Posted by: Dan | February 23, 2007

February Books

Well, I’m hoping to write one or two more entries before I take off for my wedding/honeymoon. Apart from this book update, I’m hoping to write a post on the topic of “losing perspective” and might post a copy of a sermon I preached on Lk 24.1-12 last weekend (if I find the time). Then I’ll be heading away to Toronto and then Fiji and Australia for the next month, so don’t expect too many more entries before the end of March (when I get back to Vancouver). Anyway, here are February’s books:

1. Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement by Brant Pitre.

This is easily one of the most exciting books I have read in some time. Within this book, Pitre argues that Jesus spoke and acted on the basis of Jewish expectation regarding the (two-stage) eschatological tribulation and the (inextricably) connected expectation of the end of exile and the restoration of all twelve tribes of Israel (thus, Pitre follows Wright in exploring the motif of the “end of exile,” but he thinks Wright is wrong to argue that the Babylonian exile is still ongoing at the time of Jesus; rather, it is the Assyrian exile that is still ongoing, as the ten northern tribes have still not returned and Israel as a whole as not been restored). Pitre summarizes his conclusions in this way:

In short, Jesus taught that the tribulation had in some way begun with the death of John the Baptist as “Elijah” and that it was Jesus’ own mission to set in motion the “Great Tribulation” that would precede the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel. In fact, he even taught that he would die in this tribulation, and that his death would function as an act of atonement that would bring about the End of the Exile, the return of the dispersed tribes from among the nations, and the coming of the kingdom of God.

There is a whole lot that could be said about this book — and I actually intend to write a series about this book in conjunction with another blogger — so for now I’ll just say that this book is highly recommended reading for all those who are interested in the historical Jesus.

2. Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit by Richard A. Horsley.

This short book is vintage Horsley (although I will say that that subtitle is a little deceptive, since Horsley doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about “life in the Spirit”). It is an exploration of the (often suppressed or ignored) relationship between religion and imperial power. Horsley explores three patterns of relations by examining a contemporary and ancient example of each pattern: (1) cultural elites who construct subject people’s religion for their own purposes (i.e. modern and postmodern approaches to “classical” and “Tibetan” Buddhism, and Rome’s approach to the Isis cult); (2) people subjected to foreign imperial rule mount serious resistance by renewing their own traditional way of life (i.e. the revival of Islam in the Iranian revolution, and Jewish and Christian resistance movements in ancient Judea); and (3) those situated at the apex of imperial power relations develop an imperial religion that expresses and eventually constitutes those imperial power relations (i.e. Christmas and the festival of Consumer Capitalism, and the Roman Emperor Cult). I found the essays on Buddhism and Christmas to be particularly interesting and provocative. Recommended (and quite easy!) reading.

3. Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible).

This book doesn’t read much like a traditional commentary. Rather, Hauerwas sort of rambles his way through Matthew and highlight themes and narrative trajectories along the way, in order to springboard into pastoral and theological implications for Christian discipleship today. In fact, this commentary is a “commentary” in the same way that Colossians Remixed (by Walsh and Keesmaat) is a “commentary.” Those who enjoyed Colossians Remixed will probably enjoy this work as well. It is, for me, very exciting to see the boundaries between “theology” and “biblical studies” blurring more and more these days. This theological commentary series could very well spark some much needed discussion.

4. From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman.

This book was pretty disappointing. A friend of mine told me that this was, in his/her opinion, the best book s/he had read on the topic of politics in the Middle East, and so I came to it with high expectations. Unfortunately, the author is, well, quite biased, as he himself admits:

when people ask me, “So, Friedman, where do you come out on Israel after this journey from Beirut to Jerusalem?” my answer is that I have learned to identify with and feel affection toward an imperfect Jerusalem. Mine is the story of a young man who fell in love with the Jewish state back in the post-1967 era, experienced a period of disillusionment in Lebanon, and finally came back out of Jerusalem saying, “Well, she ain’t perfect. I’ll always want her to be the country I imagined in my youth. But what the hell, she’s mine, and for a forty-year-old, she ain’t too shabby.”

I suppose the fact that Friedman wrote for the New York Times should have tipped me off to the fact that this would hardly be an objective piece. Of course, it’s not all bad — the section written in/on Beirut is quite good. It’s just that the section written in/on Israel/Palestine is biased at best, and condescending and/or obnoxious at worst.

5. Watchmen by Alan Moore (illustrated by Dave Gibbons).

At the suggestion of Eric Lee, I thought I would try to take another stab at the whole “illustrated novel” genre. And I wasn’t disappointed. Watchmen is a great multi-layered story that is hard to describe in my oh-so-inadequate “reviews.” This book, by the way, is the only illustrated novel to be listed in Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English novels written in the last 100 years, and it has garnered many other awards — including an Hugo Award. Essentially, Moore reworks the whole idea of “superheroes,” and the genre hasn’t been the same since. Within the novel Moore explores key themes like engaging in violence to assure peace, social authority, what happens to a person who does evil in the pursuit of good, determinism, nostalgia, and so on and so forth. I’ll be reading this one again sometime soon.

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