I could have sworn I had read this when I was in High School, but given how much of it I simply did not recognize, it's possible I only heard a descri...moreI could have sworn I had read this when I was in High School, but given how much of it I simply did not recognize, it's possible I only heard a description of it from friends. Sadly, that description was far more engaging than the book itself, which proved tremendously disappointing.
I'm sure part of my disappointment is also connected to my professional background; in the same way that my neuro-scientist ex-girlfriend cannot enjoy any sci-fi story involving the brain because all the plot-crucial scientific errors are glaringly obvious to her, I cannot enjoy attempts to discuss religion and ancient history by non-scholars because (nine times out of ten) they are so full of anachronistic and ahistorical nonsense that I can't focus on the narrative. And while Stephenson has some great ideas, and a really great premise, his understanding of Antiquities is PISS-POOR, turning what could have been a delightful alternate-history sci-fi conspiracy novel into little more than The Da Vinci Code for computer science majors. Word of advice, folks: when you're constructing a narrative around certain key historical events, make sure YOU GET THE FACTS AND TIME-LINES RIGHT. If he had just stuck with the ancient Mesopotamian angle, it would have worked out fine, but his attempts to shoehorn his ideas into the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam only revealed how little he actually understands about those religions or their history. Also, his anti-Pharisee bias is so strong, and so grounded in misinformation, that it sometimes felt more like I was reading an Evangelical Christian tract than a novel. Seriously -- there were points at which I began to wonder if he might not be an anti-Semite himself.
And it's worth mentioning that this novel has NOT aged well. It's intended to be a futuristic sci-fi story about plutocratic-dystopian America, but given that the main character is a 30-something Baby Boomer, it's full of middle-aged people who served in the Vietnam War, and all the slang appears to be from the 1980s "Valley Girl" movement... and it was published in 1992... Well, even at the time of publication these predictions were dated and impossible, so I have chosen to count it as an alternate-history novel. His anti-American sentiments appear grounded in the sort of cookie-cutter, stereotypical Liberalism that was already threadbare in the 1980s, and he depicts American racism, misogyny, etc. with the sort of garish lack of proportion that only someone entirely sheltered from actual American society by both an insular political ideology and social circle could have accomplished.
Even looking past all the historical anachronisms, anti-religious bigotry, potential anti-Semitism, and haphazard chronology, the book itself is a cluttered mess. The moments of genuine insight and excitement (which are present!) are obscured behind exposition dumps which last for chapters and drawn-out, tedious action sequences. There's too much going on, too many characters, too many events, and too little of it matters. The characters are either flavourless or unlikable (with the exception of "Fido" and Raven, oddly enough), and the conclusion feels rushed, forced and abrupt.
So much potential, most of it wasted.
I'm not giving up on Stephenson though! He must have done SOMETHING to earn his place in the pantheon of cyberpunk authors, and I'm intrigued by the schism I've seen among his fans. You have those, like Jerry Holkins (Tycho Brahe of "Penny Arcade") who cleave to his older work, and after reading this I have to assume that has more to do with nostalgia than the merits of the works themselves; and you have those, like my friend Wyatt, who cleave to his newer work, like Anathem, which has been repeatedly recommended to me and sounds far more interesting and thoughtful than "Snow Crash" proved to be. So we'll see!(less)
I was going to dismiss this book as annoying polemic until I did a little further research. It is not, actually, a rebuttal directed at Dawkins &...moreI was going to dismiss this book as annoying polemic until I did a little further research. It is not, actually, a rebuttal directed at Dawkins & Hitchens & co. It is, actually, more of a rebuttal to Gibbons & Clarke & co. The author examines many of the myths about the history of Western civilization, detailing how much more complex it is than we are usually willing to admit, and how much of what we "know" is more akin to the tale of George Washington & the cherry tree than it is to hard, objective historical fact. For instance: Christian mobs did not burn the library of Alexandria; Christianity didn't suppress and/or destroy the original Greek texts of Aristotle's works, but rather preserved them; Galileo & co. were tearing down hellenistic (ie: pagan) pseudo-science which had been limiting Western scientific inquiry for so long that it had come to be adopted as religious dogma. Many of these points are pet-peeves I have when talking with others about the history of religion and the West, and I'm interested to see where this book takes things. Unfortunately its inflammatory and baffling title will invalidate it in the eyes of the very people who, it seems, NEED to read it.(less)
Overall, this is an excellent review of Jewish history from the beginning of the Second Temple period to the Rabbinic period of the middle ages. It is...moreOverall, this is an excellent review of Jewish history from the beginning of the Second Temple period to the Rabbinic period of the middle ages. It is exceptional for its focus on the Jewish perspective of history and for its focus on the Jewish people. Schiffman is a devout Rabbinic Jew himself, but where his prejudices are evident (which is very infrequently) he is refreshingly honest about them.
My only complaints were the way he sort of "skipped over" the Jewish reactions to Christianity (a single half-hearted mention of the prayer/bans agains the "minim" is insufficient) and completely ignored the ways in which institutionalized Roman persecution of Christians was legalized, in part, as a result of Jewish renunciation of Christians/Christianity. Reading his account, one would think that the Empire's decision to legally distinguish between Jews and Christians was the beginning of a glorious golden age of toleration of/preferential treatment for Christians, rather than the beginning of centuries of brutal persecutions (so brutal, in fact, that the Coptic calendar begins reckoning time with the ascension of Diocletian to the Imperial throne). He also makes the common but serious mistake of using "anti-Semitism" when he means "anti-Judaism", thus making it sound as though Christians of Semitic ethnicity or linguistic heritage were being disenfranchised right alongside their religiously Jewish fellows... This edition is badly indexed, too, so that the indexed page numbers frequently don't match up to the actual text -- it's usually only off by a couple pages, but it took me a couple days to figure that out.
Not without its flaws, but definitely a classic and well worth reading. (less)
Sir Richard Francis Burton is an odd duck. He is often accused of inserting his "modern" Western prejudices into his work, and he does, but nowhere ne...moreSir Richard Francis Burton is an odd duck. He is often accused of inserting his "modern" Western prejudices into his work, and he does, but nowhere near the extent to which he is accused. FACT: Islamic cultures, like most cultures in the world, are openly and unabashedly racist, sexist and xenophobic. As a result, like much of our own, much of their great literature contains these elements in spades (Shylocke or Othello, anyone?). What is more, many of these stories did not originate within the Islamic cultures, but actually pre-dated Islam AND Christianity, and much of their casual racism, sexism and xenophobia had its roots in ancient pagan Middle-Eastern and Asian prejudices! And believe you me, they were FAR more bigoted than either Burton OR their Islamic transmitters. The works Burton translated came from the Islamic Golden Age and are very much a product of their time. Burton, for all his faults, does an excellent job translating them without his translation turning into a dry, tedious, literal translation -- he keeps the language beautiful, and includes as many original words and names as possible.
Amusingly enough, some of the stories we most closely associate with the Arabian Nights are NOT from the Arabic text at all! Wrap your head around that, kiddos, and try to guess which ones I'm referring to! (less)
I'm sure there are a number of reasons I didn't enjoy this book, among them the fact that I have a penis, I'm straight, I am not some kind of Valley-G...moreI'm sure there are a number of reasons I didn't enjoy this book, among them the fact that I have a penis, I'm straight, I am not some kind of Valley-Girl-Hipster hybrid, and I hate California - especially Southern California - with a firey passion. This author's writing is too aggressively and pretentiously precious, the plots (such as they were) all felt tremendously contrived, and the so-called "insights"...well, again, I have a penis, I'm straight, I'm not some kind of Valley-Girl-Hipster hybrid, and I hate California. It's entirely possible that I'm not capable of understanding or appreciating these books, much the way so many women I've known failed to understand and therefore railed against male-oriented literature and cinema (by which I mean ACTUAL literature and cinema, not trash or porn). But I'm going to stick by my 1-star rating; I did not enjoy these stories, and they made me sincerely question the judgment of the friend who recommended them to me. (less)
Everytime I see this book's title, the song by Queen starts up in my head and I have to snap my fingers along with it. This makes it very hard to read...moreEverytime I see this book's title, the song by Queen starts up in my head and I have to snap my fingers along with it. This makes it very hard to read.
Oh, what the heck:
It's a kind of magic It's a kind of magic A kind of magic One dream, one soul, one prize, One goal, one golden glance of what should be It's a kind of magic One shaft of light that shows the way No mortal man can win this day It's a mind of magic The bell that rings inside your mind, It's a challenging the doors of time It's a kind of magic The waiting seems eternity The day will dawn of sanity It's a kind of magic There can be only one This rage that lasts a thousand years Will soon be gone This flame that burns inside of me, I'm hearing secret harmonies It's a kind of magic The bell that rings inside your mind Is challenging the doors of time It's a kind of magic It's a kind of magic This rage that lasts a thousand years Will soon be, will soon be, Will soon be gone This is a kind of magic There can only be one This life that lasts a thousand years Will soon be gone Magic - it's a kind of magic It's a kind of magic Magic, magic, magic, magic It's magic, It's a kind of magic! (less)
FINAL REVIEW: Roughly ten years ago Philip Jenkins wrote an exceptional work, arguing that the academic equivalent of "special interest groups" had hi...moreFINAL REVIEW: Roughly ten years ago Philip Jenkins wrote an exceptional work, arguing that the academic equivalent of "special interest groups" had hijacked the scholarly study of early Christianity and its associated texts. Whether conservative or liberal, feminist or anti-Semite, the people associated with these movements have, Jenkins argued, shoehorned their own prejudices, agendas and hang-ups into the field in an attempt to turn what should be an objective examination of existing evidence into a vehicle for their own wish-fulfillment and social engineering. In writing this book, Philip Jenkins was actually voicing much of what scholars like Lawrence Schiffman and Frank E. Peters (and myself!) have been saying for the last 30 years. Far from seeking to uncover the historical Jesus or the historical early Christianity, these groups have been on a quest to uncover an "acceptable Jesus", one whose teachings and followers reflect the wishes of these modern groups. This is why the Jesus & early Christianity they "discover" are conveniently devoid of Jewishness and heirarchies and supernaturalism and judgment and traditional gender norms - and why both are so amenable to Western Buddhists/Hinduists, neo-pagans, anti-war protesters, feminist theologians, survivalist movements, conspiracy theorists, anti-Catholics and anti-Semites.
This is a brilliant analysis of the trends in popular culture and academia which have given birth to a popular belief that the four "canonical" gospels are actually later confabulations -- a movement championed by the so-called "Jesus Seminar" and numerous other pseudo-academic organizations. Jenkins carefully analyzes the history of the scholarship alongside the history of the public's fascination with that scholarship and demonstrates how, more often than not, what the public is told to believe by scholars reflects neither the evidence nor even the academic consensus, but rather the ideological biases of the most vocal or sensationalist members of the academic fringe.
The fact of the matter is that the earliest Christian documents we presently possess are some of the writings of Paul (aka: Saul of Tarsus) and the earliest "gospels" we presently possess are the four currently in the New Testament. This is what all of the evidence, including that within the texts themselves and from extra-"canonical" contemporary sources, clearly demonstrates. The so-called "Q" Gospel does not actually exist -- it is a thought-exercise, a hypothetical which subsequent generations of scholars reified, despite there being no copy of it in existence, nor references to it in contemporary sources, and despite the fact that most modern reconstructions have been the products of internecine conflicts in an academic community more interested in justifying modern philosophies than uncovering historical facts. The Gospel of Thomas which we posses is itself clearly a Gnostic text, uncovered in a collection of Gnostic documents from the third-to-fourth century at the earliest. And the portrait of Gnosticism which most audiences are given nowadays is an idealized, romanticized vision constructed largely out of certain scholars' desire to create an alternative Christianity which better reflects their own modern beliefs and attitudes. The deep-seated elitism, anti-Jewishness, misogyny, anti-historicism and sexual-repression which characterized so much of ancient Gnosticism gets brushed aside because it does not fit what some modern scholars are looking for. And those two ("Q" and Thomas) are the BEST CANDIDATES when it comes to competing with the antiquity and historicity of the four canonical gospels -- every single other "gospel" or analogous text that has been uncovered has been much later than those two (and therefore MUCH later than the big four) and far less relevant to the study of early Christianity. This dating is important, as Jenkins notes, because the conclusions certain scholars are asking us to draw are the functional equivalent of saying "Well, that 1992 romance novel about the 1754-1763 French & Indian War MUST be more accurate than this memoir from a soldier who fought in that War." If you've heard otherwise, that's because you've been misinformed and the source of that misinformation can usually be traced back to a scholar with a pet theory he/she values so much that it erases his/her objectivity.
What is more, much of the popular scholarship on the New Testament has actually been motivated by the bitter resentment some of these scholars have been bringing with them from their personal lives -- and the scholarship in general is STILL influenced by anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic sentiments.
Likewise, the media has itself contributed to the misrepresentation of ancient history and the academic consensus, and Jenkins takes them to task for this. He does not attribute it to some nefarious plot against religion or Christianity (in fact, he is openly contemptuous of that claim), but rather to the simple fact that members of the media exist to further their own existences. Journalists exist to sell subscriptions and move copy, just as publishers exist to sell books; these groups are simply pushing what sells best, and are more often than not completely ignorant of everything that is going on in the academic world. Many reporters and publishing houses may actually believe that the representatives of the academic fringes are in fact the representatives of mainstream academia! It's not necessarily their fault that people want to buy/read/hear/watch things which are sensationalistic and erroneous, just as it is not necessarily their fault that some scholars are more interested in having their own ideas accepted by mainstream society than in having ideas which reflect the evidence at hand. His only real criticism of the media is its willingness to present ANYTHING given to it regarding religion -- including tales that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained Chinese characters, that Jews/Catholics/scholars were holding up the translation & publication of the Scrolls because they feared "shocking" revelations contained therein, or that the entire New Testament is actually a coded manual on mushroom consumption and masturbation -- as factual and historically accurate. An atheist acquaintance of mine, who is now working on her doctorate in religious studies, assured me twenty years ago that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained accounts of Jesus' bisexual activities. The fact that the complete translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls were, by then, readily available at any bookstore, did not prevent the media's early presentation of conjecture and fable from firmly taking root in her mind. Thus Jenkins, like so many of us, argues that publishers (especially the major publishing houses) need to hold writers on religion to the same standards to which writers on history or science are held.
Jenkins also does a remarkable job of explaining where the boundaries between personal ideological bias and legitimate cultural/academic/theological inquiry exist -- for instance, he is highly critical of feminist theologians' attempts to super-impose their beliefs back onto ancient Christianity by erroneously claiming antiquity for documents which are demonstrably recent, but not of their assertions that the contributions of ancient Christian women have been dismissed or marginalized over the last fifteen hundred years, nor of their claims that ancient documents could shed light on the actual status of women in early Christianity. And while he criticizes the political and social liberal ideologues who seek to "reinterpret" the evidence to fit their own agendas, he is equally critical of political and social conservatives for the same thing, and urges both to separate their beliefs from the evidence at hand.
These are all things most of us in the field of religious studies have been arguing for decades, and there is so much more to the work than the elements which I have described. Jenkins has simply distilled them into a single statement and articulated them masterfully.
Where Jenkins fails is in his inexplicable focus on Mormons and Mormonism. Does it make sense to include a comment on or a reference to Mormon beliefs in a book on extra-New-Testamental "gospels"? Absolutely! Does it make sense to include a comment on or a reference to Mormon beliefs in EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER, regardless of relevance to the subject at hand? No. No it does not. And what makes even less sense is for a scholar who spends 9 chapters indicting (quite successfully!) other scholars for their poor scholarship, and for letting their ideological prejudices influence their work, to then GET HIS INFORMATION ABOUT MORMONS WRONG! In one baffling example, Jenkins uses Shakers and "nineteenth century Mormons" as examples, contextually implying that both groups had died out -- and while the Shakers had (at the date this book was written) a single-digit membership, Mormons numbered in the millions. A far better analogue would have been the Oneida Community or the Millerites (though even the Millerites had their successors).
Jenkins clearly has an axe to grind and views Mormons (here I am speaking of every religious sect which claims descent in some form from the religious organization founded by Joseph Smith Jr., especially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) with a particular and intense loathing. No other sect receives as much attention (or acrimony) from Jenkins as does Mormonism, and groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Christian Scientists, and the Shakers all receive little more than a passing mention. There was even one comment he made which included a footnote referencing, not actual Mormon doctrines or scholarly articles about Mormonism, but well-known non-academic anti-LDS activists! He wound up falling into one of the same traps he so successfully points out to others -- that of assuming to be accurate and objective whatever is on a bookstore/library shelf. Several of the statements/comments he makes are, as a result, fallacious and these weaken the integrity of his work and the force of his argument.
If he had been able to swallow his clear antagonism towards Mormons, this might have been a five-star book. As it is, the rest of it constitutes an exceptional analysis of the problems plaguing modern scholarship on early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism. I may be assigning this to my students next year, though I'll have to include a caveat -- and that caveat alone lost this book a star.
INITIAL REVIEW: Jenkins' work feels, so far, like something I might have written. One of my main problems with the field of Religious Studies is the tendency of scholars to champion their own beliefs and prejudices behind a pretense of objectivity; I've often described myself as a champion of the corrective as a result. This is why I enjoyed Rodney Stark's "Cities of God", especially his exposure of the contradictions in modern scholarship on Gnosticism (Fagels' willful ignorance of Gnosticism's profound misogyny is called out in both Stark and Jenkins' books).
The first chapter of Jenkins' book ably demonstrates the ways in which the current "quest" to uncover the historical Jesus is really just a reflection of the thoughts, feelings and opinions of very modern, very biased Western academics who are either blind to their own subjectivity or are feigning blindness because they care more about their own interpretations than verifiable historical fact. So far he is not saying that these thoughts/feelings/etc. have no place in discussions of religion -- he merely feels that they are more akin to sectarian and religionist writings, out of place in serious, academic examinations which are supposed to require objectivity. He sees the "quest" academics as engaged in a marketing campaign rather than intellectual inquiry, and I cannot disagree with him.
My only issue so far is his apparent decision to make frequent reference to "Mormonism" when drawing parallels to modernity, and even this wouldn't bother me if he had bothered to do a better job of researching "Mormon" history, theology, etc. His mistakes are small, but significant, as when he brings up the 1980s Mark Hofmann forgery case in an attempt to demonstrate anti-Catholic sentiment in popular culture. His decision to omit important information from his description of the case, misrepresent other elements, and then interpret the events based on his omissions and misrepresentations, makes me question HIS commitment to objectivity. If he brings up Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. I feel I'm going to have to do more research to make sure he isn't fudging facts relevant to THEM either.(less)
This is an invaluable resource, but by now unfortunately out-of-date. I am currently working (under the direction of Michael Saad and Gawdat Gabra) in...moreThis is an invaluable resource, but by now unfortunately out-of-date. I am currently working (under the direction of Michael Saad and Gawdat Gabra) in collaboration with the Council for Coptic Studies and the Claremont Colleges Digital Library to create an on-line version which we will begin updating as soon as possible.(less)
FINAL UPDATE: This book is not what its title claims it to be. It is truthfully little more than an argument for the author's own pseudo-religious aca...moreFINAL UPDATE: This book is not what its title claims it to be. It is truthfully little more than an argument for the author's own pseudo-religious academic interpretation of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles which focuses on what Klauck believes to have been the author's intent vis-a-vis provoking reactions from the readership/audience. Paganism and magic are tangential, mentioned only occasionaly as part of the author's larger argument. Another disappointment.
UPDATE 2: I am at the halfway point (really, at the 0.63-way point, since the actual text only takes up 120 pages) and the discussion of paganism has increased dramatically! However it was only in the last ten pages that this transpired, it has been remarkably lackluster, and the discussion of magic has still been infrequent and vague. It almost feels dismissive!
UPDATE 1: According to GoodReads' description of this book: "Many forms of magic and paganism were practiced at the time of Jesus. This text explains what [sic] were and how the first Christians reacted to them." I am about 1/3 of the way through the book however and so far it has done nothing of the sort. So far it has been a meandering recount of various points of interest in the Acts of the Apostles, vignettes or events or turns of phrase which the author apparently thinks are fascinating and which he chooses to interpret at length in accord with his own bizarre pseudo-theological academic philosophy, but which have (so far) had almost nothing whatsoever to do with ancient magic or paganism. When I got to his discussion of Simon Magus, I thought to myself "All right! Here we go! The reason I paid $30 dollars for this tiny book!" But his discussion of Simon's two appearances in the Acts are brief, unfocused and almost entirely devoid of any discussion OF magic. Also, the author mistook Ethiopia for Nubia at one point. I hope this will prove to be the inverse of the previous books I have read this summer, starting weakly and ending amazingly. I have to hope that, because if I don't I will have wasted a lot of time and money. (less)
A "1 star" book receiving an extra star for the quality of the underlying conceit, though the fact that that fascinating conceit ta...moreUrgh. Bleh. Yargh.
A "1 star" book receiving an extra star for the quality of the underlying conceit, though the fact that that fascinating conceit takes a back seat to..incoherent drivel...almost knocks it back down to a single star.
How the gripping and atmospheric film "Pontypool" spun out of this repetitive, bloated mess is beyond me. It reads like the sort of thing I had to sit through when I was a Freshman Creative Writing major -- turgid with tortured metaphors, needless run-on sentences, and thoroughly unlikable characters. I understand that likable characters, beautiful prose and an interesting plot are considered "passe" in the world of "artistic literature", but those sentiments always feel terribly adolescent to me. For instance, I've met literally MILLIONS of people over the course of my life, and as repulsive as I find the bulk of humanity, I can assure you that the individuals who make up that humanity are by-and-large pleasant and likable beings.
In fact, the more I think about this book, the more certain I am that it deserves but a single star. I want the 9 hours back which it stole from my life.(less)
Insightful and thoroughly-researched, especially in the first and final chapters, this work is weakened by the meandering and often-obscure intervenin...moreInsightful and thoroughly-researched, especially in the first and final chapters, this work is weakened by the meandering and often-obscure intervening chapters. Neusner makes an excellent case for the separate and individual developments of the New Testament and the Mishnah, Talmud etc., arguing that there is little in either text-collection that indicates it was motivated by the interactions of Christians and Jews, but rather by concerns internal to the respective communities; he also makes an excellent case for these text-collections developing as a result of internal community concerns rather than as a result of political life in the Roman Empire. Good, but the first and last chapters can be read on their own without losing anything in the process.(less)
First off, this is not just a parody of the "Harry Potter" series and its author J.K. Rowling. It is just as much a tribute to "The Books of Magic" (w...moreFirst off, this is not just a parody of the "Harry Potter" series and its author J.K. Rowling. It is just as much a tribute to "The Books of Magic" (which Peter Gross ALSO worked on) and their tale of a boy wizard raised by his single father, and even more so a tribute to the difficult life of Christopher Robin who spent so much of his life trying to escape his father's use of him in his "Winnie The Pooh" stories. There are a lot of other allusions and references and base-works which the creators of the series used, and that gives it a much broader and more timeless feel than a simple "Harry Potter" parody might. It has as much in common with the Bakshi film "Cool World" and the Browning novel "Zod Wallop" as it does with Rowling's "Harry Potter", and is the better for it.
Second, this is a fun and fairly original story. This is what Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" wishes it could have been, or perhaps this actually contains what everyone claims to find in that book. While some of the plot twists were clear to me from the very beginning, I think it's going to be worth keeping up with the story. Onward to the next volume!(less)
A nice review, but hardly useful for beginners. It assumes too much about one's previous experiences with the German language (all throughout I kept t...moreA nice review, but hardly useful for beginners. It assumes too much about one's previous experiences with the German language (all throughout I kept thinking "THIS is for dummies?"), it focuses too little on grammar, and it assumes that speaking German is more important than reading or writing or understanding it. Pass this up in favor of "German In Review" by Sparks.(less)