How did religion start? 7-7-11
Gaining insights from waiting: 7-9/10-11

Three worthy new books: 7-8-11

Early in June here on the blog I introduced readers to a new book from Convivium Press, A New Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels, by Roland Meynet. (Convivium is an interesting publishing house. To read more about its approach, click here.)

Today I want to tell you about three more new books from Convivium, the first and second of which use the Meynet's technique of "rhetorical analysis." The first one does that to draw meaning out of the fifth chapter of the Qur'an, a chapter (or sura) called "The Banquet."

Banquet * The Banquet: A Reading of the Fifth Sura of the Qur'an, by Michel Cuypers. I will not pretend here that I understand or could employ the technique of rhetorical analysis. If you want some links to that subject, click on the link in the first paragraph here and you'll find some. But what I want to emphasize even by including this book here on the blog is that despite what many non-Muslims believe, the Qur'an is open to the same kind of critical study and analysis as the Bible -- or, indeed, any sacred writing. And Cuypers here offers more than 500 pages of deep-drilling analysis of just a single sura. Cuypers acknowledges early in the book that the Qur'an "cannot be easily tackled. The Westerner who attempts to read it for the first time, particularly in translation, is rapidly thrown off course by this text, with its disconnected sequences, where subjects follow one another and are mixed up among one another without any discernable logic or order." Which is exactly why I think it's foolish and even dangerous for a non-Muslim to try to read the Qur'an alone, without the help of a knowledgeable Muslim to explain what's happening. And I would say the same thing to non-Christians and non-Jews about reading the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures. Cuypers wants readers to know that Qur'anic exegetical studies have everything to gain from the ways in which scholars have studied the Bible in modern times. So even if you are unable to follow the detailed verse-by-verse exploration in this book, it should be reassuring to know that Muslims and non-Muslims alike are doing serious textual analysis of the Qur'an to help people understand its complexities. Perhaps one of the good results will be to call into question the sincerity of radicals who want to read it in a way that justifies their extremism.

Different-Priest * A Different Priest: The Epistle to the Hebrews, by Albert Vanhoye. This next Convivium book is also among those that use rhetorical analysis to unpack sacred writ. And with good reason. This "epistle," after all, was not first written as a letter at all but, rather, as Vanhoye notes, as a speech, indeed, "a magnificent homily, made to be delivered to a Christian assembly in apostolic times." (Yes, but let's keep in mind that in apostolic times there was no Christianity yet, only the Jesus movement within Judaism that eventually split off to become Christianity -- in different places at different times.) Because of its scholarly approach, this book would not be appropriate for a beginning Bible study group. It is too nuanced and academic for that, but no doubt this book will serve Christian preachers well as they seek to unpack the meaning of Hebrews in sermons and in classes about the New Testament. Hebrews offers its readers a high Christology and some memorable passages, and this book looks at all of that in great detail.

Jesus-H-A * Jesus: An Historical Approximation, by José A. Pagola. First published in Spanish in 2007, this book now is in English and offers a rich look at who Jesus was, what his life and times were like and why he still matters. The author, a Catholic, says he "tries to answer questions like these: What was he like? How did he understand his life? What were the basic characteristics of his activity, the thrust and essential content of his message? Why did they kill him? How did the adventure of his life end?" Pagola correctly focuses on the undeniable reality that what was most important to Jesus was introducing people to "the reign of God." That, Pagola notes, "is his true passion. It is the cause for which he struggles and pours out his life, for which he is persecuted and finally executed. For Jesus, 'only the kingdom is absolute and it makes everything else relative.'" Pagola says that in "these times of deep religious crisis, it is not enough to believe in just any God; we need to discern the true God. It is not enough to say that Jesus is God; we need to know what kind of God is embodied and revealed in Jesus." So from a Christian faith stance, Pagola offers us a fresh look at the man/God Christians call savior and lord.

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Six years ago, British-born terrorists attacked the transit system in London, and as this insightful column in The New York Times suggests, citizens of the U.K. still are trying to figure out what went wrong. I think the author is on the right path when he suggests that the problem is not cultural diversity but, rather, the way that governments have developed policies to deal with that.


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