Magpie Murders – Double Troubles

If anyone could be expected to play well with the murder mystery genre, it would be Anthony Horowitz, novelist and screenwriter for the likes of Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, not to mention (though of course I am doing just that) eleven episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. And play with the genre is precisely what Horowitz does with the Magpie Murders. In The Elements of Mystery Fiction, William Tapply provides budding mystery writers with a list of no-nos—the not so obvious pitfalls of poor detective fiction. Horowitz might have read and certainly must have enjoyed tinkering with nearly each of Tapply’s taboos.  Continue reading

The Paul of 1 Thessalonians

My Pauline reading circle has made it through the first two of seven so-called “authentic” Pauline texts in the New Testament, which are: Galatians, I Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans. With each of these texts, my aim is to arrive at a conclusion about whether these seven letters, attributed to a pseudo-historical Jewish figure named Paul, should be treated as Jewish texts, and if so, on what basis. Unlike Galatians, 1 Thessalonians is not overtly antagonistic to visible Jewish difference, yet the letter eventually undermines any argument that it should be studied as a Jewish text by the way it decides who is “in” and who is “out. “We,” the protagonists in the story, are the ekklesia, those who believe in Christ; “they,” whether antagonists or simply not “us” are all the non-believers, Jew and Gentile alike.  Continue reading

The Paul of Galatians

Our Pauline letters reading group met again via Skype this afternoon to discuss our thoughts about the New Testament text of Galatians. I can’t speak for the other members of my group (hopefully they will leave a few comments of their own when they have time), but I will be brave and write up what I am taking away from a preliminary study. First, I should say that I am interested in doing a close reading, independent of other New Testament texts, in order to see what, if anything, would justify classifying this letter (using Daniel Boyarin’s words) as a “thoroughly Jewish” document. I can begin at the end by saying that, despite its extensive use of Jewish scripture to proof text its message, Galatians reads as a thoroughly anti-Jewish piece of polemical writing.

The letter purports to be written by a Jew (by birth) who has apostatized from his ancestral tradition (Ioudaismos, or Judaism)  in the wake of a divine revelation and commission to preach the good news of salvation in a risen Christ to the Gentiles.  Continue reading

A Bucket of Books


A fellow blogger suggested putting together a ‘bucket list’ of books we need to read before—well, in my case, before the end of summer. My collection is a bit eclectic, and the choices I’ve made were sometimes impulsive, not necessarily with a great deal of forethought. Take Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, for example. I bought this on the first day of its release (June 6, 2017) mostly because I loved the cover and only then did I pay attention to the author, who just so happens to be the writer responsible for many of my favorite Midsomer Murders episodes, and only then did I read the first chapter and decide it was going to be time well spent reading. And how was I to pass up a title like Tova Reich’s One Hundred Philistine ForeskinsThis tantalizing satire was passed along to me by a good friend; caveat though to those unfamiliar with the alternative universe of orthodox Judaism, you might want to find someone who is or keep Google open to look up unfamiliar terms. Continue reading

Lost and Found

Over the weekend I happened to find a lost car key on the sidewalk during one of my walks. Luckily the owner had a strip of laminated paper with a phone number attached to the top so I was able to call and return the key. car-keyThe man on the phone seemed surprised, either that the key was lost or that someone had found it. I too was a bit surprised, not that I came across a piece of lost property but that finding it and being able to return it to the rightful owner reminded me of what Judaism teaches about good deeds as mitzvot. I learned (or re-learned) two things from this experience. First, that we are sometimes dependent on someone else’s misfortune in order to do a good deed (or fulfill a divine commandment in Jewish thinking), and  Continue reading

A Walk a Day

I especially love walking these days since I am recovering from a particularly nasty bout of back pain. Mill Creek, WA is only a couple of miles down the road from my apartment, and a favorite respite of mine from apartment life. Usually I walk with a friend, but today was a solitary venture if you don’t count the abundant flora and fauna along the way.

I tend to focus on the bigger picture, always looking for an interesting point of view, a strong composition on the iPhone display. But I miss Lorna, my walking buddy, who always astounds me with her eagle eye for detail. I would have missed the two mottled gray and brown hatchling turtles sunning themselves on a mottled gray and brown boulder, the tiny hummingbird that was perching motionless on a solitary limb right above my head, and the teensy ducklings huddled and nearly hidden in the reeds of the Mill Creek pond, with mama mallard just ahead of them—one eye on the water and the other on her brood. I don’t know how Lorna spots these little wonders. Even when she points them out I have to mentally adjust my internal viewfinder to make out whatever little wonder she has spied out.

The Usual Suspects

Mysteries have long been a favorite genre of mine. Beginning with Agatha Christie and Dick Frances as a teenager, I became an early addict to these compelling reads. Decades later I am still hooked. Recently, I moved to the Pacific Northwest where finding a reading group is as simple as a trip to one of the many (still) independent book sellers that thrive in our neighborhoods. “The Usual Suspects” is one such group that I have joined, sponsored by the local branch of the University of Washington bookstore . We are a new group, on our fifth mystery novel, and speaking for myself, having a grand old time talking about our passion.

This month’s read was Donna Leon’s first Comissario Guido Brunetti mystery, Death at La Fenice (1992). Though I understand it is difficult to classify mystery writing, I think Guy Magar’s categories (and their historical derivation) are helpful: Private Detective Stories, The Cozy Mystery, Historical Mysteries, Police Procedurals, Legal Thrillers, and the necessary other, “everything else”. Death at La Fenice would fall into the Historical category first – it is set in Venice during the 1950s – and perhaps police procedural second (though as one of our members pointed out, the story is a bit short on actual police procedure), and third, the means of death might earn this story a place in the “Cozy” section of the bookshelf. I don’t want to have to issue a SPOILER ALERT here, but another of our members with a doctorate in pharmacology provided us with a quick lesson on the offending substance that makes a star appearance in Brunetti’s case.

Continue reading

Pauline Manuscripts

Chapter 4. in All Things to All Cultures, Mark Harding and Alanna Nobbs, eds., “Pauline Letter Manuscripts” by Brent Nongbri is a good, basic introduction to the topic. According to Nongbri there are approximately 800 Greek manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts, almost all of which were, at one time, part of codices. There is no original manuscript of any of these texts. The earliest, most important fragment of any of the letters attributed to Paul dates to sometime in the third or fourth century (P46). The earliest complete manuscript of the 13 letters traditionally attributed to Paul (Sinaiticus) was copied in the fourth century.


Supersessionism (replacement theology) is a term in Christian theological discourse that refers to the belief that the Christian Church, as the “new” Israel, has replaced the Jewish people in the biblical economy of salvation so that “… all promises that were for Israel now belong to the Church.” Another term often used for the same conceptual mapping of Jews and Christians in the post-biblical, post-New Testament period is “Replacement Theology”. In addition to these two terms, there is a third, less-formalized notion of “fulfillment theology” that has gained momentum in modern times as a correlate of the Messianic Jewish movement and its mission of “soft” conversion work among American Jews. Continue reading

What about the Pauline letters?

I’ve started a small reading group concentrating on the so-called authentic letters of Paul in the Christian New Testament. This comes in response to intimations from scholars (not to mention outright claims by Christian missionaries to the Jews) that the texts of the New Testament should be read as Jewish texts. Or, even more debatable, that these texts have been more less “hijacked” by the [Gentile] Christian church. Here I refer to the improbable comments to that effect made by an eminent scholar and orthodox Jew, Daniel Boyarin in his 2012 book, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ.

“. . . my argument is that Christianity hijacked not only the Old Testament but the New Testament as well by turning that thoroughly Jewish text away from its cultural origins . . . and making it an attack on the traditions of the Jews, traditions that, I maintain, it sought to uphold . . . (Boyarin, “Epilogue” in The Jewish Gospels).

For a stinging critique of Boyarin’s 2012 book, read Peter Schäfer’s review here: Continue reading