If you’ve devoured every novel by Jenny Han, Maurene Goo, and Ellen Oh, but that Korean-American young adult book itch just can’t be scratched, you’ll surely appreciate Kat Cho’s debut, “Wicked Fox.” In this twisting, melodramatic fantasy set in modern-day Seoul, a mythical fox girl stands to lose her soul, heart, and life to a very cute boy.
High school crushes have higher stakes than I remember.
Gu Miyoung is half-human, half-gumiho (a nine-tailed fox from Korean legend). Gumiho shapeshift into impossibly beautiful women who kill men, eat their livers, and absorb their energy to survive. The concept is cousin to the Japanese kitsune featured in 2013’s “The Name of the Blade” series.
Miyoung, who’s conflicted about the whole murder thing, restricts her targets to the truly villainous (similar to Citra and Rowan from Neal Shusterman’s “Arc of a Scythe” series), because if she doesn’t feed, she starves to death. So is Miyoung fully good or bad, she wonders? She kills criminals to survive. Does that make her a merciful avenger of the innocent, or a cold-blooded monster in her own right? Should she value human life or her own survival?
When Miyoung encounters a dokkaebi, or goblin, attacking a human boy named Ahn Jihoon, she breaks one of her mother’s cardinal rules and saves Jihoon’s life. In so doing, she loses her yeowu guseul, or fox bead, which houses her immortal soul – and Jihoon picks it up, igniting a fabled connection. According to legend, the man who possesses a fox bead can control its gumiho, but the bead’s mythical power may destroy him in return.
Stick with me. This is just phase one of a truly convoluted plot.
Miyoung enlists a young shaman named Nara to restore her fox bead, but something goes awry during the ritual and Miyoung is now haunted by the ghosts of her victims.
Meanwhile, the charming and attractive Jihoon strikes up a friendship with our sour, reluctant gumiho protagonist. Because Jihoon knows what she really is, Miyoung finds herself opening up. How much of their growing closeness is natural, and how much is due to the fox bead? There isn’t time to investigate – the teens are neck-deep in an intergenerational, supernatural family feud, not to mention studying for finals and avoiding school bullies.
As these thousand-and-one subplots pick up speed, “Wicked Fox” shifts from a magical high school adventure to an intense thriller-cum-melodrama, replete with endless raised eyebrows and single tears rolling down sharp cheekbones. It’s an abrupt shift in tone, especially given how much focus this complex plot requires. The intricacies of Korean mythology, and Cho’s multilayered cast interactions, present a huge tangle of narrative threads.
Where Cho shines, though, is her sensitive handling of traumatic relationships. She spends a great deal of narrative capital on the teens’ dysfunctional families, and I applaud the respectful clarity with which she describes their coping mechanisms. To survive, both kids chase control to avoid being hurt (or hurting others). They’re slow to trust, fanatical about privacy, and independent to a fault, always out of self-preservation.
Jihoon’s mother abandoned him to his halmeoni (grandmother) when he was small, and his criminal dad was never really in the picture. Jihoon and his halmeoni are close as can be, but it still hurts him to see his mother’s shiny, wealthy, do-over family. So he hides behind charm and humor in an attempt to control people’s attention on him – avoid the negative, dial up the positive, twist it to his advantage.
Miyoung is also hyper-focused on control, though with the goal of rigid, silent, untouchable perfection. Miyoung never knew her father, either; her gumiho mother, Yena, raised her with an iron fist and stratospheric expectations, but little to no affection. They’ve moved so many times that Miyoung has no friends, no family but icy Yena.
As these two gingerly interact, they’re forced to explain their reactions to each other, giving young readers a chance to see emotional intelligence in real time (e.g. “I felt this because X happened, so I did Y, and that caused Z”). This is most acute in the high school scenes, where Miyoung endures brutal bullying and Jihoon introduces her to his tight crew of friends.
Ultimately, the gnarly plot and grim details may outweigh the good in “Wicked Fox,” but I expect readers will love it anyway. K-culture fans will find much to love, as this novel rides the Korean Wave at high tide, and an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trajectory is irresistible. Just go into “Wicked Fox” with open eyes.
Today’s Kindle deals include titles by Joel and Mary Beeke (with whom I shared a delightful dinner just two days ago, as it happens).
(Yesterday on the blog: The Sofa Salesperson Who Did Everything Wrong)
Here’s Jared Wilson being wise again. “If you’re a restored church leader — or simply a church member walking in repentance after a fall — you may have some obvious boundaries in place to keep you from the explicit routes back to your old sins. But there are some ways your new life might make you vulnerable to new sins. The devil is cunning and is perfectly willing to cut you in the left side while you protect your right. How might this happen? What are some ways you might fall again? Here are four…”
This is a sweet reflection.
Brad Hambrick: “I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that the ideas of pursuing healthiness and pursuing holiness have become conceptual rivals.”
Keith Mathison takes on an important question.
This is worth thinking about. “We adore ambition and the ambitious. It’s here that the Bible gives us a serious word of caution. Not all ambition is good. In fact, there are some kinds of ambition that are really evil. There is such a thing as satanic ambition.”
Melissa writes, “Their ages: 94 and 84. They have been friends, Sunday school members, and sisters in the faith for years. And now they were saying goodbye.”
Much has been said lately about people losing their faith, but Randy Alcorn is still worth reading on the subject. “If I could share just one message in light of the high-profile Christians who have recently made public announcements renouncing their faith, it would be this: you should lose your faith…if it is in anyone other than Jesus. And you should forsake and reject any worldview, no matter how attractive and seductive and popular and affirming, that is not in concert with the worldview of God’s Word.”
I’ve observed that some sermons are actually Bible studies and some Bible studies are actually sermons…I find it helpful to force myself to distinguish between them, especially when I am asked to lead one or the other.
A stranger to the fear of God is a stranger to the living God himself. —Albert Martin
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” Matthew 5:6 (KJV )
Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness, for the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit in your life? If so, you can claim that fullness and power right now by faith.
“The great difference between present-day Christianity and that of which we read in these letters (New Testament epistles),” declared J.B. Phillips in his introduction to the Letters to Young churches, “is that to us it is primarily a performance; to them it was a real experience.”
“We are apt to reduce the Christian religion to a code, or, at best, a rule of heart and life. To these men it is quite plainly the invasion of their lives by a new quality of life altogether. They do not hesitate to describe this as Christ living in them.”
The disciples were used of God to change the course of history. As Christian homemakers, students, businessmen and professionals, we have that same potential and privilege today.
The amazing fact that Jesus Christ lives in us and expresses His love through us is one of the most important truths in the Word of God. The standards of the Christian life are so high and so impossible to achieve, according to the Word of God, that only one person has been able to succeed. That person is Jesus Christ.
When we receive Christ into our lives, we experience a new birth and are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit. From that point on, everything we need – including wisdom, love, power – to be men and women of God and fruitful witnesses for Christ is available to us simply by faith, by claiming this power in accordance with God’s promise.
Bible Reading: Romans 10:6-10
“Dear Lord, create within me a hunger and thirst after righteousness that is greater than my hunger and thirst for meat and drink for my physical body. By faith I claim the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to enable me to live a victorious, fruitful life to the glory of God and to share this good news of the Spirit-filled life with everyone who will listen.“
by Dr. Bill Bright
Used by Permission
Romans 10:6-10 New International Version (NIV)
6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved
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“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Galatians 5:22-23.
The fruit of the spirit is not an emotional response. It is God in you. Be blessed to keep in step with His Spirit and draw on who He is.
Be blessed with God’s love that gives freely without asking anything in return. Be blessed with increasing and overflowing love for others.
Be blessed with the joy of the Lord that gives you strength. Be blessed to brighten and refresh weary hearts with the joy of Jesus.
Be blessed with receiving the Lord of peace who is with you always dispensing His peace to you.
Be blessed with grace-filled patience, not just tolerance. Be blessed with God’s patient endurance in battles long fought.
God’s kindness leads to repentance. Be blessed to pass on that kindness to others. Be blessed with His grace softening all that could be harsh.
Be blessed with active goodness that does not think to repay evil but considers how to bless from the goodness of Jesus in you.
Be blessed in His faithfulness that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Be blessed with the gentle answer of Jesus that turns away wrath. Be blessed with being wise as a serpent but gentle as a dove.
Ponder the immense self-control of Jesus. When He was taunted and crucified, He uttered only forgiveness. Be blessed with a disposition that is even-tempered and in step with His in spirit.
By Sylvia Gunter
Used by Permission
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Italy is in political disarray after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday, effectively putting an end to its 14-month-old ruling coalition of right-wing and left-wing populists. But the more significant effect of Mr. Conte’s move might have been to prevent – or at least forestall – the election of the most right-wing government in Italy since that of Benito Mussolini.
The political crisis is primarily thanks to Matteo Salvini, the highly popular, ambitious far-right interior minister and leader of the right-wing League party, who calculated that triggering snap elections would play out in his favor. The League is one of the brightest stars in the constellation of far-right nationalist parties that are gaining momentum in Europe.
But while Mr. Salvini’s League is popular among the public, it holds just 17% of seats in Italy’s Parliament. Fear of performing poorly in near-term elections could be strong enough incentive for the larger parties to set aside their differences and form an alternate government. This could spur an alliance between the League’s now former coalition partner, the leftist populist Five Star Movement, and the opposition center-left Democratic Party.
Italy is in political disarray after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday, effectively putting an end to its 14-month-old ruling coalition of right-wing and left-wing populists.
But the more significant effect of Mr. Conte’s move might have been to prevent – or at least forestall – the election of the most right-wing government in Italy since that of Benito Mussolini.
Now Italian President Sergio Mattarella is exploring the options for a new coalition. If he is successful, it could leave Matteo Salvini, the highly popular, ambitious far-right interior minister and leader of the right-wing League party, out in the cold.
What triggered the current political crisis? Why now?
The current political crisis is the culmination of long-simmering tensions between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), currently the largest faction in Parliament, and Mr. Salvini’s League, which went from 6.2% in the 2014 European ballot to Italy’s largest party in 2019.
The two euroskeptic parties banded together in a governing coalition in June 2018 but were never natural allies. They were united in their promise to lift Italians out of poverty and their reticence to embrace even the most basic of European Union austerity measures. In power, they squabbled over purse strings and pet issues, giving Brussels a headache.
The League is one of the brightest stars in the constellation of far-right nationalist parties that are gaining momentum in Europe. Mr. Salvini is particularly popular in northern Italy and has become the poster boy of European populists. He is pro-family, anti-immigrant, and euroskeptic.
The political crisis is primarily the outcome of Mr. Salvini’s calculus that triggering snap elections would play out in his favor. He shocked the nation by calling for a no-confidence vote on Aug. 9 when much of Italy was still at the beach; his summer appearances along the Italian coast suggested a man in campaign mode.
“Mr. Salvini is trying to force a snap election in order to capitalize on the League’s surge in electoral support since the 2018 general election,” notes Agnese Ortolani, Europe research analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit. “A right-wing coalition led by Mr. Salvini could secure up to two-thirds of the seats in parliament … the biggest parliamentary majority in the history of the Italian Republic and one that would allow him to change the constitution.”
What happens next?
Wednesday opened what promises to be a volatile period rife with dealmaking and volte-face. “We are in a 50-50 situation,” says Lorenzo Castellani, a politics professor at Rome’s Luiss University. “Fifty percent, we could have snap elections, or we could have a new majority.”
The first scenario entails holding fresh elections in late October – Mr. Salvini’s wish. Opinion polls suggest that the League would win by a wide margin. This could mean solo rule by the nationalist party or a dominant position in a right-wing governing coalition including Forza Italia – the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – and the ultranationalist Brothers of Italy party.
Another scenario is that an alternative government is found. While Mr. Salvini’s League is popular among the public, the distribution of power in Italy’s legislature is not a mirror of Italian society at this moment. In the legislature, the League holds just 17% of the seats. Fear of performing poorly in near-term elections could be strong enough incentive for the larger parties in Parliament to set aside their differences and dial back the crisis.
This could spur an alliance between M5S and the opposition, center-left Democratic Party. Less likely, but not impossible, is that the existing M5S-League coalition is salvaged. Yet another possibility – though only likely in the case of an impasse – is that the president decides to form a technocratic government to deal with the 2020 budget and push forward key policy decisions.
What are Mr. Salvini’s chances of coming to power?
The capacity of M5S and Democrats to work together was evidenced when they blocked Mr. Salvini’s calls for an immediate no-confidence vote. That may be sufficient to keep him from higher office, as his alternatives are limited.
“The League only has one option basically, which is snap elections as soon as possible. In the other case, it is very difficult that another majority which includes the League will come up,” says Professor Castellani. “Salvini has made a sort of ‘all in’ on his political career calling for snap elections.”
If snap elections aren’t held, the League would be relegated to opposition status. There is also a long-shot possibility that Mr. Salvini could pull together a League-led right-wing coalition within the current Parliament.
What does the political crisis mean for Italy and Europe?
The timing couldn’t be worse for Italy, where the legislature is scheduled to be formulating the 2020 budget rather than putting out political fires. Snap elections would force the Italian legislature to hammer out next year’s budget on an accelerated timeline – within a few weeks rather than over a couple of months.
Under pressure from the European Commission and confronted with the growing risk of a 2020 recession, Italy has committed to a major increase in the value-added tax if it cannot bring its budget deficit under control through other means.
But were the League to win snap elections and Mr. Salvini to become prime minister, that would undoubtedly put Europe and Italy on a collision course. Mr. Salvini has promised voters sweeping tax cuts, and he has been at loggerheads with Brussels after he banned the disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea in Italian ports.
Multiple Dove Award winning band Tenth Avenue North will headline the upcoming No Shame Tour this fall with 2019 Dove Award New Artist of the Year nominee Austin French and a special acoustic storytelling performance by Tenth Avenue North lead singer and recent author Mike Donehey. Presented in part by Compassion International, the tour kicks off Oct. 3, in Rock Island, Ill., and will make stops in 22 cities across the U.S. before wrapping up in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Nov. 11.
The No Shame Tour supports Tenth Avenue North’s brand new project No Shame, which released earlier this month. The sixth studio album for the band, No Shame features the debut radio single “Greater Than All My Regrets,” (see the innovative new video here). In addition, Donehey will share from the stage each night, via his own wit, humor and transparency, some of the personal stories found in his brand new book, Finding God’s Life for My Will: His Presence Is the Plan.
Tickets for the No Shame Tour are on sale now, including several VIP Experiences available here. For tour information and ticket links, visit http://www.tenthavenuenorth.com/tour.
NO SHAME TOUR – FALL 2019
Dates, markets and venues subject to change.
03 — Rock Island, IL — Heritage Church (on sale 8/26)
04 — Appleton, WI — Pathways Church
05 — Bourbonnais, IL — Olivet Nazarene University
06 — North Mankato, MN — Crossview Covenant Church
10 — Effingham, IL — Effingham Performance Center
11 — Cincinnati, OH — Landmark Church
12 — Jackson, MI — Jackson College – Potter Center
13 — Waukesha, WI — Fox River Christian Church
17 — Morristown, NJ — Mayo Performing Arts Center
18 — Plymouth, MA — Plymouth Memorial Hall
19 — Bedford, NH — Manchester Christian Church
20 — Rutland, VT — The Paramount Theater
24 — Aiken, SC — Millbrook Baptist Church
26 — Pensacola, FL — Marcus Pointe Baptist Church
27 — Dublin, GA — Dublin Theater
02 — Auburn, IN — County Line Church of God
03 — Brunswick, OH — Grace Baptist Church
07 — Medford, NJ — Fellowship Alliance Chapel
08 — McMurray, PA — The Bible Chapel
09 — York, PA — Living Word Community Church
10 — Williamsport, MD — Gateway Ministries
11 — Brooklyn, NY — Music Hall of Williamsburg
For ticket information and the most up-to-date list of concerts, please visit www.TenthAvenueNorth.com/tour.
Gotee Records’ Ryan Stevenson has received his first RIAA Gold Certified single as an artist for his record-breaking song, “Eye of the Storm.” This impactful song features GabeReal of TobyMac’s DiverseCity Band and was co-written by producer Bryan Fowler (TobyMac, Chris Tomlin).
“My heart is full,” shares Ryan Stevenson upon receiving his first artist RIAA Gold single. “I’m thankful for the success and impact of this song, but as I looked around the room last night and into the eyes of everyone who has been on this journey with me, I was reminded that the most important aspect of life are the people we get to live it out with. I consider myself a very blessed guy to be able to say that my team is my family. I am thankful for all of you – you have enriched my life in such a beautiful way. Also a HUGE thanks to all of my radio fam around the country for your support and encouragement.”
“Eye of the Storm” was No. 1 for 16 total weeks in 2016 including nine weeks at Billboard’s Christian Airplay/Audience and 14 consecutive weeks at Billboard’s Christian AC and was listed as the No. 2 Billboard Christian AC song of 2016. The song also won a Dove Award for Christian Pop Contemporary Song of the Year in 2017 and was also nominated for two 2017 K-LOVE Fan Awards as well as a 2017 Billboard Music Award for “Top Christian Song.”
“Being a part of this song is one our proudest moments in the 25 year history at the label,” shares Brad Moist, A&R of Gotee Records. “The impact this song has had and is still having is an incredible thing to see. While it still receives airplay every week at Christian radio and more than 750k streams/views a week across just AppleMusic, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube, seeing footage of kids in a school hallway singing it during Hurricane Florence and hearing it being used in VBS curriculum last summer speaks to the longevity and lasting impression this song is having.”
Stevenson joins an elite group of new Christian Contemporary Artists in the last five years, such as Lauren Daigle, Zach Williams, Tauren Wells, Danny Gokey and Jordan Feliz, who have received RIAA Gold Certifications in the past year. His latest single, “With Lifted Hands” became his fourth consecutive Top 10 Billboard Christian Airplay radio single. In May, he released a special acoustic version that features Martin Smith formerly of Delirous? (here).
This year, Stevenson has toured with TobyMac on the Hits Deep Tour and will head out this fall with the Newsboys. He is also now represented by booking agency CAA. Visit his site to see music videos, live performances, podcasts he’s been featured on and current tour dates: https://www.ryanstevensonmusic.com/.
What I wanted was a sofa. What I got was a tale of woe. As I stood in awkward silence, listening to her talk about everything but sofas, I realized she was illustrating a lesson I need to learn as much as she does. I mentioned a couple of days ago that I have been struggling with this ongoing medical issue and the pain that comes along with it. I do not intend to make this a regular theme on the blog, but so often the Lord uses our real-world circumstances to teach us important truths, and this seems to be one of those times.
I need a new sofa. I need something I can sit on or lounge in and be comfortable. That sofa will need to have at least one key feature—it will need to have a high back that offers adjustable neck support. As we walked into the nearby furniture store, and as the saleswoman approached, I thought it would make sense to get that one feature on the table right away. Why look at all the couches when only a few could fit the bill?
But then it happened. The moment she heard “neck support,” a look came over her face, and I could tell she had something she wanted to talk about. And, sure enough, for the next several minutes, she told me how to fix my condition. Because she has experienced neck pain in the past, she knew what was going on with me, she knew all I had done wrong in my attempts to treat it, she knew why the doctors had failed in their attempts to treat it, and she knew exactly the solution—hydrotherapy, a course of true Eastern-style acupuncture, and a diet free from all gluten and processed sugars. I stood and listened patiently like a polite Canadian ought to do. Then another potential customer caught her eye, so she waved us in the vague direction of the few sofas that would meet our criteria, and hustled off to help someone else. We meandered for a few minutes then slipped away and went elsewhere.
It’s just a silly and harmless situation, but it’s one I understood as God’s helpful way of illustrating where I can go just as wrong. After all, I am often asked to provide counsel to friends, family, and fellow church members, and know I am prone to making many of the same mistakes.
The first is the most obvious: She did not ask any questions. The sum total of her data was “neck support,” but from that starting point, and without knowing the least detail of my condition, she talked for a solid few minutes. She assumed so much, but knew so little. And it reminds me that in order speak helpfully, I need to diagnose accurately. And in order to diagnose accurately, I need to ask good questions. There’s not only one kind of neck pain. There is not only one kind of emotional trauma. There is not only one kind of spiritual pain. I need to patiently and carefully draw people out before attempting to recommend even the least action. To quote Solomon, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
The second thing that stands out is she somehow made my problem all about her. She herself had experienced neck pain, and the great majority of what she said in our brief interaction was a description of all she had endured. Her problem was of a completely different nature than mine, but she didn’t know that because, as I said, she asked no questions. And I know this is a temptation in any interaction—to make a subtle switch from listening to speaking, from attentively listening to someone else to proudly speaking about myself. It’s too easy to make any conversation all about me.
And then there’s this: She failed to offer the help she could uniquely offer. I did not need a doctor or a counselor. I needed a sofa salesperson. What she had the unique ability to do for me, she failed to do. Instead of solving the problem she could solve, she attempted to solve a problem she could not solve. She missed the opportunity to sell a sofa and earn a commission, but even more so, she missed the opportunity to put her unique knowledge and ability to work. And I know I’ve too often done the same—instead of being who God has called me to be (and, therefore, admitting the many limitations of my knowledge and abilities) I’ve tried to be something else. Where God has gifted me, I can and should offer those gifts for the benefit others. But I serve best when I serve within my gifts and abilities, not outside them.
It’s not that difficult, is it? Listen. Draw out. Empathize. Listen some more. Then take action or make recommendations only as I am equipped and in a way consistent with my vocation.
This week I’ve read through M. David Litwa’s new book How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2019). This is a book I fundamentally disagree with, but it is an interesting read, and will probably elicit a whole lot of controversy about the relationship of the Gospels to Mythology. I would love to see an SBL panel on it and hopefully we can review for JSHJ. You can also listen to a podcast interview with Litwa at New Books in Biblical Studies.
In a nutshell, Litwa regards the Gospels as a form of “mythic historiography.” Instead of seeing the gospels as history that over the time became myth, he suggests to the contrary, that they were always a type of mythology that was given the features of history for the sake of apparent verisimilitude.
Let me offer three points of affirmation and then three points of disagreement.
First, the primary strength of the book is in its contention that the Gospels must be located within the literary and religious environment of the Greco-Roman world.
While some interpreters like to major on how Christianity is different to Greco-Roman religions, I take the point from Luke Timothy Johnson and others that we cannot understand how Christianity and Greco-Roman religions are different until we first understand how they are similar. So comparison must precede contrast! Whereas some want to use Hellenistic Judaism as a kind of buffer between “pagan” ideas and Christianity, to avoid any direct borrowing of Christianity from ostensibly pagan sources, Litwa contends that the Gospels draw from the same cultural pool of Hellenistic literature. That is because, says Litwa, “Hellenistic culture was never really ‘outside’ Christianity” (p. 51). Christianity emerged and germinated in this Hellenistic milieu. In addition, Litwa does his comparisons usually without falling into the fallacy that analogy means genealogy, or moving from literal parallel to literary dependence. Litwa is rightly circumspect on the reasons for the similarities between the Gospels and ancient literature preferring to speak instead of “dynamic cultural interaction” or shared “cultural setting” (pp. 47, 62). So I think it is on this point, with a positive comparison of the Gospels with Greco-Roman mythology and its historicalization, that Litwa is offering a courageous thesis on how the Gospels reflect the literary tropes and religious symbolism of antiquity.
Second, Litwa reopens the question of the relationship between Christianity and myth.
The issue of Christianity and myth was a very live issue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century especially when it came to the Gospels. For a long time the Gospels were regarded as a kind of aetiological myth, in effect, an origins story for a religious and semi-divine hero. The reason for the decline of characterizations of the Gospels as mythology are manifold: (1) The decline of the Hellenistic and Jewish dichotomy; (2) The demise of form criticism in its presuppositions, methods, and conclusions; (3) The dismantling of the “divine man” hypothesis as anachronistic and too varied to be of any use; (4) The dangers of using later sources to infer things about Jesus, the Jesus tradition, and the Gospels in the first-century (e.g. Apollonius of Tyana); (5) A general agreement on the genre of the Gospels as biography rather than novel, epic, or fable; and (6) Attention given to social memory and the presence of eyewitnesses as forces that preserved the Jesus tradition.
Now anyone who has studied Greco-Roman backgrounds to the New Testament will know that ancient accounts of miracles, gods descending to earth, and ascensions to heaven are prevalent in Hellenistic literature and are regarded as myth. Many of those myths were otherwise incorporated into standard historical works and subsequent interpreters differed on how to treat them. Litwa’s reopening of the question of the Gospels as “mythic historiography,” where myth has become historicalized, means one cannot escape the question of what modern interpreters are to do given that the Gospels are, in various ways and in varying degree, reflective of the religious, symbolic, and mythic world of antiquity.
As one begins, it is worth remembering that the topic of Christianity vis-a-vis myth is not a new problem. Justin Martyr knew the similarities between the virgin conception of Jesus and that of Perseus, he didn’t deny them (Apol. 1.22; Dial. 70). Justin oscillated between theoretically having no problem with Jesus being born of normal procreation, to regarding the stories as the same yet insisting Jesus was simply superior to Perseus, to considering the Perseus birth story as a serpentine counterfeit to divine work. In any case, Justin wrestled with the category of myth in relation to the Gospels. For others, like Origen, finding myth it the Gospels was no problem, it was a great opportunity to engage in some allegorical exegesis and to uncover the deeper sense of Scripture.
That same wrestling with myth was quite evident in Bultmann’s famous demythologizing program, which, if viewed as a way of addressing a materialistic rather than antiquarian worldview, and if posed as an alternative to de-judaizing the NT, had its advantages. David Congdon has tried to revitalize Bultmann’s demythologizing of the Bible as an exercise in intercultural hermeneutics. That said, Bultmann’s demythologizing program was considered, even by his closest supporters like Norman Perrin, as a crude method since Bultmann wrongly believed he could separate symbol and substance from the Bible (and Litwa offers some good notes on the deficiencies in Bultmann’s program too [p. 220]). Demythologization was mostly abandoned, but it still appears in some form in modern scholarship. For example, the neo-pagan author Sallustius said concerning myth: “Now these things never happened, but always are.” The sentiment is rehearsed in John Dominic Crossan’s account that “Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens” as his way of explaining the Lucan resurrection narrative.
Litwa’s conclusion to the book – which feels like a kind of Rudolf Bultmann, Dale Martin, Dale Allison remix – briefly tackles that very issue of the abiding significance of the Gospels as mythological historiography for today. That said, I was seriously weirded out by Litwa’s suggestion that the study of Christianity should be shifted to the mythology courses of Classics Departments. May it never be!
Third – this is my favourite point – this is a book that is going to initially excite Jesus Mythicists and then leave them totally dejected. I sit on the board of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, and we have quite a diverse group of editors, Christians of every kind, some Jewish colleagues, agnostics, and even atheists. We disagree on just about everything there is to disagree on about the historical Jesus. But we all agree on at least two things. (1) Jesus existed as a historical person; and (2) People who say he didn’t are a curious albeit annoying phenomenon. Litwa’s contention that the Gospels are myths made to look historical will initially prompt gasps of excitement and anticipation by the on-line Jesus mythicist community (presumably in whatever basements in their parent’s house they are living in), and their gasps of joy which will be shattered on the rocks of realizing that Litwa himself is not a Jesus mythicist and believes in a historical Jesus since Litwa believes that the existence of Jesus “is the most plausible hypothesis to explain the gospels as literary products” (p. 33). To his credit, he overviews Bruno Baur, Richard Carrier, and Thomas Brodie as exponents of the mythicist view, but then states why it is ultimately unsatisfying and probably ideologically driven.
Of course, as with any book, there are areas that one will naturally disagree with. I have manifold points of earnest disagreement. The usual, “Yes, but …” A few, “Hmm, no, not quite.” And of course, “Oh goodness me, you can’t be serious.”
First, the danger of overestimating Greek hegemony over local cultures.
This might seem like a bit of a red herring, but I think Litwa over-estimates the permeation, accessibility, and predominance of Greek culture everywhere and almost all the time. Litwa asserts that “Linguistically, most citizens of the empire spoke Greek as the common tongue. Even in the ‘boondocks’ of rural Galilee, there remained a dominant cultural ethos privileges the values, art, language, and lore of ancient (‘classical’) Greece” (p. 51). In order for the various literary parallels to have the cumulative effect, Litwa has to assume that people in the eastern Mediterranean are pretty much immersed in Greek language, mythologies, histories, tragedies, and literature. This reminds me a bit of the Jesus Seminar who thought Jesus learned Cynic philosophy, saw the plays of Euripides, and read Herodotus in Sepphoris or something like that.
My doktorvater Rick Strelan has an essay on the languages of Asia Minor and he shows that we should not assume that everyone in Asia Minor knew Greek language, literature, and mythology. You could apply the same argument to Galilee where Aramaic remained dominant. Yes, thanks Martin Hengel, all Judaism was Hellenistic Judaism, but point of order from Mark Chancey, not all Judaism was penetrated by Hellenism in the same way or to the same degree. In the case of Galilee, its Hellenization did not hit full speed until the post-70 period and esp. in the second century. The same applies to Roman Armenia, Syria, Phrygia, and Egypt. We cannot assume that Greek language was everyone’s default setting and Greek culture was everyone’s encyclopedia when local languages and cultures remained not merely extant but dominant.
As a result, I think it is perhaps overstated to assume that Greek mythology was part of the pre-understanding all Jews and Christians, even those in the eastern Mediterranean (p. 52). Yes, it was there, and well known, but necessarily omnipresent and absorbed.
Second, some of the similarities that Litwa makes are superficial.
Litwa is aware of the dangers of “skating over differences based on locality, time, and culture” (pp. 36-37) as well as actual divergences in content when it comes to stories of dying and rising gods. Litwa critiques Richard Carrier and R. MacDonald on those scores. Even so, at a few points, I did feel myself murmuring the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself.” The many similarities that Litwa makes often skirt over the huge differences. For instance: (1) Horace’s rhetorical accolades of Augustus as an incarnation of Hermes are honorific, not ontological, so I find it hard to see an incarnation of divinity in Augustus that’s operating in the same semantic and conceptual theatre as Paul or John. (2) Even if Philostratus’ “Damis” is a fictional character, I’m not sure I’d equate him with the Beloved Disciple of the Fourth Gospel. Afterall the second-century church claimed that they had a chain of transmission with John, whether the apostle or the elder, who wrote the fourth Gospel.
Third, the primary intertext for the NT is the Greek Bible (or Septuagint).
A critique I have on Litwa – and other books too like Michael Peppard’s Son of God in the Greco-Roman World – is that irrespective of whatever parallels we find between Greco-Roman literature and the Gospels, the fact remains that Gospel’s primary textual background is the Septuagint, at least at the level of citation, allusion, and echo, in sayings and narratives. That is not to negate or deny a broader Greco-Roman context and broader influences in cultural background. Of course not! But all things being equal, given the scripturalized texture of the Gospels, one will find more often than not, closer connections with Hosea than Herodotus when it comes to the Gospels.
The best example to my mind is the genealogies. While Litwa does a commendable job of comparing the Lucan and Matthean genealogies to Greek ones, I was convinced by my former PhD student Jason Hood that the genealogies are more closely related to the Hebrew Bible and are intended as Summaries of Israel’s Story. That was confirmed by my own study of the genealogies of 1 Esdras. The main influence here is the Septuagint’s genealogies. It is in the Septuagint that we have genuine dependence and influence beyond any Greco-Roman allusion.
In sum, Litwa’s book is a great piece of ancient comparative religious literature, it raises the question of Christianity vis-a-vis Greek mythology, and will infuriate Jesus Mythicists. However, I think he overplays the influence of Greek mythology at the expense of local lore and language, many of his similarities are superficial, and the Gospels should be located primarily in the Jewish world.
“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:3-4
A lot of people talk about right and wrong these days, as if they were random or variable things. If no absolute truth exists, then the powerful determine what justice is.
Isaiah’s words — written thousands of years ago — sound eerily like our current society. “
So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (Isaiah 59:14-15).
Yet, it’s not merely today’s society at large that has a warped view of justice. Too often, Christians doubt God’s justice. Believers read the Old or New Testament passages about God’s wrath and think God acts unfairly.
So, John reminds us in today’s verses from Revelation that all God’s ways are just. God defines and exemplifies righteousness, justice, and truth. All God’s deeds are righteous. Indeed, all creation will worship God because of these attributes.
God can’t act in opposition to his nature. So, it’s impossible for God to do anything unjust. In fact, our internal sense of justice comes from being made in the image of the true and just God. We wouldn’t know what justice meant if God hadn’t revealed it to us.
Therefore, we must approach difficult passages with humility. Our limited knowledge and perspective make it absurd for us to judge God. Instead, by affirming the truth of God’s character and submitting to the Holy Spirit for guidance, we ask God to show us how to correctly view his justice.
Lord God Almighty, you are just and true. Show me how to think and speak and live in a way that reflects that reality. There are so many things that I don’t understand; give me faith to believe that you are who you say you are. Amen.
By Suzanne Benner
Used by Permission
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