July 2011


Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Dr. Tracey-Anne Cooper, a sssistant professor in the History Department writes:

My father read parts of Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings to me when I was quite young, which was a magical experience both for the familial memory and the exposure to adult story-telling and fantasy. When I was around ten or eleven years-old it was serialized by BBC Radio, and my brother and I taped them all and listened to them several times each week, greedily waiting for the next Thursday-night episode. I am not sure why I waited so long, but I did not read Lord of the Rings for myself until I was nineteen, when I took a very cheap and compact one volume paperback of the trilogy with me when I spent a month Euro-railing. The symmetry of Frodo‘s journey into the unknown and my own was delightful and charming to my less-cynical nineteen-year-old self. In the month I had read the now very tatty book three times and promised I would read it again at least every ten years for the rest of my life, and so far I have. At twenty-five I left quite a good job to study Medieval Studies at university, and among my first courses were Old English language and literature, the subjects Tolkien had taught at Oxford. As it turned out my enthusiasm was luckily matched by aptitude and, three degrees later, I myself conduct research in the Anglo-Saxon world of epic fantasy and Christian symbolism that Tolkien drew on so heavily to create his Middle-Earth. Last year I was asked to participate in a History Channel show “Tolkien’s Monsters,” which, while admittedly was not great television, did leave me grinning on the inside; and it did mean I “had” to read my favorite book again seven years short of my ten-year anniversary.

             

Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally. 

Dr. Raymond Bulman, a professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, writes:

A recent book that I have found influential is How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus.  In this illuminating scholarly work, Larry Hurtado,  Professor at Edinburgh University, Scotland, explores the earliest Jewish Christian devotion to Jesus.  During the first few decades following the death of Jesus, his disciples and followers were almost exclusively pious Jews in Roman occupied Judea.  Using the best methods of biblical and historical scholarship, Hurtado shows that these devout Messianic Jews, from the very beginning of the Jesus movement, consistently offered a devotion to Jesus that was equivalent to divine worship–while insisting at the same time on their fidelity to their monotheistic Jewish roots.  These early Jewish followers of Jesus, were convinced that he was not only God’s unique emissary, but that it was the will of God (the Father) that they should show Jesus full reverence “as to a God.” 

Hurtado also maintains that these early Jewish disciples of Jesus paid a “severe cost” for their extraordinary devotion to Jesus in terms of alienation from their friends and relatives in the larger Jewish community.  No doubt, their worship of Jesus was a radical innovation within the strictly monotheistic society of Second-Temple Judaism.  Hurtado claims that this sudden change in religious practice was the result of a powerful revelatory experience within the community of Jesus’ first followers.  He makes this case by a careful analysis of the earliest New Testament texts, such as the writings of St. Paul, which point to such intense religious experiences. The book’s thesis undermines the scholarly theories that either the divine worship of Jesus was the result of a gradual evolutionary process or was later introduced into Christian practice by the growing number of Gentiles who eventually entered the Christian church.

Hurtado’s careful study is especially fascinating and important to me, because it competently addresses some of the most difficult historical questions that have been with me since graduate school.

Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or 

perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Dr. Benjamin Silliman,  an Assistant Professor in the Department of Accounting and Taxation, writes:

I was an English minor and love to read.  The book that has had the most influence in my life is a rather dark one, but one of the greatest non-fictional novels ever, Truman Capote‘s In Cold Blood.  I found Capote’s writing style and subtle descriptions impacted my writing in a very positive way, in that it made me very aware of how much better my writing needed to develop.  The subject matter is quite gruesome, and that was not the inspiration for me, but it was Capote’s word choices, his character development, the scenery and the illusions that his writing created.  I have never read anything quite like it, with the exception of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” another somewhat gruesome subject.  I have often thought it was Capote and O’Connor being Southern writers that appealed to me, but it is really how each author reveals human vulnerabilities that stands out, something that is difficult for a writer to craft.

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