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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

This is part of series on Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics Series.

Wolverine Origin

Paul Jenkins. Wolverine: Origin.  New York, NY: Marvel Publishing Incorporated, October, 18th, 2006. 200 pp.

Among the X-Men, the Wolverine fascinates me the most.  There’s something about that character that intrigues me.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story of Wolverine written by Paul Jenkins.  He has written a good storyline of Wolverine’s origin.  The graphic novel actually pulls you to the character.  There is some suspense in the beginning of the book as you don’t know which one of the character is going to grow up to be the Wolverine.  I thought it was neat to see how the story was told from a third story perspective of a girl who was a nanny.  This adds a personal touch while still allowing Wolverine to be the elusive figure that one can’t fully control which I think would be destroyed if it was told in the first person.

The author and illustrator did a good job with the historical details of the Canadian setting in the 1800s.  The colors of the painting in this book is beautifully done—especially the sunlight that makes you feel like you are in the Canadian frontiers.  I have read other X-Men comics recently and I thought that this book was really well done in comparison to others.  In the beginning of my recent reading of comics and graphic novels I thought there was not much difference but this work is an example of a graphic novel.

Christian Reflection:

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Heretics and Heroes How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World

Thomas Cahill. Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World.  New York: Doubleday, October 29th, 2013. 368 pp.

This is the sixth installment of a series on history books called Hinges of History by Thomas Cahill, a former editor of religious literature for Double Day.  The series is focused on different groups of people and historical period which have made their contributions felt today.  This particular work focused on the Protestant Reformation and the Italian Renaissance in which the author tries to argue that the Reformation and Renaissance has made its contribution towards the modern concept of self.  It is a fascinating thesis but in the end I felt the author wasn’t as concern about arguing his case as rigorously as possible as he was more excited to give us his biographical sketches of various individuals from the Renaissance and the Reformation.

I don’t think any serious reader would fault the book as a dry historical textbook since the author writes in a journalistic fashion with an upbeat tempo.  The author’s humor is evident through his writing.  There were times when the book reads like a gossip column.  The book was not only able to capture my attention but left me wanting to read up more concerning the Reformation and the Renaissance.

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A Commentary on Exodus

Duane A. Garrett. A Commentary on Exodus.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, November, 1st, 2014. 741 pp.

I must begin with a bit of a personal note.  Many years ago when I was a young Christian I had used the author’s commentary on Hosea and Joel that was my first real exposure to an exegetical commentary.  I was blown away.  I was likewise blown away with Duane Garrett’s recent commentary on Exodus.  Of course this time around I am much older and I felt I was able to benefit more from Garrett exegetical insights than when I was a young college student reading through Hosea and Joel.  Garrett has done an excellent job with his Exodus commentary.

The Introduction was well over a hundred page.  I appreciated Garrett’s point that many commentators on Exodus have neglected the important contribution of Egyptology and one sees Garrett’s tremendous effort in bringing up-to-date scholarship from Egyptology to bear concerning Introductory matters of the book of Exodus.  In particular I thought his discussion of anything chronological stood out, especially with the dating of the events of Exodus.  It is incredibly detailed: He considers the difficulties of Egyptian method of counting how many days are to be in a year, when various Pharaohs ruled and archaeological findings in the area of Canaan as he weighs the pros and cons of various arguments for the late or early dating of the book.  I think it is worth getting the book for the Introduction alone.  While he does not come to a fixed conclusion of when the events of Exodus takes place nevertheless his interaction of the arguments of the various views is a good summary of the various views.

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A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs

Mark S. Gignilliat. A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism: From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, June 10th, 2012. 186 pp.

The author made it clear in the beginning that the intended audience of the book was for “anyone who is in interested in the Bible, its history of interpretation, and the particular problems and approaches to Old Testament studies in the modern period.”  Thus book wasn’t just written for scholars and seminarians in mind but for the larger Christian lay readers although the author admits that as he writing this his inclination was to make the work more technical.  As a result the author himself explicitly explain that he needs to write this book with more of a biographical sketch of important figures of Old Testament scholars in light of the general public’s interests for human stories.  Thus the book is divided into seven chapters with each focusing on one particular modern Old Testament scholar.  I think the book might be more appropriately titled “A Brief Survey of Old Testament Scholars” instead, lest people think it is a survey of the history of Old Testament Criticism so no one is fooled by the title since some chapters focused on more biographical contents than descriptive details of the scholar’s academic contribution.  I suppose one shouldn’t really blame the author for doing so if he can successfully get the readers to know more about these scholars rather than have the readers be bored in seeing these men as another group of dead unknown Germans scholars.

Readers of the book will notice right away how early in the history of modern Old Testament criticism that it is driven by presuppositions and philosophies that is foreign to Scripture.  The clearest and worst example of this given in the book was Spinoza (although I don’t think the author intended to do that).  I was surprised to read about how bright Spinoza was but sadden to see how far he veered away from biblical orthodoxy even among his fellow Jews.  The book noted how Spinoza’s motivation in his approach towards the Old Testament was one that began with human autonomy and the assumption that reason is in conflict and above faith, etc.  While the other scholars the book survey is less overt than Spinoza in undermining the Bible nevertheless I would say one see in varying degrees the compromises and the import of bad philosophical starting points among various scholars’ approach to the Old Testament.

The author however makes it clear that he wants Evangelicals to have a greater appreciation for these scholars and their contribution even if one disagrees with them.  In that vein I appreciated the chapter on Julius Wellhausen and the author explaining Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis clearly and simply for the lay reader.  I learned that Wellhausen’s formulation of his documentary hypothesis was in the context of his attempt to reconstruct the original historical setting of Israel in light of naturalistic presuppositions and not just merely to break up the Scripture into parts per se.  Although I have misgivings with the documentary hypothesis I think a strength of the book is the presentation clearly and accurately of what these scholars believed.

The chapters that really stood out to me were the ones on Gerhard VonRad, William Albright and Brevard Childs.  While I have been cautious and continue to be discerning when I read anything from VonRad (or anything that others attribute to VonRad), nevertheless I have a deeper sense of respect for VonRad the man and the scholar.  I never knew until this book of the courageous stance he took against the Nazis when he was a German Old Testament scholar at the universities.  His courage is inspiring when one consider the anti-Jewish climate in Hitler’s Germany.

It was also neat to learn of biblical scholars that was shaped by the polymath William Albright whose impact on Old Testament studies is his use of archaeological findings.  By far my favorite chapter was on Brevards Childs whose canonical approach has more use for Evangelical students of the Old Testament than some of the other approaches mentioned in the book.

I must say that Christians must read this book with discernment.  I think at times the author could have been explained more of the problems with some of the scholars surveyed.  Nevertheless I felt that all these scholars has things we can learn from; the biggest encouragement from these men lives was that I want to continue to be diligent in my study of God’s Word with all my mind, strength and soul.

I recommend the book, and rate it 4 out of 5.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Zondervan Academic and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Amazon

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Incognegro

Mat Johnson. Incognegro.  New York, NY: Veritgo Comics, February 6th, 2008. 136 pp.

May there be more graphic novel like this.  Good story, illustrations that’s easy on the eyes, suspenseful with humor that carries the readers along through the dark historical mystery.  The story is situated during a time in American history in which lynching was done in the South.  The graphic novels tells the story of an African American news reporter who is Black but looks white.  He goes down to the South to report on the racist lynching that takes place for his Harlem based newspaper.  The story is loosely based upon real NAACP undercover investigator which made the story even more interesting.  The story has pretty good twists and turns which makes this a great mystery novel.  I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Purchase: Amazon

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Oleg V. Klevniuk. Stalin: New Biography of A Dictator.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, May 19th, 2015. 408 pp.

This is a well done biography of Josef Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union from 1929 to his death in 1953.  Both in the beginning of the book and towards the end the author mentioned how some have recasted Stalin’s legacy for political purposes in Russia and one of the reason why the author wrote this book is to portray Stalin for who he really is historically.  He acknowledges that this will go against the grain for Stalin apologists and those propagating political myths about Stalin and the old USSR.  The author has written and edited works on Stalin before but here he writes for us a one volume book length treatment of Stalin instead of his earlier multiple volumes of translated archived correspondences between Stalin and others.  This new biography is rich with insights from recently opened Soviet archives.  The book is written with meticulous scholarship.  For instance in the first few pages of the first chapter we see the author’s familiarity with the primary sources on Stalin coming to play when he discusses when Stalin was born.  Official Soviet sources states that Stalin was born in 1879 but the book noted how earlier sources such as church birth register and his graduation certificate indicates Stalin was born a year before in 1878.  The author’s critical historian instincts also comes to play when weighing the accounts of witnesses’ memoirs in light of other sources.

I learned a lot about Stalin from this book.  I have always heard about how Stalin became radicalized when he was a young man in seminary and this book certainly gives more details of the radical political ideology that was spreading among his classmates during that time.  I always wondered if it was true that Stalin shook his fist at God or the heaven when he died and the book does mention Stalin’s own daughter’s account thus showing it’s not just Christian urban legend against atheists.

The biggest thing I got from reading this book is the incredible insight the book provides into the ways and mind of a terrible dictator.  How does one stay in power for so long when they are so bad to one’s own people?  It was not easy to read about Stalin’s unwise economic plan to industrialize the USSR at the expense of the peasants which resulted in massive famines.  The book does not sanitize history but shares with the readers the archives in which Stalin knew about the famine and was not willing to stop his agenda of getting rid of private property, forced labors of peasants with no pay and killing and incarcerating peasants to keep them in line.  The author pointed out that a regime like Stalin’s didn’t need to have clock like precision in their centralization in order for it to “work” but it needed to make sure that a constant state of crisis is needed to mobilize his forces to the point of bypassing typical legal methods in order to get results.  Stalin often got his policies implemented with the myth of secret capitalists spies within the USSR that one need to battle which is useful to divert people’s attention from where the actual source of problem is coming from (usually the government and Stalin himself).  Then Stalin would use his secret police as a valuable weapon for his policies to search for these fifth column traitors which conviently got rid of those who pose a threat to Stalin’s reign (peers and rising proteges) and other scapegoats.  It was sad to read about how many people were exiled, shot and imprisoned during Stalin’s reign.  It was also ironic to read of how those in the secret police apparatus that did the dirty work would also themselves end up facing the same thing when Stalin changed the security servies’ leadership or formed another competing agency.  Stalin was a mad and evil man.

I think reading this book is relevant for us today as we still see dictators around the world.  It gives us a window as to how they think and methods used.  Certainly an insightful work in terms of history and concerning man’s ugly nature and condition.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Yale University Press and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Amazon

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Review: Pride of Baghdad

 

This is part of our “Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics Series.

Pride of Baghdad

Brian K. Vaughan. Pride of Baghdad.  New York, NY: Veritgo Comics, September 13th, 2006. 136 pp.

I started reading this work because it was on two lists over at Goodreads: “History through graphic novels,” and “Best Graphic Novels.”  I didn’t think of the work highly nor is this work necessarily as historical as I would have liked it.  This story is situated during 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq and tells the story of lions that escaped from the Baghdad zoo.  Something like that did happened but the author and illustrator used the lions and other talking animals as part of an anthropomorphic tale about the nature of freedom and security.  It is a crude tale about violence, desires and deception in a dog eat dog world.  I was left deeply unsatisfied that the graphic novel presented various aspect of what people consider freedom but nothing definitive was ever the outcome.  I can appreciate work that realize there’s no easy answer but I felt it gave the readers a mere tease.  I don’t recommend this book.

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