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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

"The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History" by Colin McEvedy

This is the sort of wonderful book where you look at the maps and marvel at the movements of the Hittites in Asia Minor, the growth of iron working, and the dissemination of literacy. And you tend to ignore the writing on the left hand page. But then. You loom at that and you think. Wow! I never knew that! That is an original perspective. How fascinating. How have I lived all this time and never realised that before.

This held me fascinated from the very beginning. It is a ragbag of scholarship (and it is old so some of it is probably by now outdated: “A race is a population that has been isolated sufficiently long to have to developed characteristics that distinguish members from those of the same species but different provenance.”; p 5) and I loved so much of it:

Introduction
  • Geography imposed a limit on early-historical movements: Arctic Circle, Atlantic Ocean, Sahara Desert, Arabian Sea. The wastes of Turkestan and the desert of Sind were more porous although “After the expansion of the Iranians into India and Asia in the second millennium BC no western-based power ever extended significantly beyond the Jaxartes or Indus; conversely, only two peoples, the Yue-Chi in the second century BC and the Huns in the 1st century AD, entered Western Asia from the East. In India the desert of Sind was only crossed once, in the fourth century BC by the Mauryas.” (p 4) 
  • Scholars debate whether the island of Thule that lay six days’ sail to the north of Scotland was Iceland or Norway (it was probably only the Shetlands for distances beyond the periphery of usual travel tended to be wildly overestimated)” (p 4)
  • The Canaries were certainly visited and there is a record of an exploratory voyage reaching Sierra Leone; but the Canaries were not occupied” (p 4)
  • The Romans gained a hearsay knowledge of the Niger in its middle, eastward flowing, section. It was speculated that this might be the upper Nile, the course of which was known only as far as the confluence of its White and Blue branches; perhaps it traversed the Sahara from west to east before turning north in Upper Nubia? Nero sent two centurions to Egypt with orders to try and solve the problem; they travelled up the White Nile the point where it emerges from the impenetrable swamps now called the Sudd.” (p 4)
  • "Ptolemy’s map of AD 150 shows the river [Nile] rising in the Mountains of the Moon (the Ruwenzori range?) and flowing north by two large lakes that will do for Victoria and Albert.” (p 5)
  • Once we realise that we are considering the classification of human communities we have no reason to be limited to purely physical measurements but can take social behaviour as our index. ... the study of language enables us to draw up a genetic tree for our sub-racial communities: as Dr Johnson said ‘Languages are the pedigrees of nations’.” (p 6) 
  • Basque: “Place-name and blood-group evidence indicates that once the Basques occupied not only all of Spain, but also France as least as far north and east as the Loire and Rhone.” (p 6) 
  • Etruscan (?): “all that seems certain is that it is not Indo-European”; “The Etruscans claimed that they were immigrants to Tuscany, having come from a Western Anatolia - presumably around 900 BC.” (p 6) 
  • Indo-Europeans: “In the first half of the second millennium BC ... Starting from Transoxiana, one group of Iranians spread across Central Asia, becoming a basal population of the steppe, an environment they were the first to master: another group moved south and invaded India, conquering first the Indus and then the Ganges valleys. It was from the Iranians of Central Asia that the Huns, Turks and Mongols ... originally learnt the specialised form of pastoralism that became their hallmark. In the classical period Central Asia was dominated by Iranian peoples, and it was only towards its end that they began to yield to the Altaians - the sub-race consisting of the Turks and Mongols.” (p 8) “The Danubian culture represents the arrival and establishment of the Indo-Europeans in Central Europe.” (p 9)
  • Archaeology was acclaimed as the science of rubbish and as fast as the rubbish was dug up it was written down.” (p 9)
  • History being a branch of the biological sciences it's ultimate expression must be mathematical.” (p 10)
  • On a straight stretch of coast ... the relationships between sea-shore communities are weaker than their relationships with inland communities by a factor of three to two; whereas ... where the coastline is indented, not only is the number of sea-shore communities greatly increased but the relationships between them frequently outnumber their other relationships and are sometimes exclusive.” (p 10)
  • The concept of the natural frontier is much easier to grasp than the concept of an ecosphere boundary.” In a footnote it is added: “Many wars owe their origin to this type of conflict. A river valley is itself an ecosphere and its division is usually unnatural in social terms; for example, both banks of the Rhine have had a German population ever since Roman times, but to the French the line of the river seems a natural frontier. The Eastern Alps are another homogeneously German zone; the southern boundary on an ecological analysis lies along the foothills whereas the natural frontier in Italian eyes is the watershed.” (p 11)
  • Gordium, the capital of the Phrygian kingdom, covered an area of only about twenty-five acres.” (p 11)
  • Britain throughout the first millennium AD, was a patchwork of county-sized communities, and, though the Romans saw the island as a single province, the inhabitants did not. Consequently, the metropolis disappeared with the end of Roman rule ... London did not retain exceptional status till the eleventh century.” (p 12)
  • Human beings prefer urban to rural poverty, ... big cities have an attraction beyond any economic advantage.” (p 12)

And that is just the introduction! Thenceforward the maps are dated:


50,000 BC
  • South of the glaciated zone, rainfall tended to be heavy because of the interaction of warm southern air and air from the ice-chilled north, and this heavier rainfall supported a fairly vigorous flora and fauna in the Sahara and other areas that are now desert.” (p 16)
8500 BC
  • During the ninth millennium BC ... there was a rapid, though largely transitory, improvement in the climate ... thereafter the reindeer and the upper paleolithic tradition only survived near the diminishing icecap ... and the majority of the inhabitants of Europe passed into a new cultural phase, the mesoolithic ... The largest quarry available were deer and oxen, and mesolithic man, to make ends meet, spent most of his time hunting the inglorious snail and frankly sessile nut.” (p 18)
  • As the sea-level rose above the Bosporan shelf, salt water diffused into the Black Sea and killed the freshwater life it contained. The decomposed remains of this ice-age population still poison the lower levels of the stagnant Black Sea which is devoid of life below 250 feet.” (footnote, p 18)
  • The boat was probably an invention of this period. The dog, which presumably was suffering from the disappearance of its prey in much the same way as man, first appears as a mesolithic camp-follower.” (footnote, p 18)
4500 BC
  • The innovations of the Neolithic are many: the cultivation of wheat and barley, the domestication of goats, sheep, pigs and cattle, the use of fired pottery and of polished (as opposed to chipped) stone tools.” (p 20)
  • All of the sites in the pre-pottery neolithic so far discovered are within the fertile crescent.” (p 20)
  • Some of the mesolithic populations of the Baltic and Spanish coasts ... established permanent communities whenever there was a sufficient supply of shellfish.” (p 20)
  • No one has ever challenged the aboriginal status of the Semites in Arabia, and whether or not the related Hamites were neolithic immigrants or merely converts to agriculture ... their dominance in North Africa from this time on is equally certain.” (p 20)
2250 BC
  • Trade was rudimentary. “Such exchanges as took place did not lead to the appearance of a merchant class, for they were fixed price affairs, regulated by temple or palace. Similarly, when there was a shortage of a necessary material, the response ... was not merchant venturing but the mounting of a military expedition.” (p 26)

1600 BC
The migration of the clan of Abraham from the bend of the Fertile Crescent is usually, and plausibly, referred to the first period of Amorite expansion; Joseph's successful move into Egypt to the time of the Hyksos pharaohs, with their presumably favourable attitude to Semitic immigrants. The term ‘Hebrew’ (apiru) is used by Egyptians of the second millennium to describe all aliens of nomadic habits and only became a specific designation after the Exodus.” (p 30)
In the Rig-veda, the Aryans have left a fairly full picture of an early Indo-European horde of the stock-breeding type. The most significant addition to the repertoire at this time is the horse-drawn chariot.” (p 30)
Scandinavia, South-Western France and Atlantic Spain remained at the calcolithic level, while North Africa stagnated in the neolithic until the arrival of the Phoenicians.” (p 30)

1300 BC
  • Egypt, preoccupied with the religious revolution of Akhenaten, allowed her Palestinian province to drift to the edge of obedience.” (p 32)
  • Rameses II is the usual choice for the pharaoh of the Exodus because the Hebrews toiled on extensions to Avaris, the old Hyksos capital which Rameses renamed after himself. Many ‘Apiru’ are attested among his slave labourers.” (p 32)
  • About 1500 northern China passed straight from the neolithic into a full Bronze Age.” (p 32)
1300 BC Towns and trade
  • In northern China ... by 1300, the Shang kings were ruling a vigorous urban society and their priests were beginning to use a transitional script that is as clearly dependent on Near-Eastern prototypes as it is ancestral to modern Chinese.” (p 34)
  • The cities song by Homer are revealed by the spade as no more than citadels while the Achaean's surviving accounts proclaim their simple self-sufficiency. Their ships certainly reached as far west as Sicily". (p 34)

1300 BC Literacy
  • Even the pharaohs of the proud eighteenth dynasty conducted their foreign correspondence in cuneiform (and in the Akkadian language, the recognised diplomatic mode of the era).” (p 36)
  • When the Achaeans conquered the Aegean area, they modified Linear A in order to use it for the writing of Greek, the result being the recently deciphered Linear B” (p 36)
  • The consonantal alphabet [was] a Syro-Palestinian invention that followed naturally from the use of an open syllabary for writing a language like Semitic in which the vowels occur in regular relation to the consonants.” (p 36)
1200 BC
  • The Dorians, the northernmost of the Greek tribes, broke into the peninsula and methodically sacked Achaean strongholds; they then took to the sea and meted out the same treatment to Crete and Rhodes. The Phrygians, a Thracian people who crossed to Anatolia in the middle of the thirteenth century, were held in the north-eastern corner by the Hittites until 1200.” (p 38)
  • In the1180s, a horde of what the Egyptians called ‘sea peoples’ overran Palestine and was only beaten back with difficulty from Egypt itself.” (p 38)
  • The dark age that the barbarian invaders brought to the Aegean and Anatolia was to last for some four centuries.” (p 38)
1000 BC
  • About 1000 the Philistines were attempting to guarantee the military inferiority of the Hebrews by forbidding them to use the new metal [iron]” (p 40)
  • About this time the Iranians of the Transoxian region of Asia found that a skillful rider could manage his horse on the battlefield, a discovery that was ultimately to put an end to the chariot as a useful weapon.” (p 40)
825 BC
  • The resurgence of Phoenicia was powered by the Tyrian discovery of Spain with its abundant minerals (c 1000)” (p 42)
  • About 800, the Phoenicians voyaging to Spain founded permanent stations on either side of the Sicilian channel, the halfway point on their route.” (p 42)
560 BC
  • c595 “Nebuchadnezzar ... conquered the Van region ... just after the Caucasian kingdom has been finally overthrown and the country settled by the Thraco-Cimmerian people who later became known as Armenians.” (p 48)
  • Croesus, Lydia’s last and greatest king, subdued Ionia in toto. The metropolitan Greeks lacked the political organization that might have enabled them to support their overseas compatriots.” (p 48)
  • It was probably in the seventh century that Buddha began his teaching in the Hindu principalities of the upper Ganges; Zoroaster is thought to have lived in the Oxus region towards the end of the same century.” (p 48)
375 BC Town and Trade
  • The key feature of a primitive economy is “a sort of rationing system that is not egalitarian but hierarchical, you are allowed three strings of beads if and when you are entitled to wear them. Consumption is both conspicuous and mandatory and its primary purpose is to express rank. The Communists have partly reverted to this system in protest at the destructive social effects of laissez-faire economics, but the price of re-tribalization is liberty.” (p 54)
  • “The node of the Greek trading network lay at the Peloponnesian isthmus, where goods were easily trans-shipped or, especially after 600 when a paved way was built, the ships themselves would be hauled across. The first major town in Greece was the isthmian capital, Corinth.” (p 54) 
  • "On land Athens was never strong enough to protect her farmers whose concentration on the cash crops of the Mediterranean world, wine and oil, was not so imprudent as appears at first sight; the walls of the city would resist any assault and while the Athenian navy ruled the waves the grain supply was assured and the cheaper for being imported.” (p 54)
  • Tyre dwindled as the Med was split into Carthaginian and Greek zones and “when the Athenian grip on the Aegean was finally broken, the beneficiary was not Tyre but Rhodes ... by then the mines of Laurion were exhausted; their place in the Greek economy was taken by the alluvial deposits in the north which were worked to the profit of Philip of Macedon.” (p 54)
  • Electrum is a gold-silver alloy that occurs naturally in Anatolia.” (p 54 footnote)
323 BC
  • Philip II of Macedon could afford the increase in size of his army because of the discovery of gold; his fighting efficiency increased when he “refused to recognise two conventions of Greek warfare ... the restriction of campaigning to a recognized season and of siege technique to a blockade.” (p 58)
  • While the Etruscans never really recovered from the onslaught of the Gauls, Rome ... beat back the invaders.” (p 58)

145 BC Town and trade
  • Macedon, its gold deposits exhausted and its manpower weakened by wars and emigration, could barely hold its place among the great powers.” (p 70)
  • Rome “had no natural resources, no manufactures, no trade; in sum, no commercial justification for growing ...Yet grow it did and the beginnings of this growth seem to have preceded the conquests that in economic terms provide a justification for size. ... The need for cheap corn in ever-increasing quantities can be accepted as an important factor in Rome’s overseas aggressions.” (p 70)
AD 230
  • The Roman frontier in Europe, as it does more obviously in Africa and the East, by and large corresponds with the limit of intensive agriculture. Economically the rational frontier in Britain was about halfway up and Hadrian's Wall was a fair military translation of this, but there was always a feeling that, after all, the place was an island, and if you could get to the end you wouldn't need a frontier at all. Accordingly, the annexation of Scotland was attempted at intervals but always failed because the legions could not supply themselves in such a sparsely populated country.” (p 82, footnote)
AD 230 Town and Trade
  • Chinese silk had an instant success in the west despite its high price ,,, the only Mediterranean equivalent, the rough silk of Cos, was driven off the market and forgotten so completely that the nature of silk became a subject for rumour and speculation.” (p 84)
AD 362 Town and trade
  • After Diocletian's division of the Roman empire into East and West “Rome herself, after fattening on the produce of the entire Mediterranean basin for three hundred years, lost the corn of Egypt, the tribute of the East and even, as the headquarters of the mobile army at Milan became the seat of the Western court and civil government, its capital status and the official expenditure that this had entailed. The city became a backwater, the home of the lost causes aristocracy and paganism.” (p 90)
  • The reversion to self-sufficiency and barbarism was all too easy; taxation, most readily inflicted on the city dweller, encouraged the process.” (p 90)
  • The government’s price-fixing had made many professions profitless, and its attempts to avoid the economic consequences of its acts by making the practice of such professions obligatory and the liability hereditary, must have created many outlaws.” (p 90)
  • In the Orwellian twilight of the West, citizenship had become slavery and the paradox was completed when serfdom became the free man’s aspiration. To protect himself from the summary requisitions of the tax-gatherer the small farmer bought the protection of the local magnate by the gift of his freehold.” (p 90)
  • Only the evolution of a scientific stance - one foot inside the boundary of the known, the other just outside - could have guaranteed the superiority, and consequently the integrity, of Mediterranean society, and the world was still too young for that.” (p 92)
  • In the early days of her empire Rome did less than nothing for the urbanization of her provinces ... In the already developed areas the legions brought disasters. Carthage and Corinth were razed and Syracuse so treated that it never regained its former rank.” (p 92)
An astounding and outstanding work of reference. How one many can cover so many bases staggers me.

Brilliant. July 2018

Monday, 30 July 2018

"The Feather Thief" by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Yet another wonderful book lent to me by my mate Fred whose other contributions include:
  • A Time of Gifts: a wonderful travel book about a man walking through Europe between the wars; beautifully written
  • Dynasty: the story of the first Roman emperors by the wonderful historian Tom Holland
  • The Song of Achilles  a wonderful novel by Madeline Miller
  • Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner; a memoir of a man who grew up in Germany during hyper-inflation and the rise of the Nazis
This book is about a flautist called Edwin who is obsessed with tying flies. The sort of flies that trout and salmon fishermen use. Except Edwin doesn't fish. He just likes tying as an art form. He is a member of a worldwide fly-tying community. And the problem they all have is that many flies are tied using feathers from birds who are now endangered and protected. So it is illegal to hunt them or trap them or kill them or take their feathers. This means that the feathers are in increasingly short supply. The major sources are old Victorian hats. Following the law of supply and demand this makes the highly sought after feathers increasingly expensive. So Edwin decides to break into the ornithological collection of the British Museum in Tring and steal some of their specimens of rare birds. 

Despite these bizarre details, this is a true story.

As with many such tales these days ( for example, The Mighty Dead: a superb analysis of the Iliad by an author who writes like a dream) the author tells the tale of his own obsessive  journey "into the feather underground, a world of fanatical fly-tiers and plume peddlers,cokeheads and big game hunters, ex-detectives and shady dentists" to track down the obsessives of the fly-tying community, to find the thief and, if possible, to retrieve some of the stolen specimens. Thus, the narrative opens with the crime, it then goes historical as the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace, Victorian collector extraordinary and co-founder with Darwin of the theory of evolution by natural selection, are told, shipwreck and all, and then returning to the present day for Edwin's biography, the account of the police investigation and trial, and what happened next.

It's brilliant.


Many fascinating facts of which these are a small selection:
  • Alfred Russel Wallace stood on the quarterdeck of a burning ship, seven hundred miles off the coast of Bermuda, the planks heating beneath his feet, yellow smoke curling up through the cracks.” (first line)
  • At the height of the Victorian collecting craze “Hats were designed with special compartments for storing specimens gathered on a stroll.” (p 18)
  • The first birds of paradise skins “brought to Europe by Magellan's crew as a gift for the king of Spain in 1522, were missing their feet. ... leading Carolus Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, to name the species ... the footless bird of paradise. Many Europeans thus believed that the birds were inhabitants of a heavenly realm, always turning towards the sun, feeding on ambrosia and never descending to earth until their death. They thought the female laid her eggs on the back of her mate, incubating them as they sawed through the clouds.” (p 25 - 26)
  • Two and a half million years [ago] ... New Guinea ... emerged from the ocean just off the northern coast of Australia. Colliding tectonic plates drove up a spine of mountains that continue to grow faster than anywhere else on earth.” (p 30)
  • The deepwater strait between Bali and Lombok, which [Wallace] realised formed a dividing line between species found upon the Australian and Asian continental shelves, now appears on maps as ‘the Wallace line’.” (p 38)
  • Before the Hermes bag or Louboutin heel, the ultimate status indicator was a dead bird.” (p 46)
  • Entire bird skins were mounted on hats so ostentatiously large that women were forced to kneel in their carriages or ride with their heads out the window.” (p 47)
  • In 1775 ... there were twenty-five plumassiers in France. By 1860 there were 120, and by 1870 the number had skyrocketed to 280. So many people were working in the feather-plucking and bird-stuffing business that trade groups spring up to protect its workers, such as the Union of Raw Feather Merchants, the Union of Feather Dyers, and even a Society for Assistance to Children Employed in the Feather Industries.” (p 48)
  • When the Titanic went down in 1912, the most valuable and highly insured merchandise in its hold was forty crates of feathers.” (p 49)
  • In 1813 John James Audubon once travelled for three straight days under a single eclipsing horde of Passenger Pigeons.” (p 49 - 50) The species went extinct in 1914
  • By the end of the century, the sixty million American bison had been hunted down to three hundred.” (p 50)
  • In 1496 “Wynkyn de Worde, a Dutch emigre running a newfangled printing press in Fleet Street in London. Published a Treatise of Fishing with an Angle
  • Why should the rightful owner need to prove to someone in possession of stolen goods that they deserve to get them back?” (p 190)
  • Edwin and the feather underground were a bunch of historical fetishists, practising a ‘candy-ass, ridiculous, parasitic activity’.” (p 200)

July 2018; 261 pages

Sunday, 29 July 2018

"The Book of Genesis" by Gary Rendsburg

Rather than being a book, this is a course of lectures accompanied by a course booklet. There are 24 lectures each lasting about half an hour.

In his own terms, Rendsburg is a ‘maximalist’: he believes that “because so much of the Bible has been demonstrated to be historically accurate” its basic historical accuracy should be accepted even where there is no supporting evidence (except for Gen 1 - 11 which all but fundamentalists agree are mythic).

The aim of Professor Rendsburg is to demonstrate that Genesis should be viewed as a single text, with a coherent narrative, which employs some clever (if rather basic to today's authors) literary devices. Some of these 'literary devices' enable him to explain away inconsistencies in the text which seem to make the single narrative theory less likely than the (more commonly held) multiple sources theory. For example, in lecture 20 (on Genesis 37) he addresses the vexed question of who took Jospeh to Egypt? In Gen 37:25 - 26 the brothers see Ishmaelites and decide to sell J to them. In Gen 37: 28 Midianites take J from pit and sell him to Ishmelites. In Gen 37: 36 Medanites sell Joseph to Potiphar in Egypt. And in Gen 39:1 Potiphar buys J from Ishmaelites. But this, says Rendsburg, is not because there were a variety of conflicting sources. No. It is because “the confusion reflects the confusion in Joseph's mind”. It is a literary device. Yeah. Right.

I find this a problem because there is so much of Rendsburg's work that is enlightening and informative but doubts about one part of his work spreads uncertainty to others.

For example, he acknowledges that the problem of the first person plural to describe god has three possible solutions:
  • It is an echo of polytheism
  • It is a reference to angels (but angels a later invention).
  • It is the use of the royal ‘we’.
This third option is clearly Rendsburg's preferred option even though he admits that the royal first person plural is found nowhere else in “all of ancient Near Eastern literature”. It seems to me that to adopt such an option with zero corroborating evidence is to allow an a priori position to colour one's interpretation. 

Again, Rendsburg acknowledges there are two creation stories. In the first God is called Elohim (God) and in the second Yahweh Elohim (Lord God) in second. God creates by saying in first story and by doing in second story The order of creation is plants, animals, man in the first story but in the second it is man, animals, plants. In the first story men and women are created together and in the second story man is first, f and woman is an afterthought. This sounds like two traditions, two sources, merged to me. To Rendsburg it is the same story but the first has a cosmocentric emphasis and the second is anthropocentric.

Other contradictions acknowledged by Rendsburg include:

  • The number of animals of the Ark: one pair of each (Gen 6: 19 - 20) or seven pairs of each pure species and one pair of each impure species (Gen 7:2)
  • Esau’s wives have different names in Gen 26:34 cf Gen 36: 2 -3

The alternative to Rendsburg's account is the (mainstream) JEDP theory which identifies four sources for the first five books (the Pentateuch or Torah):

  • J in which God is called Yahweh
  • E in which God is called Elohim
  • D who is the writer of Deuteronomy
  • P wrote the Priestly bits, eg offering a difference between Levis and Priests as in Leviticus while D thinks all Levites are priests.

Rendsburg rejects JEDP (although accepting P and D are from different worship traditions) because he regards the dating as wrong (Genesis has no Persian loanwords and is therefore probably entirely written pre 550 BCE) and because he sees the narrative as a literary whole suffused with themes such as the younger son triumphant, the weak woman and the deceiver deceived. I can't quite see whu we can't have both: that Genesis was created from a variety of sources by someone who attempted to impose an overall structure with key themes.

Source materials
Some of the source materials from which Genesis might have been written include:

  • The Babylonian Creation story Enuma Elish
  • The Gilgamesh Epic which has multiple parallels with the Genesis flood (see this specific section)
  • The Canaanite epics of Aqhat and Kret which have 'childless hero' parallels with the story of Abraham
  • The Egyptian tale of Two Brothers (c 1200 BC) in which the wife of the older brother attempts to seduce the younger brother and when he says it would be a sin she falsely accuses him of rape has parallels with the Potiphar's wife section of the Joseph story (although Joseph says it would be a sin 'before God')
Pre-Bible sources referred to in the Bible:


  • Exodus 15 is a snippet of poetry using archaic language as is Judges 5.
  • Joshua 10:13 and 2Samuel 1:18 (containing poetry) refer to the Book of Jashar.
  • Numbers 21:14 refers to the Book of the Wars of the Lord (and contains snippets of poetry)

The Joseph story has a distinct Egyptian background:

  • Several Egyptian words in the story eg ‘abrek (“heart to you”)
  • Names are Egyptian
  • Joseph’s father in law is a priest from On city, later Heliopolis
  • Joseph shaves, Egyptian custom
  • Joseph interprets dreams: Egyptian custom
  • Joseph was embalmed after death: Egyptian custom

The literary structure of Genesis

Three main cycles: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph

Abraham and Jacob story have matching halves (eg Abraham cycle has 2 covenant stories, 2 rescues of Lot); second half matchers first half backwards (chiastic structure)

All cycles have a midway turning point (God called Elohim and Abram changes to Abraham, birth of Joseph)

  • Chiasm of Abraham:
    • Genealogy (of Terah)
    • Start of spiritual journey
    • Sarai in foreign palace; Abram and Lot part
    • Abram rescues Lot
    • Covenant with Abram; annunciation of Ishmael
    • Abram becomes Abraham; God called Elohim
    • Covenant with Abraham; annunciation of Isaac
    • Abraham rescues Lot
    • Sarah in foreign palace; Abraham and Ishmael part
    • Climax of spiritual journey
    • Genealogy (of Nahor)
  • Jacob cycle (each matching episode linked with a keyword)
    • Oracle, struggle in childbirth, Jacob born
    • Rebekah in foreign palace
    • Jacob fears Esau, flees
    • Messengers
    • Arrival at Harran
    • Jacob’s wives are fertile
    • Rachel gives birth to Joseph; Jacob decides to return to Canaan
    • Jacob’s flocks are fertile
    • Flight from Harran
    • Messengers
    • Jacob returns; fears Esau
    • Dinah in foreign palace
    • Struggle in childbirth; Jacob becomes Israel

Themes in Genesis
Rendsburg sees these as evidence that Genesis is a unified piece of literature.

  • Rendsburg sees a repeated theme in the Bible of lowly women (who, he says, represent Israel, a relatively powerless state) such as Sarah (lowly when Abraham bosses her around), Hagar (lowly when Sarah bosses her around), Tamar, prostitute Rahab who helps Israel conquer Jericho, Jael who tent-pegs Sisera etc;
  • Theme of the barren woman: Sarah: Abraham took slave girl Hagar, Rebekah (ref Gen 25: 21), Rachel (Jacob takes Bilhah);
  • Theme of the younger son supplanting the elder: Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and the rest, Judah and his three elder brothers. Also God favoured younger Abel over elder Cain. Also Aaron is older brother of Moses

When was the Bible written?
Part of the argument concerns when the Old Testament was written. Here is Rendburg's take on it.




  • Archaic poetry (c 1150 - 1000 BCE):
    • Exodus 15, some of Numbers 21, Judges 5
  • 1000 BCE - 400 BCE:
    • Genesis to Kings
    • Prophets
    • Psalms, Proverbs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ezra-Nehemiah
  • 400 BCE - 150 BCE:
    • Ecclesiastes, Esther, Chronicles, Daniel (164 BCE)
Rendsburg argues that oblique references to the Davidic-Solomionic monarchy (17:6 God tells Araham “kings shall spring from you”; 17:16 “kings shall spring from” Sarah; 15:18 God outlines boundaries of D-S kingdom; 49:10 “The sceptre shall not pass from Judah”) suggests Genesis written in 10th Century. Furthermore, Israel a confederation of tribes till 1020 BC when Saul became King. The boundaries in Gen 15.18 correspond to David’s (1000 - 965) or Solomon (965 - 930)

Chronology of the Joseph story

  • Egyptian papyrus from late 13th century BC describes a group of semites who arrive in eastern Nile delta with flocks feeling from drought and famine; Egyptians grant them permission to settle.
  • Generally scholars assume Joseph served during Hyksos dynasty (1675 - 1575 BCE)
  • Rendsburg asserts that 'most' agree that Ramses II (1291 - 1224) enslaved Israelites. This, he asserts, means that Joseph’s pharaoh was the previous pharaoh Seti I (1308 - 1291). On the other hand Rendsburg also says that the characters in Exodus are 3 to 5 generations from sons of Jacob suggesting that the Israelites were in Egypt for about 100 years. This pushes back the Joseph story to 1324 or before. 


The Creation
The creation was not from nothing. The earth predates the creation: “The earth was without form and void" (New English Bible); “The earth was formless and desolate" (Good News Version); “The earth hath existed waste and void" (Young’s Literal Translation); “The earth was without form and void" (Revised Standard Version)

Rendsburg says that this gets over the problem of evil. Polytheists can have evil gods but monotheists can't. But if the creation prior to god was evil (and “four of the five key words ... unformed, void, darkness, deep [are] symbolic of chaos and evil (only the wind is not of that ilk) then it can be argued that evil existed before god.

Of course, the second creation story has a different cause of the origin of evil: the eating of the fruit of the tree.

There are also a number of resonances with the Babylonian Creation story. This is the tale of a conflict between Tiamat, evil goddess of salt water, and Marduk, good sky god. “Marduk kills Tiamat and he creates the world out of her body, using the upper part of her body to create the vault of heaven and the lower part of her body to create the earth. The story continues with the creation of the sun, the moon, and the stars, and it finishes with the creation of man.

The Flood (Gen 6 - 8)
Other factors influencing our understanding of the source material include climate. Thus, Egypt depends on the regular flooding of the Nile and Mesopotamia is regularly flooded by the Tigris and the Euphrates. Canaan, however, has no major rivers and is dependent principally on rainfall. It seems unlikely that a Flood story could derive from this.

The Flood story seems to be an adaptation of the Gilgamesh epic. This was a literary classic in the ancient Near East existing in several translations including original Akkadian, Hittite and Hurrian. The Genesis story shares with Gilgamesh:

  • The building materials: wood, pitch and QNYM (probably qanim, reeds)
  • The dimensions
  • The number of decks
  • The order of description of materials then dimensions then number of decks
  • The population
  • The detailed description of the flood
  • The mountaintop landing
  • The birds (in both stories the landing appears before the birds are sent)
  • The sacrifices at the end

The differences are essentially theological:

  • Why the world was destroyed
  • Why a special person was chosen to survive
  • The covenant

Rendsburg asserts that the Flood story derived from the Gilgamesh story (rather than the other way round) because:

  • Flooding is typical in Mesopotamia but impossible in Canaan;
  • Ararat is north of Mesopotamia;
  • The Bible has Abraham coming from Mesopotamia;
  • adding stuff to a story (the theological stuff) is easier than subtracting it;
  • When Noah makes the sacrifice at the end God “smelt the soothing odour” which is a personification of God found nowhere else in the Bible but Gilgamesh Tablet XI line 161 reads “the gods smelled the sweet savour”.

Rendsburg uses this to doubt the JEDP theory because (apart from the discrepancy in the number of animals) the Flood story seems to come from one source. For me, the acknowledgement that bthere is a source for at least one story in the Bible lends credence to the idea that Genesis might be a portmanteau, edited work.

Abraham and Sarah.

On the face of it, these are not the sort of people you'd like to boast of having in your ancestry. When Sarah has a child she insists that Abraham sends his mistress Hagar and her young child Ishmael out into the wilderness so that Ishmael, Abraham's first-born, cannot have a share in Isaac's inheritance. Abraham twice passes his wife Sarah off as his sister thus deceiving other men and bringing down the curse of god on the apparently deceived man rather than on the husband/pimp. Abraham himself is so fundamentalist in his unquestioning obedience to the voice of god that he is prepared to murder his son Isaac because he thinks god has told him too.

Where does Abraham come from? The story says 'Ur' but Rendsburg suggests this is not the city state of Ur from the southern Mesopotamia region but Urfa, a city north of the Euphrates (Joshua 24:3 says Abraham came from “beside the Euphrates” (New English Bible; Rendsburg says “beyond the Euphrates”). This fits with local Urfa tradition, and the route described (through Harran to Canaan), and the homeland from which Isaac's bride comes (Aram-nahairim (Aram of the Two Rivers) Gen 24:10; Rendsburg says this is northern Mesopotamia) and Jacob's wife too (Paddan-aram to Laban’s home (via Harran) Rendsburg says this is also Aram-nahairim; wikipedia locates this as in Harran);
Harran is on the Turkish border, and tablets found there suggest Hurrian customs reflected in Abraham story:

  • Childless men adopted servants as heirs
  • Adopted sons superseded by later-born natural sons
  • Barren wives required by law to give their husbands a slavewoman

There are two odd moments in Genesis in each of which Abraham attempts to pass Sarah off as his sister; at first to pharaoh in Egypt and then to Canaanite king Abi-Melech. In both cases Sarah is taken into the household of the ruler (by implication into the harem) and in both cases the monarch’s apparent adultery (Sarah is married) displeases god and he punishes Pharaoh but only warns A-M, and in both stories the unwitting adulterer is angry with Abraham the deceiver. Abraham’s defence is that Sarah is his half-sister (same father). This suggests that this story is written later than Leviticus which bans incest with half-sisters.

Other interesting things that I learned:
  • Our present system of chapters and verses was “accomplished by Stephen Langton (c 1150 - 1228), the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Genesis is unusual among ancient literature in that it is written in prose not poetry. But Egyptian religious stories were also prose.
  • Rendsburg distinguishes between the religion of ancient Israel which was monolatry, worship of one god, and religion during and after Babylonian exile which was monotheism, belief in one god. Belief in antiquity involved localised deities (Exodus 7:16 Moses asks Pharaoh that Israelites be allowed to go into desert to worship Yahweh “let his people go in order to worship him in the wilderness”; 1Sam 26:19 David curses men who have “banished me to serve other gods”). Rendsburg suggests that it was the desire to worship Yahweh whilst in exile that changed Jews from monolatrous to monotheistic.
  • Ziggurat figures both in Tower of Babel story and in Jacob’s ‘ladder’ (sullam means ladder or stairway or ziggurat)
  • Yahweh is seen as male. Hebrew language has genders and Yahweh always referred to using masculine nouns, pronouns and verbs. There is a metaphor of God as man marrying Israel as woman.
  • Genesis 1 God prescribes vegetarianism; Genesis 9 allows meat eating (but not blood)
  • Genesis 29:11 is the only place in the Bible where a single man kisses a single woman.
  • Gen 24:2: Abraham tells servant to swear while “placing his hand under hid thigh” ==> touch his testicles: ancient custom: single Latin route for testicles and testify.
  • The phrase ‘we-hinneh’ = ‘and behold’ is used as a literary device to move us to protagonist’s POV.
 This lecture series had had some extraordinarily interesting moments but it was spoiled by Rendsburg's adherence to a minority perspective. Because his arguments failed to convince me I felt uncertain whether what he said was an accurate reflection of the mainstream scholarship on Genesis. For example, there was no discussion of alternative chronologies for either the writing of Genesis or for the events written about. I even felt it necessary to check Biblical quotes ... and of course the varieties of translation cast doubt on any one argument. In the end I distrusted Rendsburg as an unbiased and I was unsatisfied that I understood the state of play of current Genesis scholarship.

July 2018

Saturday, 28 July 2018

"The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” So starts this story of how the repercussions of the murder on the family and stretching out into the community, the ripples spreading wider as year follows year. This is foreshadowed by the story of wild rabbits taking poisoned vegetables back to their burrows: “Then, inside the earth and so far away from the man or woman who had laced a garden with toxic bait, an entire family of rabbits would curl into themselves and die.” (p 22) Susie, up in Heaven, watches all of it: her murder and the disposal of her body, the attempts to catch the murderer, the murderers own attempts to control himself before he kills another girl, the destructive forces tearing at the marriage bond between her parents, how the children have to cope with sibling rivalry of the dead kind, and how her friends at school come to terms in their own lives with this tragedy.

It is a beautifully structured book. There are moments of joy and moments of terror. The murder itself is perfectly told and the chill that creeps up on one when the murderer subsequently sees Susie's sister made my hairs stand on end and my spine tingle and little drops of cold sweat blossom from my skin. Some characters are strong and some are weak; some are considerate and some foolish. She never pulls her punches. One of those moments was when Susie's mother acts a parent and is told by her young son, still a child: "Fuck you". This is a raw and honest chronicle of grief and healing.

Great lines:
  • Life is a perpetual yesterday for us.” (p 10)
  • The strange sad mortality of being a father. His life had given birth ... in that way the line he had begun seemed immortal to him, like a strong steel filament threading into the future, continuing past him no matter where he might fall off.” (p 48)
  • When people looked at Lindsey, even my father and mother, they saw me. Even Lindsey was not immune. She avoided mirrors.” (p 59)
  • The charcoal smudges of her eyes ... had given her a leering look that made every kid who saw it either strangely uncomfortable or quite happy, thank you.” (P 76)
  • I realized how subversive Ruth was then, not because she drew pictures of nude women ... but because she was more talented than her teachers. She was the quietest kind of rebel. Helpless, really.” (p 77)
  • Her eyes ... had gone from closed to open doorways - dark rooms where he wanted to travel firsthand.” (p 83)
  • It was a way, I now realized, to try to understand her daughter better. A miscalculated circling, a sad partnerless dance.” (p 99)
  • The living room seemed to be where no living ever actually occurred.” (p 133)
  • For a time leaden weights had been tied by anesthesia to the four corners of his consciousness.” (p 145)
  • The rumours ... wove in and out of the rows of student lockers like the most persistent snakes.” (p 156)
  • He was inside the capsule of his car, thinking of my mother, of how wrong it all was and then how he could not say no to her for reasons he couldn’t hold on to long enough to analyze or disclaim.” (p 194)
  • She watched others tell their drunken bar stories, prostituting their families and their traumas for popularity and booze.” (p 248)

A page turner with some intimate reflections on the nature of our love for one another. July 2018; 328 pages

Sunday, 22 July 2018

"Next World Novella" by Matthias Politycki

A sinologist goes into his study to find his wife lying dead, apparently from a stroke. Just before she died she was editing a short story he had written years ago and he tries to understand her annotations. She believes his tale was autobiographical and confessional and as he reads on he discovers her perspective on him, their marriage, and death. At first he bemoans the one-sidedness of the discussion: “To be dead, he thought, means above all that you can't answer questions, you can't clear things up, you can't get things straight and see that you may have misunderstood them” (p 70) Later he comes to realise that it is he who has misunderstood. “Being dead, he thought, means first and foremost that you can't apologize, can't forgive and be reconciled, there's nothing left to be forgiven, only to be forgotten. Or rather there's nothing to be forgotten, only forgiven.” (p 128). And, right at the end, there is the hint of a second chance.

A carefully constructed story, with moments of perfect prose.

Some great lines:
  • From the far end of his room autumn sunlight came flooding in, bathing everything in a golden or russet glow - the chaise-longue in the corner was a patch of melting colour. They'd have to open a window to let all that light out later.” (p 7)
  • Checking the way his hair lay over his bald patch, stroking the back of his head, he told himself that he was a happy man.” (p 7) 
  • He didn't want to live forever in any case, he added defiantly; there was an end to everything, even a sausage had two ends.
  • She'd already done ‘everything she could’ to make sure her family could manage, everything - do you know what that means? I'd rather not imagine it in any detail. Without sometimes fleecing one or another of the men pursuing her tenaciously, without going off with some of the takings now and then, she couldn't have coped.” (p 111)
  • Wasn't life nothing but betrayal? And, even more, being betrayed?” (p 126)
  • The sun lay on the parquet and made it shine. Schlepp closed his eyes. He would have to open a window to let all that happiness out again later.” (last line)
July 2018; 138 pages


Saturday, 21 July 2018

"The Rivals" by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

A classic play set in bodice-ripping Bath.

Lydia Languish is a young girl who is addicted to romantic novels. Even though she stands to lose the vast bulk of her fortune if she marries against her aunts wishes, she is determined to pursue a romantic elopement with a poor soldier such as young Ensign Beverley. Little does she know that the Ensign is actually an officer, Captain Jack Absolute, who, knowing of Lydia's perverse predilections, has disguised himself as the poor ensign. But, in a twist, Jack's father and Lydia's aunt have decided that he is the suitable match for Lydia. He thus becomes his own rival: “My father wants to force me to marry the very girl I am plotting to run away with!

At the same time Lydia's friend Julia is engaged to Jack's friend Faulkland but they have been parted and the eternally self-doubting Faulkland, hearing reports that Julia has laughed and sang and even danced while they were apart, has decided that she does not love him after all. But his attempts to test her are clumsy and leave the pair of them cross with one another.

A comedy of crossed lovers and confused identities.

There are some wonderful characters:

  • The eternally morose Faulkland who, whatever happens, will reframe it as casting doubt on Julia's love for him.
  • Jack's dad who, hypocritically since he himself married Jack's mother for love, threatens that Jack must marry whatever woman Sir A chooses, although "she shall have a hump in each shoulder; she shall be as crooked as the Crescent; her one eye shall roll ... she shall have the skin of a mummy ... Yet I’ll make you ogle her all day and sit up all night to write sonnets on her beauty.” If Jack disobeys “don’t enter the same hemisphere as me, don’t dare to breathe the same air, or use the same light with me; but get an atmosphere and sun of your own ... I’ll disown you, I’ll disinherit you, I’ll unget you! And damn me, if I’ll ever call you Jack again!” He is wonderfully angry old man. Then, when Jack says he will do as his father asks, he is again angry: “When I ran away with your mother, I would not have touched anything old or ugly to gain an empire.
  • Bob Acres, a very rustic old man who, fancying himself a suitor for Lydia, challenges 'Ensign Beverley' to a duel but when he gets to the duelling ground becomes farcically cowardly.
  • Mrs Malaprop whose continual use of the wrong word has earned her a place in the dictionary as the progenitor of Malapropisms. My favourites included:
    • you will promise to forget this fellow! to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.” 
    •  “few gentlemen, nowadays, know how to value the ineffectual qualities in a woman. ... he is the very pineapple of politeness.
    • "a nice derangement of epitaphs.” 
    • She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.


Other great lines:
  • You thought, miss! I don't know any business you have to think at all: thought does not become a young woman.
  • Our memories are independent of our wills. It is not so easy to forget.” 
  • Had I a thousand daughters, by heavens, I'd as soon have them taught the black art as their alphabet ... A circulating library in a town is as an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge.” 
  • The fortune is saddled with a wife ... If you have the estate, you must take it with the livestock in it
  • Damned double-barrelled swords and cut-and-thrust pistols
  • Are you my son or not? / I am not quite clear myself but I’ll endeavour to recollect.

Wonderful characters, a brilliant plot and some fabulous word-play make this a classic comedy. 

July 2018

Friday, 20 July 2018

"Destined to Feel" by Indigo Bloome

In this erotic thriller, the sequel to Destined to Play, Alexa (Dr Alexandra Blake) flies to London to be reunited with her lover, controlling Jeremy Quinn. As she leaves the airport she is abducted by sinister forces. What plot for world domination is being hatched and will Alexa ever escape from the clutches of XSade?

Interspersed with the thriller plot are episodes f explicit erotic sex either remembered between Alexa and Jeremy or new.

Some good lines:
  • Once you become a mother it is as if you have a god-given right to share your experience and knowledge with newer less practised mothers who you feel are in desperate and urgent need of your extensive fountain of knowledge. ... we share our all-encompassing sage advice to both enhance our own ego (and reinforce to ourselves that we are on the correct parenting path)” (p 5)
  • When it comes to women, statements are far more effective than questions; that way, they don't have to give themselves permission.... If they say nothing, you have told them what will happen. They can always say no, but never seem to” (p 41) 
  • Then nothingness blankets my brain like a snuffer putting out a candle’s flame.” (p 170)
July 2018; 323 pages

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

"Ways of seeing" by John Berger

This is one of the classic texts of art appreciation suggesting that the oil painting tradition in European post-Renaissance art is an attempt by an elite to maintain the sense that the values established in the early development of capitalism of class power based on monetary wealth should be respected. Thus, he suggests that the development of perspective represents the artist suggesting that the viewer's is the correct perception. The nude, almost always female of course, invariably gazes towards the viewer and this, Berger suggests, is because the viewer possesses both the painting and, in some way, the body of the model.

Berger then argues that the ubiquitous advertising image is often based on oil painting convention and represents an attempt to control the viewer by proposing a future in which the viewer is glamorous and envied.

This is a brilliantly thought provoking book.

Perception

  • Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world ... Each evening we see the sun set. we know that the Earth is turning away from it.” (p 7)
  • We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice.” (p 8)
  • We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.” (p 9)
How paintings differ from photographs and film

  • Every time we look at a photograph, we are aware ... of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights.” (p 10)
  • The camera isolated momentary appearances and in so doing destroyed the idea that images were timeless ... The camera showed that the notion of time passing was inseparable from the experience of the visual. ... What you saw depended upon where you were when.” (p 18)
  • A film unfolds in time and painting does not.” (p 26)

Berger points out that oil paintings is a form of painting that developed in Europe during the Renaissance and that a series of conventions has developed around it.

  • When an image is presented as a work of art the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions ... beauty, truth, genius, civilization, form, status, taste, etc” (p 11)
  • The art of the past is being mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes.” (p 11)
  • The compositional unity of a painting contributes fundamentally to the power of its image.” (p 13)
  • The convention of perspective, which is unique to European art and which was first established in the early Renaissance ... makes the single eye the centre of the visible world. Everything convergys onto the eye as to the vanishing point of infinity. The visible world is arranged for the spectator as the universe was once thought to be arranged for God.” (p 16)
  • Reproductions are still used to bolster the illusion ... that art, with its unique undiminished authority, justifies most other forms of authority, that art makes inequality seem noble and hierarchies seem thrilling.” (p 29)


One of the primary conventions is that of the nude (the vast majority being of women):

  • In western art nudes are essentially passive, often reclining, usually submissive and looking at the spectator. (p 52) “In other non European traditions - in Indian art, Persian art, African art, Pre-Columbian art - nakedness is never supine in this way. ... it is likely to show active sexual love as between two people, the woman as active as the man.” (p 53) 
  • The way of seeing ‘a nude’ is not necessarily confined to art: there are also nude photographs, nude poses, new gestures. what is true is that the nude is always conventionalized - and the authority for it's conventions derives from a certain tradition of art.” (p 47)
  • To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude ... Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. To be on display is to have the surface of one's own skin, the hairs of one's own body, turned into a disguise which, in that situation, can never be discarded. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.” (p 54)
  • A nude “is made to appeal to his [the viewer, the ‘owner’ of the painting] sexuality. It has nothing to do with her sexuality ...In the European tradition generally, the convention of not painting the hair on a woman's body helps towards the same end. Hair is associated with sexual power, with passion.”
  • It is true that sometimes painting include a male lover. But the woman's attention is very really directed towards him. Often she looks away from him or she looks out of the picture towards the one who considers himself her true lover - the spectator-owner.” (p 56)
  • Almost all post-Renaissance European sexual imagery is frontal ... because the sexual protagonist is the spectator-owner looking at it.” (p 56)

In modern life the most ubiquitous images are 'publicity' images. The purpose of publicity is to make us desire a future state; the images shown are those to which we are supposed to aspire. “The interminable present of meaningless working hours is ‘balanced’ by a dreamt future in which ... the passive worker becomes the active consumer.” (p 149)

  • Publicity principally addressed to the working class tends to promise a personal transformation through the function of the particular product it is selling (Cinderella); middle-class publicity promises a transformation of relationships through a general atmosphere created by an ensemble of products (The Enchanted Palace).” (p 145)
  • Within publicity, choices are offered between this cream or that cream ... but publicity as a system only makes a single proposal. It proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more. This more, it proposes, will make us in some way richer - even though we will be poorer by having spent our money.” (p 131)
  • Publicity works by making us envy other people. It makes us wish to be transformed into the envied ones. “Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. It depends precisely upon not sharing your experience with those who envy you. ... It is this which explains the absent, unfocused look of so many glamour images.” (p 133)
  • The power of the glamorous resides in their supposed happiness” (p 133

Oil paintings and publicity have many similarities including: “The gestures of models ,,, and mythological figures. The romantic use of nature ... to create a place where innocence can be refound. The exotic and nostalgic attraction of the Mediterranean. The poses taken up to denote stereotypes of women: serene mother (madonna), free-wheeling secretary (actress, King’s mistress), perfect hostess (spectator-owner’s wife), sex-object (Venus, nymph surprised) ... The special sexual emphasis given to women’s legs. The gestures and embraces of lovers, arranged frontally for the benefit of the spectator. The sea, offering a new life. The physical stance of men conveying wealth and virility. The treatment of distance by perspective - offering mystery. The equation of drinking and success. The man as knight (horseman) become motorist.” (p 138)

Both oil paintings and publicity tend to distinguish between images of men and women. This is to do with cultural differences in male and female 'presence':

  • A man’s presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. I the promise is large and credible his presence is striking. If it is small or incredible, he is found to have little presence. The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual - but its object is always exterior to the man.” (p 45) 
  • A woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste ... presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura.” (p 46)
  • To be born of woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisioning herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually ... She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance what is normally thought of as the success of their life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another. Men survey women before treating them. Consequently how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated. To acquire some control of this process, women must contain it and interiorize it.” (p 46)
  • Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women that also the relation of women to themselves.” (p 47)

Other interesting  comments:

  • The past is never there waiting to be discovered, to be recognized for exactly what it is. History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past.” (p 11)
  • When metaphysical symbols are introduced ... their symbolism is usually made unconvincing or unnatural by the unequivocal, static materialism of the painting-method.” (p 91)
  • The great artist is a man whose life-time is consumed by struggle: partly against material circumstances, partly against incomprehension, partly against himself. Her is imagined as a kind of Jacob wrestling with an Angel.” (p 110)

What I didn't like about this book was the typeface (mostly bold which I found tiring) and the poor quality of the illustrations.

An extraordinarily interesting book. It was written in 1972 and one suspects the anti-capitalist Berger would be even more appalled or intrigued by the images in our modern rampantly capitalist world. What would he make of the images on the internet, both the stylistic conventions of the selfie and of  those pictures posted on social media and the stylistic conventions of internet pornography. Several doctoral theses available here!

July 2017; 154 pages


Saturday, 14 July 2018

"The Darkening Age" by Catherine Nixey

The prevailing perspective is that the glories of the Roman Empire were destroyed by the Barbarian invasions and that learning during the European Dark Ages was kept alive by monks in their scriptoria. Nixey radically revises this thesis. She shows that fanatical Christians destroyed a largely tolerant Roman culture and that Christianity was, to a large extent, responsible for the darkness.

First, she suggests that Roman persecution of Christians was largely a myth. In three centuries there were thirteen years of persecution:
  • Roman Emperors wanted obedience, not martyrs.” (p 78) 
  • Trajan tells Pliny "these people must not be hunted out.” (p 73) 
  • As the early Christian author Origen admitted, the numbers of martyrs were few enough to be easily countable.” (p 61) 
  • It is now thought that fewer than ten martyrdom tales from the early Church can be considered reliable.” (p 62) 
  • The Romans did not seek to wipe Christianity out. iI they had, they would almost certainly have succeeded.” (p 62) 
  • In this world today, there are over two billion Christians. there is not one single, true ‘pagan’.” (p 100)

In fact, it was the other way around. After centuries of tolerance, “From almost the very first year that a Christian emperor has ruled in Rome in AD 312, liberties had begun to be eroded.” (p xxvii - xxix) and within fifty years there were laws banning paganism. 

Many authors acknowledge that there were iconoclasts. “Classical statues were knocked from their plinths, defaced, defiled and torn limb from limb. Temples were razed to their foundations and burned to the ground.” (p xxxi) But they seem to excuse them. “In modern Histories those carrying out and encouraging the attacks [against heathen shrines] are really describe as violent, or vicious, or thuggish: they are merely ‘zealous’, ‘pious’, ‘enthusiastic’ or, at worst, ‘overzealous’.” (p 115)

People were also attacked, often by gangs of marauding monks: “Monks - anonymous, rootless, untraceable - were able to commit atrocities with near impunity.” (p 215) People were mutilated. “Eyes of the erring were gouged out because those who couldn't see the true religion were ‘blind’ anyway. Another Bishop was seized, his hands chopped off and his tongue, which had preached falsehoods, cut out.” (p 223) This could be excused. Citing Deuteronomy the learned Doctor of the Church St Jerome suggested that “a Christian might take the defeated prisoner, enjoy them, rape them - so long as they mutilated them first.” (p 164) The parabalani were “de facto militaries of the faithful” who threatened violence and killed the philosopher Hypatia (p 127) Even this was excused. Fanaticism perverts morality. “Murder committed for the sake of God, argued one writer, was not a crime but actually ‘a prayer’.” (p 222) Justice was rare. “Courtrooms in the east of the empire with disrupted by sinister groups of dark-clad, psalm-chanting monks.” (p 225) Judges fled.

Christianity has a reputation for condemning slavery but even this was perverted by the early church.“When one bishop advised slaves to desert their masters and become ascetics, the church was appalled and promptly excommunicated him.” (p 204)

As for sex. “Male homosexuality was outlawed.” (p xxxiii) “It would be well over a thousand years before Western civilisation could come to see homosexuality as anything other than a perversion.” (p 196) It seems to use that we live in a uniquely tolerant time; one wonders and worries that a cultural pendulum will swing back in the future. But this book suggests that it is perhaps the last millenniium and a half that has been the aberration and that what is 'unnatural' is not gay sex but the intolerance that leads to its condemnation.

Culturally perhaps the most damaging consequence of Christian fanaticism was the destruction of ancient writings. “It has been estimated that less than ten per cent of all classical literature has survived into the modern era ... It is estimated that only one hundredth of all Latin literature remains.” (p 166) In an age when manual copying was the only way to preserve ancient texts then simply ignoring an author could consign their work to obliteration. But worse was done. A shortage of parchment led to overwriting: “Palimpsests - manuscripts in which one manuscript has been scraped (psao) again (palin)” repeatedly show Christian texts overwriting classical texts." (p xxxii). And, of course, books were burnt.

Christians distrusted knowledge “To a proto-empiricist like Galen ... intellectual progress depended on the freedom to ask, question, doubt and above all, to experiment. In Galen’s world, only the ill-educated believed things without reason. To show something, one did not merely declare it to be so. One proved it, with demonstration. To do otherwise was for Galen the method of an idiot. It was the method of a Christian.” (p 30) 

There were reasons why Christians hated pagan learning. First of all, it was sexually frank:
  • The famously learned St Jerome, himself an inveterate reader, weighed in advising against ‘adultery of the tongue’.” (p 141)
  • Marcus Aurelius, with queasy precision, described sexual intercourse as ‘the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus’.” (p 142) 
  • Catullus (Carmen 16) says “I will bugger you and I will fuck your mouths.” (p 141)
  • Martial’s Epigram 1.90 describes lesbianism as “rubbing cunts together ... to counterfeit the thrusting of a male.” (p 141)
  • In the Greco-Roman pantheon, not only did brother fight against brother but, worse, brother sometimes did quite unmentionable things with sister. Or with anyone else they could get their hands on.” (p 143)

Perhaps, worse, classical learning challenged Christian ideas. This was made worse because “it was painfully obvious to educated Christians that the intellectual achievements of the ‘insane’ pagans were vastly superior to their own.” (p 150):
  • Roman intellectuals had a version of evolution: “The distinct species of animals were explained by a form of proto-Darwinism ... Nature put forth many species. those that had useful characteristics ... survived, thrived and reproduced.” (p 36) 
  • Ovid’s Metamorphoses ... opened with a version of the Creation myth that was so similar to the biblical one that it could hardly fail to make an interested reader question the supposed unique truth of Genesis. ... Where the biblical Creation begins with an earth that is ‘without form’, Ovid’s poem begins with a ‘rough, unordered mass of things’. ... a god appears and ‘rent asunder land from sky, and sea from land’ before instructing the seas to form and the ‘plains to stretch out’.” (p 39)
Philosophy actually dared to challenge religious beliefs, including Christianity:
  • The works of Greek and Roman philosophy were full of punchy one-liners poking fun at religion.” (p 143)
  • Celsus points out that the crucifixion was seen by many but the resurrection by very few. (p 35)
  • Celsus asked why did Jesus prefer sinners? “What evil is it not to have sinned?” (p 35)
  • Why did God wait so long to send Jesus? Porphyry asked: “what has become of the men who lived in the many centuries before Christ came? ... [Why] did He who is called the Saviour withhold Himself for so many centuries of the world?” (p 47)

The non-Christians urged tolerance and freedom of thought. Pliny the Elder wrote that “God ... is one mortal helping another.” (p 44) Symmachus (a pagan) said: “We see the same stars, the sky is shared by all, the same world surrounds us. What does it matter what wisdom a person uses to seek for the truth?” (p 121) But this didn't duit the narrow-minded Christians. “Heretics were intellectual therefore intellectuals were, if not heretical, then certainly suspect.” (p 148)
Other fascinating asides:
  • The feast of the Liberalia was on 17th March ... at which Roman citizens celebrated a boys first ejaculation” (p 177)
  • Young men didn't go to the baths with their fathers for fear of the uexpected erection; even for liberal Romans, it seems that seeing one's son's hard-on was felt to be a bit much.” (p 194)
  • Is it not true that we are dead and only seem to live ... or are we alive and is life dead?” (Palladas; p 169)
  • Hypatia was “devoted to the life of the mind rather than of the flesh and remained a virgin. ... it is said that one of her students fell in love with her ... Hypatia responded briskly. She brought some of her sanitary towels and threw them before him.” (p 127)
  • Hypatia's father, Theon, wrote commentaries on Euclid that “were so authoritative that they form the foundation of modern editions of his texts.” (p 130)
  • Demons stalk through the pages of Augustine's City of God.” (p 14). 
  • One consequence of the concept of demons was that wicked thoughts were the fault of the demon not the man ... the monkish id is laid bare as monks confessed to being tormented by visions of naked women” (p 17) 
  • Temples to the old gods served as centres of demonic activity. Here they settled in swarms, gorging on the sacrifices made by Romans to their gods. Creep into a temple late at night and you would hear petrifying things: corpses that seemed to speak.” (p 19)
  • Those who criticized Christianity, warned the Christian apologist Tertullian, were not speaking with a free mind ... because they were under the control of Satan and his footsoldiers.” (p 21)
  • Strepitus mundi, the ‘roar of the world’” was “the sound of Christianity pouring, as unstoppable as a tide, across towns, countries and continents” (p 23)
This is a fascinating book which authoritatively challenges a fundamental trope of western history. Coming at a time when western Europe is appalled at the cultural vandalism being wrought by groups such as the Taliban, and ISIS it is a timely reminder that suppression of art and culture and thought and learning is not a trait of one particular religion but seems to be a consequence of people believing that there is only one God.

A must-read. July 2011; 247 pages

Monday, 9 July 2018

"Birds, Beasts and Relatives" by Gerald Durrell

This is the sequel to My Family and Other Animals and it contains the stories that were left out of the first volume but which can nevertheless be very funny. Thus we learn of the wedding and accouchment of Katerina, Gerry going fishing with a convicted murderer and catching cuttlefish with love, Corfiot justice as arranged by Spiro, Margo's spiritualist diet, gay Sven and his accordion, Max and Donald, the wonderfully lecherous Captain Creech, the recluse Countess who argues with her servant, and the gypsy with the talking head and the dancing bear. I laughed out loud on several occasions.

Every chapter is introduced with passages of beautiful description. There is lots of interesting natural history. But, as before, the stars are the wonderfully bonkers members of the Durrell family:

  • Larry has a brilliant line in acerbity: 
    • The entire population of the British Isles seems to do absolutely nothing from one year’s end to another except shuffle around in small circles sneezing voluptuously into each other's faces ... a sort of merry-go-round of reinfection.” (p 314)
    • "I am not going to be turned into an early Christian martyr at my time of life." (p 531)
  • Margo merges and mangles proverbs: 
    • "There's many a slip without a stitch." (p 427)
    • "There are no bricks without fire." (p 446)


Some of the wonderful moments:
  • "'You mean he's a philatelist?' said Larry at length. 'No, no, Master Larrys,' said Spiro. 'He's not one of them. He's a married man and he's got two children.'" (p 426)
  • "Andreas was a gay, kind-hearted, exuberant boy who inevitably managed to do the wrong things. They said of him in the village that he would ride a donkey backwards if he could." (p 462)He tries to fish with a stick of dynamite but after he lights the fuse the fish swim away so he rows after them still holding the dynamite ...
  • "It smelt as strongly of garlic as a peasant bus on market day." (p 464)
  • "Half-asleep and still bee-drowsy from the liquor I had consumed." (p 494)
  • "'Strumpets! How lovely! Donald, we have strumpets for tea'. 'Crumpets,' corrected Donald. 'They're scones,' said Mother. 'I remember a strumpet in Montevideo', said Captain Creech. 'Marvellous bitch. Kept the whole ship entertained for two days. They don't breed them with stamina like that nowadays.'" (p 510)
  • "limericks of such biological complexity that, fortunately, Mother could not understand them." (p 511)
  • "'I'm a bit too old to have babies,' said Captain Creech. The padre's wife choked. 'But', he went on with satisfaction, 'I have a lot of fun trying'." (p 511)
  • "Two hedgehogs, drunks as lords on the fallen and semi-fermented grapes they had eaten from under the vines, staggering in circles, snapping at each other belligerently, uttering high-pitched  screams and hiccups." (p 522)
  • "The grapes ... looked like the jade eggs of some strange sea-monster." (p 540)
  • "As the wine fermented in their brown bellies, the barrels gurgled and squeaked and growled at each other like an angry mob." (p 546)

Beautiful descriptions, wonderful characterisations, hilarious comedy. July 2018

Followed by another slice of hilarity: The Garden of the Gods


Saturday, 7 July 2018

"No more parades" by Ford Madox Ford

The second book of the Parade's End Tetralogy. At the end of the last book, Some Do Not ... the hero, Christopher Tietjens, heir to a country estate, a complete know all, fiendishly intelligent and yet the cuckold of a wife he won't divorce even though he is platonically in love with Valentine Wannop because it wouldn't be proper, is sent to the British world war one army in France. This book takes place in two days while he is an officer who prepares troops for the front line (his medical classification will not permit him to go to the front).

In this book we explore the parallels between CT and Jesus Christ at the same time as having a detailed commentary on the chaos of organisation that is the military in a war and an examination of the public school system of morality.

In Part One, mostly told as a stream of consciousness from CT's point of view and thus allowing confusions to creep in to the narrative (for example CT initially thinks that Captain McKechne is called Captain Mackenzie), CT is performing miracles of multitasking, issuing orders, helping men to write their wills, calming half-mad senior officers and even writing a sonnet to order in three minutes. Then a messenger whom he refused leave (woman trouble, a theme which reflects CT's own and which is repeated for many of the other soldiers) is killed in an air raid in front of him. Although he realises that 09Morgan would have survived had he sent him home, CT washes the blood from his hands.

The stream of consciousness technique enables FMF to show the chaos and confusion around Tietjens and to impress upon us how overworked he is and how easy it is for him, even someone as brilliant as he is, to make a mistake. This also means that the reader is (probably) aware before Tietjens that the woman waiting at the gate is Tietjens’ own wife (whom he supposes to be in England, causing scandals). This revelation is voiced by the staff officer

Great lines in Part One:

  • Men you worried over there. Each man a man with a backbone, knees, breeches, braces, a rifle, a home, passions, fornications, drunks, pals, some scheme of the universe, corns, inherited diseases, a greengrocer’s business, a milk walk, a paper stall, brats, a slut of a wife.
  • That place was meant for the quiet and orderly preparation of meat for the shambles.
  • pack a million and a half of men into and round that small town was like baiting a trap for rats with a great chunk of rotten meat.
  • These immense sacrifices, this ocean of mental sufferings, were all undergone to further the private vanities of men who amidst these hugenesses of landscapes and forces appeared pygmies!
  • The red viscousness welled across the floor; you sometimes so see fresh water bubbling up in sand. It astonished Tietjens to see that a human body could be so lavish of blood.
  • He hoped he would not get his hands all over blood, because blood is very sticky. It makes your fingers stick together impotently.
  • Why did they shoot them at dawn? To rub it in that they were never going to see another sunrise. But they drugged the fellows so that they wouldn’t know the sun if they saw it: all roped in a chair . .. It was really the worse for the firing party.
  • Captain Mackenzie in the light of a fantastically brilliant hurricane lamp appeared to be bathing dejectedly in a surf of coiling papers spread on the table before him.
  • English people of good position consider that the basis of all marital unions or disunions is the maxim: No scenes.
  • He would, literally, rather be dead than an open book.
  • The lady, Mrs Tietjens, was certainly without mitigation a whore.
  • On the Somme, in the summer, when stand-to had been at four in the morning, you would come out of your dug-out and survey, with a complete outfit of pessimistic thoughts, a dim, grey, repulsive landscape over a dull and much too thin parapet. There would be repellent posts, altogether too fragile entanglements of barbed wire, broken wheels, detritus, coils of mist over the positions of revolting Germans. Grey stillness; grey horrors, in front, and behind amongst the civilian populations! And clear, hard outlines to every thought . . . Then your batman brought you a cup of tea with a little—quite a little—rum in it. In three of four minutes the whole world changed beneath your eyes. The wire aprons became jolly efficient protections that your skill had devised and for which you might thank God; the broken wheels were convenient landmarks for raiding at night in No Man’s Land. You had to confess that, when you had re-erected that parapet, after it had last been jammed in, your company had made a pretty good job of it. And, even as far as the Germans were concerned, you were there to kill the swine; but you didn’t feel that the thought of them would make you sick beforehand . . . You were, in fact, a changed man. With a mind of a different specific gravity. You could not even tell that the roseate touches of dawn on the mists were not really the effects of rum .” A wonderful description of the effects of alcohol on how one views the world.
  • I remember the thoughts I thought and the thoughts I gave her credit for thinking. But perhaps she did not think them.” A clever way of underlining the unreliability of all narration.
  • Nothing but the infernal cruelty of their interview of the morning could have forced him to the pitch of sexual excitement that would make him make a proposal of illicit intercourse to a young lady to whom hitherto he had spoken not even one word of affection. ... And without doubt Sylvia had known what she was doing. The whole morning; at intervals, like a person directing the whiplash to a cruel spot of pain, reiteratedly, she had gone on and on. She had accused him of having Valentine Wannop for his mistress. She had accused him of having Valentine Wannop for his mistress. She had accused him of having Valentine Wannop for his mistress” The effective use of repetition.
  • That was the right of the Seigneur in a world of Other Ranks.
  • All those millions were the play-things of ants busy in the miles of corridors beneath the domes and spires that rise up over the central heart of our comity.
  • a line of ghosts that were tents, silent and austere in the moon’s very shadowy light
  • getting cattle into condition for the slaughter-house ... But it’s better to go to heaven with your skin shining and master of your limbs than as a hulking lout.


Part Two is described from the point of view of Sylvia (Mrs) Tietjens again starting from a third person and then zooming in to her stream of consciousness to the point where I got muddled about what she said to herself and what she said aloud.

Sylvia is sitting in a hotel lounge with Perowne, the man who brought her to France and the man with whom she ran away to France with years ago when she first left Tietjens. She realises that Perowne is no sort of man. Compared to Tietjens no man seems worth having: “almost always taking up with a man was like reading a book you had read when you had forgotten that you had read it. ... You knew the opening, you were already bored by the middle, and, especially, you knew the end”. But this is a problem, Because he infuriates her. He is so good. She is like the woman taken in adultery and she thinks: “And women taken in adultery . . . All of them . . . Like . . . You know Who . . . That is his model . . . ’ She said to herself: ‘Curse him! . . . I hope he likes it . . . You’d think the only thing he thinks about is the beastly duck he’s wolfing down.’ . . . And then aloud: ‘They used to say: “He saved others; himself he could not save . . .

Later, having a meal with CT and a sergeant-major, she starts to compare Tietjens to Jesus more explicitly. Tietjens is omniscient, the soul of charity, refuses to condemn anyone, lives chastely (after his early marriage and even though he wants to sleep with Valentine), annoys the powers that be but helps everyone and is adored. However, when Sylvia compares her CT to JC the sergeant-major demurs: “‘Ma’am,’ he said, we couldn’t say exactly that of the captain . . . For I fancy it was said of our Redeemer . . . But we ‘ave said that if ever there was a poor bloke the captain could ‘elp, ‘elp ’im ‘e would . . . Yet the unit was always getting ‘ellish strafe from headquarters . . .” Yet somehow, ‘getting strafe from headquarters’ (annoying the established church?) makes CT seem even more Christ-like. And when When Sylvia, mainly from mischief, tells the General that her husband is a socialist, she makes explicit comparisons. “‘He desires,’ Sylvia said, and she had no idea when she said it, ‘to model himself upon our Lord . . . ’ The general leant back in the sofa. He said almost indulgently: ‘Who’s that . . . our Lord?‘ Sylvia said: ‘Upon our Lord Jesus Christ . . . ’ He sprang to his feet as if she had stabbed him with a hatpin. ‘Our . . . ’ he exclaimed. ‘Good God! . . . I always knew he had a screw loose . . . But . . . ’ He said briskly: ‘Give all his goods to the poor! . . . But He wasn’t a . . . Not a Socialist! What was it He said: Render unto Caesar . . . It wouldn’t be necessary to drum Him out of the Army’

Sylvia hates him for being perfect and yet, as predicted by the Irish priest who was her confessor and is now in heaven, she is desperately and passionately in love with Tietjens (because he is inaccessible to her).

Lines I loved in Part Two

  • an immense castle that hung over crags, above a western sea, much as a bird-cage hangs from a window of a high tenement building
  • Do you know the only time the King must salute a private soldier and the private takes no notice? . . . When ‘e’s dead . . . ’
  • These horrors, these infinities of pain, this atrocious condition of the world had been brought about in order that men should indulge themselves in orgies of promiscuity . . . That in the end was at the bottom of male honour, of male virtue, observance of treaties, upholding of the flag . . . An immense warlock’s carnival of appetites, lusts, ebrieties

Part Three

The morning after. Tietjens is under arrest back at camp. The reason (as with all FMF narratives) slowly emerges from a muddle of statements. Last night he was in his wife’s room when Perowne came in wearing his dressing gown; he mistook him for room service and violently ejected him; Perowne made loud moan and woke General O’Hara who came to see what the fuss was about and was also pushed out of the room. Tietjens is thus under arrest for striking a superior officer.

Parallels with Jesus recur, for example when Tietjens says: “And then: ‘Oh, yes! I forgive . . . It’s painful . . . You probably don’t know what you are doing.

The final chapter is a dialogue between Tietjens and General Campion (his godfather; wow, another parallel) in which the General acts rather like Pontius Pilate, desperately trying to find a way to help CT but in the end only coming up with the idea of sending him to a front-line regiment, despite his medical exemption, where he will probably be killed during the next German push. The General is, in effect, condemning CT to suffering and death and, kind man that he is, is desperately trying to get CT to help him find a way out of this. But CT refuses to take an easy option.

Lines I loved in Part Three:

  • The beastliness of human nature is always pretty normal. We lie and betray and are wanting in imagination and deceive ourselves, always, at about the same rate. In peace and in war!”
  • “enormous bodies of men . . . Seven to ten million . . . All moving towards places towards which they desperately don’t want to go. Desperately! Every one of them is desperately afraid. But they go on.
  • What the hell is language for? We go round and round.
  • all men will go to hell over three things: alcohol, money . . . and sex. This fellow apparently hadn’t. Better for him if he had!

A stunning book about war and a clever allegory about Jesus. July 2018