Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sunday Review

My library book this week was Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. I'm always fascinated by attempts to determine what is historical fact in ancient narratives, including religious texts. This book deftly strips away everything that scholars believe isn't "true" about the historical Jesus to reach some interesting conclusions about the man.

I'm solid enough in my faith that this didn't detract from my own beliefs, but it certainly sharpened some of my thoughts on what I believe to be true and what I understand to be based entirely in faith. I cannot recommend it to any Christian unwilling to re-examine their own beliefs and comprehension of the Bible. Aslan isn't trying to destroy Christianity here, he just wants to paint an accurate picture of Jesus and his times: but some people might not see it that way.

To anyone who is likely to see any version of Christianity that strays from party lines as an attack, just avoid the book. You won't like it. Anyone coming to it with an open mind will probably learn a lot from it. Unless you are already a Biblical scholar, in which case you might have already read a lot of the works in the extensive bibliography and notes and find this to be a fairly good rehashing of other theories.

I will say that Aslan writes like a historian. At times the book just rolls along, but sometimes as you're reading you suddenly realize that he's already stated this bit before in a slightly different way. He develops his thesis well and supports it solidly, but be ready for a little repetition. He also tends to hedge his bets a little, and tries to make sure that people are aware of other theories that contradict his own. In fact, the notes are full of points of disagreement between scholars. It's a good read, not the most ground-shaking around, but interesting.

My mystery book this week was The Alpine Hero by Mary Daheim. When Emma discovers a murder, everything changes between her and Milo. I have noticed that sometimes the titles of the books don't always seem to have a lot to do with the events in the story, so I waited patiently for the hero of the title to show. I was not disappointed. I did have quite a big problem with one of the victims of the killer. Why is it that a human victim doesn't much bother me but when an animal is killed I'm horrified? I'd guess it has something to do with the vivid descriptions. As usual, the tale is a bit complicated by lots of red herrings and other events, kind of like real life, but the actual murder is fairly straightforward once everything is revealed. Another good one. If you want to start the Alpine series, I strongly recommend starting at the first book, The Alpine Advocate.

Fortean Times #305
Fortean Times #305 (October 2013). As soon as I saw the cover I thought I'd seen it before. Comparing it to other covers in the cover gallery, I can't see any that look exactly like it, but some are similar enough to evoke deja vu. I think their graphic artist needs to refresh the layout.

The cover story is problematic for me. I've not only heard of gangstalking, I've been introduced to it second-hand. As much as I'd like to simply dismiss it as a mental quirk, I can't do that entirely. I wish I could come up with another explanation that made sense to explain it. That's how I tend to think anyway, as a Fortean: that much that we see as paranormal has another explanation we just haven't quite figured out yet. And gangstalking seems to be one of those things that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever... and yet there's a little too much evidence for it to be nothing at all. It's something for wiser minds than mine to figure out. Then again, it could just be a mental problem that needs a lot more study to understand and treat.

Another article is about the 1935 book "Crook Frightfulness" which describes a man's perception of being constantly harrassed by an unknown and often unseen foe. It's interesting how similar his symptoms are to modern versions of the same paranoia.

The final main article is about the artwork of witches going back 500 years. There's some amazing art reproduced as part of a preview of an exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. The article discusses the concepts of witches in culture during the times each work was created. Good stuff, overall.

Strangedays had the usual round-up of bizarre tales from across the world. The "favorite headlines" included a reference to the bicycle tree in Washington state. The list of super-centenarians was impressive. There are pictures of animal corpses (and parts of animals) in strange places. Another piece is about things that fell from the sky, including lead bars, ice chunks and even a meteorite. The medical round up had some shockers.

Ghostwatch was about unquiet graves, hauntings apparently prompted by the proximity of human remains. There's also a lot about funeral rites, including vampire graves. Alien Zoo looks back at paintings, supposedly based on life, that include animals that might be extinct. It also has sightings of a mystery parrot and a singing dog. Archaeology has a piece on the practice of deforming skills, an odd find under a pyramid under Mexico City and a discovery of a Mayan city using aerial photos.

Classical Corner is about ancient collectors of forteana and the stories they told. Konspiracy Korner is about people harassed by governments in unusual ways, including folks breaking into someone's home and rearranging furniture. The UFO files has a possible explanation for the Solway Spaceman: It was Templeton's wife, standing with her back to the camera, overexposed. Blasts from the Past covers tales of winged sea serpents. Police News is about cojoined twins and how they were presented in the worst newspaper in England.

Forum has a piece on the origins of an open-source monster that is a digital meme, the Slenderman. Even knowing the exact origin of the meme, it is still surprisingly creepy. The other two forum stories are about John A. Keel and Peter Costello. Reviews includes coverage of "Terry Nation: The Man Who Invented the Daleks" that earned a 7 out of 10. Other reviews are very good, including a couple I want to add to my wishlist. Letters were hilarious this month, particularly the Nixon toe, which you have to see to believe.