Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs. By J. PATOUT Burns, Jr., and Robin M. Jensen. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014. Pp. liii + 670, illus. $55.
This book was long in the making. Conceived as a project in conversation with colleagues at the North American Patristics conference in 1994, it took shape over decades of research, consultation with specialists on various aspects of ancient Christianity, and travels to North Africa, where the authors at times studied basilicas in the company of well-armed Algerian security forces. Burns and Jensen are at pains to emphasize that the writing of this book was a collective effort among "team members" (most prominently Graeme W. Clarke, Susan T. Stevens, William Tabbemee, and Maureen A. Tilley), who contributed ideas, structure, and content.
Before discussing the book's scholarly accomplishments, it should be pointed out that this is one of few recent academic releases whose physicality warrants attention. It is a big book, hardback, and comfortably heavy. Careful editing has rendered the text very clean. The binding is sewn rather than glued so it lies flat of its own accord when opened on a reading surface. It is nice to hold and printed well to please the eye. The only intent of these remarks is to express delight in reading a book that is refreshingly well made and affordable. The map of North Africa (pp. xlii-xliii) is of good size with topographical detail in high resolution so that you can actually see, for example, the contours of the fertile Medjerda valley north of the Tunisian Dorsal range. The map also identifies the important cities in print large enough to read without squinting, from the Castellum Tingitanum in Mauretania Caesariensis eastward to just beyond Lepcis Magna in Tripolitania.
The glory of this volume, however, is its color plates and architectural plans. By my count, there are 124 bright color photos of church remains, baptisteries, mosaics, etc. (most of which were taken by the authors), 24 floor plans of basilicas and ecclesiastical complexes, and 6 reconstructive drawings. The illustrations are collected together on the glossy pages in mid-volume, but they are logically ordered so that when one reads about Tipasa, for example, it is easy to hold one's place in the text and flip to the relevant photographs, which for this city, as well as all others represented, are grouped together.
As for the book's structure and...