How to Review a Festschrift?

I am currently reviewing the FS Celebrating Paul (honoring Fitzmyer & Murphy-O’Connor) for a journal and after reading through the eclectic set of essays, I wondered: what do you say in a review? Space does not really permit in-depth discussion of the 19 essays (400+ pages). There is obviously no central thesis. Each contributor makes his or her own argument towards an issue in Paul’s letters.

So, I went looking for examples. I went on the RBL page and looked at various reviews of Festschriften. Basically, everyone struggles with this and many opt to focus on a handful of interesting essays. One example, in particular, stuck out to me and made me laugh: see here. It is what I would call a “minimalist” review (if it can be called a review! Keep in mind RBL asks for a 1000-word review that aims to be analytical and “critical” in an academic sense).


6 thoughts on “How to Review a Festschrift?

  1. I’m a little surprised that RBL published the review of the Fee FS. I laughed too.

    I recently wrote a review of After the First Urban Christians (ed. by Horrell and Still) that is forthcoming in RRT. It doesn’t exactly claim to be a FS, but it basically is. It is a good bit shorter than Celebrating Paul, but I ran into space issues also. I focused the review on what struck me as the most important essays and in particular those that made a key contribution or those that had rather glaring weaknesses.

  2. Nijay,
    I am currently working on a review for David Balch’s Festschrift and have this same question. The only example, besides the one you mentioned, that i can across was on a blog, though it was an edited volume not a Festschrift, in which the reviewer gives about one or two sentences to each essay. While this approach summarized the general content of the essays, it did little to critically engage the subject. For the Balch Festschrift, the essays are collected into two parts, with part 2 divided into two sub-sections. This might provide enough of a theme to help construct a thoughtful review. We’ll see.

  3. Thanks Matt and Coleman. Matt – I think you are right that RBL does not really vet the reviews, but I think they probably just try to limit offensive reviews. Coleman, I saw the Balch FS – some really interesting essays! Good luck with the review!

  4. I think this is a problem with the Festschrift genre – it is too eclectic, and publishers seem less and less inclined to go for this sort of book. I think the future of the Festschrift is in creating something much more focused than has often been the case – perhaps getting authors to contribute fresh essays on a very specific issue arising from the celebrated scholar’s work.

    1. Matthew, I think your right about the problem with the FS genre. ‘After the First Urban Christians’ mitigated this somewhat by having the contributors each take on the topic of a chapter from Meeks’ ‘The First Urban Christians’. This kept the project more focused on issues raised in that particular book and gave the book a bit more coherence.

      1. That does sound like a good way to go. That way we’re not just fishing for a gem that happens to be found amongst a bunch of unrelated chapters, but there’s a bit more unity and consistency to the whole.

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