Monday, February 25, 2019

On "Beverly Home" by Denis Johnson (5155 words) *****

The final tale in Johnson's collection of a drug-addled young man, this one focuses on his recovery. The piece examines sick people, which happens to be the job that the narrator has managed to find himself in. The deformed also happen to be the kind of people this man dates. But each night, he sneaks peeks at a seemingly normal couple, an ideal life, that he can only view through a window. What he comes to see is that we are all deformed in our own way. Read the story here at Revision 30.

On "One God, One Lord" by Larry W. Hurtado *****

This relatively short book attempts to figure out how Jewish people would have thought about Jesus as a divine figure when he first burst on to the scene. How, in other words, would a monotheist religion manage to explain a second unit in the Godhead? Why would Jewish people accept that and so quickly?

Hurtado rejects the idea that such acceptance stemmed from the Gentile side of the church and that Jewish Christians did not see Jesus as divine. Rather, he says that the idea of divinity was routed in certain concepts having to do with a kind of second in charge or command, behind God--a divine agent who works for and on behalf of and in place of God.

This agent can be found in various forms: as a personified attribute, such as wisdom or the word; as an angel; or as an important human figure/prophet. Of particular note, however, is the angel, for a principal angel figures prominently in many Old Testament and inter-Testamental passages. In this sense, then, Hurtado says, we can see the risen Jesus as fitting into the Jewish concept of a chief angel, a divine agent.

However, that would not mean that Jesus was one who early Christians worshipped, and Hurtado notes that unlike the divine agent's treatment in most earlier texts, it's clear that the worship practice of early Christians included Jesus with God. How that came about is not quite clear, but, Hurtado implies, it was likely related to Jesus's resurrection--an event that changed the view of certain peoples.

Hurtado's ideas are intriguing, especially as one tries to figure out how a Jewish person would have felt about Jesus at the time. The divine agent certainly seems like one avenue by which people could have seen him. But if the Gospel accounts are accurate, it's clear that Jesus claimed divinity of himself while alive, which still is rather mind-boggling insofar as having people accept that. Miracles must have played a large role, with the resurrection being the final step to such acceptance.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On "The Other Gods" by H. P. Lovecraft (2037 words) ***

Men scale mountains. In the work of Lovecraft, however, this becomes not an adventure story about men versus the elements or even nature but about men versus the ancient gods who dwell atop those mountains, warning us away. Read the story here.

On "Redating the New Testament" by John A. T. Robinson *****

This compelling book illustrates for me something that I've thought about in some way or another since I was a teen-ager, namely how does one ever really know something? That isn't Robinson's point, of course, but what he does demonstrates this basic idea. What he does is this: Rather than accepting the later dates for the New Testament books presented by biblical scholars (of the nonconservative variety), Robinson starts with the premise that all the books were written before 70 A.D. because of their lack of addressing of what would have been a major event to religiously minded Jewish folks in the first century--namely, the destruction of the Jewish temple.

Now, many scholars present the later dates for certain books based on the idea that they actually do address this--most specifically in the Gospels. There is the whole Matthew 24 prophecy that Jesus renders. For a secularist, such a prophecy coming to fruition demands that the material had to have been written after the event, the prophecy a way of seeming to be profound and mystic when one is not. Robinson sees this as a poor argument, because the predictions in the Gospels about the Temple's demise are not of the specific variety that one would expect were one writing after the fact. Some items in the prophecy didn't come true in the exact manner Jesus predicted; no dates are presented, and in general the prophecy is rather vague. (Hebrews is an interesting case in point too, since if it were written after the fact, why not just point out the Temple's destruction in denoting Jesus as the replacement for the high priest?)

Having banished the few arguments for later writing of some of the books, Robinson follows through on his premise, presenting arguments for just when each book could have been written--all of them before 70 A.D. And all this goes to show what I often think/thought about as a young man--how assumptions, prejudices, and premises all shape our point of view before we even start into a topic. Start with an assumption that certain New Testament books must be written later, and suddenly all of them take on a different cast; start with another premise, and suddenly all of them fall much earlier. What is the truth of the date of writing? Who can possibly know?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

On "Necrophil" by Felipe Alfau **** (40 minutes)

"The Necrophil," from Alfau's *Locos,* is about a woman who dies for three months each year. Obsessed with death--she attends the funerals of strangers for fun--she has a kind of love affair with it. A doctor tries to cure her. Read the story here at Miette's Bedtime Story podcast.

On "Destroyer of the Gods" by Larry W. Hurtado *****

This short study of how Christians were distinctive in the ancient world is extremely readable. I've completed a handful of other books about paganism in the Roman Empire in the first century, but none of them were written as accessibly as this one. Here, Hurtado gives readers a real feel for how the pagan world functioned and just how Christianity would have been a disruption to such a society.

Whereas the Jews did not accept other gods, theirs was at least an ethnic religion. In fact, most religions were ethnic at this time. You were born into a faith, but few faiths were exclusivist. Your family god might also be shared by the nation, but the land where you live might have its own god, and you might go to the celebrations of other gods worshipped by friends and family. Rome was accepting of local gods, as such provided for political stability. This was the danger of Christianity, because it did not accept those gods as real. As such, it endangered, in many people's views, the political stability of nations and of the empire. It also meant you broke up the unity of families. It was also a different sort of religion in that it knew no ethnic limits, making its spread potentially greater.

Christianity was also a bookish religion. More than most faiths, its ideas were committed to print and passed along that way. Not only, of course, was their an emphasis on the holy book, but there were also letters and such that were shared. Hurtado spends a full chapter discussing this early written religious culture.

Finally, there were differences in morality, a subject discussed elsewhere but that Hurtado gives an adequate summary of here.