Sunday, March 29, 2020

On "The Descent of Man" by Edith Wharton (7317 words) ****

What if you wrote something you knew was atrocious but that you also knew most people would take seriously (and love)? Would you sell it? Such is the quandary in this tale about a scientist that publishes something that goes against most of his values--its meant as a satire but is not taken as such. That's fine, he thinks, because those who would understand the satire would still understand it. But he finds the attention to his work not easily voided. Read the story here.

On "On Immunity" by Eula Bliss *****

This work received rave reviews, so when I had the opportunity to pick up a copy for free in December, I did. Still, it wasn't one of those books that I was particularly anxious to read, and during an extended break from work, when normally I would have had time for more leisure reading, it still didn't make the cut. And so it has sat here on my shelf for nearly three months, until the spread of covid-19 placed me into social distance. Suddenly, the topic seemed more pertinent to my life, and I finally opted to read the book each night before bed.

Bliss is a poet. The book itself is broken into short essay-like chapters on topics related to vaccination. As such, it doesn't lend itself well to being summarized in a review like this. But each short section is fascinating. One learns not just about Bliss's own fears with regard to mothering and whether or not she should immunize her son but also about the reasons for those fears and the responsibility that motherhood brings with it. One also learns, of course, a bit about the history and science of vaccination.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things that Bliss notes is that it's safer to be a unvaccinated person among a largely vaccinated population than it is to be a vaccinated person in a largely unvaccinated population. In this sense, the vaccination of others ennables the lack of vaccination among the few who claim it to be dangerous or bad in some way. In other words, community matters. And that seems all the more poignant at this time when so many are being asked to stay home to help prevent the spread of a virus for which there is no vaccine. The more who remain home, the more we enable others to beat the virus.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

On "The Rembrandt" by Edith Wharton (5986 words) ****

What makes for great art? That is the question in yet another Wharton story on the same theme. Here, a woman claims to own a Rembrandt that is unsigned. As such, no museum will buy it, though she needs the money. Is it the signature alone that makes us declare a work great? Read the story here at Project Gutenberg.

On "Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity" by Stanley K. Stowers ***

The fifth book in the Library of Early Christianity series, this one discusses standard letters during the first centuries of the Common Era, given that most of the New Testament is made up of letters, and even those books that aren't letters often include letters within them. Most of Stowers's book consists of a discussion of various "genres" of letters and examples of them. In this sense, the textis not unlike the third book in the series, which provides examples of philosophical discussions of morality during the same time period. But where there the focus was on similarities of content, this book seems more interested in similarities of form (though that necessarily ends up including similar content). As such, this book was not nearly as interesting.

What worked best in this book was the first third of the work, where the author discusses letter writing at the time, rather than focusing on generic examples. Here, we see that Christian letters in fact adopted many of the same techniques as those written by non-Christians. Most interesting in these early discussions was Stowers's exploration of who wrote what type of letters--namely, how class and education affected the kind of letters one wrote. Lower classes, if they learned to write at all, learned very basic things about letter writing, while upper classes studied rhetoric and classic/proper letter form. Those who could not write hired professionals to write for them--and to read letters too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

On "The Recovery" by Edith Wharton (6978 words) ****

What makes for great art? That is the question that Wharton asks in this piece in which a painter benefits from a visit to a museum, where he realizes that his own work can be much improved--and where he also realizes that what he has been producing is not art in the form that is worthy, even if others like it. Read the story here at Project Gutenberg.

On "The Myth of a Gentile Galilee" by Mark A. Chauncey ****

The title of this book essentially sums up its thesis. Chauncey takes scholars to task for saying the Galilee was to a large extent inhabited by Gentiles--or a mix of peoples. Rather, Chauncey claims, Galilee at the time of Jesus was primarily inhabited by the Jewish people. To claim this he looks at both written records and archeology. One of his main points is that just because one finds Greek or Roman objects in a location, one cannot conclude that an area was largely inhabited by Greeks and Romans. Rather, Greek culture spread among many peoples, and those peoples adopted Greek things. A modern corollary would be Americans having loads of Korean electronic devices. Such would mean that we use Korean technology, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we are Korean in our thought and culture. Hence, just because there are Greek pots around, or Greek architectural styles, that doesn't mean that the people there are Greek or even that the Jews are so hellinized that they are no longer Jewish. The bigger key is whether one finds evidence of Greek religious items. Such would indicate that the people of the area had likely taken on Greek religion, whether they be Greek or some other peoples.

Arguing from histories and from archelogoy, Chauncey reaches the conclusion that the area was indeed largely emptied--left uninhabited--after the Assyrians disposed of the Israelite people when the nation fell to them. Over time, other nations did enter the area, including Phoenicians, Itureans, Greeks, and Arabs. But the area was not heavily developed, and when the Hasmoneans took it over, as Josephus tells us, the people were converted to Judaism. More likely, however, Chauncey concludes, is that the Jewish people who returned to the area after the Jewish return to Judah remained, while most of those who were of other cultures and told to convert opted instead to leave. This left, therefore, a largely Jewish area.

Many commentators split the country from the city, arguing that the cities were those with the Gentiles, whereas smaller communities were Jewish. Chauncey chips away at that point too, pointing to various sources to show that said cities were largely Jewish as well. Here, his evidence is somewhat less convincing to me. Every Greek item that is found, Chauncey returns to his point about it not necessarily meaning that Greeks dominated the area. In fact, as he looks at individual cities, he mostly concedes that those on the border of the land of Galilee were often less Jewish or, in fact, very much Gentile.

A curious comment is made in Isaiah and repeated in Matthew, calling Galilee "of the Gentiles." Chauncey mostly shows how rare this nomenclature is, but he doesn't really posit a reason for the name, except perhaps to suggest that it means "among the Gentiles," as in surrounded by Gentile nations, which indeed could very well be, given the Gentile border regions. Overall, Chauncey's points seem difficult to argue with.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

On "A Cup of Cold Water" by Edith Wharton (10,262 words) ****

Woburn loves a woman with expensive tastes. What this means is his spent out his savings, his year's salary, and has "borrowed" generously from his employer. The end is near. Men can be pretty dumb when it comes to ladies. Tomorrow, there's an inspection at the job; Woburn will be found out. The story focuses on his last night, his plans to run to some other place, and the sorrow of losing the gal for whom he's gotten himself in so much trouble. At some point in the story, as he's staying in a hotel room instead of the boat he's to flee on, having locked himself out of his apartment, he hears woman crying and . . . a click, of a gun. It's this last item that the story revolves around and, alas, the least believable. Were it not for this one plot point, the story would be quite an achievement. Read the story here at Project Gutenberg.

On "Galilee" by Richard A. Horsley ***

This study of the history and culture of the land of Galilee claims that the land was one that was one made up of hill people who generally eschewed political alignment. That is, when Israel first ruled the land, the people who settled in the hills of Galilee tried hard to avoid coming too heavily under the influence of the Israelite kings (in fact, largely ignoring them). The situation continued to be the case as others took over the land. When Assyria invaded and deported the northern kingdom of Israel, Horsley claims, the Galilean hill people largely remained. When Greeks and Romans invaded, they didn't bother too much with Galilean hill people. And when the Jews took over the land, again, the Galilean hill people remained intransigent--not so interested in the Jewish temple culture. That said, because so many were Zebulonites and Asherites, they had a certain common heritage, which meant that they didn't have too much of a hard time fitting in with the Jewish overseers, save that they didn't want to pay taxes to help support the temple or to fall in line with Pharisaic rules. Increasing taxes--not only to the Romans but also to the client Herods--led to eventual rebellion in Galilee.

The rural people differed, in this respect, from those in the cities, which were much more Gentile in their orientation, as they were founded for and/or by Gentiles. 

After the destruction of Jerusalem, Pharisaical Jewish elements moved into Galilee, and it became the center for rabbinic Judaism. But Horsley notes that this was a later phenomenon, one that we tend to let color our views of earlier Galilee.

The study is an interesting one, but I'm not sure Horsley's views are shared by that many. I've started reading another book, where the author argues that Galilee was largely Jewish in New Testament times, but he, too, is arguing against yet others who have argued that the area was to a large extent a mix of peoples, including many Gentiles.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

On "Souls Belated" by Edith Wharton (10,669 words) ****

Much has changed about divorce and relationships since Wharton wrote this story, and yet in some ways, not really. The woman in this story has run off with another man, and her husband has thus, unsurprisingly, filed for divorce. Scandal shall ensue. But really, will it? The couple have no desire to live according to societal standards, which they feel are inauthentic and lend themselves to fighting against what real love is all about--you don't need paper and laws for love. But they also feel the pull toward such, toward marriage. After the initial scandal, if they marry, after a few years, they'll be like any other couple and will be accepted back into mainstream high society (the first marriage forgotten). In the sense that divorce still brings with it a certain scandal and that marriage to another, after a time, essentially erases earlier history, these ideas seem as applicable today as one hundred years ago. The difference now would be in the scandal of not marrying--something that is fairly common now. While I can see the point, as raised in the story, that laws and pieces of paper and taboos are in a sense not true emblems of love, especially if we conform to them only to fit in; at the same time, the laws and pieces of paper, I would contend, do much to shelter and confirm that love. I can't help but think how uncertain one might feel if a "spouse" could run off at any moment without any consequences; the law makes such a break more difficult and lends to furthering one's commitment, which, in the end, is actually showing more love. Read the story here.

On "The First Apology" and "The Second Apology" by Justin Martyr ***

The last complete works by Justin Martyr on my list to read, the First Apology I actually listened to on Librivox. The reading was enough to keep me engaged, which is more than I can say for many such recordings (I think only the stories of H. Beam Piper have previously been very compelling--and those like listening to old sci-fi radio shows, they were so good). Part of my engagement here likely had to do with my interest in the subject, so I'm not how well the listening my translate to others.

As for the text itself, it falls in line with Justin's second apology. What struck me of particular interest in this particular apology were Justin's angeology (his idea that demons are the pagan gods), his concepts about the Holy Spririt (contradictory--worshipping it in chapter 6 but seeming to claim it more like a power of God elsewhere), early worship practices, and his ideas about eternal punishment. One sees, to some extent, how by Justin's time many of the doctrines of the later Christian church were already forged--and different to some extent from New Testament writings.

The much shorter "Second Apology" I read on my phone over the course of a few days. It too includes some interesting ideas about angels and eternal punishment. Both apologies focus much on trying to get the Roman rulers to not afflict Christians with punishment for their mere declaration of belief. They can be read here.

Monday, February 10, 2020

On "The Letters" by Edith Wharton (14,438 words) *****

This story is many things and one that seems, at first, particularly timely in a nation focused on the #MeToo movement. It's a tale of a man taking advantage of a naive young woman. Or at least, that's what it seems at the beginning, when Mr. Dearing first takes a pass at his nanny, an older single gal whose life has not turned out so well. Disadvantaged, with few good marriage prospects, she's falls hard for the married man. And then . . . the story takes a strange turn. Mr. Dearing's wife dies. The two might actually be able to settle down together. Does the man really want her, however? It seems so--and then, maybe not, and then maybe so, and then maybe not. The middle portion of this long piece reads like many a real-life romance, the way we never know someone's heart or true motives. But in the end, the story becomes something other than that, something about the will, about how sometimes truth is less important than willing one's self into happiness. Read the story here.

On "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbon ****

It's hard not to be astounded by Gibbon's accomplishment--a six-volume work on the history of Roman Empire from the time that the first emperors come on the scene through the final desperate acts as the eastern empire falls to the Turks and into the start of the Italian Renaissance. I listened to this book on a Librivox recording, rather than reading it. Eighteenth-century writing is difficult to read, and in many ways it's even more difficult to listen to. Gibbon, like most writers of the time, is flowery to excess. Worse, many of the readers are not terribly good--some I could barely understand, and others could easily put one to sleep. I often zoned out while listening, and when I finally finished some six months later, I was overjoyed.

Still, I found some sections of the book very compelling, even in audio form. These were mostly sections that I was interested in for my own reasons and thus felt more inclined to put forth the effort to really pay attention.

An exception to that would be Gibbon's account of the emperor Commodus, whose antics were actually fairly comic--he considered himself a sportsman and participated in gladiator events, much to the shock and horror of his patrons.

Otherwise, the portions I found most entertaining had to do mostly with early Christian history, Justinian's restoration of the empire, and Islamic history. In fact, I was rather floored by how much there was about the Muslims, the Mongols, and the Huns, but that's what Gibbon chose to do--not just to write about Rome but to write about the history of Europe, which in many ways is Rome and all that have had interactions with the empire's various iterations throughout its history. The first volume of Librivox recordings are available here.

Monday, January 27, 2020

On "Afterward" by Edith Wharton (5322 words) *****

This ghost tale focuses on a ghost one doesn't know exists until "afterward," and as such it's rather chilling. A couple buys a haunted house in which nothing seems wrong. But the woman keeps having premonitions about something being odd or strange. That said, nothing is. Until . . . it's too late. Afterward. Read the story here.

On "Lost Christianities" by Bart D. Ehrman *****

I now understand why Ehrman could sell so many books, beyond just writing things about Christianity that are sometimes controversial. He happens to be an extremely engaging writer, and at least in this text, he is one who comes across as quite reasonable. I had in some ways expected not only to largely disagree with Ehrman but also to be angered by him. This book did neither to me. This is not to say that I agreed with everything that Ehrman had to say, but he gave me a lot to think about, and were I to accept all his premises, I'd likely more often reach similar conclusions.

The point of this book is largely for Ehrman to explore what Christianity may have become if orthodox Christianity hadn't won out. As such, he looks at various heresies and how those who taught them thought about Jesus--and also how the proto-orthodox pushed their agenda. As Ehrman notes, those proto-orthodox not only won out but also then wrote the history of Jesus and early Christianity, ridding it of the differences that existed in those early years and of the voices of those who taught in a different way. These are all excellent points--and ones would totally agree with.

Now, of course, we have access to some of the original documents that were earlier only available to us in quotes from those arguing against heretical teachers. This was made possible by the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library most especially, among others. Interestingly, the teachings of those arguing against such thinkers turn out to be largely correct about what such people were teaching--or at least that seems to be the case when we read it through the lens of such arguers; take the lens away, and some of the teachings may not be quite as antithetical in all cases.

Ehrman begins his discussion of how we establish authority in Scriptures. He looks at how people wrote pseudo-epigraphically and how such forgeries could affect how people accepted a given work. He argues quite well against those who would say that pseudo-epigraphy was simply a rhetorical device that was accepted (something that seemed a point in John Collins's book on diasporic Jewish writers); as Ehrman notes, the whole point of writing in someone else's voice with their name was to pose as that authority and discovery of a work being "forged" in such a name meant it wasn't accepted as authoritative generally.

Next, Ehrman looks at different forms of Christianity that existed--Ebionites, Marcionites, and Gnostics. The first were more Jewish in temper and emphasized Jesus as human (rejecting Paul's writings); the second were more Gentile in orientation, rejected the Jewish Old Testament and virtually all writings by New Testament writers outside of Paul (and Luke's gospel), and emphasized Jesus as divine. Orthodox Christianity pushed both such views out.

Here's where Ehrman's work gets really interesting. He looks at the New Testament as it comes down to us and largely argues that it was in selecting these books--and the accepted texts for these books--that the proto-orthodox established their authority. The New Testament is not, as Ehrman notes, necessarily as nailed down as we suppose. Ancient manuscripts (of which we have more than any other ancient text) of the books that make up the New Testament include numerous differences. Most of these, Ehrman concedes, are merely spelling errors and other simple and obvious mistakes. But a few suggest an agenda. One of the most interesting sets of differences are passages in Luke, wherein references are made to Jesus's father and mother or parents--in many of the manuscripts such wording is "changed" to emphasize only his mother, the idea being that some had used Luke's references to his parents to say that Jesus had not been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the oldest manuscripts (though not the majority of ancient manuscripts overall) have Father saying, in contract to Matthew and Mark, at the time of Jesus's baptism, "This is my beloved Son; today I have begotten you"--instead of "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." The majority of English translations take up the later version. Ehrman argues the manuscript was changed for the same reason (though this argument supposes that "oldest" is always better--something that I would say is not necessarily the case; the accepted text may be the real whose older versions fell into disrepair and the oldest could well be a changed text that we discovered; either way, though, the discrepancies do show the challenges textual editors/scholars have in defining what the original text was intended to be).

Then Ehrman goes into the subject of how the canon was settled on, again arguing that this was the product of proto-orthodox Christians winning out over the first four centuries. Indeed, if one looks at some second-century works, almost the entire the New Testament is referenced (namely in Polycarp's letter), while in other such works almost none of it is (Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Clement). What constituted Scripture differed from place to place, which is likely true. What is interesting here, however, is that in Asia Minor, it would appear that most of the New Testament was already settled by the time of Polycarp, which to me would suggest that this is where the proto-Orthodox canon formation actually came from, despite the fact that Rome continued to argue over biblical concepts for another several hundred years. In part, that would seem to make more sense because otherwise, it seems odd to me that some of the books we have in the New Testament would be there, as they don't well fit orthodox Christian doctrines. Indeed, modern scholarship to me, seems in a sense, to have taken on a kind of Marcionite canon insofar as most secular scholars now argue that other than about seven of Paul's letters, the rest of the New Testament was written much later and most of it pseudo-epigraphically; as such, we end up almost with an antinomian New Testament in which only a selection of Paul's letters count as truly apostolic.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

On "Breakfast" by John Steinbeck (1169 words) ***

While not one of Steinbeck's best stories, this one still shows much of his great skill. It's essentially the description of a breakfast among hired farmhands. Steinbeck thrusts at readers the sight, the smells, the taste, the sounds of all that is there. Read the story here.

On "Dialogue with Trypho" by Justin Martyr ***

This second-century religious text does a good job of showing Martyr's background in the study of philosophy and some of the arguments for and against Jesus as Messiah in terms of Jewish versus Christian views. It's not likely to be the most engaging reading to someone not interested in the issues and how they played out at the time, and it's often quite repetitive. You also get a lot more of the Christian views than the Jewish, for obvious reasons. In fact, I'd say the work is to actually fairly antisemitic. Repeatedly, Justin claims that the Old Testament law was put upon the Jewish people because of their unique stubbornness and innate bad nature, as if somehow other peoples are superior to this particular set of peoples.

One of the most surprising things about the work to me was the number of arguments that Justin makes from scripture with regard to the Messiah's identity. The number of typologies and prophecies that he pulls out and argues by is incredible. They are the same arguments generally made today by Christians. But it's interesting to me to see that these arguments were already formed in the second century, as if very little has been added since then. A translation may be read here.

Monday, January 13, 2020

On "Monkey Park" by Madison Smartt Bell (about 7,000 words) ****

This one involves a night of randomness. It centers on a woman and her male friend and her husband. She spends more time with the former than the latter, and there's a feeling of sadness insofar as we know that there's something going on between them that they won't quite acknowledge and can't. There's putting on clown faces, drinking too much, going to a park to play and to look at monkeys involved. Read the story from Hudson Review here at Jstor (you can sign up for a free account and read it online).

On "Zero db and Other Stories" by Madison Smartt Bell *****

I read this book nearly twenty-five years ago, back when I was in grad school. I went on to read another book of Bell's stories, which was about as good as this one. At the time, however, I don't know that I was necessarily that impressed. Rather, this was a book that stayed with me, the way a movie called The Conversation stayed with me, kept me thinking about it for weeks afterward.

The two stories that are my favorite in this collection fall at the start of the second section, which is my favorite section of the book. The book as a whole is set into three sections, with "three" being something of a motif in this work, as designated by the first and last stories of the first section. Those stories are called Tryptichs--they are stories in three parts.

Triptych I is about a little girl at a hog killing. Where Bell excels throughout the collection is in his somber attention to detail, and that's what makes this otherwise less interesting story impressive. It's set in the South, among black folk and white, and burning and accidents are something of a theme throughout the three disparate parts.

"The Naked Lady" is a powerful piece of wit and writing skill and was the one that most impressed me when I first read the collection. It's about the friend of an artist, their horrific home, the sculptures the artist creates, and the rats they kill.

"Monkey Park" is another sort of hopelessness--this one involving a couple that isn't.

"Triptych II" focuses on different ways of dying, one among peacocks, one an old man, and one a bull. The idea here seems to be that people are little more than animals in the end, facing their final hours. And it mirrors the final story in the collection.

The middle section includes six stories about young men (or a young man, as many of the stories seem to be about the same person and arguably all of them could be) fighting--or perhaps, more so, giving into--depression. "The Structure and Meaning of Dormitory and Food Services" involves a young man who goes off to college, does well for a few months, and then sinks into a morass wherein he stops bothering to attend classes and spends most of his days on the "sad" side of the university cafeteria. Here, a blind man is sat down by him each day, but the blindness is really the narrator's own, as he is lost without knowing how to escape his own lethargy.

"Irene" finds a young man living in a Hispanic neighborhood with cheap rent. The man knows little of his neighbors and few of them, but he forges a kind of fascination with a twelve-year-old girl that is at some level a bit creepy but at the same time a kind of cry for connection--with someone, anyone.

"The Lie Detector" involves a young man who loses his apartment and has to go find a new one. Thing is, his old landlord seems to be trying to stiff him on the deposit; his new landlord seems to be trying to ask for extra kickbacks in order for him to move in; and true to form, the narrator himself begins to apply similar sorts of dishonesty to grift a bit more cash for his needs.

"I Heart NY" involves a young man trying to do just the opposite--that is, to be a responsible and good citizen. He takes real interest in those around, but the city doesn't seem to care much for or about him, and when he tries to help others, it rarely works out. Police don't come to assist. Muggers he catches turn out to be the wrong person, and so on.

"The Forgotten Bridge" focuses on the same young man as in "Lie Detector" after he is in the new apartment--and on the relationships he forges with his Hispanic neighbors. There's a kind of sadness to the tale insofar as it's told from a distant time with a certain amount of nostalgia, though it's nostalgia for a time that was rough on all of the people involved.

"Zero db" is about a man who works on sound for motion pictures and other productions. Here, he's recording people in a bar after a particularly bad day at work.

The final section/story is "Today Is a Good Day to Die" and focuses on an officer in Custer's army out west who is rescued from a snow storm by the Indians Custer has tried to and will try again to kill. This leads to some uncertainty in the officer regarding his role and purpose in life.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

On "Full Circle" by Edith Wharton (8349 words) *****

Betton is an author who finds fan mail tiresome, so he hires a man named Vyse to respond to the mail for him. Vyse is a former classmate--and also an author himself, an unsuccessful author who once asked Betton for help getting his novel published, a novel that Betton found riveting, much better than anything he could write himself. Betton, however, did not help--let other matters get in the way. Now, with Vyse as his needy and poor assistant, Betton feels guilty--but also uncertain of Vyse's motives. Does Vyse recognize that Betton is not as good a writer? Does he realize that this second novel is not as good as the first? How can Betton keep up his reputation for Vyse or keep needy Vyse in his employee? In one sense, this is a story of revenge--but of revenge that a person perpetrates on himself for a life badly lived. Read the story here.

On "Herod" by Peter Richardson ***

Richardson's book focuses on the first Herod. It's a biography based largely around the work of Josephus, and it is focused primarily on the political rise and fortune of the king, recounting much in the way of his war exploits and quarrels within his family.

I came to this book not so much wanting to read about Herod as wanting to read more about the culture from which he derived--the Idumeans. The Edomites, of course, have a long history, but I wanted one that focuse specifically on the culture of the people at this time, the time of the Herods. There was no such book that I could find, so I figured a book about Herod might give me some of that. Indeed, this book did.

But because the focus was, as it should have been, being a biography, on Herod's political career, it was something of a disappointment for me.

Richardson uses fiction techniques to start and end his work. He begins with Herod's death, describing it from the point of view of various peoples who would have known him--radical zealots, Romans, Pharisees, and so on. Indeed, how he was remembered would have depended in many ways on what your own political and religious views were. He was, on some level, very religious, and another, just the opposite. He was an opportunist. He was one who did well for his adopted Jewish people. He was one who sold them out to Rome for his own gain. He was one who did the best he could to support Judah at a time of Roman hegemony. The conclusion reaches for similar points, documenting his various accomplishments.

In between, we get the actual biography, which is, as many histories can be, a bit overwhelming with its accounts of battles. Such rarely keeps me wanting to read, even in books that are outright about wars. After so many, they begin to seem similar, like so much maneuvering to attain specific ends. I tend to prefer to know those ends and in general how they were obtained--not so much the specifics.

The parts that spoke most to me, thus, were those that focused more on Herod's building program, which was impressive. Also of interest--though this too got bogged down in details--was his growing paranoia and the destruction of his family largely by himself. Finally, a mere chapter--but an interesting one--is devoted to his descendents, the tetrarchs that followed him and the final kings.