A Race Against Time Before Christmas

I have a stack of books on my wishlist for Christmas. Because of the way Amazon works, I can see that many of them have been bought for me. Unfortunately I have a stack of books I had pencilled in before Christmas too, and thanks to Zero1, I have some more to think about too.

So I’m on a reading rush.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus, a new historical Jesus work that attempts to take seriously recent psychological research on the memory. Its thesis, which I am very warm to, is that the way Historical Jesus work has been done to date (analysing individual statements of Jesus over multiple sources to track which are well enough attested to be likely original) is psychologically naive. Right at the start of the book Dale concludes that, if there is anything of Jesus at all in the writings of the early Jesus movement, it is in the broad brush strokes: Jesus was an exorcist, an apocalyptic preacher, a healer. The best thing about the book is that it makes explicit a kind of niggling dissatisfaction I had reading, say, Crossan’s Historical Jesus (though Crossan’s book is also a masterwork in its own terms).

I’m also reading Larry Hurtado‘s Lord Jesus Christ, an analysis of the development of Christology as a cultic phenomenon (i.e. how devotion to Jesus is practised in the earliest period of Christian history, as opposed to the development of the theology of Christ). This is currently more heavy going, and I’ve had several nights where I’ve fallen asleep without remembering much about what I’ve just read. But I’ve only just started this, so I’m sure I’ll get more into it when I begin to pick up his main thread (incidentally Dale Allison’s book is superb for that – he hits you with it in the introduction and keeps throttling the point for the 50% of the book I’ve read so far).

And today Don Cupitt’s Sea of Faith arrived, the book of the 1984 british TV series where he explores and puts forward his vision for a non-realism in Christianity. He takes the process of demythologizing through to its logical conclusion and determines that God is a wholly constructed human artefact. But concludes that it is no less worthy of building a religion around for that. I suspect I’m going to agree heavily with this book and be frustrated at his conclusions in the end. But I am willing to be surprised!

I’ve also got Don Quixote, and Heart of Darkness (yet again) on the go on my kindle, a monograph relating to my old PhD topic to catch up with, and I need to read some Borges for work (no, really).

What are you reading at the moment?

Edit 2010-12-15 – Just edited ATTR’s comment: by default wordpress puts ‘nofollow’ in your comment links. I’ll manually edit this out for any suggestions here, so feel free to give your recommendations some link love! I’ll have to fish comments with more than 3 links out of the moderation queue, however, so give that time.

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10 responses to “A Race Against Time Before Christmas

  1. I think I would like to put the Allison book on my 2011 list, if I can make the time, it sounds really good.

    I just started Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God. It is fantastic so far (I’m only 1/2 way through Chapter 1). I think it bears Allison’s endorsement blurb on the back cover. I wish I had time to write about it. He did a great job laying out the differing perspectives with which the OT authors wrote, using Ezra vs. Jonah in particular as an example. And while I’ve always enjoyed Ecclesiastes, I never have seen the a perspective of its philosophy so well described.

  2. Ian

    Ooh, that does look good too. I don’t tend to read much counter-apologetics, however. But that does look interesting, and I can think of a couple of people to pass it onto. If there were only a Kindle edition, it would be downloading by now.

  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2010/12/is_there_a_war_on_christmas.html
    Just in case any of you counter-apologeticists are interested, a commented named LSV on the above post has written a hilarious attempt to justify Luke’s mistake over Quirinius being governor of Syria during the reign of Herod the Great. I’m planning a proper response, but feel it might do with a more expert piece of TLC…

    If you’re interested 🙂

  4. looks like i must add a few to my own list! right now i’m reading Columbine by Dave Cullin, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen, and Things Hidden, Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr.

    just finished Rohr today and was really touched by it. a great Girardian spirituality laid out flavored by Rohr’s Franciscan Catholicism. he’ll make the case for the triumph of Catholicism weakly every now and then, but it’s a great read. at least, i think.

    happy reading!

  5. Ian

    @shane, you’re commenting prolifically today – snowed in? I didn’t want to particularly join in that thread, because it seems you and others have it in hand. My take would be this:

    1. The word LSV is referring to can most simply be translated ‘in charge of’. So he’s technically correct, it could refer to any position of political authority. But he does the normal trick of focussing on the minutiae and missing the big picture. Luke is trying to give context. He’s appealing to something he expects his readers to know (“this was at the time of that big census under Quirinius, you know”). And there was a census, and it was bitterly felt. It was held at the point Rome took direct rule over the area and abolished the line of puppet kings. It was the point at which the region first felt the full blow of Roman taxation. And it stuck in the mind. To argue that that passage of Luke could actually refer to a different census at a time when Quirinius was a minor official, is linguistically correct, but just daft. If I said “the Olympics held when Hitler was in charge”, we’d all know I meant Berlin, 1936. You could argue that I meant the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928, when Hitler was in charge of the Nazi party. You could, but it would be obvious you’re clutching straws. If I’d have meant Amsterdam, I’d have known full well you’d assume Berlin, and I would have phrased it very differently. Similarly it is bizarre to think Luke would knowingly mislead his readers like that. No, Luke knows about the census, because it is one of those big events in recent history that everyone would have known about and talked about. It was a cataclysm. Luke appropriates that event into his nativity, and just gets the dates wrong. Simple as.

    2. There is no point going through this with LSV. Simply because there are no bits of historical contradiction that cannot be reconciled if you’re creative enough. LSV will always win that game. His goal, as he said, was to find some kind of story that could mean that what he wants to believe can be seen to somehow correspond to what he reads. He can always widen definitions, come up with fanciful alternate histories, introduce new ideas and cast doubt and therefore exclude those things he isn’t imaginative enough to include. This has always been the way that apologetics works, and because it defines its own terms of reference, there is no way around it. If you were first to get LSV to agree with you what criteria of historical explanation you will admit, then you could make progress. But you won’t agree. Because the truth of the revelation he perceives would always be part of his criteria.

  6. Ian

    @01 – thanks. “Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr.” Can you say a bit more about this one? What’s it about (other than the obvious!)?

  7. here’s a micro-review i posted when i first picked up the book.

    in short: he rails against fundamentalist readings of the bible and also rubs against some traditional readings as well. i like how he goes against some deconstructionism and nihilism that’s going on in the culture and states that there are some big patterns that are always true. yet these big patterns are hard to wrestle with and take work and prayer/meditation and ppl don’t want to do them so they resort to a lazy post-modernism or easy and glib fundamentalism. he really tackles scripture and spiritual disciplines and fuses them together through a Girardian lens. just a really cool read for me at least. i feel like i’ve deconstructed my faith in seminary and now i’m putting it back together and i come out a weird universalistic existentialist who is okay with atheists and nonChristians and Rohr’s book affirms that track and helps me hone my faith into something less fluffy and more practical.

    might not be your cup of tea as he’s more on the bigger picture, doesn’t really care about the historical part yet gives a nod to it. i found it incredible, i would love to get your view on it when and if you pick it up.

  8. Ian

    I will add it to my booklist. I’ll work through my Christmas glut first though. I ‘lead’* a weekly bible study here, and it might be interesting I think for them too. Some of them, too, I think are caught in a similar place – wanting to invest what they read with meaning, but not wanting to do so in a naive way.

    [* it is officially under the auspices of a local church and since I’m an atheist I’m not a member of the church, so I’m not officially leading anything, so I keep the quotations marks around ‘lead’. Nonetheless, the group seems to be struggling with finding a balance between generally disliking the evangelical pap in bible study ‘guides’ and not just descending into a history lesson where everybody leaves slightly more knowledgeable, but underenlightened.]

  9. atimetorend

    Sorry for the delayed reaction, been meaning to get back to this one…

    I don’t tend to read much counter-apologetics, however. But that does look interesting, and I can think of a couple of people to pass it onto.

    I don’t think Stark’s book is counter-apologetics, though I may not correctly understand what you mean by that. He writes as a Christian, though one firmly opposed to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Just reading his chapter on “Jesus Was Wrong,” which interestingly cites Dale Allison extensively.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a book for you to pass along, it is probably more of a layman’s perspective than your typical reading list. It is just right for me, giving a nice overview of some scholarly positions. As a book to pass along, I like that it assaults “inerrancy”, which I think really is a lynch-pin and “fundamental” problem with fundamentalism. Have been reading James Barr on that too…

  10. Ian

    “counter-apologetics” – I’ve no idea why I wrote that. Looking back, it seems out of place. The word press elves changing my comments again…

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