Johannesburg, South Africa | Member Since 2013
Did the early Christians transform their leader from a ‘revolutionary Jewish nationalist’ into a ‘peaceful Spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter’ in order to gain converts from the gentile Roman world? Reza Alsan, ex-Evangelical Christian turned moderate American Muslim and religious scholar, thinks so. His argument begins at the crucifixion. Accordingly Jesus was crucified as an insurrectionist, just like the two political bandits who hanged next to him. For Aslan Jesus was a Zealot - though he makes it clear that he was not from the later Jewish Zealot party - his zeal for his people and his political awareness made him a threat to the Roman Government.
Aslan points out very early in the audiobook that every gospel account about Jesus was written after the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. Like most scholars of the New Testament today, he claims that the gospels should be read in light of the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. For Aslan the consequences of the temple’s destruction lead to a very similar outcome in Second Century Judaism and early Christianity. These two movements sought to divorce themselves from the radical messianic nationalism that lead to the war against Rome and the temple’s destruction. Rabbinic Judaism emerged when Jews centred their life on the Torah rather than the temple. Early Christianity divorced itself from the messianic zeal, not only because of being excluded from Judaism, but also because the Romans were now the people from which this movement had to gain converts to grow. Thus Jesus the Zealot had to be made more presentable. Aslan argues basically that he had an image makeover.
In this book Aslan attempts to claim the Jesus of history, the Jesus before Christianity. He tries ‘to reclaim the Political conscious Jewish revolutionary who walked the Galilean country side 2000 years ago, gathering followers as part of his messianic movement with the goal of establishing the kingdom of God, but whose mission failed after he entered Jerusalem, attacked the temple and was captured and crucified.’ His method is to clean the ‘literal and theological’ add-ons of the New Testament up. Starting with the verifiable - Jesus’ crucifixion - he claims to forge a more accurate picture of Jesus, notwithstanding many scholars being sceptic that it cannot be done.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part 1 Aslan presents a summary of Josephus’ History of the Jewish War placing Jesus squarely within the political and social background of his time. He focusses on the various false messiahs, who with their eschatological zeal failed to rise to political power and was suppressed by the Roman Empire. Part 2 focus on what we know about Jesus of Nazareth as a person within history. Aslan begins with the crucifixion as historically verifiable and seems to add Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and some basic claims, like his wonderworking ability and exorcisms to his sketch of Jesus. He also debunks Luke and Matthew’s birth narratives, while describing Jesus as a lowly peasant who spoke out against the great divide between rich and poor in his time. Lastly in Part 3, Aslan debunks Paul and the Pauline branch of Christianity as out of synch with the earliest and truest followers of Jesus of Nazareth, those who accepted James as their leader. He makes the dramatic claim that the Jesus of history died with the martyr Stephen when he called to Jesus as God before his death.
Listening to the audiobook I got the impression that Reza Aslan brought Richard Horsley’s political anti-colonial Jesus with something of Jon Dominic Crossan’s fighter for the poor and oppressed and Burton Mack’s historical consciousness together. He seems to have used Gerd Lüdemann’s argument of great turmoil, diversity and divide within earliest Christianity to construct his picture of the Jerusalem church and the role of James, the brother of Jesus, within the movement.
Here are a few questions that came to my mind while listening to the audiobook: How much would this critical Jesus sketch agree with a similar sketch of Muhammad today? Did I hear a very Lukan construction of Jesus’ agenda? By ignoring the aspect that the gospels as literature, I suspect that he might have projected Jesus’ own agenda ‘the coming of the kingdom of God’ onto John the Baptist. How does he know that the above came from John? If Pontius Pilate was sending almost every Tom, Dick and Harry to the cross, doesn’t it undermine Alsan’s historical reconstruction of a very politically active minded Jesus? Isn’t there too much focus of the discontinuity between various New Testament books, thus ignoring the continuity within those same books?
I think that Aslan’s book describes a type Jesus that could only be constructed listening to the most critical of Jesus scholarship. This allows him to strip Jesus down to the bare minimum. While adding a lot of the insights from New Testament scholarship over the last few years, this enables him to conceive a zealous Jewish and very political Jesus, who seems to me might have a modern-day agenda. His style of writing, often using a word as “ludicrous” or “absurd” when dealing with historical improbabilities within the gospels, feels very confrontational at times. This is the type of language that places you within a group or outside it. Thus using insider and outsider language, Aslan effectively wants the listener to see things his way, if not, well then… you are probably an idiot?
The value of Aslan’s book lies within bringing a vast array of research - though be it in my opinion a bit biased - together, thus producing yet another “mostly” American portrait of Jesus. The portrait is valid and for most of the part Aslan seems to stand on sturdy ground. Yet he reduces Jesus to very little and seems to fill it in with those aspects that might fit the founder of Islam. The book is written in short chapters bringing over time and again the point that Jesus was a Roman insurrectionist who was crucified by the Roman authorities. At some point it felt like a mantra. Yet Alsan has placed a book on the table that has popularised minimalistic critical New Testament scholarship, making it accessible to John and Jane Dow.
Reza Aslan narrated the audiobook himself. I couldn’t help to think of the fervour of Shane Clayborne while listening to Aslan. He read with zeal. It comes across that this Jesus that he has constructed is really the Jesus he believes in and defines his understanding of how to follow him.
This is one of those books that you might need to take note of. It could shape popular opinion about who Jesus is or was for some time to come. Listen to it with a critical ear.
If you want a fairly easy follow-able version of the Gilgamesh epic without the endless repetions in the text, but true in most other aspects to the epic and read by an extraordinary narrator, I strongly recommend Stephen Mitchell's English rendition of "Gilgamesh."
It is not a translation of the Akkadian standard version or the Old Babylonian fragmentary version of Gilgamesh, but a retelling of the story in trimeter stichoi. That said Stephen Mitchell, a poet, translator and reteller of some fame, captures the essence and even the details of the Gilgamesh epic splendidly. He follows the standard Akkadian version of the text, but where it seems too fragmentary he supplements it with the Old Babylonian and Sumerian versions. He has used seven different academic translations of the Gilgamesh epic which he conservatively combined into one text. Thereafter he wrote it over in verse form. This thorough treatment of the story, makes it an excellent version to listen to even as a scholar. It is very accessible. It is meant to feel authentic.
I am of the opinion that George Guidall as choice of narrator is spot on. He is an outstanding narrator whom delivers once again. (I think his performance is on par with his reading of Eli Wiezel's Night.)
After the story of Gilgamesh is narrated an essay by the author is read by another narrator (whose name has slipped me). It is an overview and interpretation of the epic by Stephen Mitchell. Most of the content is rock-solid information, though I am not sure if he is always spot-on with his analysis of the epic. Be that as it may, it is not enough to default him on a single star, as this is truly a magnificent version of the ancient Gilgamesh Epic.
If you are not sure if you should buy it, because it is not a strict translation, I can heartily recommend it. I admire Mitchell's ability to resurrect the ancient epic of Gligamesh so that it can be relevant today.
I have heard various re-imaginings of different fairy-tales. What Marissa Meyer is doing with the well loved stories from childhood is something special. She weaves it together in such a clever way that one might think it should never have been separated.
Don't get me wrong, the Lunar Chronicles is not a strict retelling of the classics. It is the tales stripped down to the bare minimum and woven into a post-apocalyptic futuristic setting (after the fourth World War) in which both the earth and the moon are inhabited by the human race. However, there are significant differences between the "earthens" and the "lunars". The lunars have evolved into a sub-species with some special abilities, part of which is interfering with the bio-energetic fields of other "earthens" Like in the classic fairy-tales seeing is not always believing, but in a more sinister way.
The classic fairy-tales are used by Meyer to tell the story of princes Selene, a dethroned cyborg princess, who only after realising who she is, must decide if she will take up her inherited role thus fighting of the lunar threat of Levana, the dictator queen of Luna (the moon). Marissa Meyer blends Sci-Fi, Fantasy and classic fairy-tales into something that might have an equivalent in DC Comic's Fables.
There is enough elements from the fairy-tales, to expect that the story-line will reflect the pace, plot and intrigue of the "original" tales, but also enough new elements to keep you guessing. I caught myself comparing the Scarlet constantly to the classical Red Riding Hood.
Yet, in some ways the Red Riding Hood you will meet is more like Sookie Stackhouse in the beginning than the "innocent" little girl in tamed versions of the story. (I would not be surprised if "True Blood" inspired Meyer's version of the lovely girl with the red cape.)
I thought the way Scarlet linked to the previous book in the Lunar Chronicles was cleverly done. When Meyer foreshadows something, so far in the series, you must take it just as serious as when George R.R. Martin is doing it. (I hope this technique does not become so predictable as the later works of Trudi Canavan.) Currently this is where the most entertainment value lies in this story. The foreshadowing is cleverly thought through. In the Lunar Chronicles that which is, is not what is seems to be... For me, this is the stuff of real fairy-tales and this is where the power of the story lies thus far.
Rebecca Soler's reading is superb. She has the ability of changing her voice to create a mind picture of what she is narrating, though her accent is clearly American. She brings the characters to life in very convincing ways.
This series might do for fairy-tales what Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series did for vampires. It might recast them in the mind of Global Culture so that one cannot talk about the subject matter without referring to it. The story might be focused on adolescents, but is entertaining enough to entrance everyone. Thus far, I am enjoying Marissa Meyer's refreshing take on some of the classic fairy-tales.
I enjoyed this clever take on an all-too-well-known fairy-tale. Playing the story of against the classical Cinderella brought some intriguing surprises and clever use of misdirection along.
In stead of the idea "And they lived happily ever after" this story is a fitting introduction to a whole series. It is in the same league as Orson Scott Card's novels that launches a whole series.
Her reading, while with an American accent was superb.
No, it did not. It is an enjoyable adventure with some suspense.
Don't expect an updated Cinderella. While most of the Cinderella-type elements are there, this story is set after the Fourth World War. It blends the future with fantasy. I am not sure if we have to do with Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Marissa Meyer challenges the traditional lines of genres and comes up with a convincing debut novel. A relaxing, well-worth listening, cleverly thought-out story.
The most important insight I gained from Prof David Brakke’s “Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas” is that without Christianity’s fling with ancient Gnosticism the concept of the Trinity of God might not have come to full realisation. In the course he doesn’t say it, but when you think about it, it seems highly probable.
Though for most part Prof Brakke’s lectures follows the standard format of introducing Gnosticism in all its varieties, his contextualisation in the last two lectures, brought a different dimension to what one usually can expect of such courses. For that I commend this course series.
When listening to the lectures you will be introduced to Irenaeus, an early heresy hunter and church father. You will learn something of what other scholars calls “Sethian/Classic” Gnosticism (which includes their myth and an overview of the Gospel of Judas). You will also hear about Valentinus and Valentinian Christianity; the famed Gospel of Thomas and its relation to Gnosticism; the unifying teachings of Mani and Manichaeism; non-Christian Gnosis like devotion to Hermes Trismegistus and you will be given an overview of the beliefs of the Mandaeans. At the end Gnostic ideas will be linked to popular culture and films, such as The Matrix trilogy and Blade Runner.
Prof. Brakke has a way of breaking down difficult concepts and myths in congestible parts through succinct summaries. This facilitates easy understanding. Some of the lectures build on each other. At the end of the course you will understand the basic structure of various related Gnostic traditions.
Yet there are things about this course that I would have liked different. For one, Prof. Brakke’s pronunciation of Greek, Coptic and Hebrew are extremely Americanised. I found it very difficult to follow him when he referred to something in these languages and quoting it. I even got the impression that he might not know any of the languages he referred to. I think that using standard academic pronunciation will tremendously help me as a listener to follow him better. I am thinking of words like “psyche” and “trismegistus.”
I think the name of the course is a bit of a misnomer. Prof. Brakke doesn’t end with “The Gospel of Judas” but deals with it quite early on in the lecture series. Maybe the series should also have been called “Gnosticisms” as Prof. Brakke is of the opinion that only Sethian Gnosticism is true Gnosticism. He is not part of the older school that used Gnosticism as an umbrella term.
This aside, if you want to know what ancient Gnosticism is all about, why it was seen as heretical in the early Christian Church and what it entails, then this course is for you.
In six 30 minutes lectures Prof. C. Nathan DeWall from the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky, USA, gives an overview of "self-control." Throwing the net wide he starts of with the idea that it is easy to want to do something or want to restrain from doing it, yet when push comes to shove you find that you have not had enough self-control to do it. He then moves on to convince you that the good and bad role models in your life equals respectively those who were able to exercise tremendous self-control energy and those who were unable to do so. He uses various American and International examples. Was it not for Nelson Mandela that was mentioned somewhere, I wouldn't have anyone to relate to.
Be it as it may, I found lectures 4 and 5, "Taming the impulsive Beast" and "First Impressions and Stereotypes" the most interesting part of the course. He actually gave some practical exercises to help you exercise and develop your own treasury of self-control energy. Some of the experiments he referred to was also very interesting. It made me think a lot, especially how important it is for our brain to "box" people and things in order to understand the reality within which we live.
However, the course felt for me more of a self-help course, than a pure scientific approach to self-control. It felt also very short.
So by the way, this might be one of the very few Great Courses where the audio only lecture might be better than the video enhanced version. It does seem that the visual aids are a bit overdone on the video course.
So if you want a to-the-point self-help approach with a scientific underlay this course will be spot on. For me, it was interesting, but it's universality came into play already in lecture two when Prof. DeWall used examples of people with self-control within a generally American set-up. Still the psychological underlay (I suppose especially cognitive Psychology and Neuro-linguistic programming) made it worth it while.
When hearing this course' title "Great Figures of the New Testament," I conjured up an image of someone discussing some literary figures from the New Testament. What I found was surprisingly and excitingly different. Prof. Amy-Jill Levine, the well-known Jewish New Testament Scholar, gives an important overview of of various characters and historical figures from the Christian New Testament. On the one hand you will meet the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, while you will also learn of Peter, Herod the Great, Paul, Josephus and various other historical figures. She asks "Who is who in the first century living in and around Palestine?"
If you thought that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, you might be surprised to find out that she wasn't. Prof. Levine is not hesitant to dissect the layers of tradition that surrounds various of the historical figures she presents in this course. She presents her insights and that of other scholars in a non-threatening way while minimising typically scholarly jargon. If I did not know that she was Jewish, I might never have guessed it, the way she presented it. She brings together a vast array of knowledge about different figures, that enables the listener to think differently about various topics.Her careful phrasing of ideas and sentences makes this course very accessible. Her respect for her subject matter is praiseworthy.
If you want a critical overview of the New Testament, this course comes highly recommended. She is very fair in most of her comments her unique blend of historical-critical scholarship and literary analysis of texts shines through. Her redeeming of the Jews and of females are also two important aspects that shines through in these lectures.
I heartily recommend this course, if you need an overview of the New Testament. Prof. Levine gives profound insights throughout this course. Some of it will keep your mind occupied for some time.
Niall Ferguson’s book “Civilization: The Six Killer Apps of Western Power” summarises itself in its title. The book’s organisation is simple straightforward and to-the-point. In his introduction, Ferguson states, that he wants “… to show that what distinguished the West from the Rest – the main springs of global power – were six identifiably novel complexes of instructions and associated ideas and behaviours.” He borrows from computer language cleverly calling these “complexes” “the six killer apps” that “allowed a minority of mankind originating on the western edge of Eurasia to dominate the world for the better part of 500 years.”
Ferguson then sets out to discuss the six “apps” methodically (one per chapter) and concludes with a final chapter asking if these “apps” are still needed? What about the Rest (the West’s rivals), will one of them supersede it? The killer apps that he discusses are: 1) Competition, 2) Science, 3) Property rights, 4) Medicine, 5) The consumer society and 6) The work ethic.
While simplifying the structure, the content that Ferguson relays are must less of a simplification. Here he keeps his listeners engaged by interesting quotes (usually juxtaposed to give two different takes on an “app”), facts, figures and cleverly thought-out phrases that make his conclusions memorable. Two of the most interesting phrases for me in the chapter on work ethic, are “God was love, as the bumper stickers said, after all. At one and the same time, America was both born again and porn again.” and “Now it’s not your kicks you get on Route 66; it’s your crucifix.” (Both phrases are here quoted without its proper context. Ferguson is discussing the Protestant Work Ethic that took root in Springfield in the United States of America.)
In short, Niall Ferguson brilliantly conveys his argument. Using choice language he makes a powerful argument which makes it easy to follow, especially if you are listening to the audio version of this work. Dazzling the listener with cleverly formulated phrases, he made it very difficult for me to discern his book critically (even though I live in a country where Mahatma Ghandi’s insights on government are often revered, because of its struggle sentiment.) It is just so well written!
While the printed version of this book might be illustrated with maps, graphs or photos, you gain enormously in the audio version in that Niall Ferguson reads his work himself. Unexpectedly he does a jolly good job of it. Often authors are not the best narrators of their books. One thing that stood out was how he used different voices and accents to deal with the numerous quotes he made in the book. By doing so, he kept my attention and where I might start to opt out, his voice caught it again.
If you consider listening to it, I would advise to let Ferguson’s prose, facts and insights guide you while his voice mesmerise you. He is after all the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University. It is indeed a ‘tour de force’ that vindicates the West’s colonial ambitions only to the extent necessary while being blunt about its atrocities! This is an excellent way in enlivening history and giving it a practical application. This book is not only interesting, it is one of those titles that sets the stage for further discussion on the role of the West and the Rest in our contemporary global society.
What happens when a secularised Jesuit (turned Episcopalian, then leaving the faith) writes a theography about the ever unchanging God of the Jews and the Christians? A literary critic uses literary criticism to introduce the reader/ listener to God as an ever changing character. This is how prof. Jack Miles' book "God: A Biography" happens.
Immediately you might have realised that this book is not a book for the Religious Fundamentalist, neither for the seeker of God's face. Using the insights of historical-criticism when analysing God's character, Miles introduces God in a way you might not have thought of him before. I find the approach fresh and daring.
What I kept on asking myself, while listening to the book, was, "Would I have analysed it in the same way?" My answer to myself is, "Probably not." Not because of my different religious outlook, but because I interpret certain key passages differently. Maybe also because I would not have taken the same liberty as Miles take from time to time.
For example, when God reveals himself as "Eyeh asher eyeh" (I am that I am) Miles prefer to read it "Eyeh asher eweh" (I am what I do). This seems to me a highly speculative reconstruction not asked by the text. Trying to give God a human-like life, Miles falls back on some (sometimes extensive) artistic license to give God flesh. He also does it in accordance with the Jewish Tanach arrangement of books of the Old Testament.
His daring an courage makes an interesting listen, that can be heartily recommended to open minded, progressive or liberal Christians and Jews... as well as atheists and agnostics. It might sound like blasphemy to more evangelical or conservatively inclined Christians.
Michael Prichard does a fair job in reading this book. He clearly does not know Hebrew, though it is not often referred to or quoted in this book.
This book is set to challenge the status quo of traditional beliefs, though the author denies it. Realising that God is more than omnipotent and omnipresent might just bring you to insights about who God is, insights that you didn't expect. I highly recommend the book but suggest that you approach it with an open mind.
If you are Anglican or Episcopalian this book might just be the right book for you. Dealing with Baptism, Eucharist, the Bible and Prayer, Archbishop emeritus Dr. Rowan Williams gives an overview of what it means to be a Christian, therefore the title is appropriate.
Each subject focus on a very basic and easy to understand concept of baptism, the Eucharist, the Bible and prayer. I found the subject matter very basic.
Maybe this is the type of book for newly converted Christians. It is pious, though engaging, basic though to the point.
I admire Orson Scott Card's (OSC) bravery in bringing together various strands of time together in one big bang. Building on the previous two novels OSC Rigg and his friends successfully stops the visitors from destroying the planet Garden, but only after failing in some time-lines.
OSC explores in this novel with developing the same character in different ways at different times and bringing the different versions of the same character together to join forces against the enemy. While I admire this approach, I got lost in al the entanglements and time-streams that the characters felt a bit shallow at times. It is as if they developed but still stayed too much the same.
I am not sure who will find this book enjoyable, maybe die-hard fans of OSC. I do believe that it might not be everybody's cup of tea. For me, having so much time-travel back and forth in time, ensured that I got lost.
I think this book is a far cry from Ender's Game.
Kirby Heyborne, Emily Rankin and Stefan Rudnicki did a great job of narrating the story.
If you have nothing to do and a lot of time to kill, are not so much worried about a good plot, maybe this could be one of the books you might consider listening too.
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