Currently reading

The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers
Ayn Rand, Tore Boeckmann, Leonard Peikoff
The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco
Ghostwritten
David Mitchell
To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Edward Gibbon, Daniel J. Boorstin, Gian Battista Piranesi, Hans-Friedrich Mueller
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Douglas R. Hofstadter
Perfect Wrong Note - Learning to Trust Your Musical Self
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The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli
The Varieties of Religious Experience
William James
Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy
G. Lee Bowie, Robert C. Solomon

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years - Diarmaid MacCulloch This book should have been called Christianity: A Speculative History from a Somewhat Antagonistic Viewpoint. I only read the first 150 pages, plenty far enough to understand how MacCulloch feels about Christianity. Most of the book is, by nature, extrapolation based on a very fragmented set of documents and conflicting histories, but MacCulloch is always overanxious to undermine Christianity by taking huge leaps of speculation and is never, at least that I saw in the first 150 pages, willing to remain neutral or actually go the other direction.I found his writing style to be good and the idea for the book is fantastic. I'm fully prepared to deal with problems in history and with the faults of Christians throughout history, but I'm not willing to read a book by an author I feel I can't trust or have to constantly second guess. Because of that, the bits of information I gleaned are all mentally footnoted as being something to go back and verify from a less biased source.Here are a few examples:"Yet at the heart of the Egypt and Exodus story is something which no subsequent Israelite fantasist would have wished to make up, because it is an embarrassment: the hero and leader of the Exodus, the man presented as writing the Pentateuch itself, has a name which is not only non-Jewish but actually Egyptian: Moses." My response is that if the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years is it so surprising and embarrassing that they'd eventually adopt Egyptian names? If the implication is that Moses was actually Egyptian, why doesn't MacCulloch just say that. It wouldn't be the longest logical jump he makes in the book.Later, this is what MacCulloch concludes about the Beatitudes. "There is nothing gentle, meek or mild about the driving force behind these stabbing inversions of normal expectations. They form a code of life which is a chorus of love directed to the loveless or unlovable, of painful honesty expressing itself with embarrassing directness, of joyful rejection of any counsel suggesting careful self-regard or prudence. That, apparently, is what the Kingdom of God is like." Really? Only the most literalistic reading of such a poetic passage could lead to such an imbecilic interpretation. MacCulloch makes similar mistakes of interpretation of various other passages in the New Testament, notably in the Lord's Prayer and the command to "leave the dead to bury their dead."When writing about the resurrected Christ (note, resurrected) he says, "He repeatedly appeared to those who had known him, in ways which confused and contradicted the laws of physics." Again, we are talking about a ressurected being. Why is physics even relevant?When he refers to Paul and his desire to teach of salvation through Christ alone, MacCulloch phrases it this way: "Paul managed to find a proper in the Tanakh to sum up what he wanted to say:.." This comes across as incredibly condescending, to take for granted that Paul was just manipulating the Tanakh to justify his message. If MacCulloch had left out "managed to find" and replaced it with "found" it would have made all the difference. It is maybe a small infraction on its own, but it was, for me, the last straw.In a way, I'm really disappointed to stop reading this. The parts of the book that talk about the origins of the Old Testament and the influence of Socrates and Aristotle on Christianity are great. The discussion of differing ideas of Satan, comparisons of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, ideas on prophecy and life after death in the Old Testament and the obsession with the virginity of Mary are all fascinating. For now though, I'm done. I don't have time to verify every reference and I don't trust MacCulloch to give it to me straight.