Archive for category Reading
That’s right, folks. I am going through my library and parting with some volumes. This doesn’t happen very often. If you want one of the books, just leave a comment and I will contact you to get your mailing address. (I don’t recommend leaving your mailing address in the comments because the spambots love unprotected personal information.)
The available books are, in alphabetical order by author:
Batterson, Mark. Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity
Bell, James Stuart (editor). From the Library of A.W. Tozer: A Selection from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey
Crabb, Larry. Real Church: Does It Exist? Can I Find It?
Davis, Ken. Happily ever Laughter: Discovering the Lighter Side of Marriage
Eldredge, John. Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Revised and Expanded)
Ham, Steve. In God We Trust: Why Biblical Authority Matters for Every Believer
Harris, Alex & Harris, Brett. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations
Lucado, Max. Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear
Stanley, Andy. The Principle of the Path.
Sweet, Leonard. Out of the Question…Into the Mystery
Sweet, Leonard & Viola, Frank. Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ
Townsend, John. Where Is God?
These are all like new condition. I might have cracked them once or twice, and I think I might have actually read one or two of them, but they’re just collecting dust. My books are my friends, but these are more like casual acquaintances. Like I said, they’re yours for the asking. Just leave a comment.
If you’re wondering where I get a lot of the information that I share about the Late Bronze Age and Israel, it is from William Dever. Dr. Dever was the professor of Near East Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. His book Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? is, to me at least, a modern classic.
When it comes to the Monarchy period or Early Iron Age Israel, I get a lot of my chronological data from Gershon Galil’s book The Chronology of the Kings of Israel & Judah. (Yes, I own it. No, I did not pay $165 for it.) Dr. Galil is Senior Lecturer in Biblical History in the Department of Jewish History at the University of Haifa, Israel.
These two works are by far my favorite books on Ancient Israel, although I own a great many others and have read far more.
I am re-reading Steven Sample’s book, Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership which my friend Rob gave to me several years ago. Sample is the current president of USC and a former president of SUNY-Buffalo, and a very successful leader in business.
One of the points that Sample makes is that he surrounds himself with a small group of leaders who are required to express their real agendas. This sound so simplistic, but in reality it is a tremendously beneficial practice.
It is something that I am working on developing in my own leadership style. Everyone has an agenda. A lot of times, they don’t even realize that they do. The trick is to get people to acknowledge what they bring to the table.
It is easy to spell out your own plans and agenda, but you have to recognize that people will filter your words through their own agenda. If you know what their agendas are, you can be prepared to get people to see beyond them and work together with shared values.
I have been remiss in my task of reviewing Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. I apologize for not getting the sections of the review out, but I have had a lot going on lately.
Last night, I finished up reading the book and I think I am missing something. Everyone was talking about how controversial the chapter “Can We ______?” was because it addressed sexual matters openly.
Maybe I am just hardened from my years of ministry, but I did not find the content of that chapter all that controversial. The Driscolls discuss some sexual behaviors and whether couples are free to indulge in them. For the most part, they drew what I consider a normal line. They wrote things I have thought were common sense.
Now, I am aware that there are a lot of camps in Christianity that behave as if sex is an awful thing you should be embarrassed about. I guess I am just so distant from those groups that I forget the exist from time to time.
Last week, Mark and Grace appeared on The View – that bastion of wisdom and clear thinking (sarcasm) – and I thought Mark summarized things better in five minutes than he could have in this book. When one of the women on the show asked Mark about a particular sexual practice, he said, “I’m not going to put on a striped shirt and blow a whistle for you in your bedroom. That’s between you and your husband.”
That summarizes my view on sexual practices, I think. I am not ashamed of the fact that the Scriptures teach that sex is reserved for the monogamous, heterosexual relationship we call marriage. In that relationship, do whatever keeps that relationship sexually and spiritually (I think in marriage, they’re the same thing, but I digress) engaged. Don’t draw others into that relationship (even in print or on film), but whatever takes you and your spouse deeper into your physical commitment and fulfillment – embrace it.
If you want more details, well – you’re out of luck.
So, while I agreed with the Driscolls, I did not understand why the book was controversial. Is it a good book? Sure, parts of it are ok. It was badly edited, but the content was mostly good. Is it revolutionary? I don’t think it was. It certainly wasn’t for me. But it might be a good tool for those who are struggling with the questions they address and don’t have the biblical literacy to study the Scriptures themselves without a starting point.
The Palace of Susa
The book of Esther gives us a glimpse into the palaces of Susa, the residence of the Kshatriya Kshatriyanamah – the King of Kings. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Persian empire was organized in such a way that regional governors were often the legitimate kings and rulers of those regions and the Persian emperor was “King of Kings.”
His official residence was at Susa, about 250 miles east of the Tigris River in the lower Zagros Mountains of what is now Iran. Although the Persian kings spent much of their time on military campaigns or administrating the vast bureaucracy of the other three capital provinces, Susa was the main palace and his residence during the winter months.
Darius I built a major palace there, founded on bedrock and built to last. The palace was damaged badly in a fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I but was subsequently rebuilt. It then lasted for nearly 1500 years before being razed by Mongol invaders in 1213 CE.
The entire narrative of the book of Esther takes place within or around the grounds of this palace. According to A.T. Olmstead, Xerxes had a large harem constructed for his queen Amestris to the west of the treasury building. Since it was not uncommon for Persian rulers to have hundreds of sexual partners (wives would being generous toward them) and all these women and their families were kept as part of the king’s household, it may very well be that all of Susa was occupied with harems. The site itself is not very large at all.
Vashti the Queen
The entire Esther narrative revolves around her predecessor’s refusal to appear before King Ahasuerus during a party he was throwing. This lends weight to the idea that Susa was primarily the king’s pleasure palace. It consisted largely of his harem and his banqueting facilities; and since it was his winter palace, it makes sense.
But who was this queen?
Historically, we may never know the true identity of Vashti, if she was indeed a historical person; because we cannot be certain of the identity of Ahasuerus. But we can extract a little bit from the Esther narrative.
The name Vashti derives from the Old Persian word for “beautiful.” This derivation is supported by the way in which Ahasuerus calls for her to appear so that he could show the assembled group of men “her beauty.”
It is important that we understand what Ahasuerus asks. He calls for seven eunuchs to bring her to him in her “royal crown.” This is a euphemism, and it implies that she would be brought before the men and then Ahasuerus would “show her beauty” by stripping her and having sex with her. It was meant to be a demonstration of his virility and power, and most likely would have been violent and humiliating for her. The idea would have been to impregnate her in front of his subordinates.
That Vashti refused is remarkable. There are a couple of possible reasons for this.
One reason may be simply biological. If Vashti was – to put it delicately – “sexually unavailable” due to a couple of female biological processes, that would be a legitimate reason to refuse the summons. (If you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about, ask your mother. She’ll explain it to you.) But a Persian woman would have been practically bred to serve the king, no matter her feelings on the matter or whether she was in midst of biological processes.
It may demonstrate that she was most likely not a Persian woman herself. This type of subjugating marriage was unknown in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and Greece, and it is possible that she was a captive or a descendant of a captive from those western regions.
The Achaemenid Persians had something of an identity crisis. Although they were rulers of the world at the time, they were descendent from mountain sheep herders, living on the mountainous edge of the great kingdoms of Babylon and Assyria. They wanted to be greater than Babylon (Darius refused the title of King of Babylon, giving it to a lesser satrap), but their culture was far from refined.
The Persians were barbarians in silk. They asserted their riches by glamorous shows like the party Ahasuerus throws and through subjugating the women of conquered races. When the Greeks under Alexander took Susa in around 330 BCE, they found enormous wealth; but they were astonished by the mistreatment of the women in the harem.
Vashti was not loved, and she was not joined to Ahasuerus in what we would consider a marriage. She was nothing more than a beautiful accessory for making sons. Failing that, the king had no purpose for her.
I write all of this to provide a caution about reading Esther. Moralizers want to make the episode between Vashti and Ahasuerus into a narrative about marriage or drunkenness. In reality, it is just a depiction of palace life in Susa. We must be careful in reading this narrative not to eisogete some kind of moral themes.
As a bit of a history nut and a pastor, I tend to read anything that deals with the historicity of Jesus. There are some great books out there, and there is some real garbage. Unfortunately, the garbage is usually published by the big names, so it is usually packaged better than the quality stuff. Most of the literature once subject is high on delivery and impact, but low on scholarship and objectivity.
Craig Evans’s little book Jesus and His World strikes a solid balance between being academic and popular. It is a well-written presentation of both well known and obscure evidence for the veracity of the Gospels. Evans combines modern archaeology with biblical, rabbinical and secular readings. The result is a satisfying of not necessarily exhaustive study of the subject.
Particularly, he responds to three main ideas:
1. Jesus’ hometown was an uncultured backwater
2. Jesus was illiterate, living in a largely illiterate world
3. The religious practices of the Jews of Jesus’ day do not match the gospels.
In each question, Evans presented substantial evidence, leaving room where evidence is unclear.
It is clear from the beginning that Evans is writing this book to respond to some of the current trends in Jesus scholarship, and he takes a reactive stance throughout the book. I felt that Evans does a good job of offering an overview of evidence that may discredit the pop theories from books like Bart Ehrmann’s Misquoting Jesus and John Dominic Crossan’s Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. While certainly not a definitive work on the subject and not really presenting any truly original ideas, the book does a good job of covering the basics.
This morning, I thought I would follow up with some posts about the book of Esther, beginning with the king Ahasuerus who figures so prominently in the story.
The name Ahasuerus appears in only two places outside of the book of Esther, and it is completely absent from contemporary history. This is surprising because of the extent of the known records of the day.
That we don’t know who he is may very well have been the intention of the author. Most sources say that the name (ACHAŠ-VĒRÔŠ in Aramaic) means “silent one” or “poor one” but it is also a play on the Persian title for ruling. In the Persian empire, the prefix ACHAŠ- indicates the administrative power of the king. For example, the provincial governors were called ACHAŠ-DARPĀN. Since I don’t speak Persian (or own any sources on it), I am not sure of its exact meaning but the play on words is unavoidable.
In Daniel 9:1, the text says that Babylon was captured by “Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes”. But Xenophon, writing in the 4th century BCE, says that Babylon was captured by a general named Gobryas.
The name Darius means quite literally “the good guy”, so it is likely that Daniel’s narrative is using the name as a label rather than as an actual regnal name. We might paraphrase it as “The good guy, son of a ruler no one would know of the Medes.”
If that is the case, it sets a precedence for the use of the name Ahasuerus as a literary title rather than as a name. Daniel is not so concerned about providing a historically verifiable name for the guy because he was not really the king. He was simply governor of Babylon at the time.
Esther’s Ahasuerus is obviously a different person, since the events of the book would have taken place much later, but it is very possible that the name is being used more in the sense of “someone no one would know” rather than as a proper name.
Commentators are always trying to equate Ahasuerus with someone. This is a mistake, in my opinion. There is every possibility that the Esther narrative is intended to fit in-between the official story, dealing with an easily forgettable and insignificant king.
The name does appear in one other place, in Ezra 4:6 where he is sandwiched between Darius the Great (522-486 BCE) and Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE). Since this period corresponds with the reign of Xerxes I, some modern translations of the Scriptures substitute Xerxes for Ahasuerus.
Much of the first decade of Xerxes’ reign was consumed with crushing a rebellion in Babylon and then invading Greece. He was a very active ruler who was always with the armies.
Beside that, we know that Xerxes’ chief wife was named Amestris, Xerxes’ first cousin. Although the chroniclers considered her a bad person (even crediting her with human sacrifice), there is no indication that she wasa Jew.
These involvements would have made it impossible for Xerxes to have married Esther. Even if he is the Ahasuerus of Ezra, he is not the Ahasuerus of Esther.
Thus, we have the title Ahasuerus applied to no fewer than two people in the Achaemenid (Persian) empire who are not the Ahasuerus of Esther. So, who was he?
First, we need to suggest the very real possibility that the author of Esther does not have a particular king in mind. It is possible that Esther does not contain history but rather is a dramatic enactment – using composite characters to represent major geopolitical themes. This kind of suggestion always upsets people, but it is possible that God could have inspired the book as a dramatic representation instead of as a historical record.
But if Esther is a historical book, there is no reason for Ahasuerus to be one of the great Achaemenid kings. He may very well have been one of the less significant kings who ruled late in the empire, which may account for the use of the title Ahasuerus – that this is an insignificant king. He could have even been a weak usurper of some kind.
On Tuesday mornings, there is a ladies’ Bible study that meets in the teen center – right next to my office. Most Tuesdays, I don’t get into my office until later in the day, but this week I was there because I had a hospital visit that got pushed up. I had a chance to listen to the ladies reading part of the book of Esther, and they started to act out the text with different ladies playing different characters. They did voices, some of which made them laugh.
Whether they knew it or not, the ladies were reading the text exactly as it was intended to be read – playing out with characters and interaction. As I was pouring my coffee, it made think about the idea of literal readings of the Scriptures and the video from N.T. Wright that I posted earlier this week.
How do you read a book like Esther that was intentionally written to be a dramatic presentation? Some people read this kind of book as history, and others dismiss them as fanciful concoctions.
Remembering that we need to read the Scriptures as they were intended and not as we intend them, we must carefully consider Esther’s content and intent.
So, for all your Bible students out there, use the comments below or an article on your own blog to argue for whatever view you hold to.
One of the great things about living in Southern New Hampshire is access to GMILCS – that’s Greater Manchester Interlibrary Catalog System for the uninitiated. GMILCS is a network of over twenty libraries, including a couple of college libraries, that pool their resources and allow their patrons almost unfettered access to them. Need a book? Request it online and within a couple of days it will be waiting for you at your local branch. Want to download an ebook or an audiobook? Odds are you can get one for immediate download.
This is a far cry from the days when I would sit in the Belvidere Public Library where my sister was a page. I had an orange library card with a metal impression number, and when I wanted to get an interlibrary loan, I had to fill out a form and wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive. I love our libraries.
Most recently, I downloaded Uranium by Tom Zoellner. Just a couple of clicks on my phone and the files download directly. I can do the same thing with my iPad, but my phone is more convenient – even if the audio quality is sometimes iffy.
Here’s a subject I thought I knew a lot about but really knew nothing about. Uranium’s history is fascinating. I learned about interesting places like Joachimstahl in what is now the Czech Republic and Shinkakolobwe in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), as well as some interesting people. Some were genius, some were ruthless, but all were interesting.
Did you know that the USA and the USSR spent tens of TRILLIONS of dollars on nuclear weapons we never used? Or that a rogue Pakistani nuclear physicist named Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan is responsible for the mess of nuclear centrifuges that exist in places like Libya and Iran? Or that Israel has never signed the Nuclear Proliferation Pact and refuses to acknowledge that they possess nuclear weapons – called the worst kept secret in the intelligence community?
Uranium changed the world several times. It brought power and it brought destruction. It’s existence and use is part of the reason that cancer numbers have skyrocketed across the world (and believe it or not, is probably indirectly responsible for my wife’s cancer). Zoellner’s book is a great overview of uranium’s effect on our world. It is worth a read, or a listen.
And if you live in the Greater Manchester area and don’t take advantage of our extraordinary library network, you don’t know what you’re missing.