lection gilberthome authors titles dates links about
lection's "new and noteworthy" page is named after Gilbert, in Oscar Wilde's "Critic as Artist," who opines:
To know the vintage and quality of a wine one need not drink the whole cask. It must be perfectly easy in half an hour to say whether a book is worth anything or worth nothing. Ten minutes are really sufficient, if one has the instinct for form.On the lection gilbert page, I present occasional brief notes on recent books that I've picked up and tasted. I try to read enough of each book to deliver some sense of its "vintage and quality," while at the same time some sense of why I didn't keep reading. My not keeping reading is not to be counted against a book, of course. Vita brevis . . .
Hell and Its Rivals: Death and retribution among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the early Middle Ages. Alan E. Bernstein. Cornell, 2017. Hell and Its Rivals is a really good book, and I wish I had the patience or the expertise to do it justice. Bernstein's ambitious project is to trace the concept of Hell Itself back to its origins in the three Abrahamic religions, with copious comparative reference to other faiths of Europe and the Middle East. The period Bernstein studies is antiquity through the first millennium or so of the common era, with looks forward to how received notions of Hell continued to play out in later medieval and even modern thought. His basic premise is that Hell was a much-negotiated idea. Most religions assert some form of justice that persists after death, but our uneasy relationship to the Other Side keeps people refining and contesting the parameters of Hell's permanence, scope, physical reality, and eternity. Why didn't I read more than 60 pages? Hell and Its Rivals is extremely exhaustive, and it's neither a narrative nor an essay. The body of the book includes all sorts of things that other books might stow away in footnotes. This makes it better for reference and background study than for the kind of reading I do propped up in bed at night – my weakness, not Bernstein's. [01.27.18]