Saturday, August 20, 2016

In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta Ahmed, MD (Book Review #39 of 2016)

In the Land of Invisible Women -  Qanta Ahmed, MD (4.5 stars)

I recently reviewed a host of books on the history and development of Islam and Middle Eastern history (list at bottom of this post). I also read several which included some critiques along with views to the future and reform. I then worked through a list of books by Muslim women, most of which bring light to and critique inhumane practices found in their home countries. Included in this list was Nick Kristof's Half the Sky which looks at women's rights globally, and I'm also including another by someone who left Islam after an extensive intellectual and spiritual search. This book review is in the context of all of those books as a whole. The list (some reviews forthcoming):

Reform and human rights:
Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali (4.5 stars)
Heretic - Ayaann Hirsi Ali (4 stars)
Headscarves and Hymens - Mona Eltahawy (4 stars)
I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai (5 stars)
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali (4.5 stars)
In te Land of Invisible Women -  Qanta Ahmed (4.5 stars)
Between Two Worlds - Zainab Salbi (5 stars).
City of Lies - Ramita Navai (3 stars)
Half the Sky - Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (4 stars)
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi (4.5 stars)

Another book I strongly recommend with this one:
Desperately Seeking Paradise - Ziauddin Sardar (5 stars)

The author contends in the prologue that things have gotten "much better" since she wrote the book, but a recent PBS Frontline documentary I saw seems to show it's not by much. The religious police still patrol the malls and public squares bashing anyone exposing too much skin or anyone who might dare to sing or play an instrument. Like Mona Eltahawy, she has become a critic of the hijab and supports the ban on them in France, which also makes her a target of criticism by various groups. Dr. Ahmed notes that the abaya, the full-length robe worn in Saudi Arabia, is ironically sold only by men.

Dr. Ahmed is a practicing Muslim of Pakistani descent, she grew up in England and studied medicine in the US. Like many physicians who study in the US, it is difficult to get a visa or eventual green card, so she took a position with Saudi national health affairs, working at a hospital. 80% of doctors in Saudi Arabia were expatriates at the time. The job brought her opportunities to learn a new culture, make the hajj, be a huge help to and example for women, and deal with great culture shock.

While she has more education and experience then male colleagues, she has to deal with their consdescension and subtle harrasment. She could have a patient dying on a gurney but have to be patient as the male doctors do their elaborate Saudi greetings before getting to work. Early on, she tells the ridiculous story of dealing with a patient whose body was mostly uncovered, but her family made sure to cover her head with a veil. Dr. Ahmed can operate on people in Saudi Arabia, but like all women, is forbidden to drive a car. As a single woman, she has to deal with the plight of being an "unaccompanied woman." A single woman she knew is denied attending a distinguished fellowship abroad by her father who insists she get married first so she be she won't be unaccompanied because that would would bring him dishonor at home.

Similar to Ramita Navai's City of Lies (on Iran), and Mona Eltahawy's Headscarves and Hymens (Saudi Arabia and Egypt), Qanta Ahmed's work breaks the veneer of the Kingdom. The move toward greater conservative Wahabbism came after 1979, when conservatives were increasingly given power (I recommend The Seige of Mecca by Yaroslav Trofimov to help understand this). But the religious laws and police only force underground what exists. She notes that as a doctor she saw evidence of much of the widespread drug and alcohol abuse among men. Indifelity can be covered up via hymen reconstructive surgery, which is also used by married couples. Ahmed sees much homosexuality actively covered up. She also sees many children coming in having been raped and abused, and the absence of social services in Saudi Arabia condemns them to return home to the environment in which they were abused.

Islam itself painted over the historic pagan practices practiced in places like Mecca before the time of Muhammad. She notes the various beliefs and superstitions held by patients that may be contrary to Islamic teaching. Parents, for example, see their children as intercessors on behalf of their parents in front of Allah. This comforts the parents in the event of the death of the child. Parents also believe God takes away one child in order to give them another, more pious, child.

The most moving experience Dr. Ahmed has is in making the Hajj. She does this as a well-off foreigner who can afford a hotel room. She notes the plight of most pilgrims, sleeping outdoors, sometimes even under vehicles, under the sun and elements. Ahmed studies the history of the Hajj itself; she notes the deeply-rooted pagan rituals around the Hajj that are now considered Islamic, as the polytheism that existed in Mecca before Muhammad is painted over like many of the other cultural beliefs and rituals she observes. Saudis themselves look down on the other nationalities visiting, something that is contrary to the spirit of the Hajj. The Saudi authorities are also increasingly trying to segregate the Hajj by gender, contrary to historic practice. Like many, the author sees this as increasingly trying to marginalize women. (Oddly, Saudi women splurge on nail polish when they are menstruating because they do not pray when they menstruate; they do not believe you can wear nail polish when you are praying.)

During her prayers at the Hajj, Dr. Ahmed encounters other English-speaking women who help her understand the Hajj as well as speak and read Arabic. While making prayers one day, another women accosts her in Arabic for exposing the tips of her ears, as though she is "naked." Other women correct her practices. She goes from goat to hero as a doctor, however, providing much-needed medical care to some of the women there. The women become very appreciative of her education and profession.

The minute details of the love aspirations of friends were a bit much. Some women want to marry for love, others for money, most are woefully unprepared for marriage and intimacy.  The internet opened up forbidden communication between men and women, leading to much romance but also jilted would-be lovers. Many Saudis divorce because the husband wants a second wife, (many more end simply because of relational/cultural/communication complications). Some of the women professionals use younger underlings as sex partners as sort of an escape. As a foreigner, Ahmed could not openly date a Saudi man but strikes up a relationship with one of her colleagues. Her crush is not very religious, does not pray, and treats her with respect. Dr. Ahmed cites Ziauddin Sardar's work (Desperately Seeking Paradise), and I remember his lamenting at how much Saudis were trying to both industrialize the Hajj and ruin the spirit behind it. Like Sardar, the pure unity of engaging the Hajj with thousands of others moving in unison, despite different nationalities, genders, and income, clearly moves Ahmed and it appears this is what keeps her bound to her Muslim faith despite all other misgivings.

As an American, maybe the most shocking/disheartening piece of new information I gleaned from the book was Dr. Ahmed's description of her educated physician colleagues openly celebrating the attacks on September 11th, even bringing in cake to celebrate because America "deserved it." She notes that the director of the hospital condemned the celebrations but many of her colleagues took part. She remarks with horror that women doctors who had just delivered babies and saved lives were now watching television and applauding murder.

The afterword to this book was recorded in 2008, and in an interview she says things are rapidly changing for the better. The internet and satellite television have brought different experiences to Saudi households. Lebanese television, in particular, portrays women as powerful and educated. Saudis now have plenty of access to Western treatment of women. As I noted at the beginning of this review, this does not appear to have moved the ball much in terms of womens rights and religious freedom in the Saudi Kingdom. Perhaps now that changes are rapidly happening due to the prolongued fall in oil prices, things will get better. But it appears that conservatives are instead consolidating power and simply demanding more strict reforms in response to their growing frustration. Since publishing the book, Dr. Ahmed has been accused of being a "Zionist" for having spoken at a university in Israel and denouncing the various academic boycotts against Israel. (She notes in the book that Jewish expats have serious problems in the Kingdom.) I'll be interested to follow her journalistic writing and the rest of her career. I give this book 4.5 stars. A truly unique perspective on Saudi Arabia.

Other books read on Islam before or concurrent with this one:
A History of Islam, The Middle East, and Arab nations:
A Very Short Introduction to the Koran - Michael Cook  (4.5)
A Very Short Introduction to Islam - Malise Ruthven (3 stars)
In the The Shadow of the Sword - Tom Holland (4 stars)
In God's Path -  The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire - Robert G. Hoyland (4 stars)
Great World Religions: Islam (The Great Courses)- John Esposito (1.5 stars)
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes - Tamim Ansary (4.5 stars)
Brief History of the Middle East - Peter Mansfield (3.5 stars)
History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (4.5 stars)
The United States and the Middle East 1914-2001 (Great Courses) by Salim Yuqub (3.5 stars)
Islam Unveiled - Robert Spencer (1.5 stars)
Lawrence in Arabia - Scott Anderson (5 stars)

Desperately Seeking Paradise - Ziauddin Sardar (5 stars)
Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz - Islam and the Future of Tolerance (1.5 stars)
Reza Aslan - No god but God - The Origins and Future of Islam (2.5 stars)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

City of Lies by Ramita Navai (Book Review #38 of 2016)

City of Lies - Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran Ramita Navai

I recently reviewed a host of books on the history and development of Islam and Middle Eastern history (list at bottom of this post). I also read several which included some critiques along with views to the future and reform. I then worked through a list of books by Muslim women, most of which bring light to and critique inhumane practices found in their home countries. Included in this list was Nick Kristof's Half the Sky which looks at women's rights globally, and I'm also including another by someone who left Islam after an extensive intellectual and spiritual search. This book review is in the context of all of those books as a whole. The list (some reviews forthcoming):

Reform and human rights:
Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali (4.5 stars)
Heretic - Ayaann Hirsi Ali (4 stars)
Headscarves and Hymens - Mona Eltahawy (4 stars)
I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai (5 stars)
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali (4.5 stars)
The Land of Invisible Women -  Qanta Ahmed (4.5 stars)
Between Two Worlds - Zainab Salbi (5 stars).
City of Lies - Ramita Navai (3 stars)
Half the Sky - Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (4 stars)
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi (4.5 stars)

Similar to this book, I read and would recommend:
Reading Lolita in Tehran -  Azar Nafisi (I read this years before)
Children of Jihad - Jared Cohen (4 stars) (Spent time in Tehran).
Between Two Worlds - Roxana Saberi (2.5 stars) (American of Iranian descent detained in Iran).

Navai is a British-Iranian journalist who has seen quite a bit. She got the idea for this book while living in Iran in 2004. I finished this book not long after Cohen and Saberi's works that illustrate some of the similarly unseen aspects of life in Iran to the eyes of Americans. Navai is highlighting all of the seedy contradictions and hidden lives, the drugs, the parties, the sex, the underground movements. She does this via a series of short stories of people she encounters, all connected to the Vali Asr, a main thoroughfare in Iran. The author apparently worked at the upper end of the road, in the high class district, but her work took her to the poorer south end of town. The stories are a bit disjointed; I found I was losing interest about halfway through when I realized I was just going to get short bits of these peoples' lives. Some of the details seemed too in-depth, the author tells the story and subtle gestures, phone conversations, whispers, etc. as though they were first hand. Certainly, some liberties are taken with the stories, and that detracts from the book.

One of the first stories she tells is of an assassin with the MEK, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, a dissident group trying to overthrow the Iranian government. He trains abroad at a time when the MEK was pulling off assassinations inside Iran. When caught, he tries to commit suicide with cyanide, but it was expired, so he endures eight years of rape and torture in prison. When the government grants amnesty, he claims he was never tortured.

There is the life of teenage girls in Tehran, the cultural pressures they face at school. There is the desire to be with guys, who expect to be wanted, but then the cultural shunning that comes if they are seen as loose. In a scene reminiscent of Reading Lolita in Tehran, a girl is molested by her cousins and acosted by her peers.

Can a wife and child bring a rebellious and spoiled son into responsible adulthood? No, and he eventually becomes deeply involved in pornographic addiction, sex with prostitutes in Thailand, and brings a host of pain on his family. Fortune-reading Mullahs give guidance in the situation as the people are deeply superstititious and use the Quran more like an amulet than something to recite.

There is a son confronted by a guilt-ridden and repentant judge who had sentenced the boy's dissident parents to death years earlier. The boy himself is a dissident blogger likely in danger.

One woman in the book experiments with Christianity before finding out that the underground group was funded by Campus Crusade or something American. There are scenes of the Japanese Yakuza at work underground, the spread of crystal meth and drug addiction-- Iran supposedly has some of the highest rates of drug addiction in the world. "Sex is rebellion in Tehran," and the author tells the story of a porn actress making underground videos, police who can be bribed with sex on the spot, a Muslim cleric who marries prostitutes temporarily, a homosexual Basij member who undergoes a sex change, a gay pedophile Islamic cleric, etc.

In all, I give this book three stars out of five. Besides where they live, it is hard to see what exactly unifies the characters in the book other than their self-deception. The authors intent is to make the whole country seem like a lie, and she almost succeeds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy (Book Review #37 of 2016)

Headscarves and Hymens - Mona Eltahawy (4 stars)

Eltahawy writes on the subject of women's rights in Islamic cultures from having lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and now America. Opinions of the veil, of course, vary around the world. I lived in Turkey where opinions among best friends vary, and in Azerbaijan where the veil tends to be found in rural villages but less in larger towns and villages. But, as the author notes, the veil is becoming more common and, disturbingly to Eltahawy, necessary to be accepted in many Middle Eastern and Central Asian cultures. She wore the hijab for years before deciding it to be a "white flag to extremism." If the purpose of covering is to keep from bringing a woman to a man's attention, it does the opposite in Western countries where the veil is rare and invites stares. If the purpose in the East is to show proper respect and submission, Eltahawy writes that it takes away the last bit of courage and self-respect that women have, and besides does not protect them from sexual harrassment and discrimination.

She notes that while many people (like John Esposito) may claim the Middle East is modernizing in its attidues toward women, and more women are educated there now than ever before, the use of the veil and laws pertaining to it have grown since the early 20th century. Pictures of uncovered women in Egypt, for example, were more common in the early 20th century than today. The author traces the spread of headscarf use from working people in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the education and economic empowerment of women has resulted in a backlash. "(Men) hate us because they need us and they fear us...Women have been reduced to headscarves and hymens."

She begins by telling of her frustration with the Egyptian Arab Spring, where women fought along side men in the protests, but were also raped and molested in large numbers and ultimately betrayed. She returned to Egypt to cover the story as a journalist, having already moved to America. She was targeted for rape and later criticized by a nurse treating her. "The revolution is not complete" unless and until women overturn exploitation in public as well as the bedroom.

99.3% of women polled in the Middle East experience sexual harassment, and it is her goal to expose this evil as both a violation of what is accepted as human rights and the treatment of women by Muhammad. **** The Muslim Brotherhood, which is often hailed as a somewhat moderate political pan-Islamic group, supports the traumatic practice of female circumcision (read Hirsi Ali's Infidel or Kristof's Half the Sky for the gruesome details about what this is like for a woman). While interviewing a high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood official, she is told that she is "naked, according to the Quran" for not wearing a niqab. She examines the context and intepretation of the Arabic in the verse that he cited, which is very limited in its scope anyway. (See this site for a more conservative interpretation: )
She recounts a story about a Tunisian feminist who asked a Salafist member of parliament a question. He refused to answer it because she was not wearing a hijab. When she begins to disrobe completely, he is terrified. "I’m showing you what a naked woman looks like." He pleaded with her to stop and took her question.

Eltahawy agrees with the French ban on the hijab, and the EU's Human Rights court ruling in support. She identifies other disturbing trends in Islamic countries such as Qaddafi's weaponization of rape in Libya, the exploitating of Syrian refugees, and various polls from Tunisia, Lebanon, and elsewhere where wives frequently report physical or sexual abuse in their marriages. She highlights some initiatives to record and prevent domestic violence.

When Eltahawy's family lived in Saudi Arabia, she saw even further abuse of women. Eltahawy is even groped while walking during the Hajj, harassed right at the Kabaa, while fully covered and wearing a hijab. Qanta Ahmed (The Land of Invisible Women) also chronicles this poor treatment of women during the Hajj, and the attempts by the Saudi government to segregate what has for centuries not been segregated. All this aside from the ban on women driving, running for office, etc.

The author writes that both the Quran and accepted hadiths speak of sexual pleasure, and of one hadith saying that preventing foreplay is cruel. Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood reject these texts or interpretations. If sexual pleasure is to be desired, why do they favor female circumcision in the name of Islam? I had thought female circumcision was relatively isolated to Africa, but she notes surveys showing it is fairly common around both the Arabian Peninsula as well as among European immigrants. Eltahawy eventually found herself a 29 year old virgin filled with guilt and unable to trust men. But she notes that men also feel guilt and deep insecurity, which probably relates to domestic violence.

Unlike Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Eltahawy seems to want to remain a Muslim. She quotes modern interpretations of the Quran from progressive groups. Ponders why Aisha is always held up as the example and not Khadisha, Muhammad's first wife who was an educated business owner. She mentions the plight of the transgender and LGBT as well.

In all, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. It took an amazing amount of courage to write this book. But it does not appear that Eltahawy has done a complete introspection; one senses a sequal along the lines of Hirsi Ali. One wonders if she's become bitter based on the tone, and it seems incomplete. How can she stay in a religion that promotes misogyny, and which in her estimation the majority disagree with her views? I imagine she has weighed that family and cultural cost but it is not completely present in this book.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Book Review #36 of 2016)

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I recently reviewed a host of books on the history and development of Islam and Middle Eastern history (list at bottom of this post). I also read several which included some critiques along with views to the future and reform. I then worked through a list of books by Muslim women, most of which bring light to and critique inhumane practices found in their home countries. Included in this list was Nick Kristof's Half the Sky which looks at women's rights globally, and I'm also including another by someone who left Islam after an extensive intellectual and spiritual search. This book review is in the context of all of those books as a whole. The list (reviews forthcoming):

Heretic - Ayan Hirsi Ali (4 stars)
Headscarves and Hymens - Mona Eltahawy (3.5 stars)
The Land of Invisible Women -  Qanta Ahmed (4.5 stars)
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced - Nujood Ali (4.5 stars)
City of Lies - Ramita Navai (3 stars)
Between Two Worlds - Zainab Salbi
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi (4.5 stars)
Half the Sky - Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (4 stars)

In previous years I had read these which were similar to the above:
Desperately Seeking Paradise - Ziauddin Sardar (5 stars)
I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai (5 stars)
Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali (4.5 stars)

I've also read books by former Secretaries of State that highlight some of the lives of the women above and the fight for women's rights.

Infidel made a huge impression on me, Ali is a survivor's story. Yet very few survivors have been as highly criticized as she has. I finished this book before I also finished the "dialogue" between Ali's friend Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. People don't like that her message is basically "the Quran and hadiths say what the say, and you can't ignore or re-interpret the parts you don't like just because they contradict your Western notions of what Islam should be." American academics like John Esposito and Muslim reformer Reza Aslan are also critical of Ali's attitude. Ali calls Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” She is no longer a Muslim, has embraced atheism and this book suggests some form of agnositicism, or at least she appeals to some universal truth in her philosophy. Agree or not, I believe Ali should be free to speak her mind and present her evidence without constant fear of death. I found a recent piece critical of Ali's (and her cohorts) statements, but just as quickly found a rebuttle finding many factual errors in the Vox piece, for which Vox does not retract or apologize. I would just say to the reader, walk a mile in her shoes. Don't read this without reading what she endured in her lifetime in Infidel. While she repeats some of that autobiography here, it's condensed.

Ali wants a fundamental alteration of Islam's core concepts, to change fundamental Islamic doctrines. She is joined by other scholars, many of whom are atheists, with a common desire to reform Islam and oppose Salafist and Wahhabist extremists. In 2014, such a view got her barred from receiving an honorary degree at Brandeis University. This is odd because her ultimate goal is for everyone to have the freedom to ask questions without fear; and in her experience, people constantly cite a religion to tell her to "shut up." She does not overly disparage Islam in this book, she remains respectful of its billions of adherants. (She is not Robert Spencer.) Like historian-author Tom Holland (The Shadow of the Sword), Ali takes a historical-critical eye to the Quran and its origins. She divides Islam into "Medina" and "Mecca" groups. The "Medina" Islam is that of spreading the faith by the sword, whereast the "Mecca" Islam is where the Prophet lives among Jews and anticipates their support in his cause. "Medina Islam" focuses more on the individual's life after death instead of the life before death we share together.

Ali urges Muslims to reject five central tenets to their faith: The aforementioned focus on the afterlife, the infallibility of Muhammad and literal interpretations of the Quran, the Sharia laws in the Quran (recognizing Sharia as contextual), not enforcing the rigidity of the religion by violence against other Muslims seen as heretical, and not recognizing jihad, holy war, as legitimate. It seems clear from Ali's position that she is referring to Sunni Islam and not Shi'ia or Sufi. For example, she writes that there is no centralization of Islam with a central power that determines orthodoxy, but that is rather how it works in Shi'ia Islam with its clerics. The author is hoping for something in Islam akin to the Protestant Reformation, (similar to how Reza Aslan has phrased it as well) her five tenets are her version of Luther's 99 theses. (She mistakenly claims the Southern Baptist convention is a centralized body with centralized rule making binding on churches, this is incorrect; Southern Baptists churches are independent and convention ordinances are not binding; more like Sunni Islam.)

Many of Ali's comments remind me of Ziauddin Sardar's Desperately Seeking Paradise, where he travels widely and interacts when many different types of Islam, all of them leaving him somewhat dissatisfied but some more than others. The events of 9/11 solidified her views and isolation from Islam.  (Orthodox Islam officially rejected Greek ideas of logic, reason and rhetoric in the days of ibn Hanbal during the Abbasid reign. Therefore, no historical-critical textual analysis of the Quran is allowed in Sunni Islam; the Quran is an uncreated document that existed before creation.) While (Sunni) Islam is not "centralized," in its authority on doctrine is also no free (read: safe) forum for discussion. 

Like Tom Holland and others, Ali looks to the historical context of Muhammad, explaining how much is unknown about his life and how our knowledge relies upon Hadith written even hundreds of years later. There are tribal issues and matters of clan, honor, bloodlines, etc. There are various modern hypotheses about the origins and development of the Quran and hadiths but those are often silenced. The gates of ijtihad were closed centuries ago. Debates about doctrine ended mostly during the Abbasid period. (Again, Ali's main critique is of Sunni Islam and not other strains).

In dealing with the afterlife, Christians put much emphasis on the latter rather than current life as well. But Ali writes that Christians' view is not a self-serving of pleasures denied here on earth, but rather reunification with loved ones and comfort and peace. Christian preachers do not encourage martyrdom, reminding their flocks that martyrdom is better than life. (Instead, Christians recognize they have a mission to pray and work for God's Kingdom here on earth and when one gets to heaven is not usually his own choice.) While the Reformation caused upheaval and cost many lives in violent struggle, that was relatively brief in the scheme of centuries. The Reformation helped Europe embrace a theology of work and find reasons for living such as in serving ones neighbor; in Islam, however, it's more about death being more valuable than an ultimately futile life. Ali asks: Why are executions spectator events in Islam, but not the West now? (She ignores that public executions were indeed entertainment in much of the West until the 20th century.)

The author notes that all the attention payed to religion in Islam tends to stagnate innovation and economic growth. Who can think about economics or science or larger issues when you are beaten for not having your head scarf tied correctly? By taking women out of the workforce and schools, you reduce overall productivity and human capital. Yet, despite all the hardship of Sharia law, Ali notes that surveys in many Muslim countries suggest the population want more of it, or feel they would be better off with even harsher laws. This differs from the West where the value is on the individual's liberty since male and female are made in the image of God and have value. Islam does not have the Western notion of liberty-- instead, tradition is enforced by the family and other structures (this is true in the "East" and not just Islam, which she does not note).

Ali cites examples in America and Europe where crimes are committed according to Western laws but prosecutors are hesitant to punish because they are religiously-related in Islam. She cites several instances of honor killings of women, for example. In this sense, she echoes Rand Paul's recent memoir as he writes about meeting with Ali and others who have been abused under Sharia. Ali notes that in many Middle Eastern countries (such as Saudi Arabia) the state-produced textbooks state that Jews are the enemy, public officials call America the "Great Satan," and they still see themselves at war with Christianity. Ali's main question for the West is the same as in John Locke's day: What exactly will we not tolerate? Ali then lists dissident political reformers such as Alexander Solzheneitsyen who called out political and religious oppression in the Soviet Union and elsewhere and were praised for it; she is begging the question as to why she is not likewise praised. Do we give credence to the rule of law, or sacred texts?

Interestingly enough, she does not mention Reza Aslan, which I find somewhat similar given their goals would be the same. Perhaps due to the enmity, which is sad.

In the end, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. She makes some minor factual errors, but moreover seems to be talking about Sunni Islam as "Islam," without differentiating for the reader. She is speaking of her experience, and it is impossible to criticize one's experience. I would recommend this book as part of a wider conversation.

The following is the list of books I've reviewed dealing with Islam and its development, the history of Arabs and the Middle East, and modern-day reformers.

A Very Short Introduction to the Koran - Michael Cook  (4.5)
A Very Short Introduction to Islam - Malise Ruthven (3 stars)
In God's Path -  The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire - Robert G. Hoyland (4 stars)
Great World Religions: Islam (The Great Courses)- John Esposito
Roxana Saberi - Between Two Worlds
Jared Cohen - Children of Jihad
Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz - Islam and the Future of Tolerance (1.5 stars)
Reza Aslan - No god but God - The Origins and Future of Islam (2.5 stars)
Tamim Ansary: Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes (4.5 stars)
Islam Unveiled - Robert Spencer (1.5 stars)

Saturday, August 06, 2016

I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui (Book Review #35 of 2016)

I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced

I recently finished a host of books on the history and development of Islam and Middle Eastern history. I also read several which included some critiques along with views to the future and reform. I then worked through a list of books by Muslim women, most of which bring light to and critique inhumane practices found in their home countries. Included in this list was Nick Kristof's Half the Sky which looks at women's rights globally, and I'm also including another by someone who left Islam after an extensive intellectual and spiritual search. This book review is in the context of all of those books as a whole. The list (reviews forthcoming):

Heretic - Ayan Hirsi Ali (4 stars)
Headscarves and Hymens - Mona Eltahawy (3.5 stars)
The Land of Invisible Women -  Qanta Ahmed (4.5 stars)
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced - Nujood Ali (4.5 stars)
City of Lies - Ramita Navai (3 stars)
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi (4.5 stars)
Half the Sky - Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (4 stars)

In previous years I had read these which were similar to the above:
Desperately Seeking Paradise - Ziauddin Sardar (5 stars)
I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai (5 stars)
Infidel - Ayan Hirsi Ali (4.5 stars)

I've also read books by former Secretaries of State that highlight some of the lives of the women above and the fight for women's rights.

This is a heartbreaking book by a little girl who is extraordinarily courageous. Nujood's tale highlights the plight of young women in Yemen; the reaction and assistance she gets from officials in her escape from her forced marriage indicate that her predicament is particularly unusual, but not unheard of, at such an early age. She's truly unique in that she asks for a divorce. It is a cautionary tale meant to attract more attention to the issue of women, particularly girls' rights. It is very similar in tone to Malala Yusafzai's book.

Nujood had a relatively normal village childhood until her 13 year old sister, Jamila, was forced to marry and leave the village over an honor issue, tainting the family. Nujood's impetuous brother runs away from home, breaking his parents' hearts. Only much later does Nujood learn that Jamila was forced to leave because she was raped by their eldest sister's (Mona) husband, who had married Mona at age 13. Jamila is arrested, and Mona's children are taken by her mother-in-law. She ends up practically raising Nujood and supporting her later in court. It is her and her father's second wife's character that give Nujood the understanding later that what she's dealing with isn't right, and that she doesn't have to take abuse.

Nujood is given in marriage around age nine, she is uncertain of her real age. The family justifies the marriage because the Prophet Muhammad married Aisha when she was nine, and there is a Yemenese saying "To guarantee a happy marriage marry a nine year old girl." The groom promises not to consummate the marriage until Nujood reaches puberty, only to show he and his mother-in-law's real intentions once Nujood enters their compound. The wedding night is a harrowing ordeal I will not repeat. The beatings continue at the encouragement of the wicked mother-in-law.

Eventually, Nujood convinces her husband to take her to her home village to see her family. Her aunt, which is her father's second wife, is horrified at her tale and encourages her to seek help. She takes a taxi to the courthouse by herself, a real act of bravery. It strikes me that she knew what was happening was wrong, had been raised feisty and independent-minded enough not to take crap from men, and is determined to see this through and never go back. The judges are shocked that she's requestion a divorce; they've never encountered anyone wed before the age of 15 who asked for one. One judge takes her home to his family to hear her story and is deeply disturbed.

There is at least one women's rights lawyer in Yemen, and she hears about the case and decides to take it as it gains national attention. Nujood speaks openly to journalists. The judges arrest both Nujood's husband and her father for marrying him off. The father testifies that he was promised the marriage would not be consumated before puberty, and the husband's lawyers make an issue of the fact that she has no official ID, no way to determine her real age, so the proceedings can't for forward. Her father actually testifies that she is 13 and that her sisters were kidnapped. Eventually, the husband admits the consummation and after a courtroom squabble the judge grants the divorce.

At the end of the book, Nujood learns the real story of her sister Mona and her circumstances. Mona's daughter is being used as a beggar to profit her mother-in-law, and she works to be reunited. The law in Yemen is changed to raise the marrying age to 17, but it is later struck down for being un-Islamic. Publication of Nujood's story encouraged women in Yemen and elsewhere to come forward with stories of child rape and demanding divorces. Proceeds from this book go to a trust for Nujood who is learning to live a more celebrity life and attending private school, but reports suggest Nujood suffered retaliation by having her passport revoked. An article in The Guardian published in 2013 quotes Nujood as saying her father bilked the money being given by internationals to support her and kicked her out of the house and was trying to marry off her younger daughter. Nujood still wants to leave Yemen and become a lawyer.

In all, I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. Like Malala's book, you know that an adult has had a large hand in writing it and shaping what and how things are told. When she's telling her story to judges and journalists it is hard to believe she is 10 (a fourth or fifth grader in the US). But her story seems to hold up to the accounts that the courts heard, and her life in 2013 did not seem to be remarkably improved as her father continued to exploit and demean her. I am angry when I think of the thousands of girls like Nujood who suffer every day, their stories untold.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

David and Solomon by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman (Book Review #34 of 2016)

David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Kings and the Roots of Western Tradition

The maps in this book (kindle edition) are inadequate. I recommend investing in a better map to keep handy on your table or better yet on your wall. (That is true if you're just reading through the Bible anyway.)

If you want a brief summary of this book's contents, read Israel Finkelstein's "A Low Chronology Update: Archaeology, History and Bible", in T. E. Levy – T. Higham (eds.), The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science (London: Equinox, 2005) 31-42, available for free download at I recommend that with a word of caution to the reader: Finkelstein addresses valid criticisms (naming them as valid) to his hypothesis in this article, including a criticism by Eilat Mazar, which the authors do not do in the book. There is constantly new archaeology being uncovered in the Levant that both support and undermine various hypotheses, and new hypotheses are always being generated. As the authors admit, there are many competing claims, even among archeologists working on the same digs. The authors don't assign probabilities. Again, a weakness of the book is that the authors do not lay out counterarguments to their preferred hypotheses in this book. There have since been recent discoveries that may alter the hypothesis (from 2006) a bit, or make it less probable, see below.

The basic hypothesis of the authors is this: There was never a united monarchy under David and Solomon, the idea was developed two centuries later to legitimize Judah's rule over Israeli refugees after the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. 1-2 Samuel represents a blending of Northern Kingdom and Judahite history, in which Judah comes out on top and Judah's rule is legitimized because of Saul's sinful follies; David is shown as merciful to Saul's lineage as well as married to it in order to quell any resentment. David was an actual 10th century highland chieftan/bandit, and the evidence for his actual existence include the fact that the Scripture uses Hebrew language and geography that can only be dated to the 10th century, and would have been unknown if scribes were making it up in the 6th century or later. The Tel Dan stelle confirms his historic existence and importance remaining centuries later. But there are "clues" in the text that the final redaction of 1-2 Samuel reflects 8th and 7th century realities. Goliath, for example, resembles a Greek hoplite and looks nothing as Philistine warriors are depicted in Egyptian sketches. Likewise, the character of David in 2 Samuel seems patterned after Hezekiah. Solomon is patterned either after the wise Assyrian and Persian kings and reflect an economy that could only have existed in the 8th and 7th centuries when Judah grew rich as an Assyrian vassal state, or Solomon is patterned after Manasseh who led an economic revival after Sennacherib had beseiged and appropriated some of Judah. There is no archaeological evidence for a growing Jerusalem or Judah in the 10th-9th centuries. Structures previously believed to be Solomon's stables and other large works comporting with 1 Kings have since been widely dated later. Villages in Judah become much more populated, according to carbon dating and other methods, in the 8th century after refugees move from the Northern Kingdom. You need a "low chronology," move the traditional dates of Judahite expansion up at least a century, to explain the differences.

The authors contend that most of the archaeological work in Israel in the 19th and 20th centuries use the Bible as their starting point, which leads to circular logic about dates for the sights found. By ignoring the biblical chronology and finding corresponding events in Egyptian and Assyrian history, along with carbon dating and what is physically available from digs, you can date the growth of Judah's kingdom a couple centuries later. Their views roughly line up with biblical commentator Kyle McCarter, Jr. who sees 1-2 Samuel as mainly a political history. But their own exegesis is lacking a bit; another weakness of the book is that, interestingly, the authors do not mention the origins or the nature of the Deuteronomistic History recorded in Scripture. 1-2 Samuel is a notoriously difficult book to translate because the Masoretic text is missing several elements included in the Septuagint, which came much later, and not all of the Dead Sea Scrolls containing portions of the books have been released or studied yet. (I found this out by reading some excellent commentaries dealing with textual difficulties of certain chapters and Hebrew words. 1 Samuel 13:1, for example, is notoriously incomplete and untranslatable).

Why this is important:
Historical David is just as important to Christology as Historical Adam. The covenant God makes with David in 2 Samuel 7 is a "revelation for mankind" about the "distant future," fulfilled in Jesus--the branch from the root of Jesse--who is called "Son of David" (Matthew 1:1, 9:27, etc.). It is a continuation of the Adamic-Noahic-Abrahamic-Mosaic covenant which all point to a coming Messiah who will reign forever. Jesus also becomes the fulfillment of Solomon's temple, he is the "tabernacle" (John 1:14, John 2:19), and Christians (the Church) today are the same fulfillment as the Holy Spirit fills us just as it did the tabernacle of Exodus and Solomon's temple of 1 Kings (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19-20, 2 Cor. 6:16, 1 Peter 2, etc.).

Recent discoveries that might affect the authors' (2006) work:
1. Literacy in Israel may have been more widespread earlier than previously thought, from new analysis (2016) by Tel Aviv University on the Arad ostraca. (
While the authors maintain that "there is no sign of extensive literacy or writing in Judah until the end of the eighth century BCE" (p. 88),
"we can now say that the tale could not possibly have been put in writing until more than two hundred years after the death of David" (p. 36)- this does not appear to be necessarily true in light of recent evidence. I believe these recent discoveries undermine their hypothesis that Judah re-wrote the 10th century history of Judah and Israel during the 7th century as it would simply be harder to get away with with a population that was somewhat literate-- it's more plausible in light of new evidence that there surely would have been both oral AND written memories by which Israelites would know that David had never been a ruler over a united Northern and Southern Kingdom if that were indeed the case. In other words, even with a Low Chronology, you can move literacy up a century or so.

2. Another reviewer cites evidence by Barry Strauss of 13th and 12th century BC Egyptian paintings of Greek warriors possible akin to Goliath. The authors claim that Goliath's armor could only be described as that of a Greek hoplite not present in 10th century Jewish thinking. Apparently, Egyptian paintings of the "Sea People" Philistines do not look as Goliath is described. Hence, one could conclude that perhaps such warriors did exist, or that Goliath's description could have been a preserved description of an exotic Heroic Age Greek warrior.

3. Dr. Eilat Mazar discovered structures from 2005-2010 that she dates to the 10th century that would indicate both widespread literacy and the ability to do large-scale construction in Jerusalem at a time the authors say would have been impossible. Her discoveries of a large wall structure and pottery in 2010 came after this book was published. ( Part of her work uncovered the largest jars yet recovered in Jerusalem, whereas when this book was written there were scarce any shards from the 10th century known to be found, according to the authors. In the book, Finkelstein contests the Large Stone Structure that Mazar found in 2005. But Mazar continues to get university funding and be considered credible; in 2015, Mazar's team uncovered a seal impression of King Hezekiah in an ancient refuse dump.
So, while the authors debate Mazar's claims, she at least appears to be uncovering interesting things and is still unapologetic about the dates she gives matching a biblical timeline. Finkelstein's "Low Chronology Update" article addresses Mazar, but also does not disparage her work as commenters on Amazon do and also includes hers in his list of "valid" criticisms. 

However, the authors are rather conservative in their view on when it was written. As cited above, they do NOT say the entire Saul-David-Solomon story was made up whole-cloth after the exile by scribes who fooled an illiterate population. They deny more critical claims that the Deuteronomistic History was written entirely after the Babylonian exile because of the geography and the Hebrew used:
"First of all, the evidence of literacy and extensive scribal activity in Jerusalem in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods was hardly greater—in fact much smaller—than that relating to the eighth (century)...To assume, as the minimalists do, that in the fifth or fourth or even second century BCE, the scribes of a small, out-of-the-way temple town in the Judean mountains compiled an extraordinarily long and detailed composition about the history, personalities, and events of an imaginary Iron Age “Israel” without using ancient sources was itself taking an enormous leap of faith" (p. 254). 
The geographical background of the stories of David in 1 Samuel matches the 10th century, not the 8th or later (p. 41).
"This combination of peoples and areas on both sides of the Jordan River does not correspond to any later territorial unit in the history of Israel. Indeed the biblical description of Saul’s territorial legacy does not apply the geographic terms used for these regions in late monarchic times" (p. 70)

The Tel Dan stele of David discovered in 1996 fatally damaged the whole-cloth "minimalist" hypotheses.

The borders of Judah-Israel do indeed match the historical/archaeologic record in the mid ninth century, contrary to the claims of the minimalist school (p. 112).

Onto David:
David's life during his flight from Saul seems to match that of the 10th century "Apiru" people mentioned in the Egyptian "Amarna letters," which describe isolated herders and highlander bandit-kings who operated apart from Egyptian control. ("This term, sometimes transliterated as Habiru, was once thought to be related to the term 'Hebrews,' but the Egyptian texts make it clear that it does not refer to a specific ethnic group so much as a problematic socioeconomic class," p.48). 1 Samuel 30:26-31 records that David shared his captured Philistine booty with local highland elders, and describes his marriage relationship with their daughters as well. So, the authors rate this aspect of David's life as "plausible."

Northern Kingdom expansion:
"From only about twenty-five recorded sites in the area between Jerusalem and the Jezreel Valley in the preceding Late Bronze Age, the number skyrockets to more than 230 in the late Iron I period. Their estimated population was just over forty thousand, compared to less than five thousand in the entire hill country of Judah. A similarly dramatic settlement expansion took place across the Jordan, in the northern part of the Transjordanian plateau. There, too, the number of settled sites vastly expanded, from about thirty in the Late Bronze Age to about 220 in the Early Iron Age" (p. 70-71). The authors don't mention it, but it roughly matches the census numbers given in the battles of the Book of Judges; Judah's military offering was petty compared to the rest of Israel.

Shehonq I / Shishak- pharoah of 22nd Dynasty who ruled in the 10th century. The Bible puts Shishak's battle against Israel around 926 BCE during Rehoboam's reign, but Egypt's list of conquered cities only records the Northern Kingdom sites and nothing in Jerusalem and Judah. If Judah had risen to prominence under Solomon, why aren't its cities even mentioned in the Egyptian history?

"The archaeological evidence suggests that (Sishak's invasion) actually happened: the places just to the north of Jerusalem that appear on the Karnak list (and that the biblical tradition describes as the core of Saul’s activity) were the scene of a significant wave of abandonment in the tenth century BCE. The conclusion seems clear: Sheshonq and his forces marched into the hill country and attacked the early north Israelite entity. He also conquered the most important lowland cities like Megiddo and regained control of the southern trade routes" (p. 83).

"new analyses of the archaeological data from Jerusalem have shown that the settlement of the tenth century BCE was no more than a small, poor highland village, with no evidence for monumental construction of any kind" (p. 82).

"Over a century of excavations in the City of David (within the confines of Jerusalem) have produced surprisingly meager remains from the late sixteenth to mid–eighth centuries BCE" (p. 95).

"As far as we know from the silence of historical sources and archaeological evidence, Judah—with only limited resources and set off from the major trade routes—remained a remote and primitive highland kingdom throughout the ninth and early eighth centuries BCE. It evaded even indirect Assyrian control," (p. 124).

But the Amalekites and Philistines, not the Egyptians, are the chief biblical enemy during Saul and David's day. How does one explain this?
"The coastal Sea Peoples, including Philistines, had long served as Egyptian mercenary forces, and their role as Egyptian allies in this campaign and its aftermath seems quite plausible. It is possible that the Bible’s reference to the Philistines attacking the hill country and establishing garrisons at Geba (1 Samuel 13:3) and Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:14), and to the great Philistine-Israelite battle at Beth-shean, may, in fact, preserve a memory of the Egypto-Philistine alliance" (p. 86).

Here's the key:
"David and Judah may have benefited from the fall of the northern polity and expanded to control some of the highland territories that Saul once led" (p. 86).

"The wave of destruction that had previously been dated to around 1000 BCE and attributed to the expansion of the united monarchy in the days of King David actually came later, by almost a century. Such a transformation can indeed be traced in the archaeological record, but as we will suggest, it occurred first in the northern highlands rather than Judah—and only with the passage of several generations after the presumed reigns of both David and Solomon" (p. 98-99).

The authors' hypothesis is that the united monarchy occured under the Omride dynasty of the North, after historical David and Solomon; its capital was Samaria. The history was later revised after the fall of the Northern Kingdom (721 BC), as Judah's King Hezekiah benefited by being a vassle state to Assyria.

"The 'Court History' of David thus offers a whole series of historical retrojections in which the founder of the dynasty of Judah in the tenth century is credited with the victories and the acquisitions of territory that were in fact accomplished by the ninth-century Omrides" (p. 113).
The intrigue and even positions of "scribes" and "recorders" recorded in 2 Samuel were too sophisticated to have existed until a generation or two after Solomon, in the 9th century. Hence, it is retelling Omride history. The Philistine's attributes as described in 2 Samuel resemble more the time of Josiah, centuries later, than the 10th century (p. 184). The list of cities that David distributes booty to in 1 Samuel 30 "were especially prominent in the time of Josiah" (p. 188).

After the sack of Samaria, Judah's King Ahaz swore allegiance to Assyria (2 Kings 16:5-9). Sargon II finished the job of plundering Assyria and deporting many inhabitants. The authors record that Judah swelled at this time, likely taking on Israeli refugees. Ahaz was succeeded by Hezekiah, and Sargon II by Sennacherib during this period. The authors note that the history of Israel and Judah had to be altered at this time to explain and justify Judah's continual rule over the populous Northern tribes. Hezekiah took on the building projects ascribed to David and Solomon. "Jerusalem grew from a modest hill country town of about ten to fifteen acres to a large, fortified city of almost 150 acres. Jerusalem’s population skyrocketed from around one thousand inhabitants to approximately twelve thousand" (p. 128).
"The archaeological picture of Judah in the closing decades of the eighth century is of a populous, prosperous, and literate kingdom. Jerusalem had become a heavily fortified city with a large population and a special class of royal officials, scribes, and administrators, who could conscript workmen for public projects and private memorials...the biblical account of David’s rise and Solomon’s succession could not have been written earlier than the late eighth century BCE" (p. 132).

Archaeology confirms an abandoning of many of the settlements in the Northern Kingdom during this time. The evidence suggests that the area around Bethel, near Judah, was where the migration was heaviest. The Northern refugees brought their Saul stories with them. "Perhaps as much as half of the Judahite population in the late eighth to early seventh century BCE was of north Israelite origin" (p. 136). "The finds at Arad, Beer-sheba, and Lachish seem to point to a similar picture: all three present evidence for the existence of sanctuaries in the eighth century BCE, but in all three, the sanctuaries fell into disuse before the end of the eighth century. It is noteworthy that none of the many seventh-and early-sixth-century BCE sites excavated in Judah produced evidence for the existence of a sanctuary" (p. 138).

2 Kings 18:4-5 (not 1 Kings, typo in the book) suggest to the authors that Hezekiah was taking his reforms to consolidate power in Jerusalem, making it the locus of legitimate worship. "In short, the cult 'reform' in the days of Hezekiah, rather then representing puritan religious fervor, was actually a domestic political endeavor. It was an important step in the remaking of Judah in a time of a demographic upheaval" (p. 139). The re-writing of history to make it sound like they had once been united under David-- who God had chosen to supplant Saul-- took place around this time. "the earliest version of the biblical story of Saul, David, and the accession of Solomon—and possibly also his construction of the Temple—was created not solely or even primarily for religious purposes, but for a now-forgotten political necessity—of establishing Temple and Dynasty as the twin foundation stones for the new idea" (p. 143).

One "clue" given as support of the authors' hypothesis is in the confusing seige of Assyria against Jerusalem in 701 BC. The Bible records that Hezekiah both payed a tribute to relieve the seige, but then the Bible states that Jerusalem was miraculously delivered; these texts are difficult to reconcile, some scholars assume two different seiges. But the Assyrian prism that records the battle (701 BC), in propoganda form, recalls the seige, but not loss, simply saying that Sennacherib returns to Ninevah and receives tribute. (It is plausible that mass disease or something ravaged his camp as the Bible suggests as the prism does not record a successful conquering of Jerusalem as other cities). But Assyrian records also record that Hezekiah had lost some of the most fertile lands in the Shephelah, further crippling Judah (p. 146). Assyrian records do record the death of Sennacherib at the hands of his sons (681 BC), as the prophets had forecast.

Following Hezekiah is Manasseh (698-642 BC) and "if any historical character resembles the biblical Solomon, it is he" (p. 152). Manasseh had the role of reviving Judah from its occupation and burdensome tribute payments. "There are archaeological indications that Manasseh met the challenge. The sweeping changes and economic revival that took place in early-seventh-century BCE Judah—evident in the archaeological record—uncannily mirror the descriptions of planned royal colonization and administration that the story of Solomon so enthusiastically celebrates" (p. 153).
"(The) monarchy under Solomon is thus an expression of seventh-century political, economic, and social objectives, reinforced by memories of the great administrative and political sophistication of the north. It was the ultimate expression of seventh-century BCE Judahite statism" (p. 158). "Solomon’s legend, first put into writing in the seventh century BCE, asserts Judah’s greatness—and the essential skill of its monarch—in the brave new world of trade and cross-cultural communication of the Assyrian empire" (p. 171).

Being on major trade routes with Assyria benefited both the Northern and Southern kingdoms, confirmed by archaeological finds of goods from Arabia, Egypt, etc. This is what likely leads to the Queen of Sheba story in 1 Kings. "Assyrian records of the late eighth and early seventh centuries BCE (untilc. 690 BCE) attest to the phenomenon of Arabian queens" (p. 167). Writing a Solomon story from centuries before was a way to justify the 7th century trade. "The best (and perhaps only) support for a Solomonic origin of the Temple is the centrality of the Temple in Solomon’s later image (being so promimently associated with it)" (p. 169). "The text describing the construction of the Temple and palace in Jerusalem is full of references to copper items, another seventh-century BCE connection" (p. 170-- note, there is a lot of gold and silver also mentioned in those passages).

Nonetheless, Manasseh is later recorded in 2 Kings negatively, as setting a precedent of evil followed by future kings that hastened Judah's downfall and exile. Hence, all these texts were somehow compiled along with the Psalms and others during the reign of Josiah: "During the reign of Josiah, all the preexisting traditions, poems, chronicles, and ballads about the first two kings of Judah were combined, producing the passionate and uncompromising tale of sin and redemption that remains a central message of the biblical story today" (p. 177). Josiah, according to the authors, then becomes the locus of focus as the new David and is even aware of playing that role (p. 196, unlikely in my opinion as this does not seem to make sense with how the authors claim these texts were written). This is where the old David legends became dynastic legends (or did that happen sooner, I'm confused by the authors' timeline?). By 630 BC, when Josiah was 17, Assyria was in rapid decline. Egypt largely left Judah alone as Assyria began to withdraw from administration of the former Northern Kingdom. "Archaeological evidence suggests that the kingdom of Judah took advantage of the new conditions by expanding both north and west" (p. 182). Goliath was hypothetically modeled after Greek mercenaries who began to appear from the coasts of Asia Minor in the late seventh century (p. 191-194):
"To the Judahites of that era, with their awareness of the threatening Greek presence, the implications of the story were clear and simple: the new David, Josiah, would defeat the elite Greek troops of the Egyptian army in the same way that his famous ancestor overcame the mighty, seemingly invincible Goliath, by fighting 'in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel'" (1 Samuel 17:45).

All the priestly hopes for Judah were found in Josiah, who razed the northern kingdom's temple shrine at Bethel and maintained Jerusalem as the center of proper worship. Their hopes were shattered in Josiah's sudden death in battle and Jerusalem's destruction 23 years later, practically extinguishing the Davidic dynasty. "A revision of the Deuteronomistic History was needed. This expanded version, written during the exile, has been called by Cross and other scholars Dtr2...The overall message of the Deuteronomistic History was thereby reshaped. In place of the expectations of Josiah as the long-awaited successor of David, the destruction of the kingdom and the Babylonian exile now assumed an essential place in the history of Israel" (p. 207-208). The later prophets link Zerubbabel with the rebuilding of the Temple and connect him to the Davidic line. As Zechariah seems to ascribe messianic qualities to Zerubbabel, he disappears from history after 516 BC (p. 214). Chronicles was likely written after exile but before the death of Zebrubabel; it does not show any influence by Greek language or cuture, so it must come before the Hellenistic period (p. 215).

Chronicles puts such great emphasis on the Temple because looking back all the aspirations for its rulers came to naught, the Davidic line was now extinguished while the previous hopes for them were still in written form (1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings). To the Jewish diaspora "long-awaited redemption should be sought not in dynastic restoration but in the rituals and laws of the Temple of Jerusalem" (p. 218). That is why David takes an active role in building the Temple in Chronicles that he does not in 1 Kings. Meanwhile, Babylon administered what was left of the Northern Kingdom whose mixed-race inhabitants were now called Samaritans and maintained Jewish traditions and built their own fifth century temple (p. 222). Meanwhile, "the Jerusalem Temple community of the time of Chronicles is presented as the only legitimate successor of the ideal, great Israel of the time of David and Solomon" (p. 223).

It is here that the authors make further leaps and assumptions about the authors' or redactors' intent. Again, with new discoveries pushing literacy further up in time than when the authors wrote the book, these claims seem unlikely. But it is from this intent that Judaism arose-- which put an emphasis on Jerusalem Temple worship and law-keeping. An issue I raise with this is that you have songs like Psalm 51 which put an emphasis not on Deuteronomistic law-keeping, but on a grace-giving God:
You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it;
You are not pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart. (v. 16-17).

That seems (to me at least) to be the opposite of the spirit of Judaism. Biblical theology looks at the entire arc of Scripture and how it points to a coming Messiah, particularly through the covenants beginning with Adam. The authors do not address the text itself in this aspect and they do not delve far enough back to bring out anything other than what they want to say in their hypothesis-- that the books of History are a revised political history rather than a completely theological one.

My questions for the authors:
How are geographically-accurate David memories to be re-written with a story of a united monarchy only a generation or so after it would have been known it didn't exist? If the building projects took place during the reign of Hezekiah or Mannaseh or Josiah, would they not want credit? They argue that Josiah lives the fulfillment of David somehow without actually wanting to be recognized as his own man? Who among the Northern Israelites wouldn't notice and reject the re-written history? How is it that even when praising David and Solomon to make someone like Josiah connected with greatness that the history clearly is critical of David and Solomon who violated the legal tenets? 

Even with my questions, I learned much, but still have much to learn. The authors have selected several works on biblical archaeology for their list of recommended reading.

In all, I give this book 3 stars out of 5. If it had better maps and included more criticisms of their work, then it would be much better.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Parent Chat by Matt McKee (Book Review #33 of 2016)

Parent Chat: The Technology Talk for Every Family

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. The views below are my own.

Parent Chat answers every parent's question of "How do I begin?" in communicating with their children about technology use and thinking about how much we use devices around each other. It offers some helpful guidelines in starting a conversation and beginning to think about how best to protect your children without damaging your relationship or limiting their creativity. This book is not a drawn-out treatise or a theology of technology. It is not preachy or overly prescriptive. At 100 small pages, it has about as many words as a long-form magazine article or a Kindle Single. No fluff, just practical thoughts, with some personal anecdotes and humor along the way in the form of clever cartoons. I would recommend this to any parent who is asking "Should I be concerned about what my daughter is finding online?" I recommend it to counselors and pastors who are dealing with families wrestling with these topics. (There are even some blank pages for notes.)

(Note: I had a paperback copy but would recommend the Kindle version instead. The links work in the Kindle version, and the paperback is missing the family Cellphone Agreement which is found on the website: )

I think the real "gold" in this book are the pages offering tips on how to best start a conversation with your child so that you are not left with one-word answers like "nothing." Practice eliciting their opinions rather than extracting facts. Ex: "What is something that has surprised you recently?" or "What is the craziest thing your friends are doing right now?" rather than just "What did you do at school today?" Engage your child by asking him to teach you something. A question like "Can you teach me how to...?" shows your child respect and encourages their creativity, while you get to learn about his world (p. 50-53).

I know the author-- he's my wife's brother-in-law. While that biases my review, I can tell you what he doesn't say in his book: Matt and his wife are the people who stand in line for every new iPhone release (he wears an Apple Watch); they have Apple stickers for each family member on their rear windshield (yes, they're that family). He used to own a company that built apps and made a living encouraging people to embrace mobile technology. His sons had screentime at very young ages. But as the boys have matured, so has Matt's view of how they use technology and the more mindful he's become about the example he personally sets. When he writes that they now judge a "good week" as one in which they spend most nights around the dinner table together without technology, that's a big deal (p. 54). When he writes that he deleted all the games off his phone so as not to embitter his children whose game time he was limiting, that's a really big deal.

As families, we won't remember many of the things we did online. Ten years from now I won't say "Remember that time I tweeted...?" I'll say "Remember that time we visited that park with the cave?" The irony is that even when we are in the same room we seem increasingly to want to isolate ourselves by spending time on the games and apps that will ultimately mean nothing to us. At an extreme, particularly as adolescents, we feel disconnected and then socially awkward. "The more people interact with screens or technology, the more people crave real, face-to-face relationships" (p. 36). Parent Chat subtly makes the point that it's possible for technology to bring us closer together and be more productive, but we have to set some boundaries rather than let it master us.

In terms of safety, the author makes a great observation-- adults look at a new tool practically with a cost-benefit analysis and ask "What will it do for me?" Kids look at it and ask "What CAN it do?" (p. 42). Kids tend to explore and push things beyond their intended limits, which is why they can suddenly end up doing things their parents would not allow (or what adults would have been afraid to try). Before bringing a new piece of technology into your home ask "What can it do?" (ie: What's the worst that could happen?) and figure out what you're okay with that tool doing, as a parent.

Matt's family has set time and space boundaries for technology, customizable boundaries that are different for each person in his household. That comes from conversations and getting to know their children individually. He mentions the new Circle with Disney as one tool for helping with boundaries; Matt is a paid spokesman for the product but doesn't try to sell it (or any other product) in the book.

If you are looking for something simple and non-threatening that you can read in an hour or less that will help get you started communicating better with your family and figuring out where you want technology to stand in your household, this is your book.

4 stars out of 5.