Week 2 of Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society was a lot of work for me, mostly because it was essay week. The assignment was to read and compare Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In these very similar passages, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, war, and many false prophets coming in his name. We were supposed to describe how these passages helped the early Christians make sense of the world around them, keeping in mind that the New Testament was written a half-century or more after Jesus’ death (i.e. around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70CE).
This was a difficult topic for me because I’m still struggling a lot with the difference between the spiritual Jesus that I was brought up to worship as God, and the historical Jesus who was most likely an apocalyptic preacher. (Though I have decided to keep these two versions of Jesus separate in my mind, for now.) I took the time to read The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison.
|The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 1
Chapter 8: The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison
Allison’s essay addresses the controversy of whether or not the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet – a phenomenon which was common at the time of Jesus. The reason this question is so controversial, despite the strong apocalyptic message of Jesus’ speeches, is because it would suggest 1) that Jesus was just one among many apocalyptic prophets and 2) that Jesus was wrong, since the end of the world proved not to be so nigh, after all.
Allison surveys current arguments for and against Jesus’ eschatology. He then demonstrates that the New Testament has undeniable eschatological imagery and phrasing. He points out that although it’s possible that the authors of the New Testament had eschatological leanings when Jesus did not, there’s no reason to believe that they mistakenly, or intentionally, changed Jesus’ message; therefore, it is very likely that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.
As I thought about my assignment, however, I pondered the possibility that perhaps the authors wrote the passages about the destruction of the Temple after the fact, and then attributed the words to Jesus in order to help make sense of the tragic destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. Did Jesus really foresee the destruction of the Temple? Or were the authors of the Gospels trying to provide spiritual guidance to their people during a time of great turmoil?
In the end, I decided that, since this prophecy isn’t the only eschatological speech Jesus made, he was very likely an apocalyptic preacher – regardless of whether he believed the end of the world was nigh. I plan to read some more on this subject before fully making up my mind, though.
What does everyone else think? Was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher? Did he believe the end of the world was coming in the near future? Were certain passages of the Gospels written by people who retroactively attributed a prophecy of the Temple’s destruction to Jesus?
2012 Book 151: Flesh & Bone, by Jonathan Maberry
Reason for Reading: Third book in the Benny Imura series
Benny, Nix, Chong, and Lilah are on a quest through the zombie-infested Rot & Ruin to find a rebuilt civilization that they can only hope is out there. In the Mojave dessert (doesn’t that just scream “Area 51” at you?) they clash with a religious death-cult whose goal is to send all living humans into the darkness before they, themselves, are allowed to enjoy the eternity of dark peace. However, our team of teens also discovers more evidence that somewhere out there civilization is trying to re-exert itself. This book isn’t as strong as the first two in the series, but it was still enjoyable. Maberry tries to squeeze in so much action into his books that I go into action overload and start to get bored. I think the first book this series was strongest because Maberry spent a good amount of space developing the characters and setting. But the characters, setting, and plot don’t make a whole lot of progress in this book…That space is reserved for extra action scenes. The theme that I appreciated from the earlier books was upheld in this one (zombies were people too, and sometimes the real monsters are human), and there is a newer theme of coping with loss. This theme could have helped the characters develop, but their development was pretty shallow. (As an aside, I notice that other reviewers liked the “mature development of Nix’s and Benny’s relationship,” so I may be alone in feeling that they didn’t really develop any. :p) That said, I’m not trying to tear the book apart…it was a fun read and had lots of action. 🙂 It’s good fluff and I’m eager for what I believe is the fourth and final book.
written by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Beresford Bennett
Reason for Reading: I read Zone One for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, which aims to increase awareness of authors-of-color…-of-speculative-fiction. (Is that the correct punctuation for that term?) Zone One is particularly fitting for this blog tour, since it is being considered for this year’s Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Though this book is a “literary” zombie novel, so of course it is, by definition, genre defying. 😉 I also read this book for a the Surreal September LibraryThing theme read, and for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII challenge.
This post-apocalyptic book takes place in on Manhattan Island (Zone One), where Mark Spitz and his colleges work as “sweepers.” Their job is to remove all the straggler-zombies from the area and bag them for disposal. This book isn’t plot driven so much as world-building-driven. Whitehead uses beautiful prose to describe the “reconstruction” of America. As spell-binding as his sentences are, however, this flowery language distracts from the few action scenes…making this book not so much about zombies as about compulsive and overwhelming mediocrity. I don’t mean that Whitehead’s writing is mediocre–not in the slightest!–but that the book is about mediocrity. The mediocrity of Mark Spitz is described in beautifully pregnant prose. In fact, Mark had “unrivaled mediocrity” and all the “advantages this adaptation conferred in a mediocre world.” The zombies themselves were a metaphor for the mediocre masses of Manhattan. Many of them harmlessly flipped non-existent burgers over ovens that had broken down long ago. They window shopped in front of boarded up displays and vegged in front of dead televisions. Thus, the book had a rather dark view of humanity…that we are descending irrepressibly into mediocrity.
On top of that mediocre metaphor, Whitehead flirts with an allegory for the post-Civil War reconstruction. He compares the “untold Americans” who were not a part of the reconstruction to “slaves who didn’t know they’d been emancipated.” I pondered the meaning of this slave metaphor for a long time. Did Whitehead mean that these slaves hadn’t been told about the reconstruction? That there were untold numbers of them? That nobody would ever tell their story? Maybe he meant all of that? Following through with his mediocre-zombie metaphor, it seems that Whitehead meant that America is filled both with mediocre masses who live like zombies and their slaves…slaves of technology, slaves to the whim of the mediocre masses, slaves to the unpredictability of a fickle universe.
I had a hard time reading this book because of all the flashbacks and literary musings–I don’t recommend people listen to the audiobook version due to these unexpected and frequent changes. I probably would have enjoyed it much, much more if I had physically read it. 🙂 I think this is an excellent work for its meaning and its prose, but it’s going to get bad reviews from the zombie-fiction-lovers out there, because, in the end, it’s not really about zombies.
P.S. After writing that review, I’ve decided to give it 4 stars because it made me think…I was originally going to give it 3.5 stars because it was difficult for me to get through, and I didn’t immensely enjoy it. 🙂 But that may have been the fault of my choice of medium (audiobook).
About the Author
Colson Whitehead was born in New York City in 1969, and he grew up in Manhattan. After graduating from Harvard, he wrote for magazines and has published five novels. On top of that, he’s quite handsome. 😀
Image taken from a NASA Google+ post*
“The Star” is an apocalyptic short story written by H. G. Wells in 1897. According to Wikipedia, it founded a science fiction sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction in which two celestial objects crash into each other. The description of apocalypse-on-Earth was probably rather original for its time–it was vivid and striking. It also had a very powerful message that was told in a rather unique way. I was reminded of a book I read recently, Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie…not in narrative style (not in the slightest!) but in underlying message.
Spoilers start here:While I was reading “The Star” I was distracted by the detachment of it all. We seemed to be observing it from afar rather than experiencing it through the eyes of tortured souls. At the last sentence, I realized WHY he made the story so detached. He was writing with the detachment of a far-away observer. Of someone who’s just reading about the events in a newspaper. We see the murders, the famines, the plagues; but we don’t FEEL them. This reminded me of a touching novel about the Biafra / Nigeria civil war: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this gut-wrenching, but beautiful book Adichie asks the question “were you silent when we died?”
Spoiler-free zone commences:I think it’s horrible how we can watch news of horror and tragedy from afar and simply shake our heads and say “that’s too bad….” and not worry about it any more. The idea of such uncaring thoughts (literally) brings tears to my eyes. And then the biologist in me rears her ugly head and says: this detachment is necessary for our own individual sanity. We have to, at some level, separate personal tragedy from the tragedy of people who have no impact on ourselves. If we didn’t, we would be constantly overwhelmed by emotions that distract us from our own lives and do not provide any personal advantage. I suppose if I were constantly overwhelmed with emotion about distant tragedies, I’d be on the far-opposite end of the autism spectrum. 🙂 I think we should honestly consider the pain of other people and, if we can, do something about it. But where do we draw the line for emotional involvement? I suppose this is something that each individual must answer for him or herself.
2012 Book 45: A History of the End of the World, by Jonathan Kirsch (3/10/2012)
Reason for Reading: Out of a vague interest in eschatology. And by that, I mean I’m interested from a sociological point of view why everyone is so fascinated with the end of the world.
My Revew 3.5/5 stars
This book surveys how the Book of Revelation has influenced culture throughout time. It provides a basic idea of how apocalyptic rhetoric has been used and developed with time. However, I didn’t learn much history from this book. In fact, Kirsh mostly assumes that the reader is either familiar with the history or willing to look up the interesting bits elsewhere. It is also very dense, since much of the text is direct quotes or paraphrases from other writers. Kirsch has a strong bias against apocalyptic rhetoric, and his book implies a direct influence of Revelation on pretty much everything bad that has ever happened. Personally, I think the case is over-stated. Apocalyptic rhetoric certainly impacts everyone’s lives in the same way as Shakespearian rhetoric does, but Kirsh implies a more active influence. I had the uneasy feeling that Kirsh was quoting people out of context; and I noticed one time he left important facts out of a historical example, thus misleading the reader. Kirsh also has a distinctly un-Christian leaning (I’m GUESSING he’s a secular Jew), and his views might offend conservative or fundamentalist Christians. Overall, I’m happy I read the book because it provided a broad survey. But I’d like to read others to get a more in-depth look at specifics.
2012 Book 35: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (2/22/2012)
Reason for Reading: My friend Shweta has been telling me to read this book for quite a while. Now, my friend Alicia insisted I read it so that we can go watch the movie together.
My Review 3/5 stars
In a post-apocalyptic country called Panem, The Capital takes two children as tributes from each of its 12 Districts for an annual reality-TV survival competition. The children must fight until there is only one survivor. I understand why this book is so popular. Collins is a fantastic writer—the plot was fast-moving, suspenseful, and creative; the characters were well-developed and likable. However, I did not like this book. The idea of kids being forced to murder kids for entertainment is disturbing and tasteless as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t work for me in Lord of the Flies and it didn’t work for me in The Hunger Games. I thought about continuing with the rest of the series, but it would appear from the reviews that the next two books are just as violent, so I guess I don’t see the point. I do really appreciate that it was very exciting and well-written though. I practically read it in one sitting despite my disgust at the premise. It deserves 1-2 stars for the premise and 4-5 stars for the writing, so I gave it 3.