|The Last Week, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Narrated by John Pruden
|The First Christmas: What the Gospels really Teach About Jesus’ Birth
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Narrated by John Pruden
|3.5 stars for excellent research and being a classic reference book for Gilgamesh Epic.|
Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller, by Gary M. Burge
Genre: Ancient History / Bible Studies
Reason for reading: This year, I’m studying Jesus and the New Testament. This book was loaned to me by Elizabeth, a friend from work. It was given to her by a friend because the author was her professor.
Synopsis: In this short book, Burge guides the reader to interpret Jesus as a storyteller – a teacher who uses allegory and hyperbole to make important points within his own social context. The book is filled with beautiful pictures and several examples of Jesus’ use of hyperbole to teach an important point. Burge provides historical and cultural insight into what Jesus may have been talking about when telling his parables.
My thoughts: I was surprised at how fun this book was. Although it’s quite short, and half of it was pictures, it made me look at Jesus from a interesting new perspective. Of course, I already knew that Jesus used parables and hyperbole to make points, but it was really interesting to read Burge’s cultural analysis of those parables.
The story I found most enlightening was Burge’s interpretation of the fig tree incident. For those of you who don’t recall, the story is related in Mark 11:12-14, 11:20-25; and in Matthew 21:18-22. In my unromantic version, Jesus is hungry, and he sees a fig tree by the road. It’s not fig season, so the tree isn’t bearing any fruit. Jesus curses the poor tree and it withers. I’ve always disliked that story. Despite my cousin Steve’s insistence that fig trees don’t have feelings, and I shouldn’t take the story so literally, I always felt sorry for the tree. Why’d Jesus curse a tree just because it wasn’t bearing fruit in the off-season? (And, yes, Mark clearly states that it wasn’t the season for figs.)
Burge pointed out that the fig tree represented the Jewish state and religion. Throughout the New Testament Jesus repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who made a public spectacle of themselves fasting, praying, and giving alms; but who did not keep the spirit of religion in their hearts. They prayed for the approval of the people, not for the approval of God. Thus, they were not “bearing fruit.”
Of course, I realize that this insight about the fig tree and the Pharisees is not uniquely Burge’s – in fact I found some interesting articles on the subject after reading Burge’s book (here’s a good one). What’s important is that Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller introduced me to some interesting interpretations that I could look into in more detail later. In that way, this book was a valuable resource for me.
2012 Book 105: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler (7/11/2012)
Reason for Reading: It fit into Reading Globally’s Middle Eastern literature theme.
My Review 3.5 stars
In this short work, Feiler reviews the Biblical story of Abraham and then describes how the myth of Abraham has changed over time and between the Abrahamic religions. It is well-written and interesting, and its length is well-suited for the amount of information Feiler wishes to convey. (There were no lengthy speculations in order to add bulk!) I enjoyed it and learned a little bit, too!
2012 Book 85: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, by Elaine Pagels (6/17/2012)
Reason for Reading: General interest in Church history and apocalyptic literature
My Review: 4/5 stars
In her newest book, Pagels explores the history of John of Patmos’ Book of Revelation. She outlines what we know about John of Patmos, what he was trying to say with his preaching, and how contemporaries may have responded. The second half of the book covers the history of Christianity in the first two centuries C.E., with emphasis on Pagels’ favorite topic of disparate beliefs among early groups. She completes the book with a description of how the Bible Cannon was chosen, with some suggestions about why John of Patmos’ Book of Revelation was the only apocalyptic literature included. Pagels’ writing is clear and interesting, though a bit repetitive–especially if you’ve read some of her earlier works. If you’re interested in early church history, especially the disparate groups of Christians, then this is the book for you. If you’re interested in apocalyptic literature in early Christian history, then the first half of this book, and the tail end, is for you.