Monday, October 24, 2011

Notes from the Cave

Had to leave work early today to pick up M at school.  She was having one of the esophageal spasms she gets from time to time, and it was worse this time than it has been before.  These started about 1 week after she had her gall bladder removed a few years ago.  Searing pain across the upper abdomen with shortness of breath, paleness, sweating, etc.  The school nurse basically insisted that she either call an ambulance, or call me.  So I came and got her.  The doctor wants her to try medication first, and if that doesn't work, then they will have to take further action - scoping, dilating the esophagus, etc.

I work early every day this week - 5 o'clock today, 6 tomorrow.  Even though I have to get up before the crack of dawn, I like these shifts because I get home so early in the afternoon.

My books have been selling okay on Amazon, although I suspect 99.9% of the sales have gone to friends and family.  And even with that, I haven't sold quite as many as I had hoped.  Not that I expected to sell thousands or anything, but it kind of seems that those who were willing to buy the books, because they know me, have bought them, and now the books are just sitting there and not moving much at this point.  Oh well, I still plan on publishing more in the future.

We went to the lake this weekend and had a good time, although it seemed to go by very quickly.  The weather was nice, and we went to a pumpkin patch on Saturday, where the kids had a good time.

God, this post is really awful.  I hate these sorts of blog posts.  I just don't have much to say tonight, but felt like I wanted to make a post.

Saw a clip of Jon Stewart from the Daily Show recently that was just totally priceless.   Link.  Well worth the watch.

I have been thinking about a possible new book - a memoir of my childhood growing up in Louisville, Kentucky.  It's main hook would be humor - sort of like the theme of A Christmas Story - a humorous look back at growing up in the 80's.  If it ever gets off the ground, I already know the title - "You Folk Better Stop that Gigglin' and Snigglin' and What-Not!" - which is something one of my teachers used to yell at our 6th grade class.  I guess we'll see if it goes anywhere.

Currently reading book 2 in the Warlord series by Bernard Cornwell, a fictional account of Arthur, set in late 5th century Britain.  Like all his historical fiction, it is sublime.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Short Story Collection



As my regular readers will readily notice, I've become certifiably addicted to publishing my back catalogue of writing on amazon.com.

Today, I've published a second collection, this time a selection of my best short stories from roughly 1996 to 2006.  There are ten stories in all, with a variety of themes.  Many of them are what I would call "creepy" (making this the perfect time of year to read them), but there are also several others with varied themes, from political and humorous, to provocative and suggestive.  I've also included my four favorite stories from my so called "Great War" Series - stories about World War I.

Link to the book on amazon.com: Serendipity...And Other Stories

If you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle App from amazon.com.

Whether you purchase the book or not, you can help me out by clicking the "Like" button on the book's Amazon page.  Also, if you do buy the book, and enjoy the stories, I would greatly appreciate if you would write a review and post it to the book's page.  These things help tremendously.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Report: The Jesus Dynasty

The Jesus Dynasty is a book written a few years ago by religious scholar James D. Tabor.  Tabor, according to his website, is the head of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte, and his specialty is Christian Origins and Ancient Judaism.  He apparently leads a lot of archaeological expeditions in and around Jerusalem and modern Israel and Galilee.

It's taken me a long time to get through the book, but that isn't because the book wasn't any good - I just haven't had nearly as much interest, in the last year or so, in critical historical Jesus scholarship.  I've gotten a bit burned out, I think.

But in any case, the book presents a very provocative reconstruction of the historical Jesus and particularly of the early Christian church that sprang  up in his name.


To put Tabor's thesis simply, he argues that early Christianity was split into two main groups - Jewish Christians, based in Jerusalem, and led by James the brother of Jesus, and Gentile (or non-Jewish) Christians, spread in pockets throughout the Roman empire, and led by Paul.

He goes on to argue that the Jerusalem Christians - that is, the Jewish Christians - were the ones who were staying true to the teachings of Jesus, and the non-Jewish Christians, led by Paul, were the ones really creating a whole new religion - one which diverged from the teachings of Jesus in dramatic ways.

He also argues - and this is where the title comes from - that the "Jesus Movement," as he calls it, was really a dynastic movement.  He argues that Jesus started as a follower of John the Baptist, and that these two men - Jesus and John - viewed themselves in prophetic terms as the ones God had chosen to bring a message of repentance to Israel, in preparation for the inauguration of the Kingdom of God.  The Jewish scriptures spoke of two lines uniting Israel - the priestly line of Aaron, and the royal line of David.  John the Baptist, Tabor argues, represented this priestly line, while Jesus - descended through the house of David - represented the royal, or messianic, line.

When John was executed, this threw the movement into confusion for a while, but Jesus eventually returned to the scene, leading the movement by himself, and increasingly viewing himself in messianic terms.  He genuinely believed, Tabor argues, that God was going to intervene to free Israel from its Roman oppressors and that Jesus himself would become the new leader of a new Israelite nation.  Even on the cross, Tabor believes, Jesus still believed God was going to intervene.

As a result of this, his eventual death came as a great shock to his followers.  But once they had recovered from their mourning, they kept his movement alive by coming to understand him through Jewish scriptures as the "Suffering Servant" who had to die for the sins of the world.  And they continued to believe that Jesus would eventually return in a Second Coming to rule as God's authority on earth from a new Jerusalem.

Since this entire movement, according to Tabor, was predicated on the fact that Jesus was the Davidic Messiah, it stands to reason that after his death, one of his relatives would take over the movement - like a son ruling after a father.  Jesus had no son to inherit his "throne" as it were, so it went to his brother - James.  After James died, Tabor argues that it passed to another of Jesus's brothers, Simon - the same Simon known as "Simon the Zealot" from the gospel lists of Jesus's 12 disciples.  After Simon's death, it passed to yet another brother, Jude.  Jude, according to James, was the last of the Jesus Dynasty, because by that time - around 100 C.E. - the Jewish Christian movement was virtually dead (except for a few pockets here and there).   It had been marginalized and ultimately killed by Paul's movement.

Much of these arguments are not so earth-shattering.  Many scholars argue that Paul's movement marginalized those Christians who believed in practicing Judaism, and many scholars agree that Jesus had an apocalyptic worldview and saw himself as God's messiah.

What is ground-breaking about Tabor's argument is the assertion that the movement was dynastic - that Jesus really did come from the line of David, and that leadership of the movement passed on successively after his death through his brothers.  Tabor argues that three of Jesus's 12 disciples - James son of Alphaeus, Judas brother of James, and Simon the Zealot - were all Jesus's half brothers.  He argues that Jesus was Joseph's son with Mary, but that these other sons were the sons of Joseph's brother and Mary - his brother having married Mary after Joseph's death, which was customary.

I'm not really sure what to make of this argument.  I find it provocative, but ultimately I think he is on very shaky ground from a historical perspective.  He bases his conclusions on very questionable passages within the Gospels and in a few 2nd century texts, and I simply don't know if there is enough reliable evidence there to make some of the assertions he makes.

For instance, he relies on the genealogies of Jesus to support his assertion that Jesus was from the royal line of David.  For those who don't know, the genealogy of Jesus is provided by both Matthew and Luke, and is somewhat notorious for the fact that each writer gives a completely different genealogy.  Most modern scholars (that I am aware of, anyway), don't put much stock in the accuracy of these genealogies, simply because they are, in fact, contradictory.  Furthermore, how could the writers of Luke and Matthew have known this information?

But Tabor relies on them as factual, and reconciles their discrepancies by arguing that Matthew's genealogy is through Joseph, while Luke's is through Mary.  This is not a new argument - it has been the position of the Catholic Church since time immemorial.  And I find it totally insupportable.  Both writers make it obvious and explicit that their genealogies are given through Joseph.

Matthew's starts with Abraham, and ends like this: "Mathan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus."

Clearly that's a genealogy through Joseph's line.

Luke provides his genealogy the other way around - starting with Jesus and going all the way back to Adam.  Here's what Luke says: "He [Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat...."

Clearly both these writers are explicitly providing a male genealogy.  I just can't see how any argument can be made to the contrary.  Yet the notion that Luke's genealogy provides Mary's line is an important argument in Tabor's overall thesis, underlying the claims he makes later.  It's a problem, for sure.

He also accepts Luke's story about John the Baptist's heritage - with a priestly father named Zachariah and a mother who was a cousin to Mary - making John and Jesus cousins themselves.  This is what Luke tells us, but most scholars I am familiar with do not take these passages seriously.  This story of John the Baptist is Luke's way of writing theology, not history.

The problem with all these background arguments is that so much of what comes later in the book - all his arguments relating to the Jesus Movement and the Jesus Dynasty - are built on these assumptions about the biological background of Jesus and John.  If those assumptions are shaky, it casts doubt on all the subsequent arguments.

In the end, I have to say that the book provided a very thought-provoking perspective on Jesus and the movement that sprang up in his name after his death, but I am not sure that I agree with all of Tabor's ultimate conclusions.  At the very least, I feel like he has not adequately provided reliable evidence for these claims.  It comes across to me as a lot of speculation based on shaky evidence and the occasional grasping at straws.

Still, despite that rather harsh criticism, I think the book is a valuable asset in the growing body of work on the "historical Jesus," and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who has a serious interest in this field.    

Monday, October 10, 2011

Christianity is a Verb: My First e-Book



As mentioned in my previous post, I have recently published my first book on amazon.com.  It is an e-book available for the Kindle reader, and I hope to make it available soon for the Barnes & Noble Nook reader as well.   You can click the book cover at the right of the main page to see the listing on amazon.com.

The book is a collection of 18 essays, broken up into three groups of six, discussing Christian history, Christian theology, and Christian living in the 21st century.  It will set you back $1.99.

Even if you don't buy the book, I would surely appreciate it if you'd visit the Amazon page and hit the "Like" button.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Notes from the Cave

I published an e-book last night.

It's not available for purchase yet, but should be within the next 24 hours.  It will be available as a Kindle book on amazon.com, and if I am able, I plan to make it available for Nook readers on barnesandnoble.com as well.  It's a collection of essays taken from my blog over the last few years, all dealing with religious scholarship and commentary.  I don't have any delusions about sales figures, but I decided this would be a nice way to break the ice on e-book publishing for myself.  I'd like to eventually put some of my historical essays together as well, in addition to some of my fiction.  I really want to get back into fiction writing, but it is extremely difficult now, after so many years away from it.  I may publish one of my old novels, and I also have plans for a new short story collection.

Once the current book is available, I will make another post about it and provide a link. 

I was sick for several days last week and had to miss three days of work.  I can't remember the last time I missed that many days with an illness.  I had bronchitis, and although I feel fine now, I still have a lingering cough.  It's especially bad when I lay down.  Perhaps I should stop smoking.  

I mowed today for what I hope will be the final time this year.  I was extremely displeased to see a snake while I was mowing.  It was just a tiny little thing - not even as thick as my pinkie - but where there are baby snakes, there are papa and mama snakes.  Of course, I think I mentioned in a previous post that we found a rather large snakeskin in the backyard about a month ago.  

I find this to be extraordinarily disturbing.  

I don't do snakes.

I've been enjoying watching the MLB playoffs this week, though my own team - the Reds - failed to qualify.  Still, it's always fun watching post-season baseball.  It's a good alternative to all the boring football that fills the sports channels this time of year.  I'm already starting to get excited about the upcoming NCAA basketball season, which should be starting in another month or so.  

Work is the same as always.  I had to miss a wedding last Friday night because I was sick - I had been looking forward to it for a long time.  Fun was apparently had by all.  This coming weekend some people at work are having a get together, so I may try to get off on Saturday night if I can.  Otherwise, I'll be missing out again, because I am currently scheduled to work that night.  

On the reading front I recently finished The Jesus Dynasty, which I will be doing a post on soon, and I also finished a Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child novel called Gideon's Sword.  I'm currently working on book two of the so-called "Millennium Trilogy" - The Girl Who Played With Fire.  It's pretty good, and the story line starts clipping right along from the very first page, unlike the first installment, which took about 300 pages to really get moving.  

I got pulled over a few weeks ago on my way to work on a Sunday night, and although the cop let me go without giving me a speeding ticket (hospital scrubs save you every time), he did cite me for failing to have proof of insurance in my car.  It was sitting at home on the counter, where it's been for about 6 months.  So I have to go to court on Tuesday and show the insurance card so I can get the ticket dismissed.  It shouldn't cost me any money, but it's a big pain in the ass.  I'll have to miss half a day of work over it.  

That's about all I've got.  I've been dying to go out with someone and have a few beers, but everyone I know sucks.  Anybody wanna hang out?  

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