclusion. The narrative and theological (in fact, biblical-theological insights) are stimulating. There is more depth and wealth of insight here than in Farris or Brown. What is most interesting is Dillon’s use of Acts and Paul to reinforce the redemptive-historical narrative which Luke unfolds. This is particularly helpful for the seamless narrative of the life of Jesus Christ with the life of the early church and the mission of Luke’s companion, Paul. The reader will be benefitted immensely by Dillon’s explorations and connections. If his vocabulary (chiaroscuro [Italian for “coloration of light and shade”], vaticinium [Latin for “prophecy” or “prediction”, etc.) is occasionally ostentatious, his exegesis is enlightening. This is definitely a book required for serious work on the songs anticipating and greeting the One whom angels and glorified saints hymn as eternally begotten Son of God, Savior of depraved and totally unable sinners, the Long-Expected Jesus and Desire of the Nations.

—James T. Dennison, Jr.

[1] Cf. this author’s “Simeon’s Farewell Song” here: http://kerux.com/doc/1603A2.asp.