Sunday, January 25, 2015

Love Without End, by Glenda Green

Love without End, by Glenda Green. 

This is a book my aunt Michele loaned me, saying it was the book that made her fall back in love with Jesus. It is about Glenda Green's miraculous conversations with Jesus as he posed for her painting. It's not the type of book I generally read, so I was a bit skeptical. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I found the beginning section rather inspirational - it described the events surrounding Green's conversations with Jesus. Although I tend to be a bit of a skeptic when it comes to this sort of miracle, I DO believe that Glenda had an inspired conversation - though perhaps only in her head. On a side not, according to Glenda's painting, Jesus has dazzlingly blue eyes and chestnut hair. :) I hear rumor that this fits the description of Jesus given in Heaven is for Real

One point that I found interesting is Green's philosophy on loving your enemies: "When you are in the presence of your enemies, you know for a fact that any love you feel is not because of external know that you are love." In other words, love for your enemies is pure - it isn't tainted with lust or greed. I find this a beautiful way of looking at love. 

Green's Jesus also had an interesting philosophy of "innocent perception." To Green, this was the action of seeing things as they are without categorizing the information with our minds. This idea reminded me a lot of the observe/describe of DBT - where you project a non-judgmental view on whatever you observe, and you describe not what you think, but what is (i.e. I feel a burning sensation on my tongue when I taste this food, instead of Mom put too much spice in the food.) This perception also reminded me of the philosophy of phenomenology. 

Green's Jesus proposed a Trinity composed of Love, Spirit, and Adamantine Particles (a.k.a the Higgs Boson). This trinity made me chuckle a little - especially after all the recent news coverage of the Higgs Boson; however, it does have a certain appeal to it. I admit to knowing very little about the Higgs Boson other than the fact that it is nicknamed "The God Particle," and that Green suggests that it is a particle that creates mass and is unbreakable. But it's nice to think we're all connected by particles of God. :) 

One issue I had with this book is that she put her emphasis in bold. And she used so much bolded emphasis that it became distracting! I assume this is because she decided to put Christ's words in italics. Funny thing is, she also put T. S. Elliot's poems in italics. ;)

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

2015 Media #6 / Book #3: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black 

Reason for reading: This was the January pick for my bookclub.

Summary: In this near-future book, vampires have emerged into the public eye due to an outbreak started by a sloppy newly-made vampire who left his victims living instead of completely draining them. Vampires, and the Cold (people infected with the vampirism disease, but who haven't yet tasted the blood of humans and so haven't turned) are forced to live in ghettos called Coldtowns. In this setting, the story starts out with Tana waking up to a vampire-related disaster, which begins both a physical journey away from the disaster and a spiritual journey of self-discovery.

What I thought: This book was fast-paced and difficult to put down. It asked some interesting philosophical questions. Do we all have monsters within us? Do we crave immortality and beauty at the price of humanity? If not, why are so many people attracted to paranormal romances? Is it because we want the ultimate bad-boy? Or, in the opposite line of questioning, why do so many people seek good in what seems evil?T

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lecture 1 of The New Testament (The Great Courses), by Bart D. Ehrman

The New Testament (The Great Courses, Course Number 656)

Lecture 1: The Early Christians and Their Literature

This was an introductory lecture which suggested a few ways to study the New Testament: 1) as a faithful believer; 2) From a cultural perspective (e.g. the NT's influence on Western culture and on literature); and 3) From the historical context of the initial audience. Erhman's course intends on studying the NT from the third perspective. 

He gives some background information: there are 27 books in the NT, all written by Christians of the 1st century. Many of these books claim to be written by direct apostles of Jesus (i.e. people who are considered to have been sent directly by Jesus to spread his word). All of the books were originally written in Greek.

The 27 books of the NT comprise 4 major groups. 1) The four Gospels, describing the birth, life, and death of Jesus; 2) The Acts of the Apostles, describing the spread of Christianity around the world; 3) 21 epistles, 13 of which are written by Paul, with a focus on the beliefs and ethics of Christianity; 4) The Book of Revelation, which is a piece of apocalyptic literature, originally thought to have been written by the apostle John, but later revealed to have been written by another John. (The belief that it was written by the apostle is why it attained popularity among early Christians.)

Texts read: 
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, by Bart D. Ehrman - Chapter 1
The New Testament: A Student's Introduction by Steven Harris - Chapters 1 - 3
An Introduction to the New Testament, By Raymond Brown - Chapter 1
The New Testament Canon, by Harry Y Gamble

Chapter 3: The New Testament: A Student's Introduction, by Stephen Harris

In my final text for Lesson 1 of: The New Testament (The Great Courses, Course Number 656), I read chapters 1-3 of The New Testament: A Student's Introduction, by Stephen L. Harris. 

I found these notes from chapter 3 worth sharing, since I was unaware of the differences between these groups before reading this text: 

Chapter 3: The Diverse World of Fist-Century Judaism

Sadducees: Priests that conservatively stuck to a literal reading of the Torah, eschewing the "oral traditions" of the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the ones who turned Jesus over to the Romans for execution. They were the ones who stood the most to lose if there was fighting between the Romans and the Jews because the Sadducees seem to have been the chief mediators between the Roman rulers and the Jews. They disappeared after the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70CE.

Pharisees: These priests were also conservative, but they also had an oral law, which was later recorded as Mishnah in 200CE. Although there seems to be a lot of dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Bible, Jesus most likely got along fine with most Pharisees (as can be seen in some Biblical stories). The disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees may have been biased by problems between the early Christians and the Pharisees around the time the Gospels were written.

Samaritins: This is a group of people (named after their capital city Samaria) related to the Jews by religion, but whom the Jews in Judea regarded as alien. Instead of worshiping at the Temple at Mount Zion, the Samaritins worshiped at Mount Gerizim. The Samaritins recognized only the Mosaic Torah, and not the Prophets or other biblical writings. 

Essenes: These are the people who are thought to have written the Dead Sea Scrolls somewhere between the mid-second century and late first century CE. Little is known about them, but their practices seem to have many similarities to later Christian practices, though Jesus is never mentioned outright. It is supposed by Harris that this is a non-Christian sect that anticipated some Christian rituals, rather than a group of early Christians. There also seem to be some parallels between the Book of Hebrews and Essenes' beliefs. 

Chapter 1: An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond E Brown

I've finished reading chapter 1 of An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond E Brown for the great course The New Testament (The Great Courses, Course Number 656), by Bart D. Ehrman. 

Notes on Chapter 1: 

The meaning of the word "Testament" has developed over time. At first, it was in reference to deals God had made with Noah, Abraham, David, and Moses - most notably the one to Moses in which the people of Israel were made "God's chosen people." Almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah predicted "The days are coming when I will make a new covenant..." (Jer 31:31), where a covenant is a testament, and new means renewed. Then, before Jesus died, he referenced a new covenant/testament in his blood. Through his death and resurrection, therefore, Christians believed that god had renewed his covenant with his people, this time including the Gentiles. Only in the 2nd century do we see the word "testament" referring to a body of literature.

And, in fact, the idea of recording Jesus' story and sayings did not occur until after Jesus' death. Jesus didn't produce any written lectures, nor did he, in any of the Christian writings, suggest that his word be recorded. Letters were the first form of literature on Christian beliefs, and they were meant to answer immediate, pressing problems in the community to which they were addressed. Therefore, the letters of Paul have a different tone and emphasis in each, sometimes to the point of seeming contradictory. 

By the late 60s, anybody who had had direct contact with Jesus had died. The passing of the first generation of Christians led to writings of a more permanent nature. These include the deuteroPauline writings such as II Thes, Col, Eph, I and II Tim, and Titus, which were written after Paul's death. The deuteroPauline letters have a more permanent and universal tone than earlier letters. 

The Gospels also had a more permanent tone than early Pauline letters, but relevance to Christian problems would still have influenced which works were preserved. Mark's gospel emphasized the suffering of Christ on the cross, which would relate easily to the sufferings of early Christian persecution. The gospels of Matthew and Luke, probably written about 20 years later, are much more focused on the Jesus tradition, including sayings of Jesus which are hypothesized to originated in an earlier document dubbed "Q." 

The Acts of the Apostles was probably meant as a continuation of Luke's gospel. It moved the story of Christianity beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and beyond. 

The Book of Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature with roots in Ezekiel and Zechariah. Apocalyptic literature was quite common at the time. Unfortunately, many modern readers have forgotten that the book was written to 1st century Christians, who would be quite familiar with the symbolic meaning of apocalyptic literature; they therefore interpret the Book of Revelation literally.

There are three reasons early Christian writings were preserved: 1) Apostolic origin - books that were purported to be written by apostles of Jesus (or Paul) had special place among Christians. 2) Which Christian communities the literature was addressed to - for instance, very little literature survives from Jerusalem or Judea, which was torn apart by the Jewish Revolt in 66-70. 3) Conformity with the rule of faith.

There is also a question of why we need 4 gospels instead of just 1. (This was discussed in my notes on Gamble's book.) Brown suggests that concentration on one gospel could be used to support theology rejected by a large number of Christians. An example of this problem is the beliefs of the Marcionites (also mentioned in detail in my notes on Gamble). The Marcionites believed that the creator God is not the same as the all-loving God of the NT. Therefore, the OT and teachings of Judaism should be rejected. Brown suggests that one reason the Church embraced four gospels was to refute Marcion's belief that only the gospel of Luke and the letters of Paul should be considered as canon. Brown also suggests that the Church embraced the OT to refute Marcion's rejection of it. However, in his book Gamble cautioned against putting too much emphasis on ONE driving factor for the Church's choices, and I agree with him on that.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fire & Ash

Fire & Ash, by Jonathan Maberry

Reason for reading: This is the fourth and final book in a series that I've been reading. I'm making a goal this year to get farther in / finish as many series as possible

Summary: In this fourth and final book in the Rot & Ruin series, Benny, Chong, Lila, and Nix battle the genocidal Reapers while keeping the zombies at bay. But they might have to become monsters to fight monsters. And who is more of a monster: The zombies or the humans? 

Thoughts: This book was filled with action and adventure with a dash of intrigue. Like most Maberry books that I've read, the action got a little too much at times, to the point of feeling a little B-rate. But Maberry has some interesting plots and his philosophy about who really is the monster is quite interesting. Overall, a good finale. If you liked the first three books, you'll like this one as well.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The New Testament Canon, by Harry Y Gamble

The New Testament Canon, by Harry Y. Gamble

Reason for reading: This is one of the supplementary books for the great course The New Testament (The Great Courses, Course Number 656), by Bart D. Ehrman. 

Thoughts: This short "guide to biblical scholarship" glossed over some of the reasons certain books, and not others, were chosen for the New Testament canon. This is a very heavy topic with lots of scholarship, and this book tended to disagree with most of the specific theories in favor of the broader theory that there's no evidence that any specific movement had a great impact on the formation of the New Testament canon, but added all together they DID have an impact. I found this book rather dense at times. It assumed prior knowledge of the topic, which I'm only beginning to study. 

Chapter 2: The History of the New Testament Canon

The history of the New Testament (NT) canon must be pieced together on fragmentary evidence. There are a couple types of evidence that are useful: 1) The contents of the ancient manuscripts of the NT together with scriptural aids like concordances or prologues. This evidence is mainly from the fourth and fifth centuries. 2) The use of early Christian documents written from the second through the fifth centuries. By noting early scholars' allusions to various texts, we can deduce which of these early texts were widely accepted.

The gospels which were incorporated into the NT did not gain clear prominence until the late second century. Mark, written around 65, appears to have been the first narrative gospel. But it originally ended at 16:8 and thus lacked any post-resurrection narrative of Jesus. John, too, was originally lacking sections that were later accepted as gospel - Chapter 21 was not composed by the same person that wrote the rest of the Gospel of John. Additionally, the story of the adulteress (John 7:53 - 8:11) wasn't originally part of the Gospel of John. These discrepancies might have cast doubt on the authoritative truth of these gospels. Furthermore, having too many gospels, especially ones that seem to contradict each other, cast doubt on the adequacy of any gospel. 

The first evidence for a collection of four Gospels was in a document written by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul, writing around the year 180. There is also evidence of a four-gospel collection in the Muratorian canon list, which claims that the diversity of the gospels "matters nothing for the faith of believers." This comment suggests that some people had indeed found the discrepancies in the gospels disturbing.

The formation of a four-gospel collection was neither a necessity nor a natural outcome of the history of gospel literature in the early church. It is a compromise which balances an unmanageable number of gospels and a single self-sufficient gospel. Writers of the period tend to speak of the group of gospels as "gospel" (singular); thus, there are not four gospels but a fourfold gospel. Thus a balance is reached between two extremes. 

There are several theories as to why Paul's letters gained the widespread appreciation that led to their placement in the canon. 

One theory is that because his letters were highly valued by the communities he wrote to, they all sent his letters to neighboring communities so that everyone could share. But if this were the case, why did some letters survive and others disappear? And why did the author of Acts of the Apostles not mention the letters, if they were so important? 

Another theory (Goodspeed's) is that Paul's letters were highly valued by one scholar, who went out of his way to collect as many of them as he could. He then wrote the letter to the Ephesians, in Paul's name, as an introduction to his collection. That would explain the difference in writing styles of that letter to the rest of them. Gamble suggests that this is an extremely romantic theory, but with no evidence to support it.

Another scholar (Schmithals) changed Goodspeed's theory a bit to say that the collector/editor of the letters did so to create a weapon against gnosticism, since many of Paul's letters contain comments that are in opposition to gnostic spirituality. Again, there's no evidence that this theory is true, and it's too complex to accept without evidence. (Occam's Razor and all that jazz.)

Schenke suggested that the letters were collected by a Pauline school of scholars that valued Paul's teaching. This theory seems to be the most attractive to our author Gamble. 

Chapter 3: Factors in the Formation of the Canon

In the early years of Christianity, there were several Christian movements. Many theologians suggest that the New Testament was developed specifically to refute the claims of one or more of these movements. Gamble lists a few of them, and provides the arguments for and against particular groups having strong influence on the formation of the NT. Although Gamble does not support beliefs that any of these groups had much influence on the NT formation, he does suggest that all of them together could have had a larger effect on the NT.

The Marcionite Christians (second century) - movement begun by Marcion, a shipowner-turned-scholar who arrived in Rome in about the year 140. Marcionites Believed that there was an angry Jewish Creator God and a good God that Jesus came to save us from. Since Jesus was not created by the Creator God, he did not have a corporal body - he only appeared to. Thus, Jesus was not human, but he was divine. (This would sorely undervalue Jesus' gift of dying for our sins if he only appeared to suffer.) Because Judaism had nothing to do with Christianity (different Gods) the Jewish scriptures had no place in the Church. 

Marcion was the potentially the first scholar to compile a canon of literature - composed of the letters of Paul and Gospel of Luke. Some theologians believe that the Church adopted Paul's letters into their canon because of pressures from Marcionites, and that it was compelled to compensate for Marcion's bias towards Paul by including a variety of other apostolic writings to the canon. However, this theory does not explain why Paul's letters were widely known before Marcion's time. 

The Gnostic Christians - Believed that the real truth was only revealed to a select few. That when Jesus was baptized, a spirit entered him and he became the savior who taught the way to salvation. This spirit left Jesus and returned to heaven when Jesus was dying on the cross. We, also, are spiritual in nature, stuck in corporal bodies. (This doesn't fit exactly with the way Elaine Pagels described Gnostics in the two books of hers that I've read, but I guess there's room for error in studying a group of people on which so little information is available.)

It is commonly supposed that the NT was developed as an effort to oppose The privacy of many Gnostic beliefs, which were only abailable to the select few, and to oppose the "heretical" literature circulated by the Gnostics. However, Gnostics made free use of canonical literature, too, and it seems that the major difference between Gnotics and the Church was more about interpretation than literature.

Montanism - The Montanists were followers of a charismatic prophet named Montanus who claimed that the Paraclete promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John had come, and the end of times were at hand. (Seems like the end of times was always at hand for millennia on end.) Many theologians suggest that the New Testament was formed as a retaliation against Montanism for two reasons. First, the Montanists created new prophetic documents and claimed authoritative truth that the Church wanted to refute. Second, Montanists claimed prophetic revelation and the Church claimed that all prophetic revelations were in times past - that Jesus was the last prophet. However, as with the Marcionites and the Gnostics, Gamble refutes claim that Montanism had much impact on creation of the NT. First of all, Montanists, like the Gnostics, made free use of the canonical literature, but had different interpretations. Second, at the time that Montanism was popular the Holy Spirit and prophetic charisma were accepted by even the anti-Montanists in the Church.

In addition to the groups above, these Early Christian groups were outlined in Chapter 1 of Bart D. Ehrman's The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. I thought it would fit in well with these notes on Gamble's book.

The Jewish Christian Adoptionists - Believed that Jesus was born a human of a non-virgin. He was adopted by God as His son upon baptism. Jesus was not, however, divine. (I could believe this pretty easily if I were inclined to have fixed beliefs.)

Proto-Orthodox Christians - These are the ones that modern Christianity sprouted from. They believed that Jesus was divine and human. They believed there was only one God. 

Another factor possibly affecting the formation of the New Testament is that the technology to create a codex large enough to hold the entire NT was not developed until the fourth century.