The dissolution of the monasteries: A New Story by James G. Clark (Yale, £ 25 (£ 22.50); 978-0-300-11572-7).
“The first account of the dissolution of monasteries in fifty years – exploring its profound impact on the people of Tudor England. Shortly before Easter, 1540 marks the end of almost a millennium of monastic life in England. Until then, the houses religious had served as a home for education, literary and artistic expression and even the creation of a regional and national identity. Their closure, carried out in just four years between 1536 and 1540, caused upheaval and upheaval life in England without precedent since the Norman Conquest. Drawing on national and regional archives as well as archaeological remains, James Clark explores the little-known life of the last men and women who lived in English monasteries before the Reformation. Clark’s challenges received wisdom, showing that the buildings were not immediately demolished and that the subjects of Henry VIII were so attached to the houses nuns that they kept accessories and accessories as souvenirs. This rich and living history highlights the preponderant place of abbeys, priories and convents in the life of the English.
God: an anatomy by Francesca Stavrakopoulou (Picador, £ 25 (£ 22.50); 978-1-5098-6733-2).
“Three thousand years ago, in the lands of southwest Asia that we now call Israel and Palestine, a group of people worshiped a complex pantheon of deities, led by a father god called El. El was sixty- ten 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 gorges himself on food and wine, writes books, and takes walks and naps. But he would become something much larger and much more abstract: the God of the great monotheistic religions. But, as Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou reveals, God’s cultural DNA dates back centuries before the Bible was written, and lingers in the tics and jolts 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 conception of life and death; our attitude towards sex and gender; our eating and drinking habits; our understanding of history. By examining the body of God, from its head to its hands, feet and genitals, she shows how the Western idea of God has 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 analyzes 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 in general. Indeed, the gospels and their interpretation have had a profound impact on theology, philosophy, science, ethics, worship, architecture and the creative arts. Building on the strengths of the first edition, The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, 2nd edition takes into account the new directions of evangelical research, in particular: the environment in which the gospels were read, copied and disseminated alongside the non-canonical gospels; renewed debates on the sources of the gospels and their interrelationships; how the central themes of the gospel are informed by a variety of critical approaches and theological readings; reception of the gospels over time and in various media; and how the gospels provide insight into the human condition.
Selected by Aude Pasquier of the Church House Bookshop, which operates the Church Times Bookshop.