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E. Clarke "Cambusken" (Glasgow, Scotland)

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Prehension: The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity
Prehension: The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity
by Colin Mcginn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Is he serious?, 31 Jan. 2016
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One gets the feeling that most of the time Colin McGinn is writing with his tongue in his cheek, perhaps with a view to stimulating interest in this remarkable topic. This makes for a very easy, and indeed, extremely enjoyable read. Perhaps it is a wise strategy. It quickly becomes obvious that we - I mean, all in the scientific community - lack the framework, concepts, processes, etc, to treat this topic systematically in any serious manner. (His evolutionary "speculations" range from the banal to the fantastical, and his "philosophical" stretches are, for an established philosopher, rudimentary, to say the least). Nevertheless, there is rarely a page that does not stimulate your own speculations and you are left with a strong desire that there could be a fruitful angle on this frustrating puzzle; Why us? (That is, upright, bipedal, brainy, dexterous, creative us). And why are we alone - on this earth, after billions of years, and so, probably, in the universe? No other organism had the necessary "platform for adaptation", apparently. This short book is well worth a read.


Calvin
Calvin
by Bruce Gordon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars How is this possible?, 5 Dec. 2015
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This review is from: Calvin (Paperback)
This book is founded on deep and specialised scholarship, not only on the life and works of John Calvin, but on the fluid and confusing currents of the early Reformation in the towns of south Germany and, especially, Switzerland. It is amazing to find that the burghers of Geneva only declared themselves Protestant, more particularly Lutheran, in 1536, the very year Calvin arrived from France. Geneva had always been rent by bloody factions, but recently the faction fighting for independence from the Duke of Savoy, and the bishops and clergy he appointed from his family and caste, had announced its triumph in this way. Bruce Gordon manages to trace the continuing violent factionalism, ever subject to foreign interference. This is the world into which Calvin brought his utter self-confidence as the voice of God, his own amazing scholarship and his clear and insistent writing and rhetoric skills. He put these, and his incessant networking among the emerging Protestant churches and sympathetic Princes, to the cause of reforming, or rather re-establishing, the Church of Christ, in distinction to the synagogue of Satan led by the Anti-Christ which was the Roman Church. He was in no sense a “reformer” of that church, and he would have no compromise with it, especially any doctrines or activities he considered idolatrous. He had a lot of opposition in Geneva and across the Protestant world, but he finally achieved dominance in Geneva, in large part due to the influx of French refugees. These were granted citizenship in return for money, and eventually took control of the town Council, securing Calvin’s place both in Geneva and in the hearts of French Protestants. More important, perhaps, were the protected foreign communities, including the English one, led by (the Scot) John Knox, among others. They thought the Genevan church a model and, along with Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian religion, his Catechism and methods of worship, preaching and teaching, they wanted to establish this back home in England. Unfortunately, Knox’s books against female rule brought him the undying enmity of Elizabeth, so Anglicanism (related surprisingly to the Reformations of other, equally small, Swiss towns) rather than Calvinism was to triumph in England. Knox had more success in his native Scotland, though a powerful, enduring Calvinist stream was established in the English Church. They were no more likely than Calvin to submit to anything less than the pure Gospel and pure worship, bereft of anything not traceable in Scripture. These are variously known as Puritans, non-Conformists and, recently, Evangelicals, whose influence spread to the American and other colonies. Their conflicts are crucial to the development of Western, eventually democratic, institutions. Bruce Gordon, in his beautiful, clear prose, plausibly shows how all this can be traced to the peculiar character and seminal works of one arresting individual. Whether it provokes admiration (as it obviously does in the book’s author) or not will depend on your own preconceptions. For me, it powerfully explains how such phenomena as Islamic State are possible. You need the politics, of course but you need the clear ideology and organisation and you need the well-instructed, enthusiastic people. A brilliant book!


John Knox
John Knox
by Rosalind K. Marshall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars John - a template for ISIS, 7 Nov. 2015
This review is from: John Knox (Paperback)
A small group of determined fanatics take advantage of highly troubled times and foreign support to impose, not wholely successfully, a strange new religion on Scotland. How they managed to do it is still unclear, but Knox's role was fairly central. He provided a template for church organisation and a seemingly simple formula for belief and discipline but most importantly he provided an incessant and unbending denunciation of "Satan's synagogue" and all its idolatrous work, and a prophetic call, including withering denunciation, to his small congregations of lairds and lords, to complete the work they so often seemed to backslide on. The author traces the genesis of all these elements, and, despite having to rely on Knox's own accounts of events, manages to draw a realistic picture which combines the fanatical religion and the crisis of political authority of the time. She probably wants to admire him more than I think is possible, or perhaps she has some residual ancestral loyalty, but the facts "clearly presented" (ironically Knox always thought he saw things, including the will of God, clearly) in this excellent book undermine any possibility of sympathy for this archetypal religious/political fanatic. There is no shortage of his type in the modern world, but they mostly plague another religion, thank God.


The Apostle: The Life of Paul (John Pollock Series)
The Apostle: The Life of Paul (John Pollock Series)
Price: £7.12

3.0 out of 5 stars Once a Jew ..., 18 Nov. 2014
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A very interesting Jewish angle on Paul as a Jewish/Pharisee writer. The style is somewhat leaden and repetitious, but the insights are well worth the effort. He also tries to set Paul's "conversion" within a framework of contemporary studies of the nature of conversion. It was a very enjoyable and enlightening read.


Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee
Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee
by Alan F. Segal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paul was definitely not kosher, 23 Oct. 2014
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This is a very detailed and interesting perspective on Paul's conversion, which is more convincing from the human point of view than the standard "Damascene" model. Segal uses models from modern sociological studies of "conversion" to examine the basic documentation - Acts of the Apostles and Paul's letters. He also uses the scarce Jewish writings of the time (Philo and Josephus, along with Qumran docments to give a Jewish perspective to Paul's "Pharisaic" formation and practice.He rightly points out that all Rabbinic Jewish documentation came at least 100 years after Paul. As a Jew himself, Segal sees the NT writings as key documents in understanding the development of the later Rabbinic tradition. Paul is the only Pharisee for whom we have documentary evidence. Paul's experience was mystical and later ecstatic, in the main line of Jewish mysticism. His conviction was apocalyptic, also in the Jewish tradition. His desire was to form a single post-Resurrection society of "Israel", but he was confronted with far-flung communities, from the Apostolically-based ones in Palestine to the more Diasopora-based ones in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. There were various Jewish sects who were suspicious of Paul's activities, perhaps including his own Pharisees but also the Sadducees in power in Jerusalem, and various apocalyptic groups like the Essenes and others. Jewish Christians may have come from any of these backgrounds, but Segal seems to think they were mostly Pharisees, meaning strict Torah observers. Other Jewish Christians in the Diaspora may have had less strict observing background. Gentile Christians may have come from "god-fearing communities" attached to local Synagogues, and some (perhaps only a few) from pagan backgrounds. Segal points out the difficulties Torah-observant Jewish Christians (like the Apostles) would have with eating with or marrying or even socialising with non-circumcised Christians, because of purity issues. Nonetheless, Paul wanted everyone to be "one in Christ". How he tried to negotiate the competing claims, and how the Gentile Church won out over the Jewish Church is the stuff of a wider history, but this gives a refreshing jolt to those who fail to appreciate the original and deeply Jewish nature of the apostles' Church, and how near-impossible it was for such Torah-observant Jews to form a single community with the uncircumcised. Paul's determination, but also his great flexibility, was the key to success of the Gentile mission. The Jewish mission, on the other hand, petered out.
You have to get used to Segal's rather repetitive and pedestrian style. But the insights are worth the effort.


Forgery and Counter-forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics
Forgery and Counter-forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £23.39

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for Christians, 4 Feb. 2014
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What impressed me most about this book is the detailed and imaginative scholarship. Ehrman has consulted a massive range of source materials and secondary commentaries. He makes a precise definition of "forgery" and deals only with those which meet his exacting criterion, but they include all the letters of the the New Testament apart from a few authentic Pauline epistles. Mostly, the forgeries are non-canonical texts. He shows that they were forged largely for polemical (often anti-semitic or anti-heretical) or apologetic (making Christians respectable to Romans) purposes and dismisses easily any suggestion that they were written by "secretaries" or loyal followers in an accepted tradition of "ghost writing". These writers knew they were engaged in deception (as the only one whose voice we hear clearly admits) but thought they were doing so in a greater cause. That deception was sometimes good was accepted by all pagans and most Christians (otherwise Augustine would not have needed to write a huge polemic against lying directed at Christians). The detail is fascinating (though alas I could not read the Greek quotations without translation!). He probably overstates his case (with regard to the Acts of the Apostles, for example) but no-one can seriously doubt that "forgery and counter-forgery" (forgeries created to rebut forgeries) were defining forces shaping the proto-orthodox Church. It is also a delight to read (despite occassional editorial lapses).


Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII
Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII
by Robert A. Ventresca
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.25

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read, 10 May 2013
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Despite his (seeming) intentions, this book does nothing to dispel the popular prejudices concerning this controversial figure. Aloof and remote, authoritarian, with a fondness for authoritarian regimes,he was shatteringly silent during the Holocaust which was happening under his nose but voluble post-war against socialism and communism in Italian elections and beyond. This book gives nuance to this widely shared judgement, but really confirms it, and adds his complicity with "Catholic" fascist atrocities in Croatia and Hungary. Though there is always someone reporting how he "grieved" for the (always unnamed) victims and suggesting that he worked hard behind the scenes but this is largely undocumented. What is starkly shown up is the "Wizard of Oz" nature of the Papacy - behind all the grandeur and grand words, there was precious little influence or power. I found Pacelli's interest in Quantum Physics interesting, and was surprised to find he was the first Pope since St Peter to claim to have had visions of the Lord. (This explains his Dogmas on Our Lady, perhaps) I was irritated by the excessive detail on Curia gossip about his housekeeper and the attention given to his death, his quack physician and his embarrassing funeral. I was disappointed that the post-war period was dealt with so sketchily. The author makes a good case for seeing Pius XII as the first "global" Pope and as a precursor to the reforms of Vatican II, but not enough detail is given on these important issues or on his more reactionary doctrinal stances. It is a book worth reading, and is easily read, but it is too episodic and sketchy and the author too uncertain about his judgements to make it a definitive or classic biography.


Pagans and Christians: In the Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the Conversion of Constantine
Pagans and Christians: In the Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the Conversion of Constantine
by Robin Lane Fox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.88

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible but frustrating, 25 April 2013
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This is a fascinating account of pious and popular pagan religiosity and its continuance and trasformation under the influence of Imperial Christianity. It is also enlightening on the varieties of Christianity in the Classical era, on how much of pagan religious thought and practice they incorported and on the amazing sins they committed. One Christian lady who beat her slave to death was excluded from Communion for a year, for example. Sexual sins were more harshly dealt with, with people crawling on the ground begging forgiveness. So this book should be read by anyone interested in the Classical period or early Christianity. I do not doubt the scholarship, and am lost in admiration for his knowledge of texts, inscriptions, papyri and archaology, but the style is enormously frustrating. At both the prose level and at the level of argumentation he appears rambling, suddenly diving off into some other observation, thought or comment, so that you are not quite sure where you are. (Don't expect any clear chronology). It is a pity that people are put off by this, because I doubt if you can get the same breadth, and the same detail, on this epoch anywhere else. Pity about the prose.


Trent: What Happened at the Council (Early Modern and Modern Greek)
Trent: What Happened at the Council (Early Modern and Modern Greek)
by John W. O`Malley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 25 April 2013
This book is written in pleasant, easy prose but manages to put this epoch-making Council into historical context, then proceed to thread an understandable (not to say exciting) path through what must have been unspeakably complicated sets of documents, negotiations and procedures. Then it present summaries of decisions on doctrine and reform which are so surprising in their, what shall I say?, modesty and modsernity. The legendary authoritarian and reactionary deeds of the Council were in fact largely due to those who interpreted and enacted its decisions (the Popes in particular, and these become understandable).This is very sympathetic to the sincerity and ability of the Council members, but pulls no punches in setting out the political (and financial) manoevering involved on all sides (bishops, Popes and Princes primarily, but theologians and the religious orders too). It was great. I am lost in admiration.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 5, 2014 5:50 AM GMT


Practice Makes Perfect Advanced Italian Grammar: All You Need to Know for Better Communication (Practice Makes Perfect Series)
Practice Makes Perfect Advanced Italian Grammar: All You Need to Know for Better Communication (Practice Makes Perfect Series)
by Marcel Danesi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.63

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More banal than I thought, 23 Dec. 2012
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I probably should work at this more, but it just seems so banal for the most part. Maybe I shall return to it later in the year.


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