Archive | January, 2013

Mini-Pile #3 “Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle” by Ervin Hershberger

30 Jan

The original review is found “Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle”  http://www.amazon.com/review/R1VHFOAF9LO7B8/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

“Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle” is one of a pair of books that I bought from the “Choice Books” kiosk at the grocery store I work in. I picked this book up because it appeared to be a study of the Tabernacle a structure of vast spiritual and symbolical significance in the life of Israel.  It turned out not to be as detailed as I I first thought it was. Nonetheless it is helpful in seeing the Tabernacle as more than just a historical curiosity.

Ervin Hershberger desires his reader to see Christ in all things, and especially in that most Jewish of structures the Tabernacle -the Tent of Meeting that the Israelites made at the command of the Lord after their flight from Egypt, and carried with them through the subsequent 40 years sojourn in the desert, and well into the formative period of their occupation of the Promised Land, until the building of the First Temple by King Solomon, at which the levitical priests daily performed the appointed sacrifices to the Lord God of Israel.

His is a simple book without intrusive footnotes, elaborate bibliographies or foreign sounding and oddly spelled words. Included between its pages are a Foreword, a Preface, a section “Introducing the Tabernacle”, 12 chapters covering the various structures, furnishings, articles, coverings, and spaces within the Tabernacle, as well as the persons who served it and the actions that occurred in and around its sacred precincts.

As Hershberger writes: “The story of the Tabernacle reaches deeper than the earth, higher than the sky, and farther than the universe. Its humble features represent none of these but, but they represent the Creator of them all, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (p12).

Every chapter in the book is aligned to showcase “God’s masterpiece of typology, the Tabernacle” (p11). The book is not, however, primarily intended as a study of the Tabernacle in and of itself -you will find no extra-biblical source material used to discuss its history for example- instead, Hershberger’s purpose is to “praise, adore, and glorify Jesus Christ, of whom the Tabernacle is only a shadow” (ibid), while gently prodding the reader to “Remember that we do not use types to establish doctrine, but only to illustrate what the Bible clearly teaches” as a constant refrain throughout the book. A longer introductory section on typology charting the difference between ‘establishing doctrine’ and ‘illustrating what the Bible clearly teaches’ would have been more helpful, but is not essential for Hersberger’s task.

Straining the gnat?

While the book does fill a niche as a devotional meditation focusing solely on the Tabernacle with a commitment to see every last detail as a type of Christ (whether or not such typifying is only illustrating established teaching), it occasionally stretches credulity (and the author’s credibility) in requiring every object (down to the symbolically significant number of stakes, nails, or dimensions), space, person, and action refer only to Christ. This makes a note of caution to the reader in order, as seeing everything about the Tabernacle as only a type and shadow of Christ, combined with an implicit refusal to accept the Tabernacle on its own terms, can be construed as a veiled form of antisemitism, and as a devaluing of the Tabernacle itself as the chosen place of meeting between God and His chosen people. Moreover Hershberger’s style of a direct one-on-one comparison of a specific element of the Tabernacle and its relation to a similar element of the work of Christ becomes monotonous after a while even in as short a text as this one, so multiple readings may become necessary to achieve the fullest benefit of the book’s potential.

Useful but Limited

It remains a useful reference work for deepening one’s appreciation of the Scriptures, of tieing the ‘Old’ to the ‘New’ Testaments. A few references and allusions to Rapture might mar the text for the non-Dispensationalist minded believer, and certainly a Jewish reader can feel put out by the claim that: “The Tabernacle and all its features, the priests and all their services, the multiple sacrifices and all their rituals were only a foreshadowing of the coming ministry of Jesus Christ!” (p.98) but overall, these considerations should not take away the value of seeing in the Tabernacle a type of Christ Jesus, and of the Heavenly Third Temple.

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Pile #10 On Basilisk Station” by David Weber

28 Jan

“On Basilisk Station” http://www.amazon.com/review/R2D2NRHI1LFE6K/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

This is the first in the “Honor Harrington” series of novels by David Weber that follows the life and career of Honor Harrington, -a very capable female officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore,  located far beyond our solar system some two thousand years in the future.

A lot of people poo-poo David Weber because he hasn’t (yet) won any awards for  his science-fiction.  I think this is a shame, and those who do so without reading him are denying themselves a real pleasure, for Weber brings technology, tactics, politics and people together to provide an internally consistent and coherent story universe, within a fully realized world to enjoy.

“On Basilisk Station” is first and foremost a military tale, with clashing empires, massive navies, personal heroism and even countervailing internal political strife, even if at first glance nothing seems to happen. In fact, the first third of the book can appear deceptively slow, not to mention “dull, boring and tedious” to readers who expect action to reign in a book from start to finish without a breather, especially in a book dedicated to C.S. Forester of “Horatio Hornblower” fame. The apparent slowness, however is what sets the stage for the rest of the series.

The prologue introduces both the long range and immediate story plots: the almost certain war between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven -an expansionist minded polity desperate to keep afloat a deteriorating socio-economic situation at home, and the current covert-military operation that Haven is attempting to pull off to stack the decks in its favor when the inevitable war happens.

What to do about Honor?

As the story proper opens, Honor has been given command (her second hyper-capable command slot) of the light cruiser H.M.S. Fearless. There’s just one catch: for an upcoming Fleet Exercise, her ship is tasked with field testing a new weapon system (to the detriment of its conventional armament). After demonstrating the inherent vulnerability of said system while scoring an early ‘victory’ in the Exercises, Honor is hustled off to one of the least attractive postings in the entire Navy, the backwater that is Basilisk Station. Upon arrival an even greater snub is awaiting, as the senior officer on station -an unwelcome memory from her academy days- takes the opportunity to return his ship to Manticore for a major refit, leaving Honor’s ship the sole Manticorn naval presence in-system, and responsible for the patrol of the entire star system and its habitable planet in an obvious setup to wreck her career.

Some officers might despair when confronted with such a scenario, but not our Honor Harrington. From stolid yeoman stock, all she knows is that she was given a job to do by her lawful superiors, and that she is there to see it through to completion -no matter how impossible success seems, and despite being hamstrung by the loss of half the Station’s picket strength, a demoralized crew, an uncooperative executive officer, lack of resources, and an unsettled native populace. And so she sets forth, using ingenuity, training and experience (and of course her legal regulatory authority as a naval officer) to put things to right, for the honor of Manticore, the Queen, and the Navy. And it is in the middle of all this activity that a pattern of foreign entanglement begins to show itself, such that Honor finds herself all that stands between her star nation and war. Honor, though is the kind of person who doesn’t know when to give up; she’ll give her all and then some, not shying away from the hard decisions, yet never letting them rest easily on her shoulders.

It is through the thick of battle, as well as in the carrying out of her assigned duties that forms the bulk of the novel, that we see Honor becoming an officer, a character, and a person to respect, the kind of officer that brings out the best in her crew, and a commander that you do not want to let down. Sprinkle in a little good timing, a crew (and civilian administration) that begins to believe in themselves and in her, and seat-of-your-pants missile duels and you get a book that ends with the desire for ‘more Honor, please’ as a reviewer of a later volume says.

Beginning a beautiful friendship

Most of the subsequent volumes follow the pattern set here of a gradual set up -usually with Haven initiating an action, and Manticore -until war truly breaks out- reacting- seen from multiple angles and points of view, political intrigue and the routine of naval life, that leads from to a pulse-racing crescendo of battle scenes, often against great odds, which Honor does not expect to survive, yet manages to pull victory out of desperation, but always, always she is driven by duty -to Queen and country, to her own officers and crew, and to herself. Through the pages you come to know, admire, and eventually love the characters Weber has created, including the plucky little Star Kingdom of Manticore itself.

It is true that the People’s Republic of Haven gets short shrift in this opening novel, but every story needs an obvious ‘bad guy’ for the ‘good guy’ to shine by the contrast of values, actions, and, personnel, but I can assure the interested reader that Haven does not long remain a mere ‘cookie-cutter’ evil empire.

Action?  What Action?  Oh…THAT Action!

A potential problem with On Basilisk Station is that after the Fleet Exercise and Honor’s ‘banishment’ to Basilisk Station, nothing much appears to be happening for the next third of the book (at least one co-worker attempted to read  On Basilisk Station and put it down after only 20 pages. To be far, he does this with any book that doesn’t grab him before 20 pages. I don’t think he likes The Lord of the Rings, for that matter). This is deceptive however, once you realize that what Honor is doing is building up the capabilities and resources of her patrol from scratch. She also has to build up  (or re-build) professional relationships with her crew, the Resident Commissioner, and the shipping that she is to inspect and monitor.  And that’s before trouble with the natives crop up.

From the Top, Please

One downside to the series as a whole is that attention is focused almost totally on the “movers and shakers” of society, Parliamentary intrigue, and of course the Navy. Little time is spared dealing with common life aboard ship (of ratings and NCOs) and the treatment of planet bound general populations is sparse to non-existent; and religion (apart from one obvious example from the second book) seems distant, unrelated to character motivations, and relegated to a private sphere having little or no public consequences -a trend which unfortunately is all to common in science fiction of every stripe. This can lead to the conclusion that economics is the driving force of human history in Weber’s universe.

On the other hand, space opera and naval adventure generally do not often concern themselves with showing every segment of society, so it’s not an absolute obstacle to enjoying the story, though it could possibly be why people dismiss Weber as a ‘serious’ science fiction writer.

Cookie-Cutter Heroes Need Not Apply

My final recommendation: If you are looking for a stand-alone work of military science fiction, this may not be for you, as many persons, and institutions are only briefly touched upon in this opening volume, and not all plot points are resolved.

If, however, you are craving a series that combines political intrigue, galactic panoramas, naval warfare that includes fleet actions as well as hand-to-hand combat, and personal (as well as professional) development over the course of a dozen plus novels and short story collections, and don’t mind the occasional excursus of detail minutiae  that leads to violent consequences, then Weber is your man, and Honor Harrington your woman. (And Nimitz, of course, is your treecat but that’s another story -or two).

My next scheduled Pile is The Highest Tide a fictional reminiscence of a teenage boy’s coming-of-age along the tidal shallows of the Pacific Northwest, the debut novel of Jim Lynch. So until then, keep calm, and read on.

Pile #9 “Freehold” by Michael Z Williamson

23 Jan

Freehold / Michael Z Williamson.   Riverdale, NY: Baen Books. 2004. 667 p.

The original review can be found here:  “Freehold” http://www.amazon.com/review/R19N5R1ILNPKAD/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

“Holding Free”

“Freehold” is yet another in the spate of fast-paced hard military sci-fi to come out of Baen Books in the last two decades, and is itself part of a series of inter-related books written in the Freehold universe by Williamson (though each novel is self-contained, and the series as a whole can be read non-sequentially (chronologically or published order) with the same enjoyment as reading it. as published.

Kendra Pacelli, a sergeant in the UNPF seeks asylum in the Freehold of Granine after being framed in an investigation of embezzled military equipment. She arrives as a refugee, and after a shaky period of cultural acclimatization, begins to find her place in this new society and build a life for herself, just as a cold war with Earth heats up into open conflict, and she finds herself fighting against her own former homeworld.

In this case, the Freehold of Granine is not attempting to hold itself up as a paragon of virtue, or the ultimate Utopia, they just want to be left alone to pursue their own destiny as “a nation of co-operative loners” (p. 228), which is a very apt description of life in the Freehold. Politically, economically, and socially, the Freehold is best described as ‘libertarian’, and very successful in all that they do, as contrasted to Earth under the totalitarian/socialistic rule of the United Nations. And that success is the one thing that Earth cannot stand in the face of its own propaganda.

So what’s the catch?

The Freehold contains a minimalist government (political leadership is predicated on building wealth only to give it away), unregulated capitalism (in every sense of the word) and a live-and-let-live social structure (it is even expected that everyone and anyone will carry personal weapons about their person). The majority religious influence seems to be Goddess based, though the presence of other religions is noted from time to time. With very few laws or regulations, crime, graft and corruption is virtually nonexistent. The one partial exception to this free-wheeling existence is the military, which still maintains a hierarchical, regimented life -though even here Kendra will find major differences in the spirit of discipline and responsibility between her birth planet and her adopted home, usually with the latter coming out the worse for the comparison.

More than half of the book is devoted to Kendra’s life in the military (similar to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and John Scalzi’s An Old Man’s War). Of a 54 chapter (plus epilogue) book, all but 14 directly connects Kendra to the military. Additionally, the major military campaign against the Freehold and it’s Occupation is from chapter 29 to the end.

Everything in Williamson’s book (as in most offerings from the Baen pantheon) is highly realistic -almost hyper-realistic- from its description of combat, military life and training, to passages of sexual liaisons and relationships, which is the one aspect of the book which sits ill with me (the same can be said for John Ringo’s “Kildar” series), and makes this an adult reading experience. The realism serves to push the story forward, and to act as an anchor for contemporary readers, but it can also push the unwary reader away

Another positive aspect for me of reading this type of  hard (military) sci-fi is o want to learn more about things it takes for granted (such as technology and science, economics and economic theory, even philosophy and military science). At the same time, if you don’t leave the Freehold without a few criticisms of social, political or economic policy (both your own and the Freehold’s), then I think you’re not actively reading.

Survey Said..!

Other (Amazon) reviewers either hate him or love him for the implicit message about “libertarian” political economy, and social policy (or lack thereof) and like to compare Williamson’s work (favorably or not) to Robert Heinlein’s work (1). If Williamson is trying to ‘shove’ his political economy and social views down our throat, as one reviewer asserted, he is at least not the first, nor shall he be the last to do so in a a work of fiction (Upton Sinclair’s Jungle comes to mind here), and  at least he goes about it in an entertaining way.   Also, as at least one other  reviewer noted at least implicitly, and hitting upon a truth of science fiction:  it is Ideas, more so than character or plot that take center stage. And quite often, in order to air out the idea properly, you need to take it out of current context and place, thus the future setting (it assists the contemporary reader to achieve the emotional detachment necessary to analyze a concept). Of course, the world wide UN government and the Freehold for all the realistic description, comes off as either “too good to be true” or “too bad to be believable”, but I choose to believe that this was intentional, so that we could see the outcome of the competing ideas in action in as pure form as possible.

All Squeamishness Aside…

As I wrote above, parts of Williamson’s writing are very explicit and sexually graphic, this is something that may or may not change with future works. This may turn some readers off, (I certainly found it off-putting), and yet that too is part of the Freehold mentality: liberty and license as long as it does not hurt anyone else. It’s not a particularly Christian ethical standard, but then the book was not written with a necessarily Christian audience in mind. I can accept that, and still enjoy the story, even if i don’t agree with it’s worldview.

My final thought on the matter: this will not be the last book by Williamson I will read, even if parts of it leave me a little squeamish.

Sources:

  1. Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Freehold http://www.amazon.com/Freehold-Michael-Z-Williamson/product-reviews/0743471792/ref=cm_rdp_hist_hdr_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1  accessed on 21 January 2013

My next Pile is On Basilisk Station by David Weber (you may have heard of him), so until then, keep calm and read on. *why yes this IS a new tagline, why do you ask?*

Pile #8 With the Lightnings by David Drake

22 Jan

With the Lightnings / David Drake. Riverdale, NY: Baen Books. 1999. 416 p. [“RCN Series”]

And you thought I only read and reviewed nonfiction (and mostly religious works at that), didn’t you?

The original review can be found here: 8.  “With the Lightnings” http://www.amazon.com/review/R31RF3NY5N6HA7/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

I have read fiction as much as non-fiction virtually my whole life (though understandably, I’ve been reading fiction longer than non-fiction, what starting as  a child and all).  It just so happens when I began a book review blog, the books most at hand were non-fiction, and that Drake’s With the Lightnings ) was the first fiction book I decided to review (or could lay my hands on at the decision making time (ok, so it was the book with the lowest review count on Amazon of the pile before me that led to my decision to review it first, but it was still the first book I could lay my hands on at the time), though it’s not even the first Drake book that I have read -having first been introduced to him through “Hammer’s Slammers” and his collaborative series with Eric Flint “Belisarius’.

A fast paced tale along with its sequels in the  “RCN” series, With the Lightnings is primarily high quality pukp military sci fi  high adventure in the space lanes.  Drake is skilled at presenting a good military romp (the aforementioned “Hammers’ Slammers”, a fantasy series titled “Lord of the Isles” and numerous stand alone novels attest to that).  Harking back to the sailing days of the 18th and 19th century in a way that David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series doesn’t, Drake presents a rough-and-tumble universe, and doesn’t shy away from placing the nitty-gritty front and foremost in the reader’s face. The feel of the series is like crossing late Republican Rome with the British Navy of the Napoleonic Wars.

Up, Cinnabar!

So then, what is With the Lightnings all about?

Lieutenant Daniel Leary, estranged scion of the Learys of Bantry, is a low ranking officer in the Republic of Cinnabar Navy (read: a freshly minted lieutenant) included in a ‘show the flag’ mission to a ally of the Republic of Cinnabar. Disaster strikes the deputation in the form of a palace coup supported by Cinnabar’s bitterest rival, the Alliance of Free Stars, leaving only himself, his man-servant and a small contingent of sailors from his ship free, along with an exiled Cinnabar native on planet to take up a post as the Electoral Librarian, Adele Mundy (a Mundy of Chatsworth), to keep things from going bad to worse for the Republic. Through a combination of quick wits, personal charisma and leadership on Daniel’s part, along with Adele’s incredible analytical ability (not to mention her ability with a gun) and the crew’s willingness to bust heads,  Daniel and company are able to outwit both native and foreign armies, capture a ship, defeat the enemy, and uphold the honor of the RCN and the Republic. Along the way it could be argued, Adele finds a new family and Daniel a purpose, though it’s not really clear until later volumes how this set of relationships will work out.

“Full of sound and fury, signifying….”

There was no shortage of excitement to be had in the book, and not a small amount of admiration for the abilities of the central characters. And yet, I feel empty after reading of their exploits.  I can read his books for an adrenaline rush but not for understanding the human condition, which is what the best literature does (and yes, even science fiction can be accounted literature on occasion, I think especially of Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell  in this regard -note to self:  make Sparrow a future review). He’s good at describing the human condition, but not explaining it, or overcoming it, at least that is, in the world of the RCN.

A Leary  Without Honor…

Quite frankly, its hard to like, or respect, Lt. Leary as a person.  Coming from an aristocratic family he brings the baggage of aristocracy with him, despite his ability to bond with deck hands. The principles he does have, he holds with adamantine solidity, yet he is equally cocksure in his prejudices, his “us versus them” mentality, and an innate sense of his own personal, and his Republic’s, superiority to other peoples and polities. His intense in natural history adds a little depth, but not enough.

The same judgement can be made for most of the characters: set in their ways, sure of themselves, and of the superiority of their way of life over any other. I can admire their skills their ability to produce when the proverbial fecal matter hits the  rapidly spinning rotary blades, (Adele is a whiz at tickling information out of computers that most people would overlook as insignificant, Hoggs is accomplished at, shall we say, alternative logistics procurement, and Tovera is, well Tovera, though she doesn’t shine  much in this first volume) but all in all, they do not come across as outstanding individuals.  All the characters in this series are very colorful, but flat (true, Daniel is a fairly intense amateur naturalist which also provides Drake a way to introduce discussions of xenobotany and xenobiology, but Daniel doesn’t’ really grow from this exposure).

To be fair, it may not be Drake’s _intention_ to present Daniel and his spacers, Adele, Tovera, and Hoggs or even the Republic of Cinnabar as sympathetic, developing characters (unlike say Weber’s major characters,* they don’t appear to mature as persons: i.e. the Lt. Leary of book one is the same as the Leary of book 4) but I at least expect that main characters will alter some of their perceptions over a multi-year span of adventures, not so here. On the other hand, as the main characters are in their adulthood, their basic personalities are already set, and to expect any basic change

Theirs is a stratified society where family interest and pedigree count for more than personal merit; it is a world where honor counts for more than life -which, in this future time is treated if not callously, as more of a commodity than an end in itself. An example is this line written toward the end of the book, “Adele couldn’t feel sorrow for dead strangers, but the artwork which had shared their destruction made her face tremble to behold.” (p389), and a similar line about Adele’s future hatchet-woman Tovera, who admits that “[T]here is a piece missing” in her life (presumably a sense of direction) who thus has no qualms about using other people to provide “that piece of me that isn’t there” (p390).

And yet for all this, Leary is free of most of the politics that wrap up other characters in other novels and series just like Drake’s writings are relatively free of political intrigue.  What you see is what you get, straight up action.

Leary as mimesis

Other reviewers frequently compare Drake’s work to its inspired model Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Mauritani  series, as well as Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series, and find With the Lightnings wanting. I would submit that just because a famous work of literature inspires a homage, does not mean that the later writer is attempting to copy or improve upon the original. At the same time, highlighting commonalities with Aubrey, or even Hornblower can help to situate the novel’s audience: if you like naval adventure and you like science fiction, and you like action, chances are you’ll like where Drake is going. If you like deep meaningful revelations about human life and destiny mixed in with your adventurous heroes, I advise  you to look elsewhere, although, multiple small shards about what it is to be human do leak out from time to time. It’s possible though I don’t know, that Drake did consciously draw on the form of O’Brian and Forester for his story (and as he acknowledges in later volumes in the series, draws inspiration for, and elements of the plots from actual events in classical history, often, relatively minor ones in terms of overall history).

Last Man Writing: or Drake versus Weber

I realize that in this review I frequently contrast Drake’s Daniel Leary to Weber’s Honor Harrington (the first book of which series, On Basilisk Station is the subject of a future review btw), but that is solely because I think Weber does a better job overall of developing his characters over the long run, not that Drake is an inferior writer. It means also that Drake is an orange, and Weber an apple, having different approaches. Drake’s focus is more on small group interaction even within large scale organizations (which probably owes a lot to Drake’s service in Vietnam), whereas Weber, even when focusing on the command staff of a single ship, does not loose sight of the larger story. Both authors though are equally readable, and devoured as readily.

My next Pile will be Freehold by Michael Z Williamson,  a libertarian science fiction fairy tale, also published by Baen Books. So, until then, keep reading, my friends.

Sources cited:

  1. Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: With the Lightnings http://www.amazon.com/With-Lightnings-David-Drake/product-reviews/0671578189/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1
  2. David Drake -Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Drake

Pile #7 Africa and the Bible by Edwin Yamaguchi

16 Jan

Africa And The Bible / Edwin M Yamauchi.  Foreword by Kenneth A Kitchen. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.  2004.  297 p. Includes bibliographic references and index.  [“Paperback published in 2006”]

The original review is here “Africa and the Bible” http://www.amazon.com/review/R18ATGAOOAKH2R/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

One of the greatest disadvantages that contemporary readers and interpreters of the Jewish and Christian Bible (especially those of us in the Western Hemisphere) have is that we live at vast removes from the nations and times of the biblical text, which leads to a corresponding impoverishing of our understanding of the text and its meaning.  This is especially true of the relation of Palestine and Israel to surrounding nations, in particular the continent we know of as Africa.  But most readers lack the time, inclination, or patience to wade through dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of articles on history, archaeology, and anthropology, not to mention thematic commentaries, basic or specialized encyclopedias  (such as the Anchor Bible Dictionary)  or even, and especially, internet sites such as http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/biblehistorydaily/ to acquire the necessary cultural background, and are usually content to read the text as is.

This does not mean that sources do not exist to help the interested lay-reader, preacher, or academic non-specialist. Many fine works exist, but again it is up to the reader to find and read it, which is where I come in, to present one such work to help the interested reader: Edwin Yamauchi’s Africa and the Bible, published by Baker Academic.  Dr.Yamauchi is professor of history emeritus at Miami University, Ohio.   His main fields of research interest are Ancient History, Old Testament, New Testament, Early Church History (including social and cultural history of early Christianity), Gnosticism, and Biblical Archaeology, which is well displayed in this volume, and the present volume is an outgrowth of research interests throughout his career. In addition to Africa and the Bible, he has written  Persia and the Bible, a companion volume, as well as other books on the archaeology of biblical times including  Archaeology of New Testament Cities in Asia-Minor, and other publications exploring the relationship of the Bible to the lands and people of Antiquity. Pertinent here, he has written extensively on the continent of Africa (among other works, he has edited Africa and Africans in Antiquity (2001).

Investigating and Interpreting Africa

Dr Yamauchi’s book offers to the general non-specialist, non-scholarly reader a volume of essays  that seeks to do three things: 1) explore the archaeological and history behind texts having Africa as a subject (as people or nations),  2) look at exegeses of these passages and 3) trace the ramifications of these exegeses through the centuries.  The first two aims he accomplishes quickly.  The third aim at times veers off and attempts to take over at times, without completely succeeding.

Africa and the Bible offers a taste of scholarship in the fields of archaeology, history and interpretations, and even anthropology, and consists of 8 chapters, an appended book review, a foreword, and a preface which treat of various references to Africans and nations of Africa in the Bible -most notably Egypt and the lands of Kush- along with photographs, maps and other illustrations to enhance the text.

This is however, not a unified narrative, but rather a collection of separate articles (some previously published in other venues) that explore themes of the place of Africa in the Bible.  Additionally, the concluding chapter and appendix concentrate on a contemporary cultural interpretive paradigm named ‘Afrocentrism’ that seeks to shake off an  Aryan (White or European) dominated understanding of history; and, at the least to restore the dignity of black peoples in the march of history, and at the extreme to replace it with an understanding centered on the achievements of Africa and black peoples especially in regard to biblical civilizations and personage.

History, Myth, and Legend in biblical Africa

Within the book, a number of articles debunk old beliefs about African locations for certain biblical personage.  Chapter one explores the strange reception of the “curse of Ham”; Chapter two investigates the identity of Moses’s “Cushite” wife, while chapter three is a discussion of Solomon and Africa, most notably his relations with the Queen of Sheba, and Sheba’s possible correlation with the kingdom of Sabba. Chapter 4 returns to Cushite matters looking at among other things, the Cushite pharaohs  of Egypt.

Chapters 5 and 6 form a pair of articles working with the kingdom of  Meroe in Arabia, and the “Ethopian” eunuch in the book of Acts that St. Philip from whence the Ethopian Church derives its claim to apostolic origins.

Chapter seven is an overview of the history and archaeology of Cyrene, framed around the question whether Simeon of Cyrene was black skinned.

His critical interactions are mainly with the extreme forms of Afrocentrism: a field of studies in which often ‘enthusiasm outruns knowledge’ as Kenneth Kitchen says in the Preface.  This happens in chapter eight, and the appended book review of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena.

The strengths of the book are the care and scholarship displayed in the individual articles, and in the introduction they give the interested reader to the history and environs of Africa of the ancient world in many cases Dr. Yamauchi provides helpful clarification of persons and countries, that provide support for biblical history.  Dr. Yamauchi marshals a great deal of evidence from multiple disciplines, archaeology and history, and one of the highlights of the book is his extensive, 44 page bibliography.

In terms of readability: Dr. Yamuchi is a scholar working with the fields of ancient and classical history, archaeology, anthropology, and biblical interpretation, of necessity he uses footnotes to add additional information not found in the body of the text but useful to the interested reader. At the same time, he takes care not to talk over the head of his potential readers, keeping his technical language to a minimum except for the unavoidable use of Egyptian, Lydian, Cyrenic, Cushite, and other national names and place-names. Anyone with at least a High School education (and perhaps some  brighter Middle School/Junior High School students) should be able to read, and enjoy this book.

Africa or Afro-centrism?

I find the two greatest weaknesses to be the aforementioned lack of a coherent unifying narrative and its lack of an overview article about Africa and the Bible,  and an apparently singular dialogue and focus on ‘Afro-centrism’ as the major alternative interpretative lens that Dr. Yamauchi engages with, which throws off the balance and, to me, appears misplaced in a work that aims to primarily deal with Africa as it was known in biblical times. This is not to say that Afro-centrism is not a worthy subject of study, or that it has no legitimate insights to bring to biblical interpretation. My concern is rather, one and a half chapters and a book review in a volume whose scope is Africa of antiquity and the Bible is not enough space to devote to such an all-embracing subject, nor do I think it was necessarily appropriate to spend as much time as he did it, it’s popularity among African and African-American scholars notwithstanding. The rest of the chapters deal with specific passages, their historical and archaeological contexts and their interpretations. Afro-centrism is an entire interpretative scheme for viewing history, as fulsome as Africa itself, as the foreword itself acknowledges.  Other reviews (most notably those found on Amazon.com) also fault Dr. Yamauchi for spending too much time engaging Afro-Centrism, though interestingly, are divided as to whether he goes far enough in his criticisms or goes too far.

In the final analysis then, “Africa and the Bible” as an introductory survey to the lands of Africa, is a bit unsystematic, and falls short of being a critical introduction to the lands of Africa and their relation to Scripture (but then again, writing a critical introduction was not Dr. Yamauchi’s intention), though it serves well as a companion and background reading. As a reference work on individual texts and references, it can be an invaluable aid for enriching our knowledge of Africa in biblical times, especially with it’s bibliography, but it should not be considered a stand alone reference work.

A caveat for those wondering why this book note: This book came my way via a trip to  “Passages the exhibit’  -a traveling exhibit of the history of in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the publishing of the Authorized Version a/k/a King James Version English translation of the Scriptures. (sponsored by the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame) -and my multiple perusals of the book section of the giftshop. This was one of the books offered for sale, along with Persia and the Bible, (which is on one of my numerous wish lists for future purchases), and I bought it thinking it would be a useful addition to my biblical studies reference library. If I had to do it over again, I would still have made the purchase, which I suppose says something about my eclectic reading nature.

references:

And now we’re done with ancient (and modern Africa), and so I turn our eyes far away into the stars for our next Pile With the Lightnings, by David Drake, the first in his RCN series of spaced-age swashbucklers in uniform. Until then, my friends, keep reading!

edit on  January 18, 2013 for content (and minor grammar) prompted by comment on Facebook.

Mini-Pile #2 Do as I say (not as I do) by Peter Schweitzer

14 Jan

Do as I say (not as I do): profiles in liberal hypocrisy / Peter Schweitzer.  New York: Doubleday. 2005  285 p.  Includes bibliographic references.

As usual, the original review can be found here; “Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy” http://www.amazon.com/review/R3KBA1KB2WLUNS/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

It is often the case that activists and commentators on the right side of the cultural and political spectrum complain about mainstream broadcast media outlets publishing stories about individual conservatives who act contrary to their stated convictions, without providing a balanced presentation of the same foilables of individual liberals. Peter Schweizer (at the time of publication) a fellow of The Hoover Instittion wants to change that, by bringing together a compilation of liberal academics, politicians, enterntainers, and activists. In his book “Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy he simply claims to produce verifiable evidence of contradiction between stated public statements and commitments of prominent individuals of a left-leaning cultural and political persuasion and their private actions which seem to contradict their statements and positions. As of the reading of this book, I do not know if a comparable book exists exposing the contradictions between convictions and actions of those on the right side of the cultural-political spectrum. Such a book would be useful for comparison purposes.

No better, but no worse.

The book covers 11 such high profile individuals as: Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader, Nancy Pelosi, Geore Soros, Barbara Streisan, Gloria Steinam, and Cornel West. Each chapter covers one person that sketches a brief biography and career, the issues they pronounce upon, and what an examination of tax records, other public records filings, as well as company disclosures show they act in private.  Schweitzer uses a combination of print, broadcast transcriptions, and speeches, as well as public records filings for his source materials.  There is no formal bibliography, though there is a section of “notes” at the end; there is also an index. Scattered references are made throughout the text to the author’s attempted comminication with the subjects of his profiles -most of them unsuccessful- but such is not reflected in the “notes”. A trait shared by a majority of the individuals covered (all but two, actually) which Schweitzer calls attention to is a conviction that the “wealthy” should pay progressively more in taxes, combined with the fact that they themselves -independently wealthy-  use the self-same pattern of (personal and corporate) income  tax-avoidance shelters (trust funds, charities, off-shore accounts and corporate charters)  ‘conservatives’ use in order not to pay those same taxes.

The most memorable quotation from the book is the following: “For despite the fact that they often speak of them [the ideas and comments they so confidentially prescribe to the rest of us] with genuine convictions, these do-as-I-say liberals don’t actually trust their ideas enough to apply them at home.” (p15, “Introduction”)

No worse, but no better, either

One weakness is the absence of direct communication between the author and the individuals (or their agents) he writes about, though to be fair, he did attempt to contact them. Another weakness is the aforementioned lack of a formal bibliography. A larger and more comprehensive disclosure of sources for the numbers he cites would make his arguments and anecdotal evidence more convincing.  Verifiable documentary evidence from Internet sources would also have been useful for evaluating the information.  The author indicts the media for failing to hold liberal activists and commentators to the same standards that they hold conservative, yet he does not really address this issue in the rest of the book. It would have been nice if he had proffered stories and coverage from “conservative” journalistic outlets.  It is definitely a one-sided book. A more balanced presentation would have included hypocritical prominent conservatives, though the counter-argument exists that conservative hypocrites get enough exposure in the mainstream outlets.

Don’t read this book if you’re expecting detailed analysis of liberal ‘wrong-doing’, or why liberal positions and policies. If, however, you are looking for support for the thesis that liberal activists are no better (or worse) than conservative activists, Schweitzer’s book is a place to begin grazing.

Mini-Pile #1 “Me of Little Faith” by Lewis Black

7 Jan

Most books I like to read and ponder over..some just leave a bad taste in my mouth, and some I am more or less indifferent to. The sad thing is that most of the “indifferent” books out there rarely, if ever, get exposure, and that is a shame, because the author (usually) invest a great deal of time, effort, resources, and energy to write. And I feel bad for authors that never receive attention. My intention with Piles and Philes is to review what I have read, no matter my reaction to it (good, bad, ugly, indifferent).  So I am introducing a new type of entry the “Mini Piles”

Me of little faith / Lewis Black ; edited by  Hank Gallo.  New York: Riverhead Books. 2008.  237 p.

original review can be found here “Me of Little Faith” http://www.amazon.com/review/R71BKI94QR89Y/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

I’m not familiar with Lewis Black. But I found this book in the “Recent Nonfiction” section of my local library more than a few month’s ago (more like a couple years ago at this point), and picked it up, thinking at the time that it would provide insight into how and why a person could loose their faith. Boy was I wrong.

Me of Little Sensitivity

This is a work of satire and comedy that that directs itself to religious faith and practice, and written in a semi-autobiographical vein. In this book he takes on organized religion by poking fun at it, which all good satire does. At the same time, though, he also shows his political bias. It is not a book I would read again. Nor would I read his previous or subsequent books.  Don’t get me wrong -I laughed all the way through it; but like with Bill Mahler, he comes across the wrong way – a way that says he believes what he says in a comic mode should be accepted seriously. I take more than slight offense at the seriousness with which he takes his potshots, because underneath the satire I read his real anger, dislike (call it what you will) toward other subjects, especially [now former-] President George W. Bush. (I only wonder has he done the same concerning President Barack Obama or political and cultural figures on the liberal side of the socio-political spectrum?)

Who is Lewis Black?

Black is a playwright, comedian and entertainer. He speaks and writes from a Reform Jewish cultural background, though he himself is not a practicing Jew. He thus takes on the persona of an outsider criticizing religious practice, yet he is not a sympathetic critic. In his sarcastic, comic way he pokes fun at the notion of absolutes, justifying it by the following appeal: “Because what’s true for you may not be true for the guy standing next to you” (p35) The problem of course,  is that with this philosophy as a guiding light you then have no basis for saying that the guy standing next to you who happens to be a skinhead Neo-Nazi  who believes that Jews are parasites on the body politic and deserve what happened to them in Germany of the 1930’s and 40’s is wrong to hold such beliefs. Of course I could be trying to read too much into a work of humour, but the best humour is built on an element of truth and sympathy, and I don’t find much of either in the background of Black’s writing, at least not in conjunction with each other.

To fall,  perchance to trip

Even though the stated purpose of Me of Little Faith is the application of humor, sarcasm and satire to religion, the work as a whole lacks unity. There is a thin thread of personal narrative, but mostly the chapters read like little vignettes, having little connection to each other, apart from their being a take on religion and public life.  Moreover. His satire is destructive rather than constructive. He seeks only to belittle. That is not the mark of a great book.  Rather, it is an example of what Conrad Hyers in And God Created Laughter: the Bible as Divine Comedy called “fallen humor”, a completely destructive form of discourse.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call his work ‘mean-spirited’ but it comes awfully close. And I would definitely not read anything else Mr. Black chooses to write. His words are too toxic for my peace of mind.

The second Mini-Pile will be Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy by Peter Schweizer, so until then, keep reading my friends!