"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, January 31, 2014

January Books

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls  - one of my favorite books last year was a memoir by this author.  This book was a "true life novel" about Jeannette's grandmother, Lily.  An interesting read especially if you are curious about how people grew up in the Southwest a hundred years ago.

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell -- I pretty much hated this book from the beginning.  I really don't like books that say the same thing over and over. The first chapter was about a dirt poor family conniving to steal turnips from a passing neighbor. If I heard them say one more time about how much they love turnips, but their turnips had "damn-blasted green-gutted worms in them" so please give me yours  -- grrr.  Thankfully the next chapter dropped this subject, but it was disturbing!  Books like this feed contempt for the poor, the backward farmers, women preachers (or any perverted preachers because Bessie was perverted), the southerners who dare think like this. I guess it's for the best that people like this starve and/or burn to death with few people caring. Wouldn't want to bother any one with these lazy, perverted lowlifes, and the sooner this breed dies out, the better for all of us.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls  - since I read her memoir and her true-live novel, I decided I should read this novel since my library had it.  Pretty interesting book.  I didn't really love the ending, but the story itself was pretty good up until the last bit. It just ended a bit "happily ever after" which is good, but was too abrupt perhaps.

A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament by Rabbi Samuel Sandmel - I saw this book recommended to Rachel Evans sometime last year and put it on my wishlist. I got it for Christmas and decided it would be the first book I began in 2014.  It took me nearly the whole month (some days I read more than others), but I finished it earlier today (the 27th). 
I enjoyed reading how the New Testament comes across to a rabbi.  He wrote it for Jews, and many things that were familiar and innocuous to me in the NT, came across differently when I considered them from his perspective.  I enjoyed how he concluded the book (see below.)

 Here are a few notes I took.

One example of why Paul is difficult for many Jews to understand:
"Rabbinic Jews and modern Jews believe that man is by nature good; Paul, that he is by nature bad.  Jews hold that a man may commit sins and by repentance re-establish himself in God's grace; Paul, that man, in possessing a physical body, is gripped by inherited sinfulness from which he himself cannot extricate himself.  Jews believe that each person, through repentance and good deeds, works out his own personal atonement; Paul, that helpless man requires atonement to be made for him, and that the death of Jesus was this atonement."  (pg. 38)

Page 41 dealt with Jewish missionaries and how missionary activity was "by no means unsuccessful" in the Greek Diaspora.

The Jewish view of sin vs. Paul's view was interesting.  "In the Jewish tradition, man atones and, it is believed, God graciously pardons him. In Paul's view, man cannot atone, but needs to have his nature changed from the bodily to the spiritual."  (pg. 59)

When the author talks about the gospels, he speaks of Matthew and Luke borrowing heavily from Mark yet recasting the stories to suit the emerging needs of the church.  Since Paul seems to abolish the use of the Law, the gospels were written due to "the urgent need for some regulation."  This is why Matthew introduces Jesus' version of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount. 
"The differences between Mark, on the one hand, and Matthew and Luke, on the other, show us  with unmistakable clarity how the problems, doctrines, and needs of the church developed and reached a crystallized expression."  (pg. 143)
"The Gospels do not in reality tell us about Jesus; they tell us about the faith, the problems, and the interests of the church which created them."  (pg. 195)

"In the Jewish tradition there have been many men who have inspired in modern Jews ideals such as self-effacement, nobility, and exaltation, yet neither the Old Testament nor rabbinic literature depicts the ancient worthies - Abraham, Moses, David - as perfect. Not perfection, but goodness, has been the Jewish demand from the individual, a goodness which we Jews have urged upon ourselves as a personal responsibility to be nearly as perfect as possible.  But we Jews have not equated strict perfection and goodness as interchangeable.  If this standard seems deceptively to be lower than Christian perfectionism, we Jews would reply that the standard is not less exacting, but only more humanly tolerable.  In the Jewish view, there have been many great men, but not any perfect man to be exalted above all others."  (pg. 209)

And the conclusion:

"For Jews, the New Testament is not and cannot be a literature sacred to us.  But the sacred literature of others can be enlightening and broadening to us, even giving us fresh perspectives on our own beliefs, if we try to understand sympathetically the profound perplexities and deep aspirations which human beings have been inspired to express, and how the lives of our contemporaries are moved by those ideals and institutions which embody them.
The New Testament, although it is not ours, is closer to us than any other sacred literature which is not our own.  It shares in a legacy which is eternally precious to us. For American Jews it is the Scripture of our neighbors - and, happily, of fellow citizens and friends."  (pg. 321)

The Butler: A Witness to History by Wil Haygood -- This short book (fewer than 100 pages) was pretty good. I wish it had been more about 'the butler' and his time in the White House, serving 8 Presidents. The first part is, but much of the end is about the making of the movie by the same title.  That part was just OK.