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Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior
Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.01
60 used & new from $13.64

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ehrman Hits My Weak Spot, March 13, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
People remember Jesus largely based on how their present-day social groups want Jesus to be remembered. How do we know this? Experimental evidence about the formation of memories and how they serve us. Call me gullible but I fall for evidence every time.

Ehrman describes a study about John Dean’s Watergate testimony before and after the discovery of Nixon's famous tapes. Dean convinced a lot of folks, but when compared to the tapes, his memory didn’t fare so well.
Ehrman shows we use our memories selectively to bolster our evolving view of the present. We don’t even have a specified memory bank in our brains. Memories are reconstructed from various brain areas each time we need them to help us deal with the present – historical realities be damned. It’s a biological system ripe for misremembering.

But what about the stories in the Gospels? Aren’t they from eyewitnesses? Well, no. But even if they were, Ehrman shows how invalid eyewitness accounts are. In the 80’s a 707 flew into a building in Sweden killing a couple of hundred people. A week later, a survey was given to almost a hundred law students and another to over a hundred grad students. The first question was “Did you see the news video of the plane flying into the building?” The rest of the questions were details about the video. Over half had seen the video. There WAS no video. But the story dominated the news that week so thoroughly, people had created a vivid memory of how it happened anyway. And so on.

It’s a delightful book full of the kind of New Testament analyses common to Ehrman but with the new twist of throwing in a little science - anthropology, sociology, psychology, and neuroscience about memory formation, group thought, and how that led to Jesus becoming God.

BUREI® Men's BM-13001-P01EY Day and Date Black Calfskin Leather Watch with Black Dial
BUREI® Men's BM-13001-P01EY Day and Date Black Calfskin Leather Watch with Black Dial
Offered by BUREI Watches
Price: $75.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars slim & elegant, February 2, 2016
This is the 2nd and 3rd BUREI I've gotten. The first two I gave to my 2 teenage grandsons for Christmas. They were so impressed with this excellent gift I decided to get one for myself. I haven't worn a watch for a while. It's been easy to get the time off my cell - but I find it's easy to become reliant on this watch for the date & time. It's good looking, and, unlike the 2 BREIs my grandsons got, the time and date are large enough to read without squinting.

I have appreciated a low profile (this) watch ever since I had a slim Longine 40 years ago. And the large profile face I like. There's nothing to complain about here.

BUREI Men's BM-13002-01A Date Quartz Watch with Nylon Strap and Rose Gold Dial
BUREI Men's BM-13002-01A Date Quartz Watch with Nylon Strap and Rose Gold Dial
Offered by BUREI Watches
Price: $75.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Winner for my Grandboys, December 27, 2015
I accepted the offer for a free one and bought a second one at the same time for two of my grandboys age 16 and 18. I was pleasantly reassured they were impressed with this Christmas gift the very second they laid eyes on these watches. One was wearing a dive watch but liked the lightweight, low profile feature of the BUREI, as well as the flashy (or a more mature watch wearer might say cheap) and colorfully patriotic band. For the 16 year old, it was his first watch. He wore it proudly the rest of the weekend, sort of in awe of his good fortune to have been given such a trophy.

When I was about 20 (50 years ago), my summer job company offered an ultra-slim Longine as a reward for good performance. Ever since then, I have appreciated a slim and understated watch. I don't have much use for the time & date in Tokyo, so simplicity suits me fine. The date, on the other hand, could be bigger. The band has a "grittiness" that keeps the watch from slipping around on one's wrist. The warranty and stats on the BUREI company seem impressive. If the boys say their watch ran out of gas or gave them trouble otherwise, I'll update this review. If this review stands as is, the watches are still ticking.

It Won t Always Be This Great: A Novel
It Won t Always Be This Great: A Novel
by Peter Mehlman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.59
61 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars On-Target Commentary about Human Nature without Sounding like a Philosopher, June 7, 2015
This author had me chuckling out loud frequently. He presents, as you might expect from a Seinfeld writer, clever dialogue. Surprisingly, he also has frequent on-target commentary about human nature without sounding like a philosopher.

Interestingly, our hero the narrator is the only character who remains nameless, although we know almost everything else about him. Our author manages to inflict the same amount of angst on this guy that he would have had he committed mass murder - but it was instead a spontaneous act of almost non-purposeful vandalism.

I was afraid he was going to mess of the ending but he didn't. It was, indeed, pretty satisfying.

What I didn't like: As much as I like to watch stand-up, whenever I read books by comedians, I tend to lose interest if there's not a good story line. He manages to move the story along pretty well, but, like on the Seinfeld show, there are always sideshows going on. They may be funny or of human interest, but lessen the tendency for the book to be a "pageturner", at least for me. I'm, unfortunately, extremely attracted to books that won't allow me to sleep at night. This one took me a couple of weeks. Nuff said..

Logos: A Novel of Christianity's Origin
Logos: A Novel of Christianity's Origin
Price: $3.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fiction of the Author of the Gospel of Matthew, March 10, 2015
I like historical fictions. “Logos” opens with a quote from Cooleridge suggesting that the story of the destruction of the 2nd Temple in CE70, if written, would compare to Homer’s “Iliad and the Odyssey” – a pretty tall order. Neeleman tries to comply, starting with Paul’s death in 66CE, then going back to 46CE and covering the next 30 years, as interpreted by Jacob, who was 6yo in 46.

My main interest was in the (what I’m going to call) the myth development that led to Christianity. I liked Neeleman's introduction of Jacob, with the teaser that this young man who became a Jewish priest and a soldier fighting against the Romans, would become one of the authors of a New Testament Gospel.

Whereas I like the politics of early church development and am entertained by their hairsplitting over dogma, this book is more into the chronology of the war, as seen through the eyes of Jacob. The fact that the Jews had warring factions within their own ranks AND that the Romans had a trained, disciplined army with unlimited resources made it virtually impossible for the Jews to win…the outcome was inevitable.

Jacob has extensive trials and tribulations after the war that includes the Essenes of the Qumran and the hiding of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In his travels, he continually reunites with old friends and gains knowledge he'll need for his Gospel. He lives for a while with some Beduins but eventually ends up with a group of Jewish Christians in Rome. Having lost 2 wives – one in the war and one in childbirth – he finds a new love and a new outlook. Due to his unique abilities and experiences, his friends give him the assignment: Write down the story of Yeshua – the Logos.

His story is Matthew, the most Jewish gospel, not Mark – the gospel that scholars now believe was written first. I make this assumption because it has features unique to Matthew – the birth narrative that involves Egypt (Luke’s doesn’t – Luke involves the travel to pay taxes), the inclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, and certain words spoken by Jesus on the cross – all found only in Matthew. It’s represented as being written in 75CE, a little earlier than most scholars believe. He didn’t use Mark and the theoretical “Book of Q” for reference material, as is thought by many scholars. He only had the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), Paul’s letters, recycling of old myths, and word of mouth … “He remembered the old Persian and his tale of Zoraster, re-born of a virgin to save the world … He named Jesus’ father Joseph, and his mother Mary … to make Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit when Mary was a virgin. And so while Judaism had been the religion of the father, Christianity became a religion of the son.”

I assume most of the history in “Logos”, short of the character development and dialogue, was accurate. Most of his players lived in the right time slot and played the right roles, according to Wikipedia. I was disappointed that Neeleman didn’t take more effort in pointing out the overwhelmingly superstitious nature of the 1st century. He did, however, succeed in making the bleakness of the times seem authentic and the fighting brutal. ISIS didn’t have anything on these guys.

Teatime with Mrs. Grammar Person
Teatime with Mrs. Grammar Person
Price: $0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Luck, Mr. Syntax, January 12, 2015
Delightful book to read - chock full of helpful hints in grammar. She had me when she said, "Remember my dears, you can end a sentence with a preposition and you can split an infinitive." It's not intended to ensure (better than insure, she says) comprehensive knowledge - rather, to whet the appetite. Must have worked because I ended up wanting more.

For example, she covered two-worded phrases vs. hyphenated words vs. compound words by using examples, but no explanations at all. Probably a good idea, since the long-form rules would take up to 3-4 single-spaced pages. And there was nothing about commas, one of my big bugaboos, or dashes, that I like to overuse, but plenty about common things I have trouble with. As long as we can't have Esperanto (an invented language from the late 1800 with no exceptions - didn't catch on), I guess we have to deal with grammar. This is Mrs. Grammar Person's effort to make it at least tolerable, if not fun.

The Bible Is Not Great: The Truth About The Bible, Religion And God
The Bible Is Not Great: The Truth About The Bible, Religion And God
Price: $2.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black and White Assessment of a Complex Subject, December 9, 2014
To add a churchy touch to this subject, I'm part of the choir Sagan is preaching to. I suspect my group comprises the primary readership for this sort of book. Church-goers aren't much different from me. They read stuff they already believe.

The majority of "The Bible is Not Great" is dedicated to documenting that the stories from the Bible are recycled. Slightly different versions of these tales comprised mythologies that predated Judaism and Christianity. And the Old Testament wasn't their first recycle job. Modern human culture is thought to have begun about 50,000 years ago and the first written language (cuneiform) devised some 3200 years ago. That leaves 47,000 years (give or take) for the stories that predated Adam & Eve, for example, to have become well-established lore passed down by word of mouth - up for grabs by whatever religion or belief system was in vogue.

Dozens of biblical stories are shown by Sagan to have originated elsewhere and tweaked a bit (or a lot) for use in the Bible. He is on solid ground with this analysis. Many, many stories of a worldwide flood, for example, predate Noah's tale, and their close similarities cannot be denied. The same is true for the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and others.

Sagan moves to the New Testament and shows how the Jesus story is remarkably like those of multiple other characters from earlier folklore, religions, or histories, complete with virgin births, miracles, etc. Just what you'd expect during a very superstitious, pre-science time. I guess it's similar to what comedians say about new jokes - there aren't any. There are only restatements of funny stories passed down through the years.

That's the good part. If I may make a few criticisms: Sagan makes the scope of his subject matter huge when he states a generalization about religion as fact, then doesn't bother with documentation. Too huge to fit his less than 200 pages. Worse, he makes overt misstatements, again, with no footnotes or references. I'll present just a few of these.

Neanderthals are presented to be the first humans and Sagan says they appeared 100,000 years ago. I think mainstream science would say Neanderthals first appeared perhaps 250,000 or 300,000 years ago. He seems to believe we evolved from Neanderthals, which we most probably didn't.

Religion is presented as being the primary reason for all the ills in the world, including the wars. Jared Diamond has a chapter on causes of wars in his acclaimed "The Third Chimpanzee" and designates several major reasons for wars. I can't remember them all, but in addition to religion, they include nationalism, race, struggle over resources, and a couple of others. Wars usually had multifactorial causes. Sometimes a dominant personality was involved - like Alexander the Great or Genghis Kahn. And whatever individual or group perpetrated a war, if they needed an excuse, used whatever tools were available to manipulate the people - a little religion, a touch of garlic, a few chives, etc. Diamond concluded that religion was the PRIMARY cause of no more than its share - maybe 20-25%.

Nobody believes, as Sagan seems to, that Jesus dictated the gospels to his disciples for future publication. The Jesus resurrection story most likely wasn't made up by Roman Aristocracy for their own purposes. Biblical textual critics (that is, those who don't "drink the Kool-Aid") are prone to think the story arose through a myth-making process by Jesus's followers desperate to make sense of the unexpected crucifixion of their leader. And mainstream opinion amongst the scholars, although there are some who differ, is that Jesus indeed did exist.

Sagan is black and white in his assessment of very gray subject matter. He repeatedly exposes religion as the only cause of, for example, Columbus and other groups mistreating (and causing the extinction of) certain indigenous groups in the Americas. As if gold, imperialism, power, ambition, racism, and human nature weren't part of the equation.

Then he suggests that eventually science will prevail. Everyone will recognize that religions are false and live happily ever after. I too prefer what I consider to be reality (nobody's watching) and that history unfolds precisely as if there were no god(s). But the average person is unlikely to give up the comfort religion offers for the tragedies of life. Nor will they abandon the extended social networks associated with their common belief systems. I live in such a family and Catholicism is an integral part of their worldview. Those who have read Joseph Campbell's work, the "Power of Myth", or seen the video series on TV with Bill Moyer, recognize that human nature gravitates to a good story, regardless of its truth.

For anyone wanting a (if a little "pat") synopsis of the origins of the myths in the Bible, this is your book. Despite its deficits, it's worth reading and, as always, you can take what you like and leave the rest.

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Neuroscience, ek cetra, June 29, 2014
Evolutionary pressures have been evident in all other aspects of living things - "why then not human morality," asks the author. And he applies scientific findings to the workings of the mind. I agree with most everything he says. Thing is, we aren't that rational despite our efforts. What we believe ends up being more about how we feel than about what truly is. We even initiate many of our actions based on what our alligator brains tell us to do - then our minds rationalize for us why that action was correct.

I don't believe in Jesus's resurrection. I was reared to believe in evidence and people don't generally walk around again once they're really dead. Those sorts of things don't happen now, so they most likely didn't happened then. But each of us approaches plausibility with preconceptions based on all the knowledge about the world (baggage) we have accumulated in life.

I'm thinking, "Of course Christian notions about this event are wrong. They are based on the New Testament, a notoriously political-derived document."

Meanwhile, believers are thinking, "Of course Jesus was resurrected. The Bible says so." It's an impasse almost beyond discussion.

Our world views dominate our thoughts about such issues. Harrison tells us in great detail how this happens but that despite this sort of spam in our thinking, we still have the ability to be rational, to a point, if we choose to be.

Harris also has baggage. I thought he was going to present evidence from the professional literature about the workings of the mind. He did, but almost in passing. The majority of the book is anecdotes and opinions. As in his previous books, he frequently takes swipes at religion. Considering how much the emotions of the mind and the comfort derived from religion are intertwined, I think this is legitimate.

The sticking point is that Harris doesn't appear to be trained in ethics or philosophy. Both these disciplines, and others, have systematically covered his topics in detail. Harris thinks some of their basic assessments are wrong. Anthropologists tend to grant marginal cultures the right to maintain their belief and acts, at least in theory, even when they run counter to what Western culture has deemed to be the proper way to act. Harris presents as examples cultures that believe in honor killings, slavery, genital mutilation, cannibalism, etc. And he comes down on Muslims for their tendency toward terrorism even though most Muslims don't participate in violent acts - and this gives him another opportunity to bash religions in general.

I don't disagree with many of his conclusions, but this approach does make "Moral Landscape" a book of opinion that ignores the "experts" - that is, except to maintain that they're wrong. So Harris is relying on common sense and seat-of-his-pants thinking. I know a president who was proud of thinking "with his gut". Some would disagree, but I don't think that turned out too well.

I must now admit to a pet peeve I have about this book. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by the author and Harris didn't learn phonics. He uses the Latin phrase "et cetera" frequently but says "ek cetra". Now I don't mind the cetra, but I hate the ek instead of et - the word for "and" in Latin.

Yea, I know, I'm being petty. I never correct anyone's grammar (until now). I give the speaker a pass and ask myself, "did this person communicate effectively?" He usually did and that's good enough - but for Christ's sake, this is an educated guy with a PhD (who can talk in detail about Special Relativity and Bayesian Statistics) narrating a high level book.

Perhaps, I speculate, et cetera has been mispronounced so often for so many centuries by the phonetically inept, like supposably vs supposedly, that it's marginally acceptable. Sure enough, the online dictionary has it down as a variation, "even used occasionally by educated people."

I know I'm ranting about nothing but because of my evolutionarily induced moral indignation about ek cetra, I'm lowering Harrison another point. Otherwise, I liked his ideas.

Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity
Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity
by James D. Tabor
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.13
71 used & new from $5.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paul's Vision on the Road to Damascus, June 21, 2014
As it turns out, Paul didn't have a vision after all. Instead, one of the kids whose family Paul was going to persecute got fed up, threw a rock at Paul, and hit him in the noggin. The kid got thug's remorse and took Paul home to recuperate. As Paul got better, he had a change of heart. Impressed with the sincerity of his host family mixed with liberal parts of entrepreneural spirit, Paul saw his opportunity to get in on this new religion on its ground floor. Certainly he could do better than the minimum wage he was making with those cheap Pharisees.

Of course, my version above (not in Tabor's book) is probably not true, but some variation of it might be. The NT authors wrote their treatises decades after the facts, with biases of their own and theologies to prove. I hope you'll grant me the license I took in writing my tale.

Tabor suggests reading the NT in chronological order. In doing so, Paul's authentic letters would come first. His non-authentic letters and the gospels (pseudonymous...written by somebody else) would be read later in an order determined by historians such as Tabor. Reading the NT in this manner would show how the passage of years "improved" the message. It would show how Paul and others changed the story OF Jesus into a theology ABOUT Jesus.

After Jesus died, his brother James led the church in Jerusalem with the assistance of the apostles, Peter and John. Tabor highlights all the NT verses where Paul dealt with the Jerusalem church. They show how Paul wasn't completely up front with the Jerusalem group about what his churches were teaching. When the James group attended Paul's churches and found out anyway, the two groups became permanently estranged. After all, the teachings of Jesus were heavily Jewish, whereas Paul taught that Jewish practices were obsolete. Tabor shows how irreconcilable Paul's doctrines were to the teachings of Jesus, as interpreted by James and the apostles of the Jerusalem church. Tabor documents all these assertions with NT book and verse for easy verification.

Jesus pushed the law of the Torah beyond its boundaries to deal with intent behind deeds, but Paul presented Christ as invalidating the Torah. Jesus said "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 5:19). Paul's visions went much further and revealed to him that the entire law of Moses was now unnecessary. To Paul, Jesus's death and resurrection (and to Tabor, Paul didn't mean a bodily resurrection) rendered the law irrelevant. Now, Paul claimed, anyone who continued to observe the Jewish law was "under a curse", and "No one will be justified by the works of the law" (Gal. 2:16).

Because of the destruction of Jerusalem around 70 CE and again in 130CE, the James group scattered. Had they relocated to one spot, that branch of the faith (perhaps they were considered Ebionites) may have continued, but they didn't. Paul's version lost competition from the Jerusalem church and its affiliates. Eventually, with the help of violent politics and multiple committee decisions over hundreds of years (see "How Jesus Became God" - Rubenstein), Paul's ideas won and became the basic to Christianity.

As one reads the books of the NT in chronological order, later pseudonymous authors claiming to be Paul align themselves with him, and NT theology evolves further, perhaps even beyond Paul. The NT statements get more and more anti-Semitic, leading to unfortunate treatment of Jews throughout the centuries. This, despite the largely Jewish instructions from Jesus.

Tabor places Jesus 2nd in importance to Paul in the history of the church. In the history of civilization - he places Paul as the most important person, period. What today's Christians generally don't appreciate is how different Paul's teachings were from those of Jesus.

If there's a downside to Tabor's book, it's redundancy and relative lack of organization. The subject matter is well thought-out and otherwise superbly written.

The Jungle (The Oregon Files)
The Jungle (The Oregon Files)
by Clive Cussler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.99
254 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Suspend Your Belief, June 6, 2014
As usual, Cussler gets his reasonably well developed characters into the most hopeless situations imaginable. But not to worry. You can count on a miracle of some sort and they'll survive. There are surprise double crossings and the bad guy is looking for world domination. The good guys have enough money from their CIA-type organization (without the beaurocracy) to have a jet and a boat (small ship) decked out on the inside like a 5-star hotel - and with weapons only found on US destroyers - and camouflaged to look like a rusted out piece a junk. The owners are also operatives. How do they find the time?

My favorite Cussler trick (another book) was when the good guy on a jet ski outsmarted a whole fleet of enemies in helicopters, boats, and amphibious planes armed with AK47s. With his lone revolver, he shot out a pontoon on an enemy aircraft that has just landed on his body of water. The wings tilted, so he ran his jet ski up one wing, catapulting himself off the other, so that he was close enough to a helicopter to take it out, then somehow escaped the rest of this battalion. I could go on and on.

But you know what? If another Cussler book got in my way, I'd read it - or listen to it in the car like I did "The Jungle". Keeps my texting down.

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