Saturday, September 06, 2003

In Which I Make Valiant Progress in the Face of an Insurmountable Reading List

With a slight reading frenzy today I actually managed to finish two books that I've been working on. It feels like I've been too busy to do that very often these days. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was another exciting adventure, though Jules Verne left me frustrated about a few things. Obviously some of that was intentional, since Captain Nemo is supposed to be a very mysterious character, but one or two bits I thought really deserved some more follow-up. And the ending was a bit too quick and easy. But overall, it was fun. He didn't use the elaborate chapter titles like he did in Around the World, but his writing still makes me think of them (and they amuse me), so I used one here.

Messengers of God was excellent, though at times I had trouble deciding how to think about it. It's a book of Midrash, which is commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures using elaborations on and additions to the Biblical stories. (Somebody Jewish can feel free to correct me here -- I'm still a bit fuzzy on the exact use of this term.) It was really interesting to see some of this sort of thinking, but I get a bit confused about where certain concepts come from versus the stories that were created to explain them. Reading the Old Testament (at least most of what I've gotten through so far) is fairly straight-forward in that sense. People go about their lives, some of them interact with God in fairly direct ways, they pass information on to others, and it continues. The flow of information is easy to follow. But when Rabbis some centuries later start adding in more stories about other events, friends and relatives, angels and devils, it's harder to know what to make of that. Perhaps a story is a good explanation of an interpretation, but then where did that interpretation come from? It can't have come from the story if you admit to making it up. (Bear in mind, though, that I'm still unclear on how much of this is "made up" versus passed down orally through the generations along with the written scriptures.) Of course, this question doesn't only arise with Midrash. I tripped pretty heavily over it recently when I read Job, too. I guess, though, that whether or not we have explanatory stories made up for us, we inevitably develop stories of our own, simply because we need to interpret it all somehow. It's just easier to question explanations when they come from someone else.

So anyway, that all opens up the reading list a bit for something else. I'm not sure what's next, but at least I've always got lots of possibilities floating around.

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