Islam: What Non-Muslims Should Know

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Author: John Kaltner. (Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN 2003.)

At the time of publication, Kaltner was Associate Professor of Religion at Rhodes College, in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. He apparently has made a diligent study of Islam, in books and in person, his lifework.

Dedication: To the members of the Muslim Society of Memphis

Kaltner’s intent: “. . . to introduce non-Muslims to the basics of Islam so that they will be encouraged to expand and develop their knowledge of it.” It’s a small book (7.5 inches by 4.4 inches) and a short one (136 pages), and Kaltner is deliberately picking among the main characteristics of the faith as an introduction. So far, so good.

There are profound concerns, in the Western world at least, about the burgeoning growth of Islam — especially in lands where the Muslims may become more numerous than the current natives. I ordered this book interlibrary loan, with great hopes of easing my unease stemming from newscasts and articles about the varieties of Muslims and their variety of practices. I hoped this book would put my heart at ease. Having read and reread, my mind has more knowledge, but my heart is still not at ease.

Some knowledge gained:
1. To use 50-cent words, Islam is a faith of orthopraxy and Christianity is a faith of orthodoxy. In Islam, more emphasis lies on obligations the faithful are to perform; while in Christianity, there is said to be more emphasis on precepts and teachings than on obligations to perform. However, as a practicing Christian, I find faith and works equally bound up together. The demonstration of the faith in practice is key to success. I hope my Muslim fellow citizens of the world feel the same.
2. Kaltner says that Islam did not spread through forced conversions. He quotes a Qur’an passage: “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) but then goes on to say that when Islamic forces take over a territory they offer the population three choices:
a. Convert and have full rights and privileges
b. Christians and Jews may keep their freedom of worship as long as they pay special taxes to the Muslims. Those that pay would have the status of a “protected minority” — hardly the same as full citizenship.
c. Otherwise — “military confrontation and violence ensue” (p. 14).
This array of options seems very much like coercion, does it not?
3. Scriptures:
While the Muslims consider the Bible to be of both human and divine origin (a point I would not contest) and therefore respectable but inferior (a point I do contest), they consider the Qur’an to be 100% divine, unchanged by human hands. This view of the Qur’an as superior does not seem supported by what was quoted of its content. I would refer anyone interested in that point to the article “What is the Koran?” by Toby Lester, in the January 1999 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
4. But this is one point where I gained much more empathy for Muslims world-wide. Their ancient, core concept of the ummah asuniversal humanity — Islamics all, under the rule of one God, Allah — received an unempathetic blow when, after the Second World War, the Middle East was divided arbitrarily into the countries we know as Lebanon, Syria, Arabia, Iraq, etc. The ummah was divided, perhaps not with an axe, but with a slide rule. One wonders, to what extent were those geopolitical divisions made with an eye to divide and deter, or simply to divide up the oil pie for the West.

Despite the careful scholarship and earnest intent, it seems that almost every point at which Kaltner tries to make a benign comparison, this reader finds weakness in the evidence and is not yet quite convinced that Muslims — in the aggregate — are willing to be congenial neighbors in a pluralistic society.

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Letters to a Young Muslim, by Omar Saif Ghobash

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I have tried reading several well-recommended books on Islam over the years, wishing to grasp just exactly what it’s all about. Is it inherently good or evil? Is it unusually susceptible to influences, internal or external? Each time I have gotten bogged down in lists of complicated names, battles, and dynasties extant centuries ago. Here, at last is an exception.

Ghobash, writing in the format of letters to a young teenager (one of his sons), has simplified the details of history, but delves deeply into the conditions of today, many of which have their origins in the distant, desert past. It is my impression that he pulls no punches, especially in showing how easy it is for a young Muslim (especially a male) to be pulled into violence and extremism. The author went through the process of Arab/Muslim socialization and education himself, with a good stint in Western schools as well. As a United Arab Emirates ambassador, he has had plenty of opportunity to see Islam from inside and out, and has thought deeply about what he writes. I won’t try to go into any specifics of his suggestions for moving Islam into modern times without losing its core values, but can only recommend: Get this book and read it. As an added bonus, it is formatted and, at 244 pages, sized for an easy grasp — physical and attention-wise.

The Country of the Pointed Firs

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This American classic, by Sarah Orne Jewett, is one of those rare books which sports a readable and useful introduction. Willa Cather wrote the preface — empathetic, intuitive, respectful.

As Ms. Jewett herself said, “The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper — whether little or great, it belongs to Literature.” Cather wrote that every great story “must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure; a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer’s own, individual, unique. A quality that one can remember without the volume at hand, can experience over and over again in the mind but can never absolutely define, as one can experience in memory a melody, or the summer perfume of a garden.” The great writer must give herself totally to her material, must “fade away into the land and people of [her] heart” — “must die of love only to be born again.”

Cather concludes, in her 1925 evaluation of this 1896 work: “If I were asked to name three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life, I would say at once, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs. I can think of no others that confront time and change so serenely.” And of our present interest: “It will be a message to the future, a message in a universal language.”

I don’t know about all that, but I do know this book has brought increasing pleasure over years of re-readings to first my mother, and now me. I just finished my umpteenth reading, finding greater depth and artistry than ever before. How did I miss this? Oh, the perfection of that!

The setting of the story is a small, Maine fishing village on a deep water harbor which opens into an ocean bay dotted with islands. The plot is minimal. A city-bred writer discovers life anew during a summer spent among the citizens of this hamlet. Her empathy and insight into character, rather than plot, are what draw the reader deeper and deeper into the story. The natural setting, of fishermen’s and sea captains’ homes, the tides and winds, the upland fields and pastures, the flowers, tress, shrubs, and weeds — the “pointed firs” — all become shapers of the story.

I used to read this for pleasure — which I still do — but now I read it for the tears that come from Jewett’s unsentimentally poignant literary skill.

You don’t have to be from Maine to enjoy this, but if you are in Maine you will come away understanding better your home’s place in the universe.

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell

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I have just laid down one of the most delightful books in the English language. This was my third pass through it, chuckling, sighing in satisfaction over a perfect turn of phrase, exclaiming, or weeping all the way. It’s a lot more than antique chick lit. Beneath the surface of financially strained female gentility is a strong current of ardent feminism, a sharp critique of early Industrial Revolution big business, and another critique of the British class and education systems. Its upper layers give us characters warmly portrayed who would under many another author’s quill pen have been laughed at, sneered at, or simply passed over in favor of exaggeration or titillation.

Dame Judi Dench played the lead role, Miss Matty, in a TV production of Cranford — I think it was a BBC mini-series — some years back. Even she was not able to give us the depths of this seemingly weak, slightly endowed spinster sister, who is nevertheless a sterling leader by example.

Mrs. Gaskell (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1810 – 1865) published the novel Mary Barton in 1848, which won her a nationwide audience through Charles Dickens’ new periodical, Household Words, where Cranford was first published in serial form. She also wrote Wives & Daughters, North & South, Sylvia’s Lovers, and the acclaimed Life of Charlotte Bronte. Gaskell’s insight and writing skill are often compared favorably to the otherwise incomparable Jane Austen.

My copy is a sadly decaying Oxford Paperbacks 1972 edition, which I (wisely, as it turns out) covered in sticky-backed plastic. Get a better copy, and be ready to enjoy life for a good read.

Desire of the Everlasting Hills: the world before and after Jesus

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by Thomas Cahill

Although professional theologians and historians have arched an eyebrow over Cahill’s books (those I have read include The Gift of the Jews and How the Irish Saved Civilization), I find great value in his contributions to both fields and especially to my understanding of world civilization. As a writer, he seems to have done excellent research into the vetted works of the above academics, but put their dry information into a lively narrative, as lively as the evolving civilization itself. I read this book at the midpoint of my ten-year drive to get a Master of Arts in Bible Studies degree, and now am re-reading it 12 years after graduation. It is reminding me that I have NOT finished discovering new ideas in Scripture, nor have I even finished analyzing what I already know. Thanks, Mr. Cahill. You do have a vivid imagination, but you harness it well.

My Grandmother’s Novels

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My mother left me her most prized possession — a collection of her mother’s novels. Mother, Eleanor Jacobs Mitchell, read them through once a year. I had read one or two, or maybe a few chapters in another, during visits to my parents in East Parsonsfield, Maine. Due to a series of changes in my life, the books have been in storage for several years. This fall I decided it was time I made their full acquaintance. I set them in chronological order of publication on the top shelf of my bedroom bookcase, supported on either end by my Noah and the Ark bookends, then took down the first volume and commenced to read.

The Old Ashburn Place was Margaret Flint Jacobs’ first novel, hammered out on a manual typewriter during sweltering southern nights after her children were in bed. It was published in 1935. The action is set, however, in the beauty and coolness of the Flint family’s ancestral stomping ground, West Baldwin, Maine — pre-World War I.

Margaret Flint (her pen name) was no ordinary lady author, and she did not, I find, write “lady author” books. The conflict in the story is a man’s impossible-therefore-unrequited love in a tug of war with his unsought-but-inevitable adultery. The graphic detail of such scenes, which would be written out at length in a modern novel, is abbreviated here; but the emotional impact is almost hard core. The book won the First Novel of the Year prize, run by Dodd, Mead Publishers, in 1936. This housewife and mother, who had been pounding that typewriter for many years, was swept into a round of book signings and speeches.

Reading The Old Ashburn Place was a re-read, and I found it to be as much an encyclopedia of farm life in Maine, as a memorable story. Also, it is the only Flint novel currently available — new, on Amazon and from the publisher, Istoria Books. (IB publishes ebooks and print on demand paperbacks. Fiction: romance, mystery, and literary women’s fiction. See http://www.istoriabooks.com/IstoriaAuthors.html for more background on both the book and its author.)

Since the first novel is the only one to have received much notice, I’ll make this a long post and briefly cover them all, in an amalgamated review.

The second novel, Valley of Decision, — written after my grandfather’s passing and after my grandmother had moved the family back to Maine — surprised me by being set in the deep South, on the Gulf coast. My grandmother’s habit of close observation of nature, along with her curiosity about what makes humans tick, comes through almost as well in the Southern as in the Northern context. Evidently, her sojourn in the south with husband and six children had not been all perspiration and diapers to change. Yet I found this book less appealing than The Old Ashburn Place, partly because she was delving into some rather deep psychology, into the area of mental manipulation. Character and plot development get downright creepy. And, I was beginning to wonder, small-mindedly, if ALL her heroines were going to be petite, with small hands and smaller perception of the havoc they raise in the hearts and innards of her heroes? In fact, not one of her characters is perfectly beautiful or handsome, completely good or wicked. One feels that the author yearned over all of them.

Deacon’s Road (1938) introduces Ephraim Squire, the young, farm-inclined hero, who yearns to revive the ancient family farmstead. The ups and downs of his possibly achieving that hope form the framework for the story. And with this novel, the heroines become more realistic.

As the plot unfolds, the reader is introduced to old-time town meeting politics and to the caste system among the ancient families, newcomer wannabes, and the poor. Serious news for today’s reader is how hard thrifty farm women worked. Eph’s aunt, Hetty Hicks, what we today might call a swinging single, is also found crocheting a bedspread, “all in one piece” to sell in exchange for paint to redecorate the bathroom on her father’s farm, buy the material for her spring clothes, and “have some money to tuck away in the bank besides. Yes, along with her spring cleaning, she would do that bathroom over. . . . nobody could say she slighted her regular housekeeping in favor of these extras. She . . . [kept] things immaculate from attic to cellar . . . had a flower garden in summer and potted plants in winter . . . had shelves of home-canned food. . . literally hundreds of jars.” Whew.

Heritage and proximity have destined Eph and a neighbor girl, Lois, for each other. But enter the glamorous city teenager, Shirley. It takes the rest of the book to get that tangle straightened out. Along the way, the reader is immersed in the beauty of changing seasons, the comforts and hardships of farm life, and the social ways of rural communities: “The [farm’s] livelihood . . . had come from the tilled land; the cash which made that life easier, which bought good clothes, and carriages, and machinery; which furnished the houses with solid and handsome mahogany, maple, and walnut; which sent the boys to Harvard or Bowdoin if they wished to go — that cash had come from timber. Towering pines, straight, bare of branches to their feathery tops, had been felled and reared again as the masts of ships. Virgin forests, booming markets, men of keen business sense and unbounded energy — the combination had built a prosperous rural community, and an aristocracy of trade and labor.”

History lessons mix in with funny, frustrating, or poignant human relations, as in all Flint novels. The backdrop is ever the rolling countryside of western Maine that hugs the foothills of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Breakneck Brook (1939) illustrates another Flint novel characteristic, for it is set on the banks of an actual brook in West Baldwin, Maine. I have splashed in that brook. My grandmother had a talent for combining the real and the fictional into a believable whole. The same goes for characters. Although she always claimed her characters were entirely fictional, friends and neighbors — and foes — were sure they saw themselves or someone they knew in the pages of one or more of the novels. And they probably did. My grandmother, for instance, would attend town meeting, reporter’s notebook in hand, to garner material for her stories. My mother shows up in this story, as the pretty, cheerful, stay-at-home Thurlow Parks. My Aunt Bunny appears as her sophisticated, city-acclimated, older sister Beth. My Dad has been said to furnish the model for the main character in October Fires — I sincerely hope not, as the man supports a mistress on the sly for years, then drops her.

Back to Breakneck Brook. The plot is not unusual, as it tracks the sorting out process of pairing up three women — after several false starts and twists — each with her right man. This book is special to me, though, partly because it describes in detail the climb up to the scenic ledge my mom, her siblings, and a horde of cousins used as a hangout on Saddleback Mountain across from my grandmother’s house. I’ve heard Mother’s stories and seen the family photos. I could just see that ledge from the bedroom in my grandmother’s house where I often slept as a child. The novel confirms and expands upon Mother’s stories.

Back O’ the Mountain (1940). The title, a colloquialism, brings up another characteristic of these novels. Maine accents are notoriously difficult to reproduce, even by professional actors. Yet Flint was able to hear acutely the colorful dialect of her neighborhood, and she devised an accurate system for writing it down. Unlike other lady authors of her day, she also included enough of the local profanity to faithfully fabricate authentic conversations.

This story is about Kate and Sam. Her struggle is to keep house and raise four children on the modest income from the farm that Sam works hard to maintain and improve. This is acceptable and even happy for them until they need to give a home to Sam’s truly “impossible” mother. It’s a wrenching situation on the wider family as well, and is only resolved just in time for the reader to finish the book in peace.

Down the Road a Piece (1941) also sports a colloquial title, which “has more than its obvious meaning. Neighbors may be separated by a mile or more, yet they are bound together by the road which is always open. Though they may know considerable about each other’s affairs, they do not interfere. There’s bound to be talk, of course, but they can live and let live,” according to the Prologue.

This novel lets us see the previous novel’s family situation from the perspective of Kate’s elegant and aspiring younger sister, Elinor, and Sam’s agribusiness-man brother, Clem. The strong bonds of love pull the family at cross purposes, at times, and create new tangles to be resolved. One highlight is, believe it or not, the week Clem and Elinor spend — in and out of each other’s company — at Maine’s annual Farm and Home Week at the flagship state university. This adventure shows us another common Flint theme: Women striving to better themselves and their families beyond their traditional roles without abandoning the home and garden. And the other side of the equation — men, also trying to adjust to the rapidly modernizing era.

October Fires (1941) doth stick in my craw, just a bit. Its theme is how Leroy Varney makes the best of a highly respectable, upwardly mobile, but mistaken marriage, all the while mismanaging relations with his faithful, backwoods mistress. Oh, and also while nursing a decades-long lust for the town beauty. My grandmother really knew how to get her characters into a fix! The protagonist’s strengths are commendable, but his weaknesses wear one down. I wouldn’t mind, except for the gossip connecting Varney with my father as mentioned above. No way.

Enduring Riches (1942) is the last of the series of novels set in the Baldwin/Hiram/Sebago area of Western Maine.

“Judith was the daughter of Joseph, who was the son of Eleazar, who was the son of Deacon Ephraim Squire. Then, if you must have it, the Deacon was the son of Eleazar, who was the son of Joseph, who was one of the proprietors of Squire Township. Later on, and for some unholy reason, the name of this township had been changed to Parkston.”

For “Squire” one could read “Flint” and see how my own ancestry is woven into these stories. I could take you, for instance, to the Deacon Ephraim Flint horse watering trough in West Baldwin, sadly neglected at present.

To continue: “On the distaff side, Judith’s heritage was no less impressive, and by some it was considered more so.”

“. . . very well indeed did Judith know the traditions and standards by which, supposedly, her thoughts and behavior were to be governed.” Yet, she finds herself voluntarily backed into a marriage that nearly wrecks her and her children’s lives. Can she solve this knotty problem without resorting to divorce? I’m not telling, but the title gives you a clue. I believe the title also sums up Margaret Flint’s real-life relationship with her land and her people.

My grandmother’s final published book was the novel Dress, Right Dress (1943), about life in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. Her research material was primarily letters home from her two WAC daughters — only thinly disguised as friends in the story — who had differing ambitions and temperaments. My mother is “Sergeant Nell.” My Aunt Edith is “Corporal Bess.” I was startled and comforted at some of Nell’s advice in letters to her friend, for it could also have been meant for me.

Like all Flint’s novels, this is a penetrating commentary on the times, on social and economic matters, on education and opportunity. In addition, it touches on evolving race and gender relations, as well as the evolving nature of the U.S. military.

An unfinished novel, named (as I recall) Hard Cider, and all my grandmother’s papers, notebooks, clippings from her prize year and other publicity, and copies of her many newspaper and magazine articles are housed in the research library at Colby College in Maine. Most extant original copies of Margaret Flint’s books are in the hands of family, collectors, or in several Maine library special collections.

The Enchanted April

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This novel about the search for happiness was first published in 1923. I have just re-read it from my mother’s worn but lovely copy. The book has been republished in recent years, but the older format speaks its own language. She had folded inside the front cover reviews, now faded and fragile, of the 1992 film made from the book. Let me assure you up front that I, too, enjoyed that film version thoroughly. This post is not a slam on movies made from books — at least not in this instance.  One might wonder, then, why I chose this book for my blog — whose purpose is to keep extraordinary books alive in our imaginations, not slipping out of sight over the cultural horizon — since the book has been made into a film twice (1935 as well as 1992), was early adapted as a stage play (1925) and has recently been adapted yet again, into a Broadway musical (2003). I have not seen any of these older and further adaptations, but their existence speaks of a work whose substance exceeds its original time and place.  At the very least, “Italy” still spells enchantment.

The prolific author, Elizabeth von Arnim, billed herself as simply “Elizabeth.” This copy says, “By the author of “Elizabeth and Her German Garden.” I want her book on my blog because her writing is so nearly perfect. She makes her penetrating observations of character and motive at once succinct, beautiful, and often funny. A book club I once belonged to dissolved in laughter over von Arnim’s novel Vera at the unexpected scene where the heroine looks up to see her husband falling helplessly past their living room window. Death funny? Yes, under von Arnim’s spell. The husband was a conventionally arrogant so and so, as I recall, and there’s an ironic rightness to his demise.  Von Arnim’s heroines are usually mildly trapped in the conventionally stifling marriages which their societies seem to accept as a woman’s rightful state. The Enchanted April takes us along with four English women who, under the sunny influence of a medieval Italian castle on the coast, find the inspiration and courage to reboot their relationships with husbands and other men.

It’s just possible that Elizabeth went on a bit too long detailing these transformations, but who cares? We are there, as a fifth woman with a deliciously long month in which to reinvent our lives inspired by the kaleidoscopic evolution of a fragrant Italian garden in April. Ellizabeth herself had visited the castle, giving her voice added authenticity.

Enchanted April fronticepieceThis faded fronticepiece from the 1923 novel conveys something of the atmosphere of the setting within which the four strangers forge, or otherwise form by quirk or default, new self-awareness and relationships with each other and with the men they invite or otherwise find inserted into their month of joint solitude.

The reason I wish the original 1923 story preserved is twofold: 1) Elizabeth’s exquisitely pungent writing, and 2) the wide and deep exploration of her characters possible to a thoughtful prose writer.

Ring of Truth: A Translator’s Testimony

Let’s not lose sight of this still-useful old timer (my copy is published by Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL , copyright 1967; ISBN: 0-87788-724-1). The author is J. B. Phillips, Anglican priest, who translated the New Testament during the era of the Second World War, in London, UK.

What I find keepable about this work, aside from its author’s devout and humbled Christianity, is the clarity of his observations about the texts which flowed from Phillips’ mental transformation during the years it took him to complete his translation.

He set to his task with his mind fixed in a very conventional — respectful but distant — perception of the Holy Scriptures. Because he dug into the original languages of the Bible, he slipped behind the seductive beauty of the King James Version and the ball-and-chain of some intervening church doctrines laced with human opinion, and surprised himself into a totally new and productive relationship with the books of the Bible, their authors, original auditors and readers.

The book records his discoveries, his doubts and questions — their reassurances and at least partial answers.

Fashions in theology come and go, as in almost every department of life, but the Bible scholar who works with the original languages has the most likelihood of producing a lasting translation. Phillips’ intellect gained substance through his submersion in the spirituality of the early Christians. He found himself a more effective pastor, especially with young people, after he could share the New Testament in dignified but contemporary language.

Shades of William Tyndale, the first Englishman to translate Scripture from its original languages. Tyndale, working under the prying noses of Henry VIII and the Holy Roman Emperor, was martyred for his achievements. By Phillips’ time, Bible scholarship had become safer, and we are blest that he could leave us a completed translation as well as this memoir of his efforts.

Perhaps unknowingly, Phillips experienced the ring of truth that permeates the following passage from the works of another Christian Bible scholar and theologian:

“Acquaintance with the original texts, and willingness to give up human beliefs (established by hierarchies, and instigated sometimes by the worst passions of men), open the way for Christian Science [i.e., Christianity itself] to be understood, and make the Bible the chart of life, where the buoys and healing currents of Truth are pointed out” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 24. first published, 1875).

Contexticon

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A new Bible study tool has arrived. Contexticon is Web-based software for in-depth research into the original texts of the New Testament — and one does not need to know a word of Greek in order to use it.  Sponsored by the Endowment for Biblical Research, the painstaking work of digging for the original range of usage for key words employed by the New Testament writers is the ongoing achievement of a number of top scholars from universities and schools of theology.  Their research is not only into Bible manuscripts, but into secular writings of the day, so one may see how the NT writers either made similar usage or established special definitions of common words. In the process, the student bypasses centuries of creed, dogma, and sometimes faulty interpretation (not to mention the evolution of language). As the name implies, Contexticon does not simply define words, as would a dictionary, but presents them in broad he context. Contexticon bills itself as an “interactive laboratory for exploring how the words of the New Testament authors were understood by audiences of their day.”  The result is a fresh reading of much-loved texts.

A key feature is that Contexticon is strictly non-denominational. The author/researchers and editors represent a wide range of religious backgrounds but share a common love of the project and a high standard of scholarship.

The software is structured to present complex material in a step-by-step, user-friendly format. Each highlighted word can be studied on a basic level, or one may go deeper — and deeper. Being Web-based, the subscriber owns a package that is automatically updated every time a new term or other improvement is added. This is not free software, but an introductory, one-month subscription is available.

Contexticon has become my go-to tool for New Testament research. The only caveat I have is to state that Contexticon is a work in progress. The research team has posted many key words, but sometimes I have the disappointment of wishing to study the background of a term which they have not yet covered. So don’t give up your Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament or other resource, but do take Contexticon for a test drive! Just Google it and go.

Daughter of Jerusalem

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by Joanne Otto (Fastpencil Press, 2013)

This new novel, aimed at the young adult market but readily enjoyable by adults, plunges the reader into the bustling word of first century Jerusalem. It’s also the world of Mara, a teen-age Jewess, who in her struggle to find and realize her full identity and completeness, has an experience millions might envy. She meets and talks with Yeshua, known to us as Jesus the Christ.

With her older sister just married and suitors already visiting her father, Mara tries to find wiggle room to continue her Torah studies as long as possible before taking up the inevitable duties of home and hearth.  Her inner turmoil is only a microcosm of the ferment in the city. Yeshua speaks the truth to error, stirring the population — now swollen with crowds of pilgrims — to a higher and higher pitch. Many believe; many others long to believe but know more certainly than they know their own names that should Yeshua spark a riot, the Roman overlords would clamp down so hard that the rest of the Jews’ remaining liberties would be swept away overnight. What to do?

Mara’s brief contacts with Yeshua, and after his execution an earth-shaking interview with his disciple Mary of Magdala, change Mara’s life in ways she could not have foretold.

I read this book myself with great interest (the author is a long-time friend), and have since shared it with patients and residents of a Christian Science care facility. Everyone at the facility is by choice a Bible scholar to some degree; many have dug in deeply. Otto’s scholarship is a ready match for the serious Bible student, yet simple and clear enough to engage the beginner.

At 88 pages, the book is snugly packed with its story within a story. The Appendix contains chapter by chapter questions that can facilitate use of the book by a reading group. There is also a glossary of first century Jewish terms.

Recommended reading and sharing!