Category Archives: Books

The Snowflake (Redux)

This is a re-posting. I am adding two photos of snowflakes I took yesterday (Dec 4, 2010) in Durham, NC. I could not believe we had snow! I ran outside and shot these macros hand-held. Not great, but I was so excited. Will get out more this winter and work on some new techniques.

Snowflake I captured in our yard, Durham, NC, December 4, 2010.

Snowflake melting. Durham, NC, December 4, 2010. Camera: Panasonic GF1 (Micro-four thirds).

It’s no secret that I love snow. One of the best books that I’ve seen about snowflakes is The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbrecht (photography by Patricia Rasmussen). If you’ve ever been mesmerized by the shape of a snowflake that has fallen onto your gloved hand, then this book will delight you. The stunning photography of individual snowflakes is complemented perfectly by excellent explanations of the science behind the beauty.
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Review: A Manual of Ugaritic (Bordreuil and Pardee)

A Manual of Ugaritic

Many thanks to Jim Eisenbraun (and Gina Hannah) for sending me a copy of EisenbruansA Manual of Ugaritic (by Pierre Bordreuil and Dennis Pardee) to review.

Anyone who teaches or studies Ugaritic will want to take a serious look at adding this book to his or her collection of resources. I had high hopes for this book and I was not disappointed.

The manual was first published as Manuel d’Ougaritique in 2004 (by Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner S. A.). This 2009 edition not only provides an English translation, but also incorporates corrections, modifications (of some grammatical presentations and also some text interpretations), and updates to the bibliography. The authors note in the preface that the “most important of the modifications is in the presentation of the verbal system particular to poetry.”
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Review: Divine Presence Amid Violence (Walter Brueggemann)

Divine PresenceFollowing on the heels of my review of EisenbraunsWar in the Bible and Terrorism in the 20th Century (Part One, Two, Three), I read Walter Brueggemann’s Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua (Published by Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock Publishers). Can you detect the theme of some of the books I am reading? Violence, especially when it touches on areas of religion, is a very hot topic when we consider current events in the news. It is a dilemma to condemn a present-day issue of violence when a similar type of violence seems to be condoned in some parts of the Hebrew Bible.

In this book, Brueggemann takes a brief (the text of the book is only 65 pages) look at an “exceedingly difficult text” (p. 11) in the Hebrew Bible: Joshua 11.

In the introduction, Brueggemann discusses how the conviction that Scripture is revelatory (by communities of Jews and Christians) is necessarily appropriated differently because of differences of contexts and cultural settings. He believes that the current state of hermeneutics convinces many (including himself) that there is “no single, sure meaning for any text.” Thus, the “revelatory power of the text is discerned and given precisely through the action of interpretation which is always concrete, never universal, always contextualized, never ‘above the fray,’ always filtered through vested interest, never in disinterested purity” (p. ix). If this is true of the interpretation process, then, according to Brueggemann, it should also be true of the process that forms, shapes and presents the text. Brueggemann suggests that because of this, revelation is never “simply a final disclosure, but is an ongoing act of disclosing that will never let the disclosure be closed.”
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Giving cancer the one-two punch (and trying to keep up with my reading)

What have I been doing lately? Reading, reading, reading (or at least trying to). So I can post reviews, reviews, reviews. Thanks for your patience! But that’s not the really important stuff that has been going on.

Here’s what we’ve been up to while I’m trying to do all that reading. Spending time at the awesome Duke Cancer Center. Mark just finished 168 pills of chemo (his “weapons of ass destruction”) and 28 days of almost daily radiation. Some folks are curious about how all this works. So here are some links to help you understand what has been going on in Mark’s body, and what “radiation” is all about. It’s really pretty cool.


So, the chemotherapy that Mark is using is an oral drug called Xeloda. The 3-step activation process of XELODA preferentially generates 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) through thymidine phosphorylase (TP) at the tumor site. Did you get that? Well, for you visual learners, here’s an animation of how the drug capecitabine works. Cool, huh?
click the image to see the video (not able to embed in my blog)

If you are really curious (and I know a few scientists in my family who are), you can download the 43-page PDF with all the details, including the detailed mechanism of action, a diagram of the molecular structure and the metabolic pathway of capecitabine to 5-FU (and the requisite mind-numbing list of potential side-effects). Come on, you know you want to read it. Download it here.

In addition to the chemo, Mark has had radiation treatment. Here’s an animation of how the Clinac linear accelerator works. If you are really interested in the physics, read here, here, and here or you can email me. But I think it is pretty cool that there is a linear accelerator in there! This first animation shows the target area as the head region. But it still gives you an idea of how the machine turns. You can’t actually see the rays, this animation just demonstrates how it works.

Here is an actual video of a machine (without a patient). The machine turns so easily, even though it is very large.

Here’s Mark, waiting for positioning.

Here’s the “command central” for the technicians:
Command Central

The software is programmed to open the multileaf collimater fingers in a pattern that allows the beam to leave the machine in a specific shape that the oncologist has programmed for Mark’s body and tumor. On the left you see the photo of the shape the machine is opening to (the gold sections are the collimator fingers that slide in and out, the white area is the open section which shapes the beam). On the right you see the shape of the beam superimposed on Mark’s radio-images (from the on-board imaging apparatus).


Note the cute little figure that reminds the technicians which way the image is facing. See the red nose? So, this setup is for the radiation to enter from the patient’s right side.
The technicians line up the image of Mark on the bed of the machine, with a CT scan (with contrast) taken at the beginning of the treatment, and which was used to set up the software. When everything is lined up, they give him the ol’ zap. Well, actually, he gets the radiation three times… once from each side, and once from above. The positioning actually takes longer than the dose of radiation.

Our machine was the “Green Machine” (there is are four machines, all different colors). The machines aren’t actually painted different colors, it’s just a way to keep everything organized and easy to identify. The Green Team of Eddie and Jen was awesome. Here we are with them on “graduation” day.
The Green Team

Duke’s Rad Onc department is really and truly RAD!!!!

Now, Mark gets 4 weeks off until a new round of CT/PET scans and consultation with the Medical Oncologist, Radiation Oncologist, and most importantly, the Surgical Oncologist. At this point they will decide when he will have his surgery to remove the cancer. After that surgery, he’ll have some more chemo. The type and duration will depend on how things go with the surgery. At least, that’s the plan for now! Stay tuned for updates.

Review: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (by Jo Ann Hackett)

Intro to BH

I am very grateful to Allan Emery at Hendrickson Publishers for the opportunity to review Jo Ann Hackett’s soon-to-be released textbook, A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (with CD). He sent me PDF copies of the galleys so that I could write this review. I am also indebted to Prof. Hackett for her gracious answers to my emails that will add clarity to my review.

I am delighted that Hendrickson granted permission for me to post PDFs of both the Table of Contents and the author’s very helpful introduction, “How To Use This Book.” While I will quote some of this material below, I recommend reading both files because they give both the structure of the book and an explanation for how the book is intended to be used and the thought behind some of the novel pedagogy. The Table of Contents is very detailed and provides an excellent overview of the course plan.

PDF Files to view/download

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War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 3)

War in the Bible

Many thanks (again) to the folks at Eisenbrauns for sending me a review copy of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 2). You can read the first part and second part of my review of this book here and here. In this third (and final) post, the chapters we will look at cover diverse ground. One defends Christian pacifism, another looks at the distinction between Just Wars and Crusades. The three final essays take up the issues as they relate specifically to terrorism.
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War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 2)

War in the Bible Many thanks (again) to the folks at Eisenbrauns for sending me a review copy of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 2). You can read the first part of my review of this book here. Although I had thought I would prefer to post on each essay/chapter separately, I have decided that some of the chapters are better considered together. I would also like to remind you that this is a collection of essays, not one person’s book. There is not one sole opinion being defended. The unifying thread is the desire to seriously consider how to approach war and terrorism in light of the Bible. The two chapters we will look at in this post deal most directly with violence in the text of scripture.
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Coming soon…

to this blog.

We’ve had our schedule a bit interrupted by Mark’s cancer treatments, but I’ve been steadily making my way through a stack of books to review for you. Here’s what you can look forward to in the coming days:

  1. Completion of my review of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the 21st Century (Part One is here)
  2. Another book attempting to deal with violence in the Bible: Walter Brueggemann’s Divine Presence amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua
  3. Jo Ann Hackett’s soon-to-be-published (by Hendrickson) A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew
  4. A few OT survey books, one takes a comparative approach, the other a socio-literary approach
  5. Something for the Ugaritic fans 🙂

And as a special treat, I’m working on a post that explains the basics of the physics and bio-chemistry going on in Mark’s radiation and chemo treatments. Stay tuned to find out the low-down on oncology radiation and why not all chemo is equal (and what Mark’s chemo is attempting to do). We’ve just finished Day 11 of 28 of the radiation/chemo regime. Just taking things one day at a time.

There are a few other books in the queue, but the above list will hopefully be enough to entice you to keep checking back.

War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 1)

War in the Bible Many thanks to the folks at Eisenbrauns for sending me a review copy of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 2).

This book (published in 2008) is a collection of 8 essays which came out of a 2004 conference at Denver Seminary. The event solicited papers from a variety of positions, each contributing to a search for biblical and ethical approaches to the questions of war and the Bible. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that conference. Perhaps this set of essays is the next best thing.

Before I begin discussing the content of the book, it is worth noting that the hard-cover book of 155 pages is part of Eisenbrauns participation in the Green Press Initiative (for more information, visit I usually pay attention to the type of paper that a publisher chooses, but I’m not accustomed to seeing such specific details listing the effects of choosing a particular paper. For this printing, the choice was 50% post consumer recycled paper (processed chlorine free). On the very last page of the book you learn that as a result, they saved 4 trees; 1,884 gallons of wastewater; 758 kilowatt hours of electricity; 208 pounds of solid waste; and 408 pounds of greenhouse gases.

The table of contents provides the structure which I will employ in reviewing this collection. I plan to post on each of the essays, which will allow a bit more space for quotes and summary.

Table of Contents for War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century

1. Christianity and Violence
Miroslav Volf

2 War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview
Richard S. Hess

3. Toward Shalom: Absorbing the Violence
Elmer A. Martens

4. Impulses toward Peace in a Country at War: The Book of Isaiah between Realism and Hope
M. Daniel Carroll R.

5. Distinguishing Just War from Crusade: Is Regime Change a Just Cause for Just War?
Daniel R. Heimbach

6. Noncombatant Immunity and the War on Terrorism
Tony Pfaff

7 Terrorism: What is it and How Do We Deal with It?
Ian G. C. Durie

8. Just Peacemaking Reduces Terrorism between Palestine and Israel
Glen H. Stassen

In Chapter One, Miroslav Volf sets out to contest the claim that religion, and in particular, the Christian faith, fosters violence. He does not dismiss the violence done in the name of Christianity, nor does he ignore elements of Christian faith which, taken in isolation and out of safe-guarding context, can (and have been) used to legitimize violence. Nevertheless, his task here, he says, is not to answer these questions, but rather to demonstrate that the Christian faith should be regarded as a contributor to peaceful society.

I particularly appreciate his use of the concepts “thick” and “thin” as applied to the practice of Christian faith (be sure to read footnote 7, starting on page 3). While not a novel idea (e.g. Clifford Geertz and Gilbert Ryle), his application to religious practice is very helpful. “I am concerned to show how the “thinning” of religious practice opens religious convictions to be misused to legitimize violence because it strips away precisely what in “thick” religious faith guards against misuse of this sort” (fn 7, p 4).

After laying this foundation, Volf addresses four arguments:

  1. The Argument That Religion by Its Nature is Violent
  2. The Argument That Monotheism Entails Violence
  3. The Argument That Creation is an Act of Violence
  4. The Argument That the Intervention of a New Creation Generates Violence

I think he does a convincing job countering these positions, but I wonder if some readers may be less satisfied with how he handles the issue of violence in Creation and New Creation (even if they may agree with his conclusion).

Volf concludes with a section exploring how misuse of the Christian faith to legitimize violence happens and what can be done to prevent it. A sobering observation is that “Misconceptions of the Christian faith reflect the widespread misbehavior of Christians.” Of course this is not the whole story. He also lays some blame on the mass media and the “inflation of the negative.”

Woven throughout his arguments and observations in this essay are glimpses of his vision of how a “thick” practice of the Christian faith will “help generate and sustain a culture of peace.”

This first chapter sets the table for the courses of the meal that are served up by the following chapters. Next course: “War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview” (Richard S. Hess).