Category Archives: Books

Book Notice, @OUPAcademic’s “The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe”

Thanks to OUP for the review copy.

In 1144, the mutilated body of William of Norwich, a young apprentice leatherworker, was found abandoned outside the city’s walls. The boy bore disturbing signs of torture, and a story spread that it was a ritual murder, performed by Jews in imitation of the Crucifixion as a mockery of Christianity. The outline of William’s tale eventually gained currency far beyond Norwich, and the idea that Jews engaged in ritual murder became firmly rooted in the European imagination.

E.M. Rose’s engaging book delves into the story of William’s murder and the notorious trial that followed to uncover the origin of the ritual murder accusation – known as the “blood libel” – in western Europe in the Middle Ages. Focusing on the specific historical context – 12th-century ecclesiastical politics, the position of Jews in England, the Second Crusade, and the cult of saints – and suspensefully unraveling the facts of the case, Rose makes a powerful argument for why the Norwich Jews (and particularly one Jewish banker) were accused of killing the youth, and how the malevolent blood libel accusation managed to take hold. She also considers four “copycat” cases, in which Jews were similarly blamed for the death of young Christians, and traces the adaptations of the story over time.

Saint William of Norwich
Saint William of Norwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the centuries after its appearance, the ritual murder accusation provoked instances of torture, death and expulsion of thousands of Jews and the extermination of hundreds of communities. Although no charge of ritual murder has withstood historical scrutiny, the concept of the blood libel is so emotionally charged and deeply rooted in cultural memory that it endures even today. Rose’s groundbreaking work, driven by fascinating characters, a gripping narrative, and impressive scholarship, provides clear answers as to why the blood libel emerged when it did and how it was able to gain such widespread acceptance, laying the foundations for enduring antisemitic myths that continue to the present.

#kindle special on @wjkbooks’ “Hidden Riches: A Sourcebook for the Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East”

I got it. If you want a look inside the audience of the Hebrew Bible, here you go.

This study considers the historical, cultural, and literary significance of some of the most important Ancient Near East (ANE) texts that illuminate the Hebrew Bible. Christopher B. Hays provides primary texts from the Ancient Near East with a comparison to literature of the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate how Israel’s Scriptures not only draw from these ancient contexts but also reshape them in a unique way.

Hays offers a brief introduction to comparative studies, then lays out examples from various literary genres that shed light on particular biblical texts. Texts about ANE law collections, treaties, theological histories, prophecies, ritual texts, oracles, prayers, hymns, laments, edicts, and instructions are compared to corresponding literature in the Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings of the Hebrew Bible. The book includes summaries to help instructors and students identify key points for comparison. By considering the literary and historical context of other literature, students will come away with a better understanding of the historical, literary, and theological depth of the Hebrew Bible.

Book Notice: “Everlasting Is the Past” by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Looks interesting…

In this new memoir, National Book Award-winner Walter Wangerin, Jr., takes readers on a journey into the past to experience his loss of faith as a young seminarian, his struggle to find a place for his chosen vocation amid a storm of doubts, and his eventual renewal in the arms of an inner-city church called Grace. With his inimitable style and keen eye for detail, Wangerin remembers his own story and gives it to us as an everlasting testament to the faithfulness of God.

Book Notes: @ivpress’s “Joy in the Journey”

A tabernacle not made with hands

From IVP:

Steve Hayner was serving as president of Columbia Seminary and was healthy and fit when he found out he had terminal pancreatic cancer. He and his wife, Sharol, embarked on a journey together with their children that soon included tens of thousands of visits from friends and acquaintances via the CaringBridge website. The overwhelming response to their posts on this website attested to the surprising and engaging way that they chose to live in the face of death.

As a result they uncovered the remarkable truth that God, our good Shepherd, provides a feast for us when we are in the valley of the shadow of death as well as in the green pastures.

Steve was always known for signing letters and emails, “joyfully.” These pages, including reflections from some of those closest to Steve and Sharol, offer us a hope-filled glimpse into what it means to walk with God in honesty, with joy, even through great pain.

You can read more about the decision to publish the book here. My brief notes on the book are as follows:

One would think it would be a difficult read — to gaze upon the literary history of a dying man’s life’s end. Perhaps it is for some people. For me, as I read through the foreword, through the thoughts of Steve and Sharol Hayner… from more of Steve to only Sharol, I get the sense not of a tragedy, but of a sorrow of coming to know someone’s abundance only at the last minute. Many readers may already know the Hayners. I did not. In many ways, I still do not, but in reading Steve’s final story, there is something of an intimacy shared only by those who die completely self-aware. It is difficult to grasp, perhaps because my humanity reacts to the ending of another, but it is powerfully present.

Inconsolable grief
Inconsolable grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many books devoted to exploring grief theologically. Thomas Long’s “Accompany Them with Singing” comes to mind. There are books seeking to lift the person out of grief and into a better worldview. But there are few books exposing the rawness of events leading up to grief. “Joy in the Journey” is one of them — one of the few. You get a keen sense of Steve and Sharol’s final months and days and hours and how Sharol reacted to the immediate after effects. And in some ways, you start to feel the apprehension, somewhere in the middle, of what is already known to have happened.

“Joy in the Journey” covers about 6 months of Caringbridge journal entries by both Steve and Sharol. They are short, poignant devotionals by those experiencing a sudden attack of a terminal illness. They include his and her updates about what most of us keep hidden — the ultimate sign of our human frailty. There are a few sidebar contributions as well that are short, pointed, statements expressing what some of us may hide in ourselves. I want to recommend the book to anyone facing grief, to small groups that lead blue services, and to those who simply need to know that even in the darkness there is a light to be had.

Book Notice: @OUPAcademic’s “Shared Stories, Rival Tellings: Early Encounters of Jews, Christians, and Muslims”

Thanks to OUP for sending along the preview copy:

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are considered kindred religions-holding ancestral heritages and monotheistic belief in common-but there are definitive distinctions between these “Abrahamic” peoples. Shared Stories, Rival Tellings explores the early exchanges of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and argues that their interactions were dominated by debates over the meanings of certain stories sacred to all three communities.

Author Robert C. Gregg shows how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interpreters — artists as well as authors — developed their unique and particular understandings of narratives present in the two Bibles and the Qur’an. Gregg focuses on five stories: Cain and Abel, Sarah and Hagar, Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, Jonah and the Whale, and Mary the Mother of Jesus. As he guides us through the often intentional variations introduced into these shared stories, Gregg exposes major issues under contention and the social-intellectual forces that contributed to spirited, and sometimes combative, exchanges between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Offering deeper insight into these historical moments and their implications for contemporary relations between the three religions, Shared Stories, Rival Tellings will inspire readers to consider — and reconsider — the dynamics of traditional and current social-religious competition.

You can see the Table of Contents on the Publisher‘s site.