Alice Hoffman has written a spell binding novel called The Dovekeepers which is built upon the terrible times around 70 CE. The temple has been destroyed, and the people have scattered. Some take refuge in the fortress that King Harold had built and were trying to survive the genocidal advances of the Roman army that wanted to totally destroy any holdouts that might cause them trouble. Narrated by some women and their experience of the life and times we get a glimpse from the female perspective that is lacking in our historical documents. Hoffnam has done her homework and is able to put flesh on the bones of this pivotal time in history. I listened to it on the CD version. It is very well done.
Getting the context of an author is especially important when studying the bible. Archaeologist Robert Cargill of the Univ. of Iowa has given his life to studying and teaching this context for those of us who come to the bible for inspiration. I will be coming back often to ponder this work as I also teach and write. Learning more about the struggles and customs of the people who composed and then saved these works can help us move more profitably into these timeless works of love. Written in 2016 and published by Harper/Collins.
Recently, I read a review of this book and got on the list to borrow it from our library. This book gave its author Paul Kalanithi a way to share his life and death while also letting us in on his search for meaning. Out of the entire book I think this paragraph spoke most powerfully to me. “Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.” Page 98. I think this says it all and I hope it invites you to share his story as I have and be as blessed by it as I am.
Jenkins, Philip. The Many Faces of Christ. Basic Books. NY. 2015. What a read! As one who has a life long interest in the Bible and how it came to be; this book really opens up wide vistas on how the different peoples, in different times and places, made sense out of their experiences of God-ness. The sub-title “The thousand-year story of the survival and influence of the lost gsospels” is a very good summary of its contents. This scholarly, well referenced work will cause me to ponder in new and deeper ways.
A friend gave me this book for Christmas this past year. Moyers assembled a large group of people from all points of view to dig deep into the book of Genesis. He did a grand job of showing how such an approach enriched every person in the discussion. I started this form of engagement thinking it would be a Lenten experience 36 years ago and it has met the needs of 3-4 groups each week ever since. We look at the readings people will pray over on the coming weeks worship services. If you want to see how this process proceeds take a look at this book. You won’t be disappointed.
In an attempt to better understand the struggle that every election involves I chose to read Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”. I admit that this exhaustive treatment of why and how people sort themselves out has helped me in my effort to make sense of what appears most of the time to be nonsense. He helped me see the value of each orientation such as liberal/conservative and how they each have strengths and weaknesses. We need each other to become whole, but have fallen into the either/or trap that the gospels warns us to avoid. Watching the “news” will become a more instructive exercise since reading this book. A current article that expands on this subject. For an interview with the author click on this link
In this new work (2015) Mary Beard shares a lifetime of study and reflection on the period of history hinging on the year of 63 BCE. . You can listen to her share her story on a Fresh Air episode on NPR. The December issue of The Atlantic features an article called The Secret of Rome’s Success on this book. I was attracted to this work because I hoped it would give me a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges of the peoples of those times and enlarge my appreciation of God’s process of creation that ushered in the birth of Christianity. If you want to dig deeply (536 pages) you will not be disappointed.
Shanks, Hershel. Ed. Partings. Biblical Archaeology Society. Washington, DC. 2013. How Judaism and Christianity became two. I just finished this book and can say it won’t finish with me for a long time to come. I kept thinking all the while I probed the works of the 19 contributors to 15 chapters, that we face some of the same issues today that the Jews and Christians did in those years preceding the birth of Jesus up through almost the middle ages. These scholars who have studied and taught for many years have come together to attempt to answer the question of parting. You will find that there is no consensus of when or if such a reality ever existed. Throughout the world the changes brought about by the new realities of our generation are making it necessary to recognize and value truth wherever it can be found. Be it found in science, religion, culture, ecology or economy. The old ways demand new ideas if we are to continue as a viable reality. I highly recommend this work and deeply thank the editor and those who responded to his request for this dialogue.
Selina O’Grady has written a fascinating book called And Man Created God. It is a review of the world religions at the time of Jesus. Although Selina comes at the subject as a non believer, she is another voice that adds to the many who try to situate Jesus, Paul and the early church in their context. I came away from this book bewildered by the chaotic milieu of religions that the people of Jesus’ day must have found oppressive. When given the chance to hear about God from Jesus, the disciples and Paul I can easily see why their words were indeed “good news”.
Marcus Borg explores the unfolding of Christianity in his The Heart of Christianity. His two concepts of “Earlier Paradigm” and “Emerging Paradigm” is a useful tool when considering this process. He examines each paradigm and the issues we face as we live in a time when both paradigms exist at the same time and the struggles with the challenges each presents.
Walter Wangerin, a masterful storyteller, has used his skill once again in crafting a very engaging novel called Paul: A Novel. In it he uses scripture to bring us along with those early believers who faced terrible odds as they birthed Christianity. This is a book that will enlarge your gratitude for the risks they took for all of us.
If you want to read a popular book that attempts to address the problem of people loosing their zest for sharing their Catholic faith read Rediscover Catholicism. On page 23, Matthew Kelly lays out his insight in the following words: “If we live and love the way the Gospel invites us to, we will intrigue people. Respect and cherish your spouse and children, and people will be intrigued. Work hard and pay attention to the details of your work, and you will intrigue people. God out of your way to help those in need, people will be intrigued. When we do what is right even if it comes at a great cost to ourselves, people are intrigued. Patience, kindness, humility, gratitude, thoughtfulness, generosity, courage and forgiveness are all intriguing.”
If you are interested in the interface between Christianity and Buddhism in the dialogue between science and religion, this may be the book for you. Mind in the Balance examines the history of meditation in both these traditions of belief. B. Alan Wallace explores the subject of mind, intelligence, spirit and reason. His insights from modern science helps to engage those who feel that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”.
The Gospel of Gabriel by Edward Hays The first Gospels were written to address the problems facing early post-Easter churches. Likewise, Gabriel’s Gospel is good news that speaks to the problems facing third millennium churches.
Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls by Hershel Shanks, Random House, NY. 1992.
Hershel Shanks who is the editor of The Biblical Archaeology Review and the Bible Review, has given us this overview of the dialogue on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He presents thirteen scholars and their considered evaluation of these documents. The book begins telling the story of how and where they were found. Then he moves on to examine their relationship to Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity and the Bible in general. Finally, there is a look at the methods used to reconstruct the scrolls and their impact on the scholars themselves. If you want to enlarge your understanding of these important documents, this readable book will enable you to do just that.
Cosmology and Creation by Paul Brockelman Many have said we need a new story to bring together the scientific and spiritual understandings of life so that our young may live whole lives again. This book is one of the many that attempts to lay out the chapters of such a story. This new story needs to help us rediscover the spiritual insights and practices lying at the core of all the world’s religious traditions. It will help us connect our spiritual and scientific experiences in a way that opens the wonder of awe once again. This new story is not an enemy of the human spirit, but an expression of it.
Hans Kung has given us, what in effect is his life testament in The Beginning of all Things: Science and Religion. In it he concludes: “This is my enlightened, well – founded hope: dying is a farewell inward, and entry and homecoming into the ground and origin of the world, our true home, a farewell perhaps not without pain and anxiety, but hopefully in composure and surrender, at any rate without weeping and wailing, and without bitterness and despair, but rather in hopeful expectation, quiet certainty, and (after everything that has to be settled is settled) ashamed gratitude for all the good things and less good things that now finally and definitively lie behind us – thank God.” He gathers up a life time of study and reflection and brings us up to date on the dialogue between science and religion so that we can be both/and people like Jesus of Nazareth.
A provocative book “The Great Emergence” by Phyllis Tickle attempts to examine the ways religion has changed and is changing today. She especially examines Christianity in what is known as the Western world. She finds that about every 500 years, a shift happens and the old paradigm bursts and a new way of being Christian in the world emerges out of its chrysalis and the new ‘butterfly’ takes flight. I found this examination useful and set me to wondering and watching to see what will emerge.
A provocative read is The Future of Faith. by Harvey Cox. He reflects on Christian history and speculates on Christian future. His premise is that we are entering into what he calls the age of the Spirit, having gone through ages of faith and belief. He says: “Today there is no basis for any “warfare between science and religion.” The two have quite different but complementary missions, the first concerning itself with empirical description, the second with meaning and values. Unfortunately, however, although the war is over, sporadic skirmishes between die-hards on both sides continue. Biblical literalists, who totally misunderstand the poetry of the book of Genesis, try to reduce it to a treatise in geology and zoology. Their mirror image is found among the atheists and agnostics who mount spurious pseudoscientific arguments to demonstrate that the universe has no meaning or that God does not exist. Both parties are fundamentalists of a sort, deficient in their capacity for metaphor, analogy, and the place of symbol and myth in human life. Sadly, battle lines that were drawn years ago continue to cause confusion today. Otherwise thoughtful people still mistakenly view the world as divided between “believers” and “nonbelievers.” But that era of human consciousness is almost over. We are witnessing the emergence of a different vocabulary, one that is closer to the original sense of the word “faith” before its debasement. Pgs. 182-3.”
If you want to explore Judaism, a good place to start would be Judaism by Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg. The subtitle is: The Classic Introduction to One of the Great Religions of the Modern World. This is the product of a lifetime of study and reflection by one of the most distinguished authorities on Judaism.
Our gifted artist, musician and scripture scholar Fr. Robert Beck, has just published a new work on the Gospel of Matthew titled Banished Messiah: Violence and Nonviolence in Matthew’s Story of Jesus. You will find references to this fine work in the years coming study guides beginning in Advent. His work plumbs the depths of nonviolence in this gospel.