The Guide for the Perplexed

0486203514.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimónides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Looking to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and Jewish theology, Moses Maimonides wrote The Guide for the Perplexed. A three part letter to his student, the book was influential not only to Jewish thought but Christian and Islamic thought throughout the Middle Ages while still giving those in the 21st Century insights to consider.

The first part focuses on Maimonides arguing against the anthropomorphism of God, basically stating God is incorporeal, and all references in the Bible to God doing physical things are essentially figurative language to allow the human mind to understand the works of God. This leads into a discussion by Maimonides that states that God cannot be described in positive terms only negative conceptions because while positive terms put limits on God, the negative does not. This leads into a discussion of philosophy and mysticism of various kinds. The second part begins on Maimonides expounding on the physical structure of the universe, an essentially Aristotelian world-view, which eventually leads into a debate on if the universe is eternal or created. Though Maimonides admits that Aristotle’s arguments for an eternal universe are better, Divine Revelation decides the matter. Maimonides then expounds on the Creation presented in Genesis and theories on the possible end of the world. The last part is explained as the climax of the whole work as Maimonides expounds on the mystical passage of the Chariot found in Ezekiel, which isn’t supposed to be directly taught only hinted at though over time direct instruction has become the normal. This is followed by analysis of the moral aspects of the universe and explaining the reasons for the 613 laws in the Torah. Maimonides ends the book with how God is worshipped correctly, through wisdom.

The comparison of and thesis of complimenting of long held Jewish theological thought and Aristotelian philosophy by Maimonides could have been hard to follow, the text was more than readable and thus the arguments very understandable. While his arguments and logic are insight and enlightening, Maimonides is yet another religious individual who has married ‘pagan’ philosophy with divine revelation to the determinant of the latter like many of his Christian contemporaries were doing and their predecessors before them and many would do after. This is the book’s biggest flaw, but instead of being a reason not to read it is the main one to read it and thus understand the arguments of those who want to merge two separate worldviews into one.

The Guide for the Perplexed was intended by Maimonides for learned individuals to give his view on philosophy more than theology, however the two could not be connected within the text. While I do not adhere to the vast majority of the thoughts the author expounded upon, the insight into medieval thought were invaluable and insightful.

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Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity

6c9f8b678de74f859726e577167444341587343Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity by Philip G. Samaan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Many Christians have no idea what the religion of Islam actually is and for many who have read the Old Testament, they forget that Islam began among the descendants of Abraham’s other son Ishmael. Dr. Philip Samaan attempts to give Christians, in particular Seventh-day Adventists, a glimpse of actually Islam and Muslims in Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity.

The first two-thirds of the book Samaan focuses primarily on everything related to Islam beginning with Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael in the Biblical record before turning his attention to Muhammad as well as the rise and spread of Islam. After the historical portion, Samaan then looks at the faith of Islam itself and its similarities and contrasts to Judaism and Christianity. Then after covering Jesus in Islam, the book turns to focus on Christ for nearly the last third of the book until the last chapter covers how Christians—Seventh-day Adventists—can witness to both Muslims and Jews.

Born in Syria into an Orthodox Christian family, Samaan not only grew up amongst all three faiths but has studied them diligently bring extensive knowledge to this book. However, while Samaan is particular knowledgeable on the subject went to write, it felt that he wrote parts of at least three different books in this roughly 280 page book. Not that the material cover wasn’t insightful, but when the book ignored Islam for long stretches which felt weird given that it was to be the main topic. While the book structure was a little surprising, the biggest drawback is the editing of the text which could have been tightened up in several spots and in some places were determinately to the understanding of what Samaan was discussing.

Abraham’s Other Son is an informative book on the history of Ishmael and his descendants in Muslims around the world. While Philip Samaan’s book is not perfect, it is able to give Christians—not only Seventh-day Adventists—a true glimpse at what Islam really is and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity.

Blood Brothers by Philip Samaan

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650

ReformationsReformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter? In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation. An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences. This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time. The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses. “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result. “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s. “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history. The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers. This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe. Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does. So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century

HillerbrandThe Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century by Hans J. Hillerbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christendom, the social-political-religious definition of Europe for nearly millennium was shaken at the right moment and the right place to rend it asunder for all time. In Hans J. Hillerbrand’s revision of his own work, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany is seen first and foremost as a religious dispute that was not inevitable but due to political and societal factors as able to evolve until it became irreversible.

Hillerbrand began by setting the stage upon which Luther would burst onto the scene focusing not only on the condition of the Church, but also the political situation in Germany. Then Hillerbrand goes into what he calls “the first phase” of the Reformation in which Luther was the primary focus from 1517 to 1521, then after Luther’s stand at Worms the focus of the Reformation changes from a primarily religious controversy into one that politics begins to dominate in Germany. Yet, Hillerbrand doesn’t stop with Luther and Germany, as he begins describing the reactions to the German events in other territories before they lead to their own Reformation events. The Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism across Europe, the different forms of Protestantism besides Lutheranism, and the theological debates between all of them were all covered. And at the end of the book Hillerbrand compared the beginning of the 16th-century to the end and how each was different and the same after over 80 years of debate.

While Hillerbrand’s survey of the Reformation is intended for both general audiences and scholars, which he successes in doing, the epilogue of the book is what I believe is the best part of the text. Entitled “Historiography”, Hillerbrand discusses the various ways the Reformation has been covered by historians over the past 500 years and the trends in history as well. But in reviewing his own text, Hillerbrand emphasized the religious aspect that sparked as well as influenced the Reformation and the importance of the events in Germany which determined not only Luther’s but the Reformation’s fate in Europe. By ending the book on this note, Hillerbrand gives his readers much to think about on either to agree or disagree with his conclusion which is one of the many reasons to study history.

The Division of Christendom is a relatively, for 500 pages, compact survey of 16th-century Europe in which things both changed dramatically and yet stayed the same during a transformative time in Western history. As one of the foremost historians of the Reformation, Hans J. Hillerbrand knows this period of history as no one else and just adds to my recommendation to read this book for those interested in the Reformation.

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The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation

SmithDaniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation have been a long studied by Seventh-day Adventists and their precursors for almost 200 years; one of the most prominent writers was Uriah Smith during his long tenure with the newsmagazine Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Smith’s major contribution to Adventist theology was his verse-by-verse commentary of the books of Daniel and the Revelation.

This book is the most in-depth explanation of Seventh-day Adventist thought on end-time Biblical prophecies from the turn of the 20th Century, yet even though it’s mostly over 100 years old—there are some publisher insertions here and there—it is mostly what Seventh-day Adventist still believe today. However, the biggest difference is the focus of the Islam and Ottoman Empire—referred to Turkey—as being a major prophetic “player” in the past in particular in relation to Revelation 9 though in other places as well. While today Adventists do see the rise of Islam as playing a role in the prophetic past, it is only in affecting the Church at a particular time and nothing more.

Though Daniel and the Revelation is not an up-to-date book on what Seventh-day Adventists believe about those prophetic books, the great majority of Uriah Smith’s text is still relevant today. The only significant change has been an even more focused look at the history of the Church in prophecy than on another religion.

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The Antichrist and the New World Order

The Antichrist And The New World OrderThe Antichrist And The New World Order by Marvin Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the early 1990s, many wondered what would be happening next as the globe emerged from under the shadow of the Cold War. For many Seventh-day Adventists such phrases as ‘the new world order’ instantly brought to mind end-time events. Editor and lecturer Marvin Moore in his book The Antichrist and the New World Order presented to both general and Adventist audiences the eschatology—the study of end-time events—and doctrines of the Church to answer some of these questions.

Moore begins his book with predictions by economists, politicians, and scientists about what would occur during the rest of the 1990s. Then using that ‘set up’, he slowly introduces the eschatology of the Seventh-day Adventist church along with historical precedents that they point use to support their thoughts and use to answer claims of an ‘alternative’ narrative of the past from other’s. Moore deftly navigates the reader through the eschatology beliefs of the Adventist church through Biblical sources, the writings of Ellen White, and historical sources. Yet his tone of presentation is thoughtful and considerate to anyone reading the book, unlike the confrontation style of other’s that I’ve read.

The biggest drawback of the book is the obvious dated current events of the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially the titular phrase ‘the new world order’, the predictions of experts about what could happen before the end of the decade. However, the dated references and such cannot take away from Moore’s inviting tone. One of the book best features is Moore’s own experiences in relating his own interaction with non-Adventists friends when explaining Adventist end-time thoughts, even relating how one friend said, “That’s stupid”, before they went out to dinner and how they continued to be friends long after the conversation. Essentially Moore wanted to remind everyone reading his book that Christian friends can disagree and should not holding grudges because the focus is on the destination in which we won’t be grading one another on how accurate we though the journey would be.

Though dated, The Antichrist and the New World Order is a thoughtful look at Seventh-day Adventist eschatology from someone well versed in it though his various lectures. Being both short, very readable Marvin Moore’s book is very good read for both Adventists and the general public.

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Sabbath Roots: The African Connection

Sabbath Roots : The African ConnectionSabbath Roots : The African Connection by Charles E. Bradford
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The observance of the seventh-day Sabbath has been a contentious issue amongst many Christians for centuries in Europe and North America, but one place that may startle many is that it has been the same in Africa. In his book Sabbath Roots: The African Connection, Charles E. Bradford brings to light many tribal and cultural customs from across the continent giving the reader evidence of the memory and observance of the seventh-day Sabbath from all corners of Africa.

With over 2000 years of Biblical history as well as cultural studies of hundreds of tribes across an entire continent as well as the African diaspora to the Americas, Bradford had many sources to navigate and reference to give readers a sense of how Africans fit into the continuing debate on the Sabbath. Beginning with how God is seen from the Biblical prophets and how He is perceived in the minds of Africans on both the continent and diaspora, Bradford brings to light where each stands to the other. Afterwards, he delves into the subject of the Sabbath on the African continent in relation to God and to cultures in and outside of Africa. Finally Bradford turns his attention to the history of Christianity on the continent, with a main focus on colonial period which it was considered both a forced religion from the outside and a religion of protest from foreign occupation.

In roughly 230 pages, Bradford had to cover a lot over a wide scope of scholarship and while he did a remarkable job in an engaging text and strong use of numerous sources there was only so much he could do and does leave readers with questions. The biggest and most important issue deals with the Sabbath itself. Outside the well-known Black Jewish groups, the Falasha and the Lemba, and writing briefly about the Jewish diaspora in Africa, Bradford does indicate if the cultural and tribal traditions of the seventh-day Sabbath across the continent are all from Jewish contact or a mixture of Noahide memory and contact with Jewish influences. This lingering question while not invalidating Bradford’s thesis, does leave it up to interpretation.

Although the question of when Sabbath entered into the cultural traditions of tribes all over Africa is unanswered, Sabbath Roots is still a very welcome addition to information about the seven-day Sabbath. But Bradford’s book should only be considered an introduction, especially in relation to Africa, and should inspire readers to look for more information after reading.

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