Saturday, 26 December 2015

"The Holocaust and Halakhah" by Rabbi Irving Rosenbaum

This is a strange and haunting book - a testimony to the efforts of orthodox Jews to live in accordance with Jewish law (halakhah) under circumstances of Nazi persecution.  It consists in large part of responsa, or rabbinical opinions on what Jews were to do in order to keep in the way of the Torah.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Reflections on the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)

For most Jews and Christians, the Bible is an artefact.  It is revered rather than read.  Even in the secular world, politicians and commentators occasionally claim that our country was built on the Bible or on Biblical values - but this is a claim that needs to be unpacked quite a bit.  The truth is that the Bible is at once a much more foreign and a much more interesting book than most people realise.

Two ultramontanist Catholic texts

  • Louis Cardinal Billot SJ, Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi, 3rd edition, 1909-10
  • John S. Daly, Michael Davies: An Evaluation, 2nd edition, 2015

The first text that I want to look at in this post is the Tractatus de Ecclesia Christi (Treatise on the Church of Christ) by Cardinal Louis Billot (1846-1931).  Billot was a star theologian in his time, but he is largely forgotten today.  His undoing was dabbling in far-right French politics.  He gave his support to Action Française, an essentially secular movement which supported the restoration of absolute monarchy; and he was forced out of the College of Cardinals by Pope Pius XI as a result.  In his treatise, he quotes Charles Maurras, the ideological leader of Action Française, despite Maurras being a religious sceptic with a particular dislike of Christian doctrine.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

"The City of the Saints" by Sir R.F. Burton

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was a renowned explorer and writer.  This book contains, amongst other things, an account of a journey which he made to the early Mormon colony at Great Salt Lake City.  This review should be read together with my earlier review of The Rocky Mountain Saints by T.B.H. Stenhouse (whom Burton met on his trip).

Friday, 16 October 2015

Apollonius and the Pythagoreans - Part II

First published on my classics blog, Memento, on 15 March 2015.

From around the first century BC, the Pythagorean movement underwent a reinaissance.  Pythagoras came to be seem as a kind of semi-divine figure - a master of teaching and doctrine who had given the other great Greek philosophers their ideas.  Writers forged entire treatises in the name of Pythagoras and his early followers in order to tell the world what they really ought to have said.  In the hands of the New Pythagoreans, Pythagoras and his legacy came to take on the appearance of a storehouse of wisdom on subjects ranging across metaphysics, magic, music, mathematics and morality.

Apollonius and the Pythagoreans - Part I

First published on my classics blog, Memento, on 26 February 2015.

In the next couple of posts, I want to look at the mysterious figure of Apollonius of Tyana, a Pythagorean holy man who flourished in the 1st century AD.

Pagans and Christians - First contact

First posted on my classics blog, Memento, on 20 September 2014.

"First contact" in the Star Trek sense, that is....  In this post, I want to look at the encounters between early Christianity and the ancient pagan world.  I take as my basis the experiences of the Christian apostle St Paul, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

"Inferior Office?" by Francis Young

The Church of England has no theology of the diaconate. It has never been agreed exactly what liturgical functions a deacon is entitled to perform, and it is even more unclear what he - or she - is supposed to get up to outside church. This book is an attempt to fill in this theological and pastoral gap. It was written by Francis Young, an historian and writer with an established interest in anomalous and marginal religious phenomena.

"Forged" and "Forgery and Counterforgery" by Bart Ehrman

This is another couple of books by the leading American Bible scholar Bart Ehrman.  One of them (Forged) is a popular book for a general readership; the other (Forgery and Counterforgery) is a detailed academic monograph.  They deal with the delicate issue of pseudonymous and pseudepigraphical writings in early Christian literature - or, as Ehrman puts it less euphemistically, forgeries.  Previous studies of this phenomenon such as Wolfgang Speyer's 1971 masterpiece Die literarische Faelschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum are now dated, and it is good that Ehrman has turned his time and talents to dealing with this underresearched topic.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Three books by Bart Ehrman

  • Did Jesus Exist? (2012)
  • Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (1999)
  • How Jesus Became God (2014)
If I was going to recommend three books to newcomers to the field of historical Jesus studies, it would be these three.  Ehrman is an interesting guy.  He rejected the Christian fundamentalism of his youth to become a secular Bible scholar writing in the academic mainstream.  An engaging writer and teacher, he has perhaps done more than any other writer of our time to bring the insights of modern Bible research to a wider audience.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Three books on Shariah law

The first book that I want to cover in this post is Shariah: The Islamic Law by Abdur Rahman I. Doi.  This is a detailed textbook of the principles and rules of traditional Sunni Shariah.  Such textbooks seem to be rather unusual in the English language.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Pauline Christianity

Here are some characteristics of the churches which Paul founded and ministered to, as gleaned from his letters:

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review of "Mormonism Unvailed" by E.B. Howe (edited by Dan Vogel)

E.B. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed (the spelling was normal for the time) was the first anti-Mormon book to be published after Joseph Smith's new religious movement appeared in 1830.  The work was published in Ohio in 1834.  This is a new edition of the book, which has been edited by Dan Vogel.  Vogel is a prominent secular scholar of Mormonism whose previous major work was his biography Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet.  Vogel has provided an introduction and detailed notes to the text.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Review of "The Rocky Mountain Saints" by T B H Stenhouse

This is an interesting piece of 19th century anti-Mormon literature.  Thomas Stenhouse (1825-1882) was a Mormon journalist who fell out with the church.  He published the book in 1873 as an exposé of what had gone on in early Utah, which he depicted as a repressive theocracy.