How to Read the Bible, Chapter 5 by James L. Kugel

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In chapter 5, Kugel describes the very short section of the Bible concerning the tower of Babel. In this story, the descendants of Noah decided to build a great city with a tall tower. At this time, they all spoke the same language. For some reason unexplained, God took insult at this, and destroyed the tower, halting the building of the city. He scattered the people around the world, confounding their language so that they could no longer understand people from different regions of the world.

Ancient Interpretation: Interpreters of ancient times thought that the purpose of this story was the Tower of Babel itself. That this is a story of human hubris, in which the people were trying to reach heaven by building such a tall tower.

Modern Interpretation: People of modern times look back at the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia – how they were built of materials that would easily crumble with time. They figured ancient people saw these ruins and wrote the story of Babel to explain them. They also have an etiological interpretation in which this story explains how so many languages developed from one prototypical language.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Beyond Belief, by Jenna Miscavige Hill

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Summary: Ms. Hill describes growing up within the inner echelons of Scientology. How, at first, she was fully indoctrinated (brainwashed, as she later called it), but after much emotional abuse she realized the church was not for her. She became an advocate for those who also escaped the inner echelons of Scientology, which (if her description is accurate) can only be described as a cult.

My Thoughts: This book was an eye-opener for me. I try not to call any religion a cult, even though I read Dianetics at one point and felt that it was very silly indeed. But if Ms. Hill’s descriptions are accurate (I also tend to take the descriptions of former members of churches with a grain of salt), Scientology is indeed a cult. And a fairly abusive one at that. I enjoyed listening to Jenna’s journey from indoctrination to disillusionment, and was emotionally involved in whether she would escape with any semblance of a  family life.

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Weekend Update 24

Happy weekend everyone! As you can see, I decided to chop my hair off today. It’s never been this short before, so this was a big move for me. My cough is much better on my new steroid inhaler, though I’m still feeling uber-fatigued. The haircut and lunch out with my friend was about all I could handle today.

I’m already tired from a long day yesterday driving my mom to the library, grocery shopping, and a follow-up appointment after her recent ER visit. Looks like she might have COPD. After that, I took the kids to swim lessons, and I could hardly stand up anymore. But the cough is gone!

On the blog

This week I published notes on chapter 4 of Kugel’s How to Read the Bible, a review of Powers’ No One Cares About Crazy People, and a review of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

I am thinking about hosting a very informal readalong of a classic like Plath’s The Bell Jar, or Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther in September for Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, if anybody would be interested in one or both books (perhaps two weeks per book?).

There are also two Coursera courses that I’m considering posting notes on for that month: Psychological First Aid, and The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness. But we’ll see what I can manage.

You are welcome to join me in any of these activities, or reviewing other suicide-related books as a guest blogger. Just let me know.

Currently reading

Due to lying in bed and typing this on my phone, I will list a few, rather than make a composite picture like usual:

Nonfiction: Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance

Fiction: Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood & Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling.

Audiobook: Doctor Who: 10th Doctor Tales, by various

Well Educated Mind: Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift

Completed

Beyond Belief, by Jenna Miscavage Hill

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J. K. Rowling

Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

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Synopsis: Guy Montag is a fireman – in other words, his job is to burn down houses of anybody who is found to own books. He thinks he’s happy with his job until he meets Clarisse, a teenager who makes him question his belief about books, his marriage, and society in general.

My Thoughts: Loved it. I’m a fan of Ray Bradbury as it is, but this is my favorite so far. It’s so meaningful and scary. I suggest anyone read it, even those who are not interested in dystopias generally. This is not your typical teenage dystopia that are being mass produced at the moment.

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The following is my analysis adapted from Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Educated Mind’s description of how to think about a novel. It will have spoilers. 

👽What is the most central life-changing event?

Meeting Clarisse changing Montag’s entire outlook on life.

👽Am I transported? Do I see, feel, and hear this other world?

Oh yes, this world was very real to me.

👽Can I sympathize with the people who live there? Do I understand their wants and desires and problems? Or am I left unmoved?

I am moved by Montag’s desire to understand what he has been doing, and why society has become the way it is. I feel for him when Clarisse is removed from his life, and he mourns her loss.

👽Is this a fable or a chronicle? If the novel is a chronicle, how are we shown reality: Physical? Mental?

Despite being a dystopia, this world is very believable. It chronicles the time of Montag meeting Clarisse to the moment he discovers what he is going to do about the mess that has become of his society. The book takes place mainly in the mind of Montag, so I would say reality is shown mentally.

👽What does the central character want? What is standing in his or her way? What strategy is pursued to overcome this block?

Montag wants to understand the world around him, and to spend as much time with Clarisse as possible. Clarisse is taken away from him, which is tragic to him. He is also blocked by the illegality of his desire to find out more about the past in general and books in specific. His strategy to overcome this is to perform illegal acts which lead to his eventually being found out.

👽Who is telling you this story? Is this person reliable?

Montag is telling the story in his head. I would guess that this person is reliable, other than having been indoctrinated in society’s rules for all of his life.

👽Where is the story set? 

The story is set in a futuristic dystopian society in which it is unwise to think for yourself and illegal to own books. The universe is indifferent to Montag’s plight.

👽Images and metaphors: Are there any repeated images? If so, is this a metaphor, and if so, what does it represent?

The repeated images are Clarisse, who represents revelation and clarity, books, which represent knowledge, and fire, which represents destruction of knowledge.

👽 Endings: Does the end have a resolution or a logical exhaustion?

The story does have a resolution – the city is destroyed by war, and Montag runs into a group of people who has memorized certain passages of books so that when society grows again, they are able to start reprining the books.

👽Did the author choose characteristics to make a statement about the human condition?

Yes, the human condition in this represented as becoming less and less interested in knowledge and more interested in instant gratification and zoning out the life that surrounds them.

👽Is the novel self-reflective?

To a certain extent, I believe that Bradbury is worried about where society is going, and that, in a way, is self reflective. But I don’t think Montag is supposed to be a reflection on himself.

👽Did the writer’s times affect him?

Always

 

Classics Club Spin #18

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The Classics Club is hosting Classics Club Spin #18. We are supposed to choose 20 books from our classics club list and assign numbers to each one. The Classics Club will then choose a number between 1-20, and we are supposed to read that book by the end of August. Since my list is all from my Well Educated Mind Project, which books I plan on reading in order as much as possible, I will choose 20 other classics that I am interested in reading.

  1. A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
  2. Bluebeard, by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Discipline and Punish, by Michel Foucault
  5. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
  6. Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
  7. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle
  8. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
  9. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  10. Far From the Maddening Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
  11. The Witches of Eastwood, by John Updike
  12. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
  13. The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene
  14. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  15. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
  16. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  17. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  18. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  19. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
  20. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

No One Cares About Crazy People, by Ron Powers

9780316341134_p0_v2_s550x406Summary: Ron Powers alternates the story of his own family, as his two boys grow up and eventually are diagnosed with schizophrenia, with a history of how the mental health system has failed to take care of mentally ill people.

My thoughts: I wanted to like this book. I did. But the historical sections weren’t anything I hadn’t read before in many a better-researched book (though they might be interesting to someone who has no background knowledge of the subject). Powers’ family story was interesting at first, but then it became apparent that he was going to make his sons into little saints whose only failures were due to either nascent schizophrenia or to the illness post-development. Not true. The kids were human beings who made mistakes. Dean didn’t get along with his dad as a teenager not because he was going to later fall into the grips of a mental illness, but because he was an angsty teen who had been through a lot of hardship in life. The car accident that was the life-changing event for Dean was, indeed, at least partly his fault. It doesn’t sound like he deserved the punishment he received…but then again, he HAD been underage drinking (though Powers says he was not legally drunk) which is a crime. And not a crime that was due to nascent schizophrenia – one that many (dare I say most) teenagers commit without any impending mental illness at all. And what can I say about Kevin? He was perfect. Not a mistake in his life. So talented. So amazing.

Kids make mistakes, Mr. Powers. Yes, the mental health system failed them. So, so true. But why make them into saints?

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How to Read the Bible Chapter 4, by James L. Kugel

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In Chapter 4, Kugel discusses the story of Noah being saved by the great flood. In short, God became unhappy with the evilness he saw in humans, and he decided to flood the entire world and let only Noah and his family survive. They were to build an ark, and take all life (in either twos or sevens depending on the chapter) to safety with them.

Ancient interpretation: Despite what many people believe, the Bible never said that God told Noah to warn his fellow people about the oncoming flood – this was an ancient interpretation that lasted throughout the years. It came from this line:

So the Lord said “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days shall be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3)

Because Noah and his family lived many more than 120 years, the assumption the ancient interpreters made was that Genesis 6:3 meant that God would give Noah 120 years to complete his task of building the ark. While doing so, they interpreted that Noah tried to convince his neighbors to repent their evil ways.

Modern Interpretation: Kugel didn’t have much to say on his modern interpretation that I haven’t discussed elsewhere on this blog. In 1872, the English Orientalist George Smith of the British Museum discovered a passage that would later be considered part of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The similarities between the stories was unsettling to most Biblical scholars because the Epic of Gilgamesh predated the Bible, and this suggested that the Biblical story was borrowed from another source. For more information on this topic, you can read my posts on The Epic of Gilgamesh, especially the one entitled The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels.

Kugel also discussed the minutia of the multi-author theory, pointing out the inconsistency between two sections:

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing on the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. (Genesis 6:19-20)

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:2-3)

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3