New Ideas About Christ Are Fairly Old

It is difficult to think of a modern “radical” theory about Christian origins that was not pretty standard and mainstream in the decades before the First World War. So, (we heard way back then) Jesus was a New Age teacher; Jesus drew on Buddhist thought; Jesus was an Essene mystic; Mary Magdalene and other women disciples were crucial transmitters of his inner truths; the Gnostics represented alternative feminist and psychological-oriented traditions in early Christianity . . .

Philip Jenkins says it’s natural for writers wanting to be published to present their conclusions as earth-shattering when truthfully the same ideas have been written about–the same “discoveries” made, the same arguments about conspiratorial cover-ups put forward–for decades. We want to been seen as smarter than our predecessors, so look what we’ve rehashed today.

‘Avarice,’ by Pete Brassett

Avarice

In the sequel to She, which I reviewed last night, Pete Brassett’s Scottish Detective Inspector Munro is back home in Scotland, having retired from London policing. When a woman’s body is found in a glenn, under suspicious circumstances, the local inspector persuades his superiors to bring in Munro, rather than turning the case over to CID. The hope is that Munro can unravel the case before they have to turn it over to the “big boys.” A little authorly plot manipulation gets Detective Sergeant Charlie West, Munro’s sidekick in the last book, into the immediate vicinity and available to help out. And so Avarice gets its momentum up.

With the help of the local force they begin to examine the woman’s past (she was a German immigrant, and previously married), uncovering various motives (mainly financial) why certain people would want her dead. The real culprit(s), however, are a surprise.

This is a fairly cozy police procedural, with lots of quiet interviews and red herrings and tea getting drunk. Inspector Munro is amusingly curmudgeonly (he even takes a moment to criticize political correctness, which pleased me). No explicit sex or violence, but some rough language.

Recommended if this sort of thing is your cuppa tea. I liked it.

‘She,’ by Pete Brassett

She

‘You’re…’

‘I kid you not. What’s the time?’

‘Five. Give or take.’

‘That makes it 1am in Perth,’ said Munro. ‘Let’s give her a wee call.’

‘At this hour?’ said West. ‘She’ll be in bed, surely?’

‘Nae bother. She’ll have to get up to answer the phone anyway.’

The Amazon summary describes She by Pete Brassett as a “Scandinavian style suspense thriller.” I’m not sure I know exactly what that means. I was reminded more of Inspector Morse. The police procedural featuring the crusty, insensitive senior officer and the callow, long-suffering younger officer seems to be in vogue these days, and for good reason. It’s a formula that works. The Inspector Skelgill mysteries I’ve been reviewing are examples of the same sort ot thing. In fact, Inspector Munro, hero of this book and its sequels, bears a pretty close resemblance to Skelgill, except that he’s a few notches less abusive.

Inspector Munro is from Scotland, but works in London, where he fled after the death of his beloved wife. He’s paired with Sergeant Charlotte (Charlie) West, an attractive young woman with a drinking problem. What seems like a routine missing person case turns out to be part of a string of bizarre murders and dismemberments. In a parallel narrative we learn about their suspect, an innocent-looking young woman who conceals bizarre compulsions.

The picture of the killer is compelling, in a flashing-lights-and-ambulances-by-the-side-of-the-road sort of way, but the main interest of the story (for me) was watching Munro work with Sergeant West. A smart and talented officer, she walks the razor edge of career disaster with her alcohol-caused mistakes and late appearances. Munro takes a sergeant-major approach with her, cutting her no slack, and gradually she responds positively to the challenge.

The plot wraps up in an extremely neat way. In fact it’s so neat that author Brassett throws in an epilogue to throw everything we think we’ve learned into question.

I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him for that trick. But I have read two more books in the series, so I must not be too angry.

Cautions for language, gore, and adult themes.

‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,’ by Nabeel Qureshi

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Islam is not just a set of religious beliefs. It is an all-encompassing identity. It is inconceivable to change that identity, even for those who barely practice their Islamic faith. To do so is like suicide. It kills the identity of the convert and leaves the rest of the family in a state of shameful mourning.

Nabeel Qureshi has given us, I think, not only an outstanding memoir of conversion to Christianity from the Islamic faith, but a formidable work of apologetics, in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It makes an excellent companion work to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (indeed, Strobel provides the introduction to this expanded edition).

If you’re expecting a story of a man who longed for freedom from Islamic bondage and found it at last, you will be disappointed here. Nabeel Qureshi is more like C.S. Lewis, “dragged kicking and screaming” into Christianity, a “most reluctant convert.”

Nabeel was raised in a loving, even somewhat indulgent home of Muslims of the Ahmadi sect. He adored his parents, loved his mosque, and was proud of his Islamic community. His family was Muslim-American, his father a Navy officer. Nabeel spent much of his childhood in Scotland, where his father served at a naval base, before relocating to the US. Like most Muslims, he believed Muhammad self-evidently superior to the Prophet Issa (Jesus, whom he nevertheless revered), and the Quran (preserved without error) much nobler than the corrupted Christian Bible. Islamic culture, of course, was obviously the most perfect in the world. Continue reading ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,’ by Nabeel Qureshi

‘Golden Prey,’ by John Sandford

Golden Prey

If you like John Sandford’s Prey novels, you’ll probably like his latest, Golden Prey. I do, and I did.

Golden Prey is pretty much written to pattern, except that the locations and the cast of characters have been shaken up. Hero cop Lucas Davenport has left the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and joined the US Marshal’s Service. His unique status, as one who saved the life of the woman expected to be the next president (clearly modeled on Hillary Clinton), allows him, unlike other marshals, to be selective about his assignments. He holds out for “interesting” jobs, which means what he’s always done best – pursuing serial killers.

This time he goes to the American southwest to hunt a couple of stick-up men who ripped off a huge money delivery meant for a drug cartel, killing several people in the process. Meanwhile a pair of killers sent by the cartel are on the robbers’ trail as well. Their investigative methods are not subtle – they torture to death anyone they can find who knows their targets.

Lucas teams up with a female/male/black/white team of FBI agents to catch the robbers before the cartel killers can get to them, meanwhile trying to identify the cartel killers’ next targets so they can be protected. There are a lot of interesting opportunities for moral ambiguity, balancing off our sympathies as awful people are pursued by even more awful people.

Golden Prey breaks little new ground. It’s written pretty much to pattern, and if you like the pattern, you’ll probably enjoy the book. Cautions, as usual, for lots of black cop humor, foul language, and violence.

Well spoken

An unanticipated good time. That was what I had last night.

Well, a good time by my rather low standards.

The first thing that needs to be understood was that I felt lousy. It’s become my custom to get a very bad cold in the spring, and then again in the fall. These colds invariably plunge into my lungs and there, in the darkness, foment sedition and unrest. In the end I generally have to go to the doctor for antibiotics. Which, of course, mess up my digestion.

I was in the midst of that cycle, having started sniffing and coughing several days ago. Yesterday I took the day off work and went to my doctor for my bread mold prescription.

But I was worried about the Lecture. Months ago I’d agreed to lecture, on May 1, to Fjell Syn Lodge of the Sons of Norway, in Mounds View, Minnesota. My subject would be the Viking Sagas. I’d lectured to them before, a year ago, and they treated me well. I wanted to do right by those good people.

My fear was that I’d cough through the presentation, spread contagion to immune-suppressed attendees, and be so hoarse I’d be unintelligible.

The weather was miserable. It was one of those chill spring evenings when winter is still holding on, and having run out of snowballs to throw at you, just spits. I wore a heavy parka over my Viking costume going to and from the car. All nature seemed to portend failure and miserable death.

Instead, it went quite well. The audience was appreciative, and seemed to understand when I needed to pause now and then for a sip of water. There are times when you just resonate with a crowd – they laugh in all the right places, and longer than you expected. They nod and smile and you know they’re following with interest and pleasure. This was one of those nights. I enjoyed it a lot, and hope they ask me back yet again.

Plus, several of them bought books, which is impressive when you’re dealing with a group you’ve sold books to before.

Thank you, Fjell Syn Lodge!

I even felt better today (went back to work, sort of on a flyer), and I give them the credit.

Ever Lie About Reading a Book?

I don’t think I’ve ever lied about reading a book. I usually claim to have read about it, but apparently more and more people wish to portray themselves as readers, at least of select books, just like music fans of any band you claim is legit. Oh, yeah, I love their style.

David Barnett writes, “The 13 books we are most likely to claim to have read have one thing in common: they have all been adapted into blockbuster movies.”

Top of the current list are Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, followed by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and CS Lewis’s Narnia series. Perhaps more curious is the fact that people claim to have read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collinsand Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, when there are more copies of both novels languishing in charity shops than could be sold before Armageddon, so supply issues are not putting people off trying to read them.

I probably do lie by what I don’t say, which means I should just stop talking. (via Prufrock News)

Happy Friday

For anyone interested, I will be giving my lecture on the Icelandic Sagas on Monday, May 1 for Fjellsyn Lodge, Sons of Norway. They meet 7:00 p.m. (program about 7:30) at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 8211 Red Oak Dr., Moundsview, Minnesota.

Dave Lull sent me this link to a video about something I was unaware of — the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein kept a hut on the Sognefjord in Norway, and lived there off and on between World War I and his death. The video follows a group of people making a pilgrimage to what’s left of it.

The video is a little over 20 minutes long, which is more time than I’m usually willing to give Wittgenstein. But the Norwegian scenery is lovely. Among the peculiarities of this video, besides the perfervid intonations of the narrator at the beginning, is a reading from Wittgenstein given by a woman wearing what appears to be 17th Century breeches. I haven’t a guess why.

Also another woman on the hike (a fairly rugged one) is wearing flip-flops. The Norwegians have a saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” They might have added, “There are no painful hikes, only painful footwear.”

Have a good weekend.

Amazon Prime Video Review: ‘Bosch,’ Season 3

Bosch Season 3

I’m pretty sure I reviewed Bosch, the Amazon Prime Video series based on Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mystery novels, earlier on this blog. Still it’s been a while, and I just finished the new third season, so I’ll praise it again. Because it is quite good.

Harry (Hieronymus) Bosch is a Los Angeles homicide detective. He’s a military veteran and has a high case clearance rate, though he can be a pain in the anatomy to his co-workers and superiors. He’s almost obsessively by the book in his work ethic, but he can cut moral corners when he feels it’s justified. He is in fact motivated by inner demons, but he keeps them buttoned up.

In this third season, the first major plot line involves a reprehensible Hollywood producer (that’s an oxymoron, I suppose), who had a lowlife acquaintance murdered because he knew too much about a previous murder he’d committed (this is complicated by the fact that Bosch has been pursuing the guy himself over another matter, and has the murder on film, which he can’t use because his surveillance is illegal). The second big plot line centers on a group of former Army Special Forces guys who pull off a big theft and aren’t shy about killing people along the way. Their combat skills make them formidable adversaries for Bosch – and eventually for each other. Continue reading Amazon Prime Video Review: ‘Bosch,’ Season 3

Finding New Shakespearean Stuff

In winter of 1794, a young man whose father apparently cared more for this worldly treasures than his family presented his elder with a sealed document he said he found in a trunk. It was a mortgage with Shakespeare’s name on it.

That document became the first of many fraudulent discoveries William-Henry Ireland revealed to London society, to the excitement of his father and many notable scholars. He even produced a long lost play, Vortigern and Rowena, which was performed in a large theater, though many viewers and performers remained skeptical of its authenticity.

Perhaps all of this was for his father. “Frequently,” William-Henry wrote, “my father would declare, that to possess a single vestige of the poet’s hand-writing would be esteemed a gem beyond all price.”

But his estimation of his son was not so high. Doug Stewart writes,

Samuel Ireland, a self-important and socially ambitious writer, engraver and collector, went so far as to hint that William-Henry was not his son. The boy’s mother did not acknowledge her maternity; as Samuel’s mistress, she raised William-Henry and his two sisters by posing as a live-in housekeeper named Mrs. Freeman. Samuel had found the boy an undemanding job as an apprentice to a lawyer friend whose office was a few blocks from the Irelands’ home on Norfolk Street in the Strand, at the edge of London’s theater district. At the lawyer’s chambers, William-Henry passed his days largely unsupervised, surrounded by centuries-old legal documents, which he would occasionally sift through, when asked.

 

Should Shakespeare’s Language Be Updated?

Mark O’Connor suggests Shakespeare fans (and the more casually interested) don’t understand as much as they may think of the great bard’s language. He thinks a modern translation would help.

Here, for instance is Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” berating another character: “Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! then if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars.”

A modern English version might run: “May the itch in your blood be your guide through life! Then if the old woman who lays you out thinks you make a pretty corpse, I’ll be sure she’s only done lepers.”

O’Connor isn’t advocating a wholesale rewrite of these classics, but a measured translation that attempts to capture all the spirit of the text as well as its meaning. Will you think so?

“I think our fellows are asleep.” (via Prufrock News)

‘When One Man Dies,’ by Dave White

When One Man Dies

There are times when I read a book that doesn’t grab me, and I just delete it from my Kindle and move on.

And there are times when a book annoys me so much I have to finish it, just so I can give it a bad review.

When One Man Dies, by Dave White, is an example of the second category.

The book has good reviews on Amazon, and was nominated for awards.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

The first, obvious problem is that of paragraphing. As I’m sure you know, it’s the protocol among all writers of English dialogue that when a new speaker talks, you give him a new paragraph.

This book does not do that. One character will speak at the beginning of a paragraph, and the other will reply at the end of the same paragraph, without attribution. This is highly confusing. The reader has to stop frequently to figure out who said what. However, that may not be the author’s fault. It may be the fault of whoever set it up as an ebook. This appears to be a digital reissue of a previously published work. Continue reading ‘When One Man Dies,’ by Dave White

Watching ‘Bosch’

Bosch

I’ve been watching the third season of Bosch on Amazon Prime Video. In one episode, I noticed a detail that intrigued me.

Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) lives in a house partly supported by stilts, on a hillside in the Hollywood Hills, just as in the books. In one shot I noticed a framed poster on a wall.

It was a poster for a movie or a novel (I couldn’t tell) called The Black Echo.

The Black Echo is one of the novels this season of the show is based on.

So even if you imagined that a book had been written or a movie made about Bosch’s adventures (such a made-for-TV movie is in fact a plot element), and called The Black Echo, there’s no way either one could have been done about an adventure that isn’t even over yet.

The poster is a wink at the viewer from the production team. A very subtle breaking of the proscenium.

I expect that sort of thing happens more in movies and TV than I’m aware of.

‘The Survivor,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

The Survivor

Cielle curled her legs beneath herself on the couch. “Is it scary?”

“Being sick?”

She nodded. Her fists rose to her chin, elbows on her knees. She might have been six or ten. “What’s it like?”

He could feel Janie, too, focused on him. The stillness was electric.

“It teaches you that no part of you is sacred,” he said. “And that other people are.”

Dear heavens, what Gregg Hurwitz puts me through with his novels.

Listen to the premise of The Survivor:

Nate Overbay has nothing left to live for. He lost his family, thanks to PTSD. Now he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). And so he climbs out on a ledge on the 11th story of a bank building, to get it over with before the real suffering starts.

But instead of killing himself, he stops a bloody bank robbery, killing four out of five of the bank robbers. The lone survivor, before fleeing, tells him, “He will make you pay, in ways you can’t imagine.”

Soon, in spite of a steadily failing body, Nate is fighting desperately for the lives of his wife and daughter. Along the way he finds redemption he’d never thought possible.

Completely implausible. I didn’t believe the premise for a second. This book is so over the top it would never work if it weren’t being told by a consummate storyteller who knows how to flip all our switches. You will care – deeply – about this man and his family, people who come alive in stirring ways. You’ll even care about the villain, to an extent. The Survivor is, simply, a moving, irresistible read.

Cautions for language, violence, and plain intensity.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture