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Books Read in 2017-2018 > Joshua, Judge, Ruth, Samuel 1, Samuel 2, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ester - Historical Books - Spoilers

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message 1: by Loretta, Moderator (last edited Jul 07, 2018 06:03AM) (new)

Loretta | 3979 comments Mod
Please use this thread to discuss the book freely!

message 2: by MJD (new)

MJD | 331 comments Here are my reading updates from these books:

June 27, 2018 –
44.0% "Esther is interesting both because it appears entirely secular (i.e. it could exist in a world without a god) and has elements of a theatrical tragicomedy. In fact, it would not seem out of place to me if it were a Renaissance tragicomic play: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragico..."
June 27, 2018 –
43.0% "In book of Nehemiah's tale of the the building of the wall I am reminded of the Chinese tale "The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Foo..."
June 27, 2018 –
42.0% "Just got done with Ezra. It was nice to read one book that did not include an entire societal breakdown. Near the end they did seem to be a transgression, that would have devolved into anarchy and war in the previous books; but before chaos set in the people admitted their mistake and corrected it."
June 27, 2018 –
39.0% "Into 2 Chronicles now. So far it seems to be a re-write of 1 Kings; with some things be expanded upon, some things added, and some things excluded (for example: commentary on how wise Solomon is is included along with what seems to be an expanded telling of the praise of the wisdom by the Queen of Sheba, but an example of Solomon's wisdom in the case of his judgement over the baby claimed by two women is excluded)."
June 27, 2018 –
38.0% "Just got done with 1 Chronicles. I want to point out that there is a lot less encyclopedic genealogy in the second half."
June 26, 2018 –
36.0% "In 1 Chronicles no. It reads like a series of footnotes/endnotes of previous parts of the Bible. While it seems at times that the only information being conveyed is who descended from who, there are plot points and commentary interspersed through the list of begats that flesh out the narrative more. For those that find the lbegats tedious I recommend trying to appreciate the poetry of such a diverse list of names."
June 26, 2018 –
33.0% "In 2 Kings Elisha reminds me of the the portrayal of Zhuge Liang in "Three Kindoms." In fact, from 1 Samuel to 2 Kings the Bible seems to have a lot of similarities to "Three Kingdoms" in terms of themes, narrative structure, plot points, and characters."
June 26, 2018 –
32.0% "Just got done with 1 Kings. It started off on an optimistic turn, with the wisdom and piety of Solomon early in his administration, with history progressing in a linear fashion towards a greater level of civilization. But, then things went back to the ways of the book of Judges, with a circular view of history in terms of an endless cycle of regression, then progress, then regression, etc."
June 26, 2018 –
30.0% "Just got done with 2 Samuel. It strongly reminded me of Shakespeare's historic plays about English royalty. Specifically, it reminded me of themes and plot points from "Richard II.""
June 26, 2018 –
27.0% "Just done with 1 Samuel. Reminded me of "Three Kingdoms," in the sense that David seemed to be like Liu Bei and Saul seemed to be like Cao Cao."
June 25, 2018 –
24.0% "Just got done with Ruth. Going from the epic dramas of wars, assassinations, and societal breakdowns in the previous two books to this little sentimental, domestic tale was interesting."
June 25, 2018 –
23.0% "In Judges I am finding a societal version of the myth of Sisythus, a circular conception of history wherein society progresses, then regresses, then progresses, then regresses, etc. Yet, the people that fight back against the forces of societal entropy are cast not as foolhardy, but as courageous."
June 25, 2018 –
21.0% "Just completed Joshua. I liked that despite all that the Isrealites went through up to this point, and despite all the hard fighting in this book to purify the land of foreign influences and purge themselves of impiety they are reminded again and again that they must be ever vigilant against foreign influences and internal impiety in the future. It reminds me of Camus' message in "The Plague.""

message 3: by MJD (new)

MJD | 331 comments As I pointed out in my reading updates, books in this list really remind me of Three Kingdoms: Classic Novel in Four Volumes by Luo Guanzhong.

I think that is bears pointing out that in the same way that people can appreciate Three Kingdoms: Classic Novel in Four Volumes without believing in the supernatural parts of the book (based on Taoism, Buddhism, Mandate of Heaven, and other religious/spiritual beliefs found in China), I think that people should be able to enjoy these books without believing in the supernatural components.

message 4: by MJD (new)

MJD | 331 comments David's repudiation of the "killing" of Saul seemed very similar to King Henry's repudiation of the killing of King Richard in the end of Shakespeare's Richard II

message 5: by MJD (new)

MJD | 331 comments Ester was very interesting in that it seems to me that it can function perfectly well as a stand-alone short story.

I do not mean that it is completely disconnected from the other books of the Bible up to this point (I would argue that reading the previous books first increases the appreciation of this story), but rather that it could work well enough on its own independent of knowledge of the Bible or even independent of knowledge of Jewish/Christian theology in general.

In fact, I think that the label "Jew" could be replaced with a label of any another minority group and the story would work fine.

message 6: by MJD (new)

MJD | 331 comments Discussion question #1

What common secular theme do you think unites all, or most, books in this set?

message 7: by MJD (new)

MJD | 331 comments MJD wrote: "Discussion question #1

What common secular theme do you think unites all, or most, books in this set?"

I think that a common theme that runs through these books is the idea of societal entropy, that is that society ultimately degrades and that continuous rebuilding is need.

One book that seems to be the clearest about this is “Judges,” where things go bad and people repent and things get better, then things go bad and people repent and things get better, things go bad and people repent and things get better, etc. This also appears in the books of kings, where there is a king that messes up things and then a good king needs to set things right, and so on and so on in a circular fashion.

It reminds me a lot of Albert Camus’ observation in the end of his book “The Plague,” in which a literal disease seems to be a stand in for the figurative disease of social problems.

This is summed up best in the last two paragraphs of “The Plague”:

"Nonetheless, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their upmost to be healers.’
“And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightenment of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city."

Also, it bears saying that this circular nature of societal struggle can be seen as a stand in to an individual’s struggles through life. This is something that Camus touches on specifically in his book “The Myth of Sisyphus,” which has the following passage at the end that bears quoting in full:

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Getting back to the Biblical books in this set, I think that with reflection the judges and kings that fight to push society up for only for the next generation to pull everything down do seem to be engaged in a Sisyphus-like struggle. But, they are not described as foolish for their fight against entropy – which they ultimately succumb to – but rather seemed to be described as heroic in the manner that Camus describes his vision of Sisyphus.

As such, while these stories may be pointing out that the pursuit of true lasting perfection may be a pursuit without an end, nonetheless one may not need to give up in despair as the pursuit may be worthwhile in its own sense. One must imagine judges, kings, and commoners pursuing a better path as happy.

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