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The Honey of Souls

Cassiodorus and the Interpretation of the Psalms in the Early Medieval West
Derek Olsen

ISBN: 9780814684146, 8414
Details: 328 pgs, 6 x 9
Publication Date: 12/04/2017


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The Honey of Souls is the first full-length study of the Explanation of the Psalms by Cassiodorus. While the Explanation became a seminal document for the monastic movement in the West and was eagerly read and widely quoted for centuries, it has languished in relative obscurity in the modern period. Derek Olsen explores Cassiodorus and his strategies for reading as a window into a spirituality of the psalms that defined early Western biblical interpretation.

Derek A. Olsen earned a PhD in New Testament from Emory University in 2011. His research focuses on the intersection between Scripture and liturgy, and he currently serves on the Episcopal Church's Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. He is also the author of Reading Matthew with Monks (Liturgical Press, 2015).

"Derek Olsen offers in this study much more than just a sketch of Cassiodorus' life and an analysis of his Psalms commentary. He gives a compelling introduction to the role and importance of the Psalms in the medieval church. This book is a delight to scholar and layperson alike."
Catholic Historical Review

"Derek Olsen's conversational approach belies a serious scholarly study of one of the great figures of Western monasticism. He introduces us to Cassiodorus's seminal commentary on the Psalter by narrating the earlier influences on his thinking, his strategies for interpreting the psalms, and his legacy in art, music, and glossed psalters. By presenting history as story, Olsen enables his readers, whether familiar with Cassiodorus or not, to encounter this great scholar in fresh and memorable ways."
Sue Gillingham, Professor of the Hebrew Bible, University of Oxford

"This authoritative study of Cassiodorus's Explanation of the Psalms is an engaging and scholarly guide to one of the most influential works in the medieval church. As well as being a thorough and very readable exploration of Cassiodorus's important book, The Honey of Souls takes the reader on a captivating journey through the intellectual world of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, tracing the transmission of knowledge and learning and demonstrating with great skill the centrality of the Psalms to the life and worship of the early medieval church. In this book, Derek Olsen provides a fascinating insight into a rich, profound, and now largely unfamiliar way of reading the Psalms, one that reveals the unexpected layers of meaning upon meaning to be found within these well-loved texts."
Eleanor Parker, Brasenose College, University of Oxford

"This engaging book draws the reader in to the world of psalm interpretation that reflects the experience of Christians in Late Antiquity, when the reception of Scripture, and especially of the Psalms, was conditioned by oral tradition, liturgical performance, and prayer. The commentator comes alive in Olsen's account, which folds the salient details of translation, symbolism, historical context, and transmission into a seamless narrative. His analysis of Cassiodorus's contributions is enriching for specialists and informative for less expert readers."
Susan Leslie Boynton, Professor of Music, Historic Musicology, Columbia University

"Writing in an engaging conversational style, Olsen brings his readers on a fascinating journey through the years when late antiquity was beginning to merge into the early medieval period. Olsen's learned yet accessible presentation of a work that influenced people's understanding of the psalms for at least five centuries is an immensely valuable resource.

"Olsen examines how the Psalter functioned not only as liturgical prayer, but as a pedagogical resource, a rhetorical model, and a part of the material culture in religious communities. Though Olsen's work may be read out of pure intellectual interest, his examination of time and culture that is in many ways very different from ours, gives an occasion for a deeper reflection on the forces and habits that form - and that we hope will form - the life of Christian communities today."
The Living Church

"Olsen has produced an important study, one that belongs in every academic library. Highly recommended."
Catholic Library World