Dever gives the non-specialist a thorough review of the archaeology of Israel. He lines up the bible storWhat a terrible title for such a great book.
Dever gives the non-specialist a thorough review of the archaeology of Israel. He lines up the bible story and knocks it around with extrinsic evidence. He contrasts the "book" religion of the priests with the "folk" religion practiced on the ground. Not everything is enthralling: Chapter 2 is a review of academic literature on Israel folk religion. He wants you to know he figured this stuff out first and where everybody else lines up. The balance of the book ranges from daily life in Israel, a chronology of power structures, and the influence of Canaanite/Phonetician/Syrian/Egyptian influences on Israelites. Most important, the cosmology of Israelite worship.
Historians (although some disagree for religious-preservation reasons, apparently) largely concur that the Bible is a collection of religious myths written between the 8th and 6th centuries b.c. These myths (while possibly based in fact, but probably not) have been spun, re-told and packaged-up by priests/kings/leaders with an agenda.
This book reminds me of Ehrman's books on the New Testament in that well-meaning priests, and misguided rulers seeking power, modify the texts to support their positions and policies. This goes for Josiah and his reforms based upon the miraculous recovery of hidden, historic scrolls emphasizing Moses, found in temple wall (fakes)...up to a modern example of Joseph Smith's "inspired translation" of the Bible, where he, not joking, inserts himself as the future prophet of the gospel restoration. People use divine texts to justify their role as prophet, priest, and king.
For the uninitiated, there is zero archaeological evidence for Noah. That comes straight out of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Same goes for Moses, nothing outside of the Bible justifies his existence. Same goes for the decimation of native populations by the Israelites claiming their promised land (Jericho was destroyed much earlier, there is no on-the-ground showing that wholesale massacre occurred). I could go on. These events likely never happened. So why make it up?
All people want an origin myth. Those seeking to consolidate power under one divine king (Saul, David, Solomon, etc.) needed one God for the vestment of power. Same for those Southern Tribes (Judah) seeking to re-unite Israel after Babylonian captivity. They want the polytheistic Israelites under the tent of Yahweh. And so they mix various Canaanite myths of El, Yahweh, Asherah and Ba'al into a single narrative, forcing the belief that Yahweh, the one true God, is the reason for the season. Had the Northern Tribes mustered the necessary political and economic strength, we would instead be worshiping El, the bull god. (the golden calfs at Sinai, the bulls at the southern boundary of the northern kingdom, etc.)
In my religious days, I taught Gospel Doctrine at the local Mormon ward house. This means that I, as a lay member of the local congregation or "ward," would have about an hour each Sunday to walk through a correlation-committee-produced manual focusing on several chapters of whichever religious text was emphasized for that year. Mormons are told to stick to the manual. As we have no specific training in theology or history, anybody from the neighborhood baker, to elementary-school mom, to accountant will teach these classes. I realized quickly, during the Old Testament year, that most lessons pluck a few "feel-good" verses for class discussion, emphasizing the ways in which Mormonism is God's one truth. These classes are heavily focused on personal religion (the theme of a Chapter in Dever's book).
In my preparations, I made the mistake of consulting outside sources to understand the larger historical context (basically, those materials available at the University library). The lessons in the Mormon Old Testament Manual did not jive with academic scholarship on the Bible, even though at the time, I was positive they would. That year, and subsequent year of teaching on other scripture, created a storm of confusion for me. I started to realize how religions and power structures create narratives to serve their own needs, without much regard for the truth. I only single out Mormons because I was one and can speak from experience. I have no doubt that every single religious tradition does the exact same thing. And the reason I bring this up, is because this is exactly what the Biblical authors were doing! They systematically use/modify biblical texts to justify their positions and their power.
Archaeological evidence shows that during the Yahweh-alone movement, there was a sustained worship of the Goddess Asherah. Her figurines, dating from the time period, are littered all over the holy land. Her name appears in the OT over 40 times. In Jeremiah 44, the prophet is frustrated with the women of Israel for their worship of Asherah. He tells them to knock it off. They tell him, hey buddy, this stuff works, we pray to her and we get crops. He basically walks away rolling his eyes. But he can't fight that feeling (cue the music); the Asherah movement is too strong. Later, in the demonstration of heavenly powers between the priests of Yahweh, Ba'al and Asherah to light wet wood with magic, Yahweh wins (the victor writes history) and the priests of Ba'al are executed. But what about the priests of Asherah...why weren't they killed?!? Again, you can't fight that feeling.
One fascinating aspect of Asherah worship is the instinctual need for worship of a female deity. For the Israelites, it was Asherah. For the Canaanites it was Asherah and Anat. In Europe, the White Goddess. In modern-day Catholicism, the Virgin Mary. One consequence of monotheism is restraining the worship of female deity (probably because religious leaders are men, they emphasize a male God). There is some fascinating discussion about the role of women and the need for female deity.
Understanding this fight between the priests of the "book" religion and the everyday "folk" religion of the Israelites clarifies the muddy mess of the Bible (for me, anyway). My confusion about how the Old Testament is constructed, why certain themes are emphasized (child sacrifice, idol worship, high places, temples, I could go on and on) were resolved by this book.
My hat is off to Dever, Ehrman, and others who utilize extrinsic evidence to enlighten our understanding of religious texts.
When your 84-year-old, devoutly-Mormon grandmother gives you a book for Christmas, and then checks-in several times on your progress, just read the daWhen your 84-year-old, devoutly-Mormon grandmother gives you a book for Christmas, and then checks-in several times on your progress, just read the damn book.
And even if you quit going to church 10 years ago, and are tempted to write that the book is pure sentimental propaganda, devoid of any real human emotion, serving the fanciful historical views of the famed correlation department, and prostrating to the emotional needs of members whom detest anything more than black-and-white, the church-is-always-right fan fiction...you don't.
You don't do it because that would make for an awkward run-on sentence. And more importantly, you don't because you love your grandmother. You just say, wow, that was lovely. Uplifiting and lovely. And then you run away before she gives you another....more
I picked up Dianetics in an effort to understand more about American religions. Did I read all 500+ pages? Was I thoroughly fascinated? Am I ready forI picked up Dianetics in an effort to understand more about American religions. Did I read all 500+ pages? Was I thoroughly fascinated? Am I ready for my e-meter reading? Yes, yes, and no.
This review is mostly about the rhetoric of scientology and why (in my opinion) it is so persuasive.
The actual book looks like a cross between a scientific reference book and scripture. The layout allows for quick reading and contains a glossary of terms and a short section on Dianetics and L. Ron in the news. The books boasts about its spot on the NY Times bestseller list. The book promises that Scientology is eclipsing the known world, converts are pouring in, and that science is confirming every aspect of Dianetics.
The book is written in a scientific style. Terms are presented, defined, and then used in examples. Half of the book is an explanation of the scientific background for Dianetics and then second half is a manual for auditing (a type of therapy). As a self-contained work, L. Ron is very convincing. He is a master of rhetoric, appealing to both the intellect and the emotion. At the end of the book, one feels that L. Ron has explained life in a revolutionary way. You feel equipped to embark on a career as an auditor. Mr. Hubbard constantly urges readers to "get busy and build a better bridge." The tone is uplifting throughout, promotes peace (there is never "justification for war"), and focuses on the good derived from obtaining "release" and becoming "clear." The "Auditor's Code" pleads that auditors not judge their applicants, listen thoroughly, not diminish emotional experience, express kindness. The book uses lots of power words, like: war, voyage, chaos, fundamentals. Everything is focused on the emotional experience of the individual. Every problem (from the common cold to bad eyesight) (there is "no national problem in the world today which cannot be resolved by reason alone" - presumably the reason of Dianetics) is overcome through Dianetics.
Although the idea of engrams is interesting, it has not been confirmed scientifically, despite the repetitive insistence to the contrary from Scientology. Engrams are just the beginning of Mr. Hubbard's inventions. Just as there is no outside, third-party evidence for transubstantiation, the law of attraction, or that native Americans are really Israelites. The religious have their internal, spiritual confirmations on each of these "facts" but there is no real world analogue. For my part, I'm skeptical that these are manipulations for praise and profit.
Despite the science, the uplifting tone, and purported emotional peace, I felt that Mr. Hubbard was thoroughly manipulating me. In my opinion, our mental and emotional lives are too complex for science. Religion rushes in to fill those gaps. And the fragility of our emotional lives can lead us to believe in things that are not true, rational, or just. In other words, we are wide open to manipulation and our minds too readily dwell in bias. As discussed in Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman, our minds search for a unified explanation of the world, cherry pick evidence, and reject contradictions. Overcoming these manipulations requires deeper thinking, comparing our ideas/values/religious ideas to reality and conflicting information, and identification of methods of manipulation and bias.
One common method of manipulation is maintaining a closed system. All religions reject information from outside sources. They have the same screed: society hates us because we have the truth, they reject and defame our prophets/leaders, you can't rely on their information. So as a religious convert, you are stuck reading the material sold at your church's bookstore. From the Scientology perspective, they offer a myriad of texts. One can obtain a doctorate in Dianetics. And judging from reviews of Dianetics, there are some extraordinary intelligent people invested in the cause. Dianetics states that it is based on "considerable research" and is scientific fact, not a theory, and is as "real a discovery as gravity." (Page 192). Throughout the book, Mr. Hubbard insists that it is based on scientific research but there is never a footnote.
A Scientologist can claim that Scientology is good and wholesome, there is nothing destructive or hateful about it (I could almost agree). And whether you believe it as absolute truth doesn't matter; just look at the good that it does/can do in the world. They could urge you to focus on the positive aspects -- just see the many testimonials, the charitable work, and the magnificent buildings (pictures in the back). A Scientologist friend urged me to keep reading more, keep investigating, open my mind and heart, and it will eventually become clear (no pun intended). But I am troubled by the lack of third-party evidence, the allegations of leader worship and abuse, of high financial contributions, and the thorough defamation of members turned detractors. Scientology, as with all religions, seek the emotionally vulnerable, make a convincing internal arguments, create systematic distrust in the outside world, and require absolute obedience and high financial contributions. Whether this good is worth the high cost, is up to the individual....more
This book is insipidly stupid. The kind of book you'd find in the backpack of a rebellious 14 year old that was forced to attend bible camp by his graThis book is insipidly stupid. The kind of book you'd find in the backpack of a rebellious 14 year old that was forced to attend bible camp by his grandmother. He is too cool for school and did you even know that the Song of Solomon in the Bible is borderline pornographic, OMG LOL OMG. I felt like a camp counselor, restraining not to box the kid's ears. And had it not been for a dead Kindle and a long plane ride, it would've been abandoned within 50 pages. I even hesitated putting this on Goodreads as I'm embarrassed to have read it. ...more
This book was left at our rental apartment in Rome. So I read it before heading over to tour the Vatican. Scotti hits the highlights of the constructiThis book was left at our rental apartment in Rome. So I read it before heading over to tour the Vatican. Scotti hits the highlights of the construction and covers the same information as the tour guides. So I was able to ruin most of the tour guide's jokes to the annoyance of everybody else in the group. The writing is not very good. Too much attempt at dramatic flair and cliff hangers that cut against a flowing narrative. I give the book 2 stars and St. Peter's Basilica a solid 5 stars....more
A brilliant book that documents the hermetic roots of Mormonism including Masonry, folk magic, treasure divination, polyandry, counterfeiting, etc. EaA brilliant book that documents the hermetic roots of Mormonism including Masonry, folk magic, treasure divination, polyandry, counterfeiting, etc. Early church history is a fascinating combination of these elements. ...more
I don't rate polemic tracts. If I did, the rating would reflect my agreement with the author's position rather than the objective quality of the book.I don't rate polemic tracts. If I did, the rating would reflect my agreement with the author's position rather than the objective quality of the book.
God is Not Great feels like a one-sided debate transcription (don't expect detailed analysis or a measured tone). Hitchens provides a theatrical performance in writing. He makes good points and argues them aggressively. The book is not an encyclopedia of atheism or an academic study. The book does not change the course of history. And it will do little to change the mind of a believer.
Yet, the book is very entertaining. Hitchens has great command of the subject matter. He gets a gold star for his wit and for crafting memorable sentences with great rhetorical flourish.