The Bible With and Without Jesus

The Bible With and Without Jesus coverThe Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently
Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler
HarperOne (October 27, 2020), 512 pages
Kindle edition $16.99, Amazon hardcover $28.99

I was familiar with Amy-Jill Levine from one of her Great Courses offerings, so when I saw this book advertised it immediately caught my interest.

Levine and Brettler do a real service with this title because it is easy for those of us who come from a Christian tradition to interpret the entire Bible, including the Hebrew scriptures, through a Christian lens. Obviously Jews do not do that.

The authors cite several passages in which Christian and Jewish interpretations differ. For example, in the Jewish interpretation of the Garden of Eden story, there is no suggestion at all of original sin, and Eve is not singled out for blame.

Levine and Brettler explain that while the author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews was obsessed with Melchizedek, the priest-king is only briefly mentioned in two places in the Hebrew Bible. The first is Genesis 14, where, they suggest, “the Melchizedek story can be removed from Genesis without creating any narrative gaps,” indicating that it is likely a later addition. The other Old Testament mention is Psalm 110. They state that medieval rabbinic commentators say little about Melchizedek, perhaps because of the Christian fascination with him.

There are many other examples. They discuss almah (Hebrew: young woman) vs. parthenos (Greek: virgin), the story of Jonah, and the Son of Man in the book of Daniel vs. in the synoptic gospels.

For those interested in how key passages of the Hebrew Bible might be read when the Christian perspective has been removed this book will be an engaging resource.


The Ancient Celts

Ancient Celts coverThe Ancient Celts, Second Edition
Barry Cunliffe
narrated by Julian Elfer
Tantor Audio, February 05, 2019
print version published by Oxford University Press
$17.47 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

Often when we think of the Celts we think of the cultures in Scotland and Ireland. Perhaps that’s because those areas are where Celtic culture has survived in its purest form. As this book describes, however, Celtic peoples lived throughout Europe in the ancient world. In fact, the Celts reached as far as Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. The people that Julius Caesar called Gauls were Celts, and Celtic people lived in Iberia, modern-day Spain.

Cunliffe considers a wide range of evidence. He spends considerable time looking at the archaeological record. He discusses the first-hand accounts by Caesar and the descriptions of the Celts by the Roman historians. Cunliffe is a careful scholar, pointing out where the archaeological account is lacking, and reminds us that Caesar and the ancient historians had a particular point of view and agenda.

The author spends a chapter discussing Celtic religion and mythology and its interaction with Roman mythology and religion. Fascinating stuff.

The book is expertly read by Julian Elfer, who kept the book interesting even through the parts of it where the material was quite dry. Of course listening to the audio version meant I missed the spelling of certain words and terms, but Elfer’s narration made this book a thoroughly enjoyable experience.


A Pilgrimage to Eternity

A Pilgrimage to Eternity coverA Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith
Timothy Egan
Penguin Books (October 15, 2019), 382 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon paperback $15.99

I like travel books and I enjoy books about an individual’s spiritual quest, so what better than a combination of the two?

In A Pilgrimage to Eternity Egan describes his travel along the Via Francigena, the pilgrim’s trek from Canterbury to Rome. He makes the trip in two segments, returning home to the United States about halfway through. His son and later his daughter accompany him at various times and his wife joins him for the end of the journey. Blisters on his feet cause him to take part of the trip by train and later by rental car, but this does not bother him terribly; his one rule seems to be travel must be on the ground and not by air.

In addition to describing his journey and the marvelous hospitality he received along the way, Egan includes several diversions. He writes about history, reminding us of Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism and the atrocities committed by John Calvin. He includes some personal history, including the story of a predatory priest in his hometown. Nonetheless, Egan isn’t anti-religion. He sees the value in it, and even has the hutzpah to seek a personal audience with the pope. He must be content with seeing the pope with a small group of pilgrims.

Egan delivers an entertaining travelogue and some valuable insights into the spiritual path.


Tasha: still thriving

Today is All Saints’ Day: November 1. All Saints’ Day only occasionally falls on a Sunday and I rarely publish a blog entry on a Sunday. But I always blog on All Saints’ Day. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I don’t write about All Saints’ Day on November 1, but I write about bringing Tasha home from the shelter.

TashaIt was on All Saints’ Day in 2005 that we brought Tasha home with us. When we took her to our vet she said that Tasha appeared to be about a year and-a-half old. That would make her sixteen and-a-half today. She is doing pretty well for an elderly dog.

Our girl has lost some weight, but that in many ways is a good thing, as with her arthritis the weight loss makes it easier for her to get around. She is on three medications: one for her thyroid, a probiotic to help her keep food down, and a pain medication for her arthritis. The original pain medication caused her stomach problems so the vet switched her to a different medication, which is a lot more expensive, of course. But that’s what we do for our child.

Tasha wants much shorter walks these days, but some things have not changed. She still insists that someone head into the kitchen to start dinner at around 6:30. She still leaps and bounds through the great room after dinner when it’s time for her cookie. And immediately after that she herds us into the bedroom where we put our feet up on the bed, read the newspapers, and enjoy our evening libation. That’s when she gets her chew, for which she waits impatiently.

We are pleased and grateful that Tasha continues to do so well.