Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of the great writers of all time with novels such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. One of the most famous passages, "The Grand Inquisitor", in The Brothers Karamazov, is a profound parable where an Inquisitor tries to show the returned Christ how his presence on earth is interfering with the mission of the Church. I've read all of these except Crime and Punishment which is on my to-read list. But until reading Peter Leithart's Fyodor Dostoevsky I knew next to nothing about the man.
Leithart, in a brief 200 pages introduces Dostoevsky using a fictionalised dialogue between Dostoevsky and a close friend near the end of his life. The dialogues are based on writings by Dostoevsky and other sources with a few speculative ones to round out the story.
Dostoevsky was a deeply flawed man (as we all are) but produced some profound literature and was a very popular social figure in Russia in his time. He was also deeply religious and believed that Christ was the answer to Russia's problems in the 19th century.
Leithart's book is a reasonably interesting introduction to Dostoevsky but doesn't really become engaging until about halfway through the book when Dostoevsky starts to write his major works and engage in public life. I'm not convinced that the novelized dialogue is the best approach for a biography - the conversations are often stilted and artificial relying, as they do, on written material. But if you don't know much about Dostoevsky it's not a bad place to start. It's easy to read and I ended up knowing more about Dostoevsky than I did before. I'm also motivated to read Crime and Punishment!
Peter Leithar (2011), Fyodor Dostoevsky. Chrisitian Encounters Series. Thomas Nelson.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Grey

The most profound moment in The Grey (for me) is a scene that turns metaphysical/philosophical. The main protagonist, in a a moment of abject despair, cries out to God for help and receives no answer.

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is employed by an oil rig in Alaska to kill off animals that may endanger the workers. The men on the rig are tough and living in a tough environment. Ottway becomes stranded with a group of brawling, beer swilling, violent group of men after a plane crash lands in the middle of nowhere. Unused to being vulnerable, they struggle to survive whilst trying to maintain their tough exteriors - for a while at least. Their common enemies, the environment and territory defending wolves, bring them together in ways that strip them raw - physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

The story is a pretty straightforward survival narrative. But Neeson brings a power and presence that lifts it into the extraordinary and riveting. And when the story turns briefly to its metaphysical themes - without fanfare or preachiness - the viewer is confronted with the age old question - if God is all-powerful and loving, then why doesn't God do something in our deepest need?

The answer that is given will be completely unsatisfactory for most Christians (it is contained in a quote from Ottway's father) but the question cannot be avoided.

The Grey is a forceful, hard hitting experience. But its power comes as one looks back over the story from the view of the pivotal moment I've referred to and the final scene. And the question about how one should live life in the context of a silent (or non-existent) God lingers long after the final credits roll.

PS: Stay to the end of the credits for a final scene!

You will probably like this movie if you liked The Flight of the Phoenix, The Crash of Flight 401, The Edge, Vertical Limit

Positive review

'It's a fine, tough little movie, technically assured and brutally efficient, with a simple story that ventures into some profound existential territory without making a big fuss about it.' - A O Scott/The New York Times

Negative review

'Neeson is always compelling, even in a movie as ridiculous as The Grey.' - Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald

AUS: MA15+


Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Voice™ New Testament

the voice nt

The Voice™ New Testament is a new dynamic translation that attempts a '... retelling [of] the story of the Bible in a form as fluid as modern literary works, yet remaining painstakingly true to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts.'

Most of the text is in a standard font, however the translation follows the practice of italicising words that are not connected to the dynamic translation of the original text. One unique feature of this translation is the inclusion of material in the flow of the text, delineated by horizontal lines, that expand on the themes of the passage being read. Another unique feature is the use of a "screenplay" format where dialogue occurs. This has two effects: it makes dialogue clearer to follow and also "cleans up" the text of '... endless repetition of conjunctions, articles, and certain verbs.'

Unlike most translations which rely primarily on language scholars, The Voice™ New Testament has also included a group of modern writers, musicians and poets to ensure beauty as well as accuracy in the translation. The group of translators and "artists" have attempted to maintain the unique "voice" of individual book authors rather than a flat style throughout.

The front matter of The Voice™ New Testament has a very helpful discussion of the translation process and some of its challenges. There is also a discussion of the Greek word Christos, usually transliterated as Christ, which has been rendered throughout the New Testament as the Anointed or the Anointed One in the belief that these terms convey the meaning of the title of Christ rather than it being mistakenly understood by readers to be part of the name of Jesus. An explanatory phrase, the Liberating King, has also been added at times to '... remind us of the primary mission and of the reason God elects and empowers Jesus in the first place.'

The front matter also includes four different reading plans of the New Testament for Advent, Lent and Easter,  reading the New Testament in 24 weeks, and a series of readings entitled 40 Days with God. There is also an introduction to the New Testament using covenant theology as a framework for understanding.

Let me say up front that I am not a language scholar and my review is based on reading the front matter and the letters of Paul to the Romans and Galatians - my two favourite books of the New Testament. I have mixed feelings about this translation. There is a certain freshness in most new translations due to the variations of phrasing from what one is used to. The screenplay dialogue is also interesting and definitely makes the to-and-fro of speakers easy to follow – particularly in the gospels and the book of Acts. So there is certainly value in this new version of the New Testament. The thematic expansions, while they are delineated by lines before and after, do tend to break up the flow of the text and I think they would have been better included as notes at the bottom of the page or end of the chapter. On the other hand, including them in the flow of the text was useful as I read the text on my Kindle and it meant not having to jump back and forth using links to read this material.

My greatest concern about this translation is the inserted italicised material. While the italicisation does indicate that this material is not derived from the original text, I think much of it is unnecessary and is sometimes biased toward a particular interpretation of the text. For example, Romans 16:3, in the New American Standard Bible ( very literal translation), reads:

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus...

The Voice™ New Testament reads:

Give my best to Priscilla and Aquila; they are not only my colleagues in my profession of tent making, but more importantly they are my fellow servants of Jesus the Anointed. (italics in original)

Notice, in the italicised section, a completely unwarranted statement that Priscilla and Aquila are colleagues in tent making. In other words, the suggestion is that they are not equal workers in the pastoral work that Paul does. Compare this with some other translations:

Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus ... (New Revised Standard Version)

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus ... (English Standard Version)

Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus ... (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

One has to wonder whether the translators/editors of The Voice™ New Testament are trying to avoid any suggestion that women can be equal partners in ministerial/pastoral work by inserting this extra material. While this is only one example, there are frequent interpolations of the text which, in my view, should be left out as they are not derived from the original material.

Overall, I think The Voice™ New Testament is an interesting new addition to bible translations. But, as with all translations, there are advantages and disadvantages. None are perfect. The more translations a Bible student uses the better as comparison helps to maintain some objectivity about what is certain and what is not in any one translation. So, it is a worthy addition to one's library and provides yet another perspective and enrichment of the biblical material and its meaning.

Buy the The Voice New Testament: Revised & Updated'.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com ; book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”