My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Review: Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading

Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading by Patrick Schreiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recounted in all three (3) of the synoptic gospels, the Transfiguration of Christ is obviously an important part of the faith from the very beginnings of the Church that is rich in symbolism that can be difficult to unpack and appreciate today without the appropriate historical context. Schreiner does an excellent job providing that context along with commentary that explores a number of potential interpretations, some of which provided new insights and some of which seemed to be a bit of a stretch, all of which provoked some deep thoughts about how this event should fit within the faith. Overall I found this to be a valuable addition to me reference library.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction: A Two-Level Christology
Chapter 1. The Necessity of the Transfiguration
Chapter 2. The Glorious Setting
Chapter 3. The Glorious Signs
Chapter 4. The Glorious Saying
Chapter 5. The Transfiguration and Theology
Conclusion: Restoring the Transfiguration
Appendix: Light from Light

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

For Christians, “metamorphosis” refers both to the physical unveiling of Jesus on the mountain (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:2) and to the change that progressively occurs in Christians (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18) as we behold “God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6) and eventually “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

First, the Gospels saw the episode as foreshadowing Jesus’s resurrection and exaltation. Second, Jesus’s transformation and the cloud recalls the glorification of Moses. Third, the dazzling white garments are typical of heavenly beings, including the glorified saints.

This context is fundamental for understanding the transfiguration. Jesus, in an allusion to Daniel 7:13–14, predicts that some of the disciples will not die until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. The temporal note signifies that the transfiguration fulfills Jesus’s prediction. The transfiguration is a vision of the Son of Man’s glory, victory, and exaltation.

God created the world in six days, then on the seventh day he rested. The eighth day was known as the first day of the new creation, since it transcended the seven days of creation. The seventh and eighth day imagery therefore symbolizes the reconfiguration of the cosmos.

Second, mountains are places of theophanies, where God and humankind meet. A mountain is an axis mundi, a conduit between earth and heaven, a place of divine revelation. God met with Abraham on a mountain (Gen. 22), revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush on a mountain (Exod. 3:9–10; 19:18–20), and spoke to Elijah on a mountain (1 Kings 19). Mountains are where humans encounter God.

The church fathers all affirmed that the transfiguration, while a concrete historical event, was symbolic of our own ascent to God. The setting becomes a cipher for what it means to “seek the things above” (Col. 3:1), ascend God’s mountain (Exod. 19:3; Isa. 2:3; Ps. 24:3; Mic. 4:2), and reach for the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). To ascend God’s mountain requires casting off that which clings so closely (Heb. 12:1–2) and discarding the deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12). This has been called the work of purgation––burning the sin from our bodies.

All three Evangelists recount Moses and Elijah’s advent with only minor differences. Matthew and Luke list the figures in chronological order—Moses then Elijah—while Mark names Elijah before Moses. Luke is unique in saying they appeared in “glory” (doxa) and spoke of Jesus’s “departure” (exodos). Significantly, only after Jesus is transfigured do they appear.

Many assert that Moses and Elijah appear because they are covenantal figures who represent the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Throughout the New Testament, the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” summarizes all of Israel’s Scriptures.

The church has spoken of the stage after purgation as one of illumination. We put off sin so that we can ascend and see. We move from the ways of a child (purgation) to that of an adolescent (illumination) (see 1 Cor. 13:11–12). Illumination is “characterized by a radical shift of the deep dynamics of our being, a profound transformation of our relationship with God.”

His error lies in his basic proposal to make tents. Peter’s misstep pertains to his attempt to prolong the glory of the scene ad finitum. Peter envisions this mount as the new Bethel, the dwelling place of God, that should last into eternity.

The Lord commands Abraham to take his only and beloved son and sacrifice him on the mountain. The links to the transfiguration are hard to miss: (1) sacrificial imagery, on (2) a mountaintop, accompanied by (3) beloved-son language, and (4) future glorification. In the Jewish tradition, Isaac is seen as a sacrificial figure. The story is called the Akedah, from the Hebrew term for the binding of Isaac.

For Hebrews, “today” is forever. Today is always present. Therefore, when the Father says, “Today, I have become your father,” it implies a past, present, and maybe even eternal meaning.

The Old Testament contains an iconic text that also calls Israel to listen: the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5. The title “Shema” is based on the first Hebrew word of the text, which means “listen,” “hear,” or “obey”: “Listen [shema‘], Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one [ekhad]. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Origen held to a three-stage understanding of Christ’s visibility. First, everyone can see Christ’s physical body donned in the incarnation. Second, there is a glorified but only semi-spiritualized body shown at the transfiguration and between the resurrection and ascension, and only the spiritually mature can perceive it. Third, there is the body of Jesus that has ascended into the heavens, which is fully spiritual and can only be seen by those who have assumed “spiritual” bodies.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheTransfigurationOfChrist #NetGalley

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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Review: House of Cards: Dead Men Tell No Tales

House of Cards: Dead Men Tell No Tales House of Cards: Dead Men Tell No Tales by Theodore Jerome Cohen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ****

A Silly Ole’Timey Detective Story

The best thing this recording has going for it is the narration; from a completely nostalgia aspect it reminds me of the old radio detective dramas in the 50-60's ... which I still listen to. That was what hooked me when I listened to the sampe and what ultimately saved the book. The series follows an NYPD detective (and military vet with a prosthetic leg) who plays fast and loose with the rules to get the bad guys ... not a plus in my book as it typically lends to lazy writing. 

In this episode, Martelli falls into a conspiracy involving a terrorist organization and a fraudulent hedge fund scheme Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDOs) and Credit Default Swaps (which were at the center of the financial crisis of 2008 ... of which the author apparently needs to go into great detail using info dumps thinly disguised as dialog. Too much unneeded detail is the watchword for this piece as the author shows off his mastery of jargon and testosterone replacements. 

For some reason not completely clear to me (outside a typical manly measuring contest), the Martelli also needs to stay clear of the FBI (they guys that would normally get involved in this kind of thing) , so he engages in various hijynx to make them the rube here while he himself engages in extrajudicial activities that somehow never taint the case. Just for fun, he also throws in a few pontifical monologues a a jab or two at the HYPD administration ('cause they got nuttin' better to do than get in the way of real police work). Then you have the cheesy ending that is cleaned up in the Epilogue …

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#HouseOfCards #MartelliNYPD #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Review: Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction

Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction by Joshua W. Jipp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In understanding and/or interpreting scripture, it is usually important to know the context in which they are written. Most of the commentaries that I have encountered spend a lot of time on the details, often debating the interpretation of the original language, marching verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book … rarely looking at the work as a whole. Reading the Gospels as Christian Scripture fills the gap here well, giving a brief over of how we got the Gospels in Part 1, before providing a general, historical context by which to read the Gospels in Part 2, before diving into each of the four (4) Gospels specifically in Part 3 … and it is this last part that is the best part (and accounts for nearly half of the total book … and is extremely well organized for each Gospel. Each Gospel will have an historical discussion followed by a literary analysis (structure, form, emphasis, et al) and concluding with how this view should impact living the faith of the Gospel. While perhaps not as interesting to those outside of the Christian faith, I found it to be extremely helpful to my personal growth and understanding of my faith.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part 1 - From Jesus of Nazareth to the Fourfold Gospel: History, Literature, Theology
1. What Are the Gospels?
2. Where Did the Gospels Come From?
3. What Are the Relationships between the Four Canonical Gospels?
4. Why Only These Four Gospels?

Part 2 - How Should We Read the Gospels?
5. Reading the Gospels in Their First Century Historical Context
6. Reading the Gospels as Narratives
7. Reading the Gospels for Transformative Discipleship

Part 3 - Reading the Gospels
8. Matthew and History
9. Matthew and Narrative (1)
10. Matthew and Narrative (2)
11. Matthew and Discipleship
12. Mark and History
13. Mark and Narrative (1)
14. Mark and Narrative (2)
15. Mark and Discipleship
16. Luke and History
17. Luke and Narrative (1)
18. Luke and Narrative (2)
19. Luke and Discipleship
20. John and History
21. John and Narrative (1)
22. John and Narrative (2)
23. John and Discipleship

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Second, while one need not suppose that the Gospel traditions were creatively shaped and molded at will by the early church, there’s no reason to deny the strong likelihood that specific memories of Jesus were preserved and remembered precisely because of their relevance and usefulness for the earliest Christians.

As different communities recycled and passed on Jesus’s teachings and with different aims, it should not surprise us to find some level of flexibility and fixity in the transmission. Getting the essential gist of who Jesus was and what he said, rather than his exact wording, precise geographical location, chronology, and so forth, which are just not quite the point.

This explains, in part, why some of Jesus’s sayings—found in Gospel texts, Paul’s Letters, and other early Christian writings—are remarkably similar. This is probably not because these sayings are literarily dependent on the same text but simply because the oral Gospel tradition was fairly stable and, much of it at least, committed to memory.

Whether the primary goal here is evangelism or community edification, John’s purpose statement alerts us to how writing a Gospel served practical goals and purposes for the early Christians. For example, some have very plausibly argued that Matthew’s Gospel was written, at least in part, for catechetical reasons—to draw on Jesus’s teachings in order to teach converts about the meaning of their Christian faith.

The Didache demonstrates obvious awareness of the Gospel of Matthew as it reproduces its version of the Lord’s Prayer (Didache 8:2; cf. Matt. 6:9–13) and sayings found in the Sermon on the Mount (Didache 9:5; cf. Matt. 7:6).

Proper interpretation of the Scriptures requires proper moral formation and the appropriate posture of humility when reading them. Stated simply, the church fathers believed that “lives that mirrored the message were best disposed to see that message.”

Thus, faithful discipleship and learning from Jesus will not be a simple matter of rote repetition; rather, knowing how to follow the Jesus of our Gospels will require communal discernment together as God’s people, a commitment to prayer and expectation of Spirit-illumination, and a constant and close attentiveness to the person of Jesus in the Gospels.

Mercy. Matthew consistently portrays Jesus as one who gives mercy and expects his followers to dispense mercy as well. Since God is kind and loving to both the just and the unjust, Jesus argues that the only right way to understand God’s Torah is from the standpoint of mercy and justice (5:43–48).

And Jesus declares that God’s law itself prioritizes mercy and compassion as the proper means of interpreting the commandments of the Torah. The Torah rightly interpreted is not a burdensome or impossible yoke; neither is it something that is rightly used as a means of exalting oneself above one’s neighbor (23:11–12).

Mark’s frequent usage of “and” (kai) and “immediately” (euthys) strikes many as demonstrating an unsophisticated writing style and less polished narrative. But this view does not sit easily with the recent recognition of Mark’s careful literary artistry, and in fact Mark’s Gospel is a never-ending treasure trove of theological meaning for careful readers.

Here’s the point: Although it is not the normal “season” for fruit on the fig tree, given that the gospel and the kingdom of God are here in the person of the Messiah, Jesus is nevertheless examining the tree and looking for fruitful abundance. Finding no fruit, Jesus curses the fig tree as a sign of God’s impending judgment on the temple and its leadership. The lack of fruit signifies that the temple is not functioning as a place of real prayer and true faith.

Second, Luke expects a high level of knowledge and appreciation for the Jewish people, their history, customs, and Scriptures. We have seen that Luke begins his Gospel with a preface comparable to Hellenistic historiography (1:1–4), but he immediately transitions into a way of telling his story that is remarkably biblical, involving the stories of a barren womb, Jewish priests in the temple, angels, hymns that use scriptural language, a circumcision on the eighth day—all of these draw the reader into the world of Israel’s Scriptures (chaps. 1–2).

The economy of Roman Palestine during the time of Jesus was oriented primarily around subsistence agriculture. Wealth was tied up in the very few landowners. The cities were places of consumption and extraction (rather than production).

Worshipers also engaged in a water ritual during the feast that commemorated God’s provision of water for Israel in the wilderness.2 It is during this Jewish feast that Jesus, in the temple, cries out that he is both the one who provides “streams of living water” (7:37–39) and is the “light of the world” (8:12).

The prologue itself shows this to the reader quite clearly in 1:14–18 by drawing parallels, especially using the language of Exodus 33–34, between God’s two primary forms of revelation: “the law” and “the word.”

John’s Gospel does not reject or criticize Moses and the law. The law is not spoken of in any way as leading to legalism, works righteousness, or a false, external piety. Moses foreshadows and points toward the greater grace and revelation of Jesus.

Jesus states this clearly when, in response to his opponents, he says, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father. Moses is your accuser, upon whom you have set your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me. For he wrote about me” (5:45–46).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#ReadingTheGospelsAsChristianScripture #NetGalley

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Review: Irish History & Mythology: Exploring The History, Celtic Myths, Folklore, Sagas, Traditions of Ireland

Irish History & Mythology: Exploring The History, Celtic Myths, Folklore, Sagas, Traditions of Ireland Irish History & Mythology: Exploring The History, Celtic Myths, Folklore, Sagas, Traditions of Ireland by History Brought Alive
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Book: ***
Performance: **

A Quick Summary of Irish Myth

This is a very short survey of the history and mythology of the Irish, starting in the mesolithic era (stone age) up through the middle ages to current day. The legend of the four migrations to Ireland ( Muintir Nemid -> Fir Bolg -> Tuatha Dé Danann -> Milesians) which most scholars believe was a convenient fiction invented by Irish Christians (who wrote about such legend … much like the christian skalds of Iceland) to link them to stories in the Old Testament (specially Noah). As such, it really doesn’t belong as “history” but it is still entertaining. I supposed this can be expected since there are no written records prior to the these storytellers of the middle ages. Once we do get such written records, the history provided is on firmer ground, if quite brief. The next two chapters quickly march up to modern times before returning to myths and legends that is presented in the form of a bestiary followed by a compendium of heroes (and some of the stories attached to each figure). For the most part this was interesting and fun … and brief (which pretty much describes most of the book) although it hardly qualifies as quality scholarship. Unfortunately the rather average narration does suffer from from an awkward pacing, but overall was still pretty decent.

The narration was decent for this genre.

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Chapter 1: Prehistory Ireland
Chapter 2: Gaelic Ireland
Chapter 3: Ireland During the Middle Ages
Chapter 4: Ireland from the Rule of Henry VIII
Chapter 5: Irish Paganism
Chapter 6: Mythological Creatures
Chapter 7: Mythological Figures

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#IrishHistoryAndMythology #HistoryBroughtAlive #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.