Monthly Archives: May 2014

How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman

book cover And it came to pass that I read and ye shall learn of a pretty amazing book. Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman takes on the subject of how, in history, the notion of Jesus as god developed. Was it there from the beginning? How did it arise? What does it even mean? Was he considered divine by believers before conception, at conception, at baptism by John, when he died on the cross, when he rose from the dead, when he headed upstairs to the executive offices? And the answer? Yes.

As with many mysteries there is a paucity of physical evidence. One might consider Ehrman’s task a very challenging episode of [Incredibly] Cold Case Files, or maybe fodder for a new version of a favorite show (as if there are not enough already) CSI Antiquity.

Not much to work with here as far as physical evidence goes, but Ehrman does apply his considerable skill to analyzing what documentation we have, tracing provenance, to the extent possible, applying what we know of the period(s), and lasering in on crucial questions.

description
The author

Ehrman makes it very clear that he is not about trying to turn anyone away from a particular set of beliefs.

I do not take a stand on the theological question of Jesus’s divine status. I am instead interested in the historical development that led to the affirmation that he is God.

Or who said what, and when, where and why did they say it? And who saw what, where, when, how and why?

My knowledge of the period is extremely limited. Twelve years of Catholic school taught me a lot more about obedience than it did about biblical scholarship, and while I have read the odd book here and there about the period, I claim no particular expertise, so am not in a position to offer a particularly educated consideration of the information presented here. Ehrman, on the other hand, has written vast amounts on things biblical. I refer you to his considerable bona fides, here. I am inclined to give his very accomplished, educated interpretation of the material he examines a bit more weight than I might the opinions proffered by individuals boasting lesser scholarly accomplishment.

Key, of course, is the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Without that there is no such thing as Christianity, as prophets and Messiahs were sold by the gross at the dollar-store equivalent of the era. In fact, Ehrman opens his book citing an unnamed individual whom one might expect is JC, as the details are incredibly reminiscent. But no, it turns out to be another prophet entirely. (No, not Brian) His pilot was not picked up by the world at large, so you might find him in the antiquity channel’s version of “Brilliant but Cancelled.” And he was not alone. But, since any Tom, Dick, and Appolonius could claim to be a prophet, it was the claim that Jesus was resurrected that was key to a long run, and Ehrman focuses on that.

He looks into the details of Jesus’s death and supposed return. For example, how likely was it that he was buried at all? The answer will surprise you. How about the likelihood that someone who had just tried to have him done in would arrange a burial? How likely might it be for wanted criminals, as the apostles were, to stick around after their chief had been so harshly treated? It continues, but you get the idea. Each tiny piece needs to be examined.

One of the things that Ehrman does consistently and well is to define terms. Divine? In what sense? There is a lot of variety in levels of divinity. Ehrman points out a pyramidal structure common to many religions, and how supposedly monotheistic faiths shuck and jive trying to explain how the multiple divine entities in their religions do not violate the monotheism-shrink-wrap guarantee covenant (it’s in the mouse print). He applies his piercing logic to notions of resurrection as well.

For [most ancient people—whether Christian, Jewish, or pagan] the human realm was not an absolute category separated from the divine realm by an enormous and unbridgeable crevasse. On the contrary, the human and divine were two continuums that could, and did, overlap.

(Bette Midler knows about that, for sure) So what was it that was supposedly seen?

It was widely believed in antiquity that the spirit we have within us was also made of “stuff.” It was material. But it was very highly refined material that could not be seen with the eyes. (Kind of like what people think when they imagine they’ve seen a “ghost”—there’s something there, made of stuff, since it can be seen, even though it’s pure spirit.) When Paul speaks of a spiritual body, then, he means a body not made up of this heavy, clunky stuff that now makes up our bodies, but of the highly refined, spiritual stuff that is superior I every way and is not subject to mortality.

Who knew there was such a level of detail to consider? Was the risen Jesus made of chunky human flesh or the sort ectoplasm more usually associated with someone like, say, Slimer . Or was he some ethereal non-substance?

And what about the veracity of the stories that were told of the supposed resurrection?

Even apart from the fact that they were written forty to sixty-five years after the facts, by people who were not there to see these things happen, who were living in different parts of the world, at different times, and speaking different languages—apart from all this, they are filled with discrepancies, some of which cannot be reconciled. In fact, the Gospels disagree on nearly every detail in their resurrection narratives

So, we are relying, in the gospels at least, on an inconsistent story, from multiple non-witnesses, that was the end result of a decades-long biblical version of the game telephone? These days, of course, you can probably become a god, or at least obtain, Wizard-of-Oz-style, a document attesting to your divinity, by sending a certain sum to a particular web site. (GodsRUs.com would be my guess). It was so much more complicated back then.

So, what might be less than divine in Ehrman’s examination? Well, we are digging through some very old material here, and it is not surprising that in a book focused in the Middle East a bit of sand gets in. The level of detail does, on occasion, cause one’s eyes to ascend to another level of being. But I found this a fascinating, and educational read, opening up many notions to consideration that I had never really thought about. Whatever it may do for your spirit, this book will definitely stimulate your brain.

Whether you find this examination of history divinely inspired or deserving a place on the lower levels of you-know-where, it is certainly a fascinating look at a critical element of history, and, by implication, religious belief. But don’t take my word for it. See, feel and read it for yourself. And if it doesn’t work for you the first time, hey, you can always come back to it.

Posted May 23, 2014

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

Ehrman’s blog, Christianty in Antiquity

Check here for a very nifty collection of audio and video clips of the author

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Non-fiction, Religion, Reviews

The Bees by Laline Paull

book coverThe Bees is a powerful tale of what life might look like to a hive member. This is not your kids’ Bug’s Life, but a very grown-up, compelling drama that includes both sweetness and considerable sting. There are several elements that might make one think of Game of Thrones Drones. Corruption on high, battles of succession, sinister enemies, both in the hive and outside. Not only must all men die but winter is coming, twice. There is also a lot of religious reference here. This sits atop a marvelous, deep portrayal of a world that is very alien. And to top it off we are led through this journey by a character who, while far from perfect, is a very good egg, or was.

description

Bee life cycle

Of course Flora 717 might not have been considered a wonderful egg to those around her. She was born to the Flora caste, a group responsible for, ironically, cleaning up, a sanitation caste, essentially untouchables. But this Flora is a bit different. She is larger for one, possessed of great determination, curiosity, and a capacity for speech that is mostly suppressed among her peers. Still she is different and that is not usually allowed. The police are about to remove her (Deformity is evil. Deformity is not permitted.) when a Sage intervenes. Sages are the priestess class. Their intentions however, are not entirely holy. This Sage takes Flora under her wing, and the story is on. Sometimes it is good to spare the deviants, and experiment a little. We get to see many aspects of hive life through Flora’s five eyes, but also through her six feet, which are able to interpret vibrations in the floor, and her antennae, which she uses to sense scents and for more direct communication with other bees. That Paull can make the very alien sense environment of bees understandable to those of us with only four limbs and no antennae at all (well except for our friends in intelligence) is a triumph on its own. The Hive Mind is considered for its positive and negative aspects as well.

book cover

Laline Paull

Paull tells about the origin of the story on her web site
A beekeeper friend of mine died, far too young. In the immediate aftermath of her death, I began reading about the bees she loved so much. Very quickly, I realized I was exploring the most extraordinary ancient society that was like a hall of mirrors to our own: some things very similar, others a complete inversion, whilst more were fantastically alien and amazing. The more I read the more I wanted to find out, but when I learned about the phenomenon of the laying worker, I became incredibly excited by the huge dramatic potential of that situation.

Her feeling of loss is very much present here. Bees are not the longest lived creatures on the planet, and more than a few see their end here. But there is another element as well, from a recent interview posted here on Goodreads,

Becoming a mother changed me and made me stronger—but evolution is never easy. I didn’t write Flora from an intellectual perspective but in a very visceral way: Motherhood made me a more passionate person—or allowed me to express that innate side of myself much more. So perhaps that’s why Flora works as a character: There’s primal truth in her motivation. She accepts her life one way, but then a forbidden force takes possession of her. Called love.

description

Religious nomenclature permeates the tale. The Queen is not only a temporal ruler, but is considered divine as well. This is helped along by her ability to produce pheromones in vast quantity that can soothe her hive family. There are sacraments in this world, a catechism, rituals, prayers, some of which will sound familiar. There are also some virgin births. And what would religion be without a little human sacrifice, or in this case bee sacrifice. It is a place in which religion is joined to politics to generate Orwellian mantras like Accept Obey Serve, Desire is Sin, Idleness is Sin, From Death comes Life Eternal, and the like. And, of course, there is some Orwellian behavior. Life is held cheaply, particularly for those not of the favored groups, and the jack-booted police that enforce the rules are definitely a buzzkill. The death penalty is more the norm than the exception, and it is often applied immediately and energetically.

description

Western honey bee

Flora’s explorations of the world are entire adventures on their own, as she encounters not only adversaries like wasps, spiders and crows, but man-made hazards as well. On the other hand she experiences the longing of the flowers, and the expanded internal horizons that result from expanding one’s horizons externally. She has a particular longing of her own, which fires the engines of her determination.

The Bees is a fast-paced, engaging, invigorating tale that will have you flipping pages faster than a forager’s wings. You will come away not only with the warm feeling of having shared a remarkable journey but will find yourself eager to learn more about our buzzy brethren, well, except for Nicolas Cage. And you might even find yourself tempted to get up and do a

description

Waggle Dance

======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

In Paull’s site there is a photo of a Minoan palace map that informed her hive layout. Worth a look .

The May 2014 GR newsletter features a brief interview with Paull

That buzzing in your ear might be more cause for concern that you’d realized. New project aims to upload a honey bee’s brain into a flying insectobot by 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Religion, Reviews, Science and Nature

Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

book cover

It just came crashing down, she says. Sometimes in life it just all comes crashing down.

There’s all sorts of crashings-down going on here, some real, some not. Some are anticipated, but never arrive, some happen before you know it. Others happen far away but carry a large impact. Naomi Hill has been a singer in Chicago (her kind of town) ten years or so and in a once-important jazz club that has seen better days for less than a year. But when her photograph appears on the cover of Look magazine in 1965, it signals her arrival. On the night of her last performance at The Blue Angel most of the important people in her life, her true family, are gathered. From this stage we look past the footlights to how each of them came to be there. Most important is her daughter, 11-year-old, Sophia.

Mother is a singer. I live in her dark margin.
For the first ten years of my life, I watch her from the wings.

The story is told from alternating perspectives, Naomi’s and Sophia’s. We see Naomi as a disaffected teen in Kansas,

It was just—nothingness. It filled us with nothingness. It made you feel so…trapped. Isn’t that funny? With so much space around you? Trapped? Can you explain that?

and follow her as she finds her way, geographically, musically and sexually. Naomi is driven by her needs like a dust mote before a haboob:

How could I tell Hilda, or anyone, how much I feared such a life, a normal life. How much I feared becoming invisible again, powerless, dependent. I wanted to do the right thing but I wanted something else more. To be known. To be loved.

Just as Naomi’s quest for fame and fear of enclosure drive her, Sophia is driven by a need to be loved by her mother, to be a necessary part of her world.

Tonight I clap so hard I think she’ll look over at me and pull me out of the wing into the spotlight and introduce me as her daughter, whom I love more than anything, she’ll say. But she doesn’t.

Last Night… is a deceptive book. It reads quickly, and weighs in at a modest 325 pages, but this is one of the richest novels I have read in a long time. One could simply follow the melody of the story and hum along, but I suggest you take your time. There is rarely a single voice trilling in a scene. Almost always it is a combo, offering syncopation, harmony, backbeats and meaningful riffs. Take your time, and let all the notes, beats, rhythms, and emotional sound of the book wash over you.

description
The Author

The settings are the 50s in Kansas and Chicago in 1965. It is a volatile era, in which sexual and racial norms are being challenged, a time in which the new is rising and the established is crumbling, although not without a fight. This is highlighted in Kansas (Something is definitely the matter there) with a display of the antediluvian notions extant in Naomi’s home town. In Chicago we see this through Jim, a guy who clings to the belief that someday Naomi will love him back, and in the meantime he is not only always there for her, he serves as the father Sophia never knew. He delights in photographing, while the opportunity remains, great Chicago buildings that have been slated for demolition, (He also photographs Naomi) celebrating the glorious before it is gone.

Why do you love buildings?
He combs his moustache with his fingers while he thinks. This town…it’s all hustlers and thieves from top to bottom. It always has been. But this…He points to the building. I don’t know, kid. Sometimes we do something right. Make something worth taking care of.

It is also a time of fear. Sophia is concerned about a possible nuclear holocaust, so has been compiling a list of items, the workings of which she wants to understand, (streetlamp, toaster, record player, percolator, et al) so that after the worst happens she can begin to re-invent a bit of civilization.

There is a saying that you can’t choose your family. Well, maybe not your DNA-based family. But you can create a heart-based family, and this is how Naomi and Sophia survive in the world. Naomi may have been raised in Eisenhauer America, but she is at core a modern, independent woman, and strives to find fulfillment on her own terms. We are treated (and it is so very much a treat) to seeing how each came into Naomi’s life. Every story its’ own wonderful melody. Of course, the primary relationship we see is that between Naomi and Sophia,

The seed of this story was planted many years ago. I have this very beautiful, dynamic mother. And it seemed, wherever we were she became immediately central. So, to be at her side rendered you a bit invisible, which was of course both wonderful and terrible. If the world was watching mom, I could watch the world, freely and without notice. It carved this automatic space for me, a private world, the world behind another’s wings.

We see Sophia adapting as a daughter to the spotlight that is her mother much more than the other way around. It is not that Naomi wants to be distant to Sophia, but her drives usually urge her in another direction.

One strong thematic current here is wind.

People in Kansas will tell you how beautiful it is but all I can say is that in Kansas, the wind blows everything down or away, it just beats the shit out of it.

There is even a Sister Windy who is a much more beneficent prairie breeze. You will not go more than a few pages without encountering a draft, a flutter or a gust from a wind reference.

It is also amusing to see how people are always racing ahead of other walkers, or struggling to keep up.

Among the many love stories tucked inside …the Blue Angel, a major one is about a love of beauty. Jim loves those great old buildings. And Naomi loves singing

I lay there in the moonlight breathing deep until I was sure she was asleep. Then I just let my head run back to the music, to little phrases I’d committed to memory. I felt my throat move a little as I imagined singing. And I understood that this must be love, to visit a place in your mind where music is playing, to have such a place at all.

And there is another scene of Naomi singing in an unexpected venue that will leave you gasping.

I have two issues with the book. I thought it could have used a bit more humor. It seems that kind-and-gentle moments are used to serve that purpose. There is one surprise revelation scene that also serves well to turn that frown upside down, but a couple of yucks here and there wouldn’t have hurt. Secondly, there is a hint of danger here. No, not the automatic-weapon sort. The romance sort. I am disinclined toward such things, and there are definite aromas that waft through. For good or ill there is a dishy female lead being wooed by (among others) a male yin and yang, a gun-toting bad boy gambler and a camera-toting too-good-to-be-true guy of the doormat persuasion. Such things usually make me wretch, but it was held in enough check here to stave off any unintended regurgitation.

If Rotert is not working on a musical stage production of this, she should work up a tempest and get cracking. This is major Broadway musical material. Whatever awards this book will win, and there should be many, there are Tonies, and then Oscars just waiting to be scooped up. Which requires a casting call. Much as I would love to cast Amy Adams as Naomi, and as great as she looks, Naomi is, maybe 27 or 28 and the actress would have to pass for 17 in a few scenes. Adams is 39, (even Jessica Chastain, who might be wonderful here, is 37) so, for the umpteenth time, we will return to the well and wonder how cool it would be to see Jennifer Lawrence as Naomi, (but she probably lacks the singing licks – ☹) Bradley Cooper as Jim, whose age is not specified in the book. And

book cover

Johnny Sequoyah

Johnny Sequoyah, of the TV show Believe, as Sophia would be just about perfect. (Please don’t let her age!) And if you think I am getting all sexist about age and gender, I had John Hamm in my tiny mind for another character here, but even Don Draper couldn’t sell Hamm as a twenty-something.

Be warned, I don’t care who you are, young or old, big or small, male or female, hell, human or alien, this novel will break your heart (or hearts in that last case). 210 pounds of old guy was sobbing on the couch at the back end of this book. Ok 220. You had better have those tissues handy. You are gonna need ‘em. Ok, ok, 225, geez. And could you hide those jelly beans please? Thanks. Yeah, went major wet-face. Like a baaaaaaaby.

Last Night at the Blue Angel is one of those rare works where craft meets entertainment. It is not only a brilliantly written novel. It is a dazzlingly satisfying read as well. This angel is indeed heaven-sent.

Review posted – May 2, 2014
Publication date – July 1, 2014

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

A few of the many pieces of music mentioned in the text:

Sam Cooke When I fall in Love

Naomi listens to Bird and Diz when she is sad

Saint Cecilia comes in for a look here as well, yes, Saint Cecilia

===============================================AUTHOR

Rebecca Rotert (roe-tear) has been a poet and singer for many years. Her familiarity with stage performance informs much of the novel.

Kinda light on the usual sorts of social media connections, but here is Rotert’s Twitter link

Harper posted on Soundcloud an amazing audio piece. You must check this out, not only does Rotert sing, smoky and sultry, but she talks about elements that went into the story, and reads a passage from the book that simply dazzles

A nice profile of the author from Femmes Folles Nebraska

2 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Literary Fiction, Reviews