Sunday, October 25, 2015

Scribal Culture

Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible
by Karel van der Toorn

We think of the Hebrew Bible as the Book--and yet it was produced by a largely nonliterate culture in which writing, editing, copying, interpretation, and public reading were the work of a professional elite. The scribes of ancient Israel are indeed the main figures behind the Hebrew Bible, and in this book Karel van der Toorn tells their story for the first time. His book considers the Bible in very specific historical terms, as the output of the scribal workshop of the Second Temple active in the period 500-200 BCE. Drawing comparisons with the scribal practices of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, van der Toorn clearly details the methods, the assumptions, and the material means of production that gave rise to biblical texts; then he brings his observations to bear on two important texts, Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.

Traditionally seen as the copycats of antiquity, the scribes emerge here as the literate elite who held the key to the production as well as the transmission of texts. Van der Toorn's account of scribal culture opens a new perspective on the origins of the Hebrew Bible, revealing how the individual books of the Bible and the authors associated with them were products of the social and intellectual world of the scribes. By taking us inside that world, this book yields a new and arresting appreciation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the Wake of the Goddesses

In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth
by Tivka Frymer-Kensky

The current return to spiritual values has spawned a surge of interest in the ancient goddess-based religions as a remedy to a long tradition of misogyny in the Western religions.

But how accurate are these current representations of the goddess in polytheism? And did Judeo-Christian religion really turn its back on women? These are some of the questions that scholar and feminist Tivka Frymer-Kensky sets out to answer in this iconoclastic study of gender in religions past and present. Her argument, illustrated with fascinating accounts of myth and ritual dating back to the early days of Sumer, Assyria, and Greece, is that although polytheism did accord females an important role, the strict division between male and female actually served to keep women in a subordinate position. The goddesses were progressively "ghettoized": their sphere was eventually relegated to home and hearth, while male gods took over as patrons of wisdom and learning. This dualism was displaced by the Bible, which embraced a surprisingly egalitarian view of human nature in which women were not considered to be inherently inferior.

In a provocative work of biblical scholarship on gender and sexuality, Frymer-Kensky shows that the ideal of monotheism may offer far more to us today than a return to the gender-based worldview of the goddess religions.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Different Seasons

Different Seasons
by Stephen King

Different Seasons (1982) is a collection of four Stephen King novellas with a more serious dramatic bent than the horror fiction for which King is famous. The four novellas are tied together via subtitles that relate to each of the four seasons. The collection is notable for having had three of its four novellas turned into Hollywood films, one of which, The Shawshank Redemption, was nominated for the 1994 Academy Award for Best Picture.

At the ending of the book, there is also a brief afterword, which King wrote on January 4, 1982. In it, he explains why he had not previously submitted the novellas (each written at a different time) for publication. Early in his career, his agents and editors expressed concern that he would be "written off" as someone who only wrote horror. However, his horror novels turned out to be quite popular and made him much in demand as a novelist. Conversely, the novellas, which did not deal (primarily) with the supernatural, were very difficult to publish as there was not a mass market for "straight" fiction stories in the 25,000 to 35,000 word format. Thus, King and his editor conceived the idea of publishing the novellas together as "something different", hence the title of the book.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Body

The Body
by Stephen King

The Body is a novella by American writer Stephen King, originally published in his 1982 collection Different Seasons and adapted into the 1986 film Stand by Me. Some changes were made to the plot of the film, including changing the setting date from 1960 to 1959 and the location of Castle Rock from Maine to Oregon.

The story takes place during the summer of 1960 in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. After a boy from Chamberlain, Maine, named Ray Brower disappears and is presumed dead, Gordie Lachance and his three friends, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp and Vern Tessio set out to find his body after telling their parents they will be camping out. During the course of their journey, the boys, who all come from abusive, dysfunctional families, come to grips with some of the harsh truths of growing up in a small factory town that does not seem to offer them much in the way of a future.

In comparison to King's prior works, the narrative of The Body is complicated in that it is told in first person point of view by the now adult Gordon Lachance. Most of the story is a straight retrospective of what happened, but comments, or entire chapters that relate to the present time, are interspersed throughout. Although he is only 12 at the time of the story, Gordie's favorite diversion is writing and storytelling. During the narrative, he tells stories to his friends, and two stories are presented in the text as short stories by Gordon Lachance, complete with attribution to the magazines in which they were published.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Apt Pupil

Apt Pupil 
by Stephen King

Apt Pupil consists of 29 chapters, many of which are headed by a month. Set in a fictional suburb of southern California called "Santo Donato", the story unfolds over a period of about four years, with most of the action taking place during the first year and the last months. It is the only novella in Different Seasons to be narrated in the third person.

Kurt Dussander remembers using a "bank in the State of Maine" to purchase stocks under an assumed name. He goes on to say that the banker who bought them for Dussander went to jail for murdering his wife a year after he purchased them. He even references Andy Dufresne by name — he remembers the name because "it sounds a little like mine." Andy Dufresne is a central character in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the novella preceding Apt Pupil in Different Seasons.

When confronting Todd about his murders, Dussander mentions a serial killer named "Springheel Jack". This killer is the focus of "Strawberry Spring", a short story published in the King collection Night Shift (1978).

The guidance counselor Ed French mentions his hotel room is number 217, the same as the famous Overlook Hotel room in The Shining. Furthermore, in The Shining, Jack Torrance is working on a novel that includes a character named Denker, the same name as Dussander's alter ego. This has led some fans to speculate that Apt Pupil is Torrance's novel.[1] In the afterword to Different Seasons, King mentions having written Apt Pupil immediately after The Shining

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
by Stephen King

Andy Dufresne, a banker from Maine, is arrested for the double murder of his wife and her lover, a crime he did not commit. He is sent to Shawshank Prison for life. At the prison, he meets Red, a prisoner who specializes in procuring items from the outside world.

As a free man, Andy had been an amateur geologist, so he asks Red to get him a rock hammer, a tool he uses to shape the rocks he finds in the exercise yard into small sculptures. One of the next items he orders from Red is a large poster of Rita Hayworth. Over the ensuing years, Andy regularly requests more posters from Red, including pin-ups of Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch. When asked, Andy tells Red that he likes to imagine he can step through the pictures and be with the actresses.

One day, Andy and other prisoners are tarring a roof when Andy overhears a guard complaining about the amount of tax he will have to pay on a sum of money bequeathed to him. Andy approaches the guard, and tells him a way that he can legally shelter the money from taxation.

A gang of predatory prisoners called "The Sisters," led by Bogs Diamond, rapes any prisoner they can, and Andy is no exception. However, when Andy makes himself useful to the guards, they protect him from "The Sisters." One night, Bogs is found in his cell unconscious and severely beaten. Andy is also allowed to stay alone in his cell instead of having a cellmate like most other prisoners.

Andy's work assignment is later shifted from the laundry to the prison's library. The new assignment also allows Andy to spend more time doing financial paperwork for the staff. Andy applies to the Maine State Senate for funding to expand the library. For years he gets no response to his weekly letters until the Senate finally sends him $200, thinking Andy will stop requesting funds. Instead of ceasing his letter writing, he starts writing twice as often. His diligent work results in a major expansion of the library's collection, and he also helps a number of prisoners earn equivalency diplomas.

The warden of Shawshank, Norton, also realizes that a man of Andy's skills is useful. He has started a program called "Inside-Out" where convicts do work outside the prison for slave wages. Normal companies outside cannot compete with the cost of Inside-Out workers, so they offer Norton bribes not to bid for contracts. This cash has to be laundered somehow, and Andy makes himself useful here as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


by Robert Bloch

Norman Bates is a middle-aged bachelor who is dominated by his mother, a mean-tempered, puritanical old woman who forbids him to have a life outside of her. They run a small motel together in the town of Fairvale, but business has floundered since the state relocated the highway. In the middle of a heated argument between them, a customer arrives, a young woman named Mary Crane.

In November 1957 — two years before Psycho was first published — Ed Gein was arrested in his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women. When police searched his home, they found furniture, silverware, and even clothing made of human skin and body parts. Psychiatrists examining him theorized that he was trying to make a "woman suit" to wear so he could pretend to be his dead mother, whom neighbors described as a puritan who dominated her son.

At the time of Gein's arrest, Bloch was living 35 miles (56 km) away from Plainfield in Weyauwega. Though Bloch did not look into the details of the Gein case at that time, it gave him an idea, and he began writing with "the notion that the man next door may be a monster unsuspected even in the gossip-ridden microcosm of small-town life." Bloch was surprised years later when he "discovered how closely the imaginary character I'd created resembled the real Ed Gein both in overt act and apparent motivation."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality

The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality 
by James Barr

In this book, Professor Barr presents a reading of the story of the Garden of Eden, not as a tale of the origins of sin and death, but as a tale of a chance of immortality, briefly accessible to humanity but quickly lost. Old Testament scholars have long been aware that the traditional reading of the story of Adam and Eve as the 'Fall of Man', though hallowed by St Paul's use of it, cannot stand up to close examination of the text. However, they have not succeeded in formulating an alternative interpretation which rivals the force of this traditional reading or is relevant to such a wide range of biblical and theological issues. Professor Barr's new interpretation has such force, and with its challenges to many conventional views it is likely to cause a considerable stir among traditionalists and to excite those dissatisfied with aspects of traditional thought. Central to the book is its stress on the role and prevalence of the idea of immortality, commonly thought to be a later Greek and un-biblical import into Christian thinking. Reflection on immortality also leads to a reconsideration of ideas about death in the Hebrew Bible; about Sheol. the Hebrew underworld; and about the soul. Professor Barr brings out the importance of time for the Hebrew Bible and the concept of length of days, showing that the threat is not so much death as such, but the manner and time of death. His study of chronology leads to a reconsideration of the story of Noah's ark, and the book ends by seeing resurrection and immortality as complementary, rather than conflicting, ideas.