Human Beings

Seal’s third album, and the first single from that album, were both titled Human Beings.  The album ended up going gold, but it was definitely a step down in sales after the multi-platinum sales of the his first two eponymous albums, and the single was not a success, only hitting the top 40 in New Zealand and not charting in the United States at all.  The song, though, resonated with me with its melancholy lyrics and somewhat downbeat music.  One can hear in the song Seal [1] wrestling with the downsides of fame [2], especially in the aftermath of the massive success of “Kiss From A Rose.”  Perhaps, like so many people, Seal thought that being famous and successful would mean something, like a vindication of his struggles and difficulties and efforts, only to find that it brought him more difficulties than he had known before.  That seems, unfortunately, to be all too common of an experience, leading to a great deal of disillusionment from those who have become famous and have not found it to provide what they were looking for in terms of security and peace of mind.  It is not for no reason that another song from the album, a single from the “Entrapment” soundtrack, was called “Lost My Faith,” and was similarly downbeat and melancholy, and also a favorite of mine.

The song “Human Beings,” although it was not in any way a big hit, was large enough in my own memory at least to be brought to mind when I made an acquaintance of someone visiting Florida when I was a young adult.  This gentleman had been in a congregation of a fellow Church of God group where a shooting too place, and had received an injury in that particular incident.  I have long been an anxious observer of what drives people to violence, what it is that causes something to snap inside.  What elements of self-respect and respect for others helps us preserve the peace even in difficult times?  A great deal of self-restraint is required for us to get along with others, especially considering how easy it is for others to bother us and get on our nerves.  It is not a wonder that in the face of the pitiless demands of those around us that some people snap–it is more of a wonder that it happens far less often than it could.  Most of us, thankfully, find more productive ways to release the stress and tension and frustration of our lives before it is directed into desperate violence.

Although it is common to speak of other people as human beings, I must admit that in my own life I have never been respected as a human being.  Such respect as I have received in my life is not for who I am, but rather for what I have done or am doing.  Rather than a human being, I am most definitely a human doing, as I frequently humblebrag or lament about.  Most people that I have seen have been inclined to think poorly of me initially.  I am not the sort of person who has tended to make a good first impression in my life.  Where a bad impression has changed into a good one, it is the result of a lot of doing, of the relentless and determined effort to do good over and over again, to turn envy and hostility and enmity into friendship.  Given that I have lived my life, at least as an adult, without the sort of violence that I endured as a child, it appears that this attitude of human doing has at least allowed me to make myself heard and to demonstrate my good intent and feelings through my actions and behaviors.

This is probably not an uncommon problem.  It is one thing to say, as many do, that we are created in the image and likeness of God and are to be treated as such, but that is not the way of this world.  We value others as human doings, not as human beings, in the main.  I do not say that all of us do this or that we do this all of the time, but that is the general tendency of our day and age.  The evidence for it is all around us.  Where is the regard and respect and tenderness shown to those who are vulnerable and unproductive?  Are unborn children or the elderly and infirm treated with respect and concern in our society?  Not at all.  What about those who are disabled?  Where is the love shown to those whose bodies and minds and spirits are shattered by the difficulties of this life?  They are told to buck up, to put on a happy face, and to let no one see the struggles of life, lest we be considered as weak or pessimistic.  No, we all learn the lesson young and continue to have that lesson reinforced that in life we are valued as human doings, and when we can no longer do anything productive we may as well not exist at all.  How can security and peace of mind be built on such an unsteady foundation of sand as that?

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Ship In The Hill

The Ship In The Hill:  A Novel, by William L. Sullivan

More than a decade ago I wrote a play where a love story between historians involved with biblical archaeology alternated with the story itself, which involved a young man seeking the return of his family inheritance during a jubilee year during the reign of the wicked King Ahab.  As someone who enjoys reading about the history of Norway [1], this book was appealing to me because it focused on a somewhat obscure but important woman.  And truly, that is the main hook of this novel.  Do you want to read a novel with interlocking plot lines about women who try to find respect and honor and authority as well as romantic love that goes between the viking age and the period just before Norway won its independence in 1905?  If that is the case, there is a lot that you will find to be enjoyable here.  The feminism of the novel is more than a little heavy-handed, enough to detract from its enjoyment for me, but the story itself is worthy of interest even with the heathen spellcraft and gender issues being far more than I wanted to see of those undesirable elements.

The novel itself goes back and forth between two plots.  In one plot a young woman who happens to be a doctor tries to navigate the complicated politics of a ship burial in Norway in the midst of political disagreement where she faces a great deal of heavy-handed sexist behavior while also having an awkward romance with one of the local diggers, who happens to be more than meets the eye.  In the other a young woman forced to marry against her will raises up a child and then a grandchild who ends up uniting Norway and marrying a stubborn princess after meeting her impossible challenge.  The portrayal of the women here is really over the top, and it material detracts from the enjoyment of the novel for readers who do not have a particularly feminist perspective.  The novel has all the raw material for a compelling story, but the author focuses too much on gender politics and not enough on the demands of plot, which is a shame because this could have been a good novel had the author been more subtle about the political agenda of the work.  Let this be a lesson for future writers dealing with the same themes.

After all, merely having interesting subject material does not make for a good novel.  This novel has political intrigue, a strong pro-Norwegian perspective, a fondness for Norse religion, a high degree of respect for the worth of women, and the ability to write interesting chapters when taken individually.  Yet this novel falls flat for a few reasons, namely immensely flat characterization, a certain playing fast and loose with history, and the book’s offensive politics.  In looking at this book, I would have preferred a more restrained and more sober nonfiction book to this particular novel, and that sort of mixed to adverse thought, that the material could have been handled better in a different genre or especially by better and more competent hands means that this is not a novel I can recommend, or one that I will look fondly upon, but there is certainly an audience for this sort of book.  It just doesn’t happen to include me.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Ivory Vikings

Ivory Vikings:  The Mystery Of The Most Famous Chessmen In The World And The Woman Who Made Them, by Nancy Marie Brown

The odds are high that many people among my readers will not know the Lewis chessmen by name.  However, most of these people will have seen the Lewis chessmen, even without knowing them by name or knowing their contentious role in a variety of cultural disputes.  If you have seen Harry Potter learn wizard chess in the first movie, you have seen these chessmen.  If you have looked at numerous books on the history of the Viking age, the chessmen are prominent in the artwork of these covers, to say nothing of those who have seen them at various museums in Great Britain.  It should be noted at the outset that this is not so much a work of history as it is a work of polemic.  It is a case being made to give Iceland and the Hebrides their proper place as part of the center of concerns in the Scandinavian world of the high Middle Ages [1], and also a case to regard the achievements of one obscure Margret the Adroit, who may have carved the chessmen.  Like Caroline Bingley, the author moves happily from conjecture to almost settled confidence in what is a highly contentious case between Iceland and Norway (who fight out rival theories as to where these chessmen were carved) and between Scotland and England over where they properly belong in an age of rising nationalism.  Whether or not this book is strictly historical, it certainly is an exciting read if you like historical mysteries.

The contents of this book are divided mostly into chapters based on the chess pieces themselves and what they mean.  The author could have easily been a theologian the way that she draws more than two hundred pages of exegesis from an analysis of obscure Icelandic writings, some of which have never been translated into English before as well as from a sympathetic look at the chess pieces themselves.  Aside from their aesthetic appeal and their cultural importance, the chess pieces mark the first time that one finds bishops among the chesspieces as opposed to their foolish and knavish predecessors.  So, after an introduction of missing pieces that points out the contentions these chess pieces have produced within the generally sedate world of medieval Viking art history (!?), we have a discussion of the beserker rooks, some of whom are biting their shields, a discussion of the Church in Iceland and the relationship between church and state in the viking world, a detailed discussion of the importance of women as wives and mothers and counselors and craftswomen in an age where walrus ivory from Greenland had an important role in the global ivory trade, which helped to bankroll Scandinavian regimes, as well as a discussion of the civil wars of Norway and surrounding areas, and the various earls and other soldiers who fought in these wars generation after generation.  Let it never be said that the medieval history of the viking realms was boring or uninteresting.

This is a very excellent book.  To be sure, fans of the theory that the Lewis chessmen were carved in Trondheim will probably not appreciate the book as much as those who are at least willing to think that they were carved in Iceland, or perhaps even on the island of Lewis.  The book addresses questions of legitimacy of authority, pragmatism in religious behavior, the role of women, the importance of reciprocal gift-giving in medieval viking society, the importance of trade, and questions of national identity in Iceland and Scotland.  The book also discusses the evolution of chess and the insights one can gain from art history.  I can say for myself that nearly all of these are subjects I have a great deal of interest in, and if that is the case for you as well there is much that you will find of interest here.  The author is certainly passionate about Iceland, about its people and history and literature, and she conveys that thoughtfully in this book.  It does not work as a sober work of history, but as a case-making book in the midst of a polemical debate about important art, this book is certainly a worthwhile one to read.  One only wonders if the pro-Norway side have their own book as compelling and interesting as this one to give the other side of the story.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Quotidian Mysteries

The Quotidian Mysteries:  Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work,” by Kathleen Norris

This short book of less than 100 pages served as the text of the 1998 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality, and it takes a clear Catholic perspective of the relationship between our daily tasks and godliness.  To be sure, the author is not always sympathetic in this book, and she comes off as more than a little bit selfish at times, but what I found most striking about this book was how much the author sounded like me.  For example, of her solitary experience in college, she had this to say:  “All I knew of monasticism was that it had left behind splendid medieval churches (and many ruins) throughout Europe.  My “monasticism” was an internal and existential one, and my dormitory room became a kind of recluse’s cell, a place where I escaped int books and, increasingly, into writing (57).”  Likewise, she says of someone’s struggle against depression that “”I wanted to do everything at once and be through with it.”  Here, as clear as the tolling of a bell, is the awful death wish of our ancient foe, acedia, a perfect expression of the deep-seated, ironic contempt for the self that has become all too fashionable in our day (40).”

The contents of this book are far more simple than most of the books I end up reading, even for its brief size.  There are no chapter or section headings, and so the entire lecture reads as one.  Despite the discomfort this brings to a reader like myself who comes from the background of making longer essays like this one out of smaller works, there is a clear unity to the work as a whole.  The author includes a lot of her own poetry, a great deal of discussion of her own life and the struggle for mental health she has faced and that ended up leading an aunt of hers to commit suicide after having born a child out of wedlock.  The author clearly wants to say a lot about both the spiritual need for our daily efforts to connect us with God and with other people as well as scoring points as feminist scholar seeking to point out that those tasks which are judged as women’s work are generally poorly valued either in terms of praise or in terms of financial remuneration.  The book would have done a lot better had the author realized she had a male audience that was inclined to be sympathetic to a point, but books like these seldom appreciate the wideness of their potential audience.

At its heart, this book is one about the struggle against depression and rebellion that we all face as human beings [1].  To be sure, it is a book about women’s work, but even more than that it is a book about the way that the seemingly purposeless nature of our daily work, and certainly this is true of men just as it is true of women, is part of what connects us to life as a whole.  Some of us, myself included, might prefer a life where we were able to live in our abstract and intellectual realms without having to pay heed to the efforts it took to obtain our daily bread by the sweat of our brow, but the same work we often consider to be useless and profitless toil under the sun is how we show that we honor God by working out our own salvation by paying attention to how we live our lives.  The efforts we take for self-preservation and for self-improvement are often the way that we show respect for the gift of life that God has given us.  Even if short and imperfect, this little book has a lot to offer both men and women readers about the quotidian mysteries of our lives.

[1] See, for example:

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The Upside Of Nosebleeds

In the spring of 2009 I went to spend the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread in Santiago, Chile.  The time did not go particularly well, for a variety of reasons.  For one, the Passover was an exceptionally troubled one where the ordained leaders of the congregation sequestered themselves in a room apart from the lay brethren for the footwashing [1].  For another, nearly every day I was in Santiago my nose would bleed for about ten or fifteen minutes after an invariably sleepless night.  Suffice it to say, it wrecked havoc, enough so that when I returned from Chile it was one of three issues that drove me to an ENT for the first and (so far) only time in my life, who recommended in the future that it might be worthwhile to cauterize the vessels that sit so close to my right nostril and occasionally cause such havoc.  For the moment, at least, I have not done so, but the idea remains at least a possibility.

I mention this only because for the last few days I have been dealing with nosebleeds.  From time to time there will come a day or two where my nose bleeds for a bit as there are changes in temperature, air pressure, or humidity, especially at the interface between seasons.  But this time feels a bit different than usual.  For one, the nosebleeds have been of a variety of different kinds and have come at somewhat odd times.  For example, as I was writing this entry I had a nosebleed that forced me to pause for a bit.  Last night at dinner I had bloody flakes of skin bothering me as I ate, which made my napkin a particularly unpleasant one to deal with, I imagine.  Then on Sunday morning as I was writing about my Sabbath [3], I had to pause to deal with a nosebleed.  Of course, on the Sabbath my nose bled rather conspicuously, and for quite a while, while I was listening to the sermon in Hood River.  And my nose had bled on Friday as well during the morning as I was doing my usual daily reports.  Who knows how long this will continue.  I must admit I do not enjoy going about my daily business never knowing when my nose is going to bleed.

I often ponder the upside of such matters.  What is the upside of such a high degree of sensitivity?  To be sure, this has to do with more than nosebleeds.  All kinds of problems in life can result from a high degree of sensitivity.  The world is not kind to those it views as vulnerable, and most of those who are particularly sensitive do their best to either shield that sensitivity behind a thin skin and at least give the appearance of being impassive and unresponsive or with aggression to strongly deter others from probing for weaknesses.  But what is the good of sensitivity itself?  It is one thing to be able to overcome something, but an entirely different matter to see the thing itself as good.  To give but one example, I recently wrote a rather personally uncomfortable article on the upside of anxiety, and that is something related to this problem.  Hypervigilance of the kind I possess comes from needing to be vigilant in a world that has been deeply and tragically unsafe.  There are obviously going to be some repercussions to that.

Yet the more I think about it, the more I ponder that the good of sensitivity is to remind us what dangers exist in the world.  When my nose bleed in Santiago, it was the poor air quality that caused me such problems.  People like myself are a reminder of the need for communities to have and enforce good standards for air quality, even if many others are less sensitive to such problems than I am.  Coal miners are reputed to have brought canaries into the mines with them because the canaries were sensitive enough to the carbon monoxide that their own struggles would save the lives of miners and give them the time to escape.  I have in my own life served as such a canary literally when a lab partner and I showed ourselves to the most sensitive to a chemistry lab gone wrong where we were using propane torches in a room without sufficient ventilation.  We live in a world where people need to see that things are wrong.  It is only our recognition of what needs to be fixed that spurs us to do anything at all given our exhaustion and the hopelessness we have in the face of all that is wrong in this world around us.  Sometimes a bloody nose is just what we need to remind us that something is wrong, even when we do not know exactly what that something is.


[2] See, for example:


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Book Review: Desert And Shepherd In Our Biblical Heritage

Desert And Shepherd In Our Biblical Heritage, by Nogah Hareuveni

This is almost the most Jewish book that I have read, and I read a lot of books that could be considered Jewish books [1], and that is both good and bad.  I would like to state at the outset that this book considers not only the Mishnah and Talmud but even material outside of Talmud to be worthy of respect, which is far more credit than I am willing to give them.  This would be the negative side of this book, and I will have more to say about the ironies this leads to as far as this book and its theme are concerned.  On the positive side, though, the author does lead through his text and photographs the reader to think about what the Bible has to say about the desert and wilderness first and foremost, and to a much lesser extent what it says about shepherds.  All in all, this is a great approach, and this book is well worth being recommended, so long as you are willing to overlook the book’s laudatory references to the bogus decisions of obscure rabbis.  Not all readers are likely to be this generous, but for those who are this book has a lot to offer.

The book, quite inventively, is organized around the first four verses of Psalm 23, and at least have contents that roughly match the concerns of those verses.  The chapters include a great many discussions about various Hebrew words and their translations–the book itself is a most excellent translation from the original Hebrew–and beautiful photos of the Negev.  The pages are organized so that a large column contains the main text and a smaller column on the far left or right of the page contains various other comments of interest that are at least minor digressions.  Those digressions help this be a much better book than it would be like on its own. The author, himself a veteran of Israel’s military and one of the nation’s foremost experts on desert survival, clearly knows his material here and is able to share his own experiences from wilderness hikes and various other training efforts.  Likewise, where the author is talking about the biblical prophets he has a lot to say that is of great value, and comes to some conclusions about Jeremiah’s knowledge of the wilderness country that is worthy of deep reflection.

Even though I dislike the author’s high regard for the large body of Jewish human traditions that presumptuously and erroneously calls itself the oral law and places on an equal level with the laws given by God, the book’s wrestling with this tradition gives a thoughtful picture of the tension between shepherd and elite in Jewish life in the second temple period and beyond.  God’s law requires a high degree of respect for shepherds, and both David and Jesus Christ (among many others) used shepherd imagery to discuss themselves and their own efforts.  Yet shepherds were hated in the second temple period, with rabbinical decisions considering shepherds automatic liars and thieves because the elite landowners were continually trying to increase the area under cultivation and banish shepherds to ever more marginal areas in the wilderness and thickets.  The religious leaders of the period did no better when it came to recognizing their own shepherd when He came either, it should be noted.  This book has enough thoughtful material that I may write at more length about what it has to say about shepherds and the desert, and any book that can provoke such thoughtful reflection and writing is worthy of a high recommendation.  At around 150 pages, it is not an overwhelmingly difficult read either.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Miniature Gardens

Miniature Gardens:  Design And Create Miniature Fairy Gardens, Dish Gardens, Terrariums And More–Indoors And Out, by Katie Elzer-Peters

I’m not going to lie, this book was too high-maintenance for me.  I’m not saying this was a bad book, because it was quite an enjoyable one, but it was too high maintenance.  Although I am no stranger to books on gardening [1], I tend to have a few fairly clear rules when it comes to gardens I envision for myself.  For one, those gardens must have practical use–either the plants must be edible or must be helpful for the soil or must have some sort of usual product that comes from them.  For another, all other things being equal they cannot be particularly expensive or require a great deal of maintenance.  So a terrarium that requires little care except for infrequent watering or taking care of cacti is going to be generally preferable to making gardens that require the buying of products en masse and the crafting or purchasing of lots of miniatures, as this book would require.  To be sure, the gardens included here are quite lovely to look at, but they are not the sort of gardens that I would make for myself.

In a little under 200 pages, this book contains two parts.  The first part of the book introduces miniature garden basics like design, plants, containers, accessories (oh, so many accessories), themes, and aspects of growth.  The second part looks at how people can create miniature and fairy garden projects including indoor miniature gardens, terrariums and aeriums, and outdoor gardens.  Each of these contains several whimsical themes and enough items to purchase to make someone a favorite of fellow etsy members, and also detailed instructions on how to create the fairy gardens shown.  Let us not misunderstand matters, for these are beautiful gardens.  The amount of time that is shown painting fake castles and putting up fake furniture is impressive.  One wonders if it would be better to appreciate the effort or to comment that such effort would be better spent doing practical efforts.  It is unlikely that anyone looking for inspiration from this book is going to be all that practically inclined, and will probably be far more whimsical about matters than this reader was.  Even so, there is a lot to appreciate about this book.

So, what is there to say about this book?  If you like the idea of crafty little gardens that cost a fair amount of money and require a great deal of artistic skill but do not require that much care and can be managed in the small states of urban life, this book will be greatly appealing, if you are not offended by the gardens being called fairy gardens.  As is frequently the case when I read books of this kind, I am struck by the fact that such effort in design is undertaken by people who tend to show such little regard for creation or for its designer.  Possibly it is not ignorance, but envy which accounts for this disconnect.  Whatever the reason, though, this book is amusing and frequently appealing and is an enjoyable read for those who live in cities and who like the thought of creating their own odd and beautiful gardens.  Expect to be paying a lot of money though, to make gardens that like like those in this book.  Or, if one does not want to spend the money, one can simply appreciate the creativity and the way the author is trying to market her designs to an appreciative audience.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Tiny World Terrariums

Tiny World Terrariums, by Michelle Inciarrano & Katy Maslow

I actually have a terrarium, which ended up as an unintentional and oddball present from a friend of mine who was unable to take it with him back to his home after having visited Oregon.  Not being the most handy person with plants, despite my love of gardening books [1], this is the sort of gardening book I can get behind.  This book was tailor-made for gardening indoors and is full of immensely quirky designs.  Of course, it should be noted that the author is trying to sell the terrarium products of her company, as is to be expected.  Few people are going to write a book like this without attempting to make money from potential readers, and such a thing ought to be noted.  Likely, most of the people who read this book are going to be odd and quirky people who have at least some interest in plants and who happen to live in urban areas.  This would appear to be a book that is aimed at me more than most of the books I happen to read, and I came into this book prepared to enjoy it.  And I did.

This book was an easy book to read.  By the usual standards of my books, this is not a difficult one to enjoy and appreciate.  In a total of about 120 pages or so of material, the book manages to cover its material, introducing the story of twig terrariums, giving a history, asking what kind of terrarium the reader will make, a substantial discussion on terrarin’ (the verb form of terrarium), more than half of the book on various humorous pictures and descriptions of the items in a wide variety of terrariums and succulent gardens, along with some resources, comments about the authors, and acknowledgments.  This is a book full of pictures, and the pictures are quite entertaining.  If you like the sorts of arts and crafts one would find at Etsy and have a taste for odd and whimsical miniature gardens that really play up the aspect of building a world, then these ideas would likely inspire one to use various glass containers to make enjoyable miniature gardens.  If someone as deficient in general craftiness as I am found the book enjoyable and even a little inspirational, surely many other people would find even more than I did in it.

I was struck, though, by an irony in the book.  Terrariums are most popular with a group of people–namely quirky urban residents–who are not known as the most devoutly religious group of people.  And yet in many ways building a terrarium is demonstrating the trickiness of creation, and the importance of sound design principles.  I find it somewhat baffling, actually, to think of the disconnect between people actually engaged in the creation of gardens, in the choice of the right rocks and soil and plants and scale of the miniature equipment to make the world look suitable and right and the lack of respect for the One who created our world and set the different aspects of our world and ourselves in proper balance and proportion within that world.  Is it just me?  Does anyone else notice this sort of disconnect and irony?  Perhaps most people reading this book will be more entranced by the odd and quirky and delightful pictures to think about matters of intelligent design, but I suppose as well that I am not like most readers of any book, and far too likely to think seriously at any moment about anything.

[1] See, for example:

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An Introduction To Maternity Denied In Scripture

Although we have spent a great deal of time in this study looking at women whose children were famous and notable in the Bible, it is worthwhile as well to look at women who, for one reason or another, were denied the progeny that would have made their maternal lines last.  There are several ways in which someone would have their maternal line end, and most of them were unpleasant.  We will introduce some of these ways here and then discuss the various stories where the maternal line died out in greater detail.  It should be noted that all of the ways a maternal line could die out were unpleasant and were considered absolutely disastrous in biblical culture.  In some cases women died of barrenness because they never married, whether because they were survivors of rape [1], and therefore considered as spoiled, or because they were devoted to service or even sacrificed and thus denied the chance of being wives and mothers.  In other situations, women were married but did not have children because of a special curse of barrenness.  In still other cases women had children and those children died before having heirs, thus leaving a maternal line extinguished, usually as a matter of divine judgment [2].

In the stories that follow, we are going to read some of the more painful stories in the Bible, stories that reveal the ugliness that is suffered, especially by women and children, throughout the world even today.  We will look at situations of date rape and incest, issues of vengeance, women being pawns in the larger political games of others, and women who attempted to secure their own lasting legacy only to have it snatched away by revolution and the inevitable liquidation of entire dynasties.  This does not make for pleasant reading, and it reminds us that the Bible does not speak of the way things ought to be in its historical books in particular, but rather of the way things are.  The hardness of heart that fills mankind is something that is easily visible from scripture and something we need to remember speaks as much about ourselves as it does about ancient Israel and Judea during the time of the Roman Empire.  This can be a hard lesson for us to understand.

It should also be noted that not all of the women here act at their best.  We do not always see these women act nobly and triumphantly, although we do see that sometimes, and we will celebrate these brave and noble women when we do see them suffer nobly.  Unfortunately, we may also see much of what reminds us of the darkest moments in our own lives and in our own world.  We will see women fighting off vultures and mourning to bewail their virginity thanks to the foolish behavior of their menfolk.  We will also see distraught women suffering from what looks like PTSD, and others whose prospects for marriage and happiness were blighted by their relatives.  The Bible does not give a rosy picture of humanity, and those of us who have seen the darker side of humanity will find plenty within these portraits of suffering women, some of whom suffered as a result of their own sins, and many of whom suffered as a result of the sins of those around them and in power over them, to remind us of the suffering of our own place and time.

Ultimately, these portraits often provoke in many readers the desire either to condemn God or to undertake efforts at justifying God from the implicit criticism that would come given the unjust suffering one reads.  Many readers of these stories are motivated either to blame the women beyond what scripture says or to blame God for being harsh to humanity, as if we had a claim on God to demand that we be treated a certain way in life.  I will attempt to avoid both of these extremes, as the women involved deserve no blame except that which the Bible assigns to them and that which can be reasonably inferred.  Most of them, it is evident, are victims of time and chance, and circumstances beyond their control.  Such things can happen easily to all of us if we are born in the wrong time and place and into the wrong family.

I speak here from personal experience.  Perhaps my own compassion for the women we will be discussing whose desires at an enduring line were quashed is strengthened materially by the conditions of my life in at least two respects.  For one, as a single man who has never had any children, I can understand on a visceral level the burden of longing for marriage and family that often frustrated these women.  On another level, as a survivor of rape and incest myself, many of the stories of the women in these pages who have suffered the most have long excited the feelings of deepest compassion.  As someone who has long been deeply anxious and concerned about the connection between my own largely unsuccessful longings and yearnings for intimacy and the harrowing experiences of my youth, these stories of the Bible are often not particularly comforting.  Yet they are stories we must address in order to understand the Word of God, and so with this introduction, let us take a look at the poignant stories of those whose desire to be a part of a lasting maternal line were denied in scripture.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: The German Army In War

The German Army In War, by Andrew Hilliard Atteridge

From time to time I enjoy reading about the German military because of its importance to 19th and 20th century history [1], and I must say that this book is among the finest of such efforts, all the more striking because it was published in 1915 towards the beginning of World War I, without the historical context that bears this book’s insights out.  Although a short volume of only about 100 pages or so, this book is particularly valuable in that it gives the Germans a good deal of respect and also points out that much that the Germans did in war, including much that strikes readers as offensive about German behavior in World War I, were behaviors that were quite common during the time.  This is a book that does not idolize the Germans, but neither does it demonize them, and that it was written during World War I, when anti-Hun propaganda was at its peak, shows the fair-mindedness of the author in even more relief than would be the case if we take this book outside of its context.  Given the sort of book it could easily have been, the quality of observations and insights provided are immensely important.  Without a doubt, this is a book that should be far better remembered.

In providing his look at the German Army in War, the author accomplishes several worthwhile tasks in a way that is easy to read and still of value for readers today.  For one, the author places the German army of World War I in the context of its history, particularly the history of Prussia, going back to the time of Frederick the Great and especially in the traumatic aftermath of defeat in 1806.  The author also places the German military in the context of how its skill in spycraft, technology, the general staff, and war games have been imitated by other nations.  Some of those nations have honestly stated their debt to German military thinking, and some militaries have been less honest about it.  The author also even manages to point out that the only reason the Germans were able to keep some of their weapons secret was because there were so few of them, as the creation of large numbers of anything would require too many people in on the secret to keep it safe from spreading, something that would later bedevil the Manhattan Project and provide the Soviets with a great deal of espionage for themselves.  Once you get beyond a few people in on a secret, the odds of it spreading are high, and this author does a great job discussing espionage with a great deal of knowledge and fairness.

The only criticism I have for this book is that the version I read had some very poor copying of some of the pages towards the end of the book.  This book was sufficiently worthwhile that it was a shame that some of the pages did not show up entirely properly, creating a lot of unnecessary typos and making the book less easy to read.  This is a book that one can easily wish would be longer, and one that provides insight and remains a worthwhile book in looking at the German military model for World Wars I and II, as it is striking that the Germans in the interwar period used the same technique that the Prussians did after the disaster of 1806 in using the slots of their limited army to provide for a high degree of officers and to train as many soldiers as possible to have effective front-line soldiers.  Of course, the German penchant for aggression did not serve its well, and the author gives plenty of criticism on that front as well.  This is a book that contemporary historians of World War I would do well to read and appreciate.

[1] See, for example:

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