Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bart Ehrman Books at Meijer...?

I'm pretty sure that this has been covered elsewhere and earlier, but I was up at Meijer the other night and happened to notice while strolling through the book section that Bart Ehrman's excellent new book God's Problem was being sold there. Soak that up for a second: A book of biblical textual criticism written to challenge the traditional Christian notions of Yahweh because of the lack of a coherent biblical explanation for evil in the world is being sold at a major box retailer in Kentucky. How unexpected. Keep in mind that I'm not holding up Meijer as some sort of bastion of enlightenment, because Ehrman's book was sandwiched between works by pseudo-psychic con woman Sylvia Browne and feel-good televangelist Joel Olsteen, but this was certainly an attention-grabbing step in the right direction.

I read God's Problem back when it first came out and I was pretty impressed with it, so I've got give it my recommendation. Ehrman takes readers on a tour through several different biblical explanations for the problem of suffering in the world and explains how they all come up wanting. Especially interesting is his dissection of the story of Job, in which God smites down one of his most faithful followers with torment after merciless torment in order to prove to Satan that Job will remain faithful no matter how many of his family members God kills (all of them), how many of his animals God kills (all of them), how much of his worldly wealth God destroys (all of it), or how many sores God afflicts him with (many, all of the weeping and gory). Also interesting is Ehrman's study of the Book of Ecclesiastes, a work allegedly (but almost certainly not) written by King Solomon in which the author notes that ultimately everyone dies, good and evil alike, and since we can't count on much in the way of an afterlife* an extremely high value should thus be placed on the simple pleasures of life such as dining with family and friends.

God's Problem is definitely worth a look, whether you get from Meijer or elsewhere.

*The author of Ecclesiastes mentions the old Jewish concept of an afterlife in Sheol. It should be remembered that Sheol is not to be confused with Heaven - it's much closer to the Greek concept of Hades, wherein some vague soul persists but the sense of self is gone.

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