Archive for the ‘John’s Reviews – books, movies, whatever’ Category

No. I’m Fine by Howard and Sandra Tayler

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on September 13th, 2014

Robison_Wells____Green_Hills_Photography_0-201x300Sometimes it’s the small things that make the most difference.

Like sharing an issue you might be dealing with.

I was once at a writer’s retreat at a home above the Sundance ski resort. I’d be asked to present to some of the other writers there. Robison Wells, who writes awesome YA,  was also presenting. He talked about marketing and plot, but the presentation that was probably most memorable was the one he gave on the obsessive compulsive disorder he deals with.

He started off by telling us folks really didn’t know what they were talking about when they talked about obsessive compulsive disorder. He described it this way. He said he and his wife were sitting on the couch watching TV one evening. She said she was craving some ice cream, orangesicles, I think. He replied that he was craving banging his head into the wall. She anticipated some delicious ice cream. He anticipated some delicious head whacking. He then pointed at the wall behind all of us and said that it would feel so good to bang his head on the corner of the wall behind us. Needless to say, he had our attention.

He went on to explain more about this condition and mental illness in general and urged us, when we wrote about it, to get it right. To be accurate. To not turn such conditions into happy-happy super powers, nor to make them into things to be feared.

By the way, Robison had a fine little dog with him. Not some yapper to carry about in a purse, but a nice little companion. I keep wanting to call her Abby, but I know that’s not its name. We learned that his dog was trained to watch him and remind him to take his meds. It appeared that Robison would sometimes rationalize away doing that.

Robison isn’t crazy. We didn’t have a dangerous wild man among us. He’s just a guy who has to deal with some kinks in his hoses.

HowardTayler2So what happened next? Well, nothing. We had a great retreat and went home. But the story doesn’t end there. See, if an issue is taboo, it becomes very difficult to deal with it. As an individual, a couple, a family, a community. In fact, hiding something like this only creates more problems. For example, if Robison ever says he’s going out to pick up some hammers, we  now know that we probably ought to have someone go with him (grin). So Robison not only wanted to educate us, he also wanted to help bring mental illness out of the dark. And he’s talked about this issue in a number of different places.

Howard Tayler, the cartoonist, heard him talk about the self-harm once. He saw the good being open did and decided to write a bit about some things he has to deal with. Howard’s got a tricky bit of depression he has to manage. Sandra, Howard’s wife, decided to add to it what it was like being married to someone with such an issue.

Now, I didn’t know the Taylers had written anything up until last week at Comic Con. During the event a woman talked to me. In our conversation she indicated that she’d been wrangling with some mental crap, but that Howard’s comments about his had helped her. We continued with our discussion, and she left. On Friday evening after the expo for the Salt Lake City Comic Con had closed, I walked around the event floor, chatting with some folks I hadn’t had time to visit during the event. I stopped at Howard’s booth and said hello to him and Sandra. They were busy, and I didn’t stay long, but as I went to walk away, I thought I should pass on what the woman had said. So I did. I didn’t know what comments she was talking about. All I knew was that Howard had helped her. And I wanted to make sure he knew it.

SandraTaylerWe talked some more as they tried to clean up their booth before Howard had to run off to a panel. Then Howard handed me “No. I’m Fine”.  It’s a little 15-page booklet that contains the title story, written by Howard, plus the essay “Married to Depression” by Sandra, his wife.

The story is an excellent short that gives you the feeling of what’s it like to be dealing with one form of the bugger. The essay reveals a bit of what it’s like as the spouse and recommends some action. But the thing I found so wonderful about both the story and the essay was the example of tender love in the midst of adversity.

I’m a writer. I can’t help but be drawn to potential characters and stories. The view we get of these two in this booklet is good stuff to build some characters on. Of course, that’s not the reason to read the booklet. The reason is because what they share is fascinating and tender—it’s good drama—and, if you or someone you know is dealing with these issues, it just might help.

Go read “No. I’m Fine” and “Married to Depression”. You’ll be glad you did.

While we’re talking about this, those of you who have been following this blog know that I’ve had a few dust-ups with depression myself. I wrote about it and the tools I used to deal with it then and when it tries to come back to town. After reading the Tayler’s stuff, you’ll want to look at it as well.

Edit 9/14: Addeded links to “Married to Depression”


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Saving Mr. Banks, Elementary, Captain Phillips, & Lone Survivor

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on June 23rd, 2014

Saving Mr BanksOver the last two months I’ve been able to squeeze in a couple of hours to watch a few shows and some episodes of a TV series. I was plesantly surprised to have actually had a wonderfully good run. If you haven’t watched any of these, you’re in for some awesome entertainment.

Saving Mr. Banks

I didn’t think I’d like this movie. I enjoyed Mary Poppins as a child and enjoyed it again with my kids. But a movie on Disney getting the rights to make a movie? Boring. Except I was completely wrong. This is not a story about some woman selling the rights to her story. It’s about why she never wanted to sell the rights to Disney in the first place. It’s about her childhood and the real source of Mary Poppins. And to pull that off Saving Mr. Banks has to tell two stories: an often funny one about P.L. Travers who does not want to license her story and Disney’s final attempt to win her over, and a poignant one that reveals why Travers was so resistant. And it leaves the last twist, one that expands the meaning of the title in the viewer’s heart, to the very end. I loved this movie. I loved Hanks as the affable Disney and Thompson as the irascible Ms. Travers. Loved all of the other characters. If you enjoyed dramas like Miss Potter or The Blind Side, you’ll love this too.


I thought: another Sherlock Holmes series? Puh-lease. Yes, the two films featuring Robert Downing Jr. and Jude Law and the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were superb. I loved both. But another Sherlock? Surely this is going to be some cheap attempt to capitalize on the success of the other two, something that is direct-to-DVD quality. Who is going to do it as well as Downing and Cumberbatch?

Boy, was I wrong (yet again!)

Elementary is delightful. Sherlock, played by the talented Johnny Lee Miller who made Eli Stone such a joy, is a modern day Brit living in New York. He’s in the final stages of drug rehab, living with a “sober companion.” The companion is Joan Watson, played by Lucy Lui. The Captain of the NYPD is one of Sherlock’s old friends an appeciates his skills and so brings him in as a consultant on various cases.

So how could they do anything different? Yes, you have the quick powers of observation and intellectual acrobatics the other Sherlocks have. But the female Watson and the whole recovering addict angle takes the stories in a new direction. This Sherlock has a past that haunts him. And this Watson is maybe a bit quicker than the other two, as wonderful as they are.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but there is room for three Sherlocks and Watsons. I can’t tell you which of the three pairs I enjoy more.

Captain_Phillips_PosterCaptain Phillips

As soon as the news stories about Somali pirates started breaking back in 2008 I knew it would lead to some thrillers. Heck, Abdul Hassan, “The One Who Never Sleeps” was one of the first zings I posted on this site. What I didn’t know was that the big thriller would be based on an actual story: the 2009 hijacking of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. Phillips is played by Tom Hanks, who always gives a great performance. But I also found the portrayal of the pirates interesting as well. As I did the many unexpected details of how these pirates operate and how the incident was brought to a close. If you like realistic thrillers, you’ll enjoy Captain Phillips.

Lone Survivor

I reviewed the book Lone Survior back in 2011. You can read my full report there, but the bottom line is that it was an awesome read. However, as with all awesome reads, you become a bit wary of the films based on those books. I’m happy to say the filmmakers did a great job on this one. They paid huge attention to detail because they wanted to honor the fallen soldiers by getting it right.

Lone_Survivor_posterIn order to get it right, they brought Marcus Luttrel, the author, and a number of other SEALs onto the project as consultants. The SEALs put the actors through some basic training before they even began shooting. This was to not only help the actors get to the point where they handle their weapons and gear as someone seasoned might, but also so they could feel what is was to work as a team, an important part of being a SEAL. The SEALs stayed on to provide input as well during the shooting.

But the details went beyond that. I have never seen a military film that felt as real to me, especially when it came to the characters. SEALs are warriors. But that doesn’t capture the variety they come in. And in the opening 25% of the movie we see sides to these men that many movies do not portray. It was so refreshing! In fact, without the groundwork laid in the beginning, this film wouldn’t have had near the impact it did. Yeah, the action is ACTION! It’s thrilling. You have never seen some of the shots the film portrays. But the action means nothing without the men.

And this story is about the men.

It’s about what it means to be one of those guys and gals who put their lives on the line for the rest of us. And if you want a special treat, when the film is over, you’ll watch all the extras.

The f-word is used about five million times in this movie. I usually don’t like a lot of vulgarity in my entertainment. But I cut the folks some slack in this case because I felt the story was worth it. Besides, I didn’t consider it entertainment anyway, more documentary.

If you are interested in what it’s like for Special Operations forces, if you want a story to help you see what so many are doing for the rest of us, I don’t know that it gets any better than this.

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Author Janci Patterson Goes Indie

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on June 18th, 2014

Everythings Fine by Janci PattersonI met Janci Patterson a few years ago when she was shopping her book Chasing the Skip to NY publishers. It’s about a girl named Ricki. Her mother flakes and runs off,  and so Ricki goes to live with her estranged Dad who happens to be a bounty hunter. I was hooked right there. But it gets better. Ricki gets to ride along and help and, wouldn’t you know it, develops a crush on a guy the dad is chasing.

I loved the premise. Traditional publisher Henry Holt loved it too and thought Janci had done a great job telling the tale, so they made her an offer that Janci accepted. It was published in 2012.

Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?

Well, Janci just released another book called Everything’s Fine, a mystery about a girl named Kira. Her best friend commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen. Kira’s devastated and wondering why. She’s sure the answers are in her friend’s journal. As she searches for it she quickly learns she’s not the only one who wants that journal. Someone else is trying to keep the secrets the journal contains hidden.

Another great premise. And this book won the Utah Art’s Council award for Best Young Adult Novel. Clearly, Janci can tell a story. But Janci didn’t take this one to NY.

She’s publishing it as an indie.

Here are her own words explaining what helped convince her going indie was doable.

A Paradigm Shift

For years I refused to think about self-publishing. This wasn’t because of the stigma, honestly, but because of all the work I watched my self-publisher friends put into creating, shipping, and marketing their books. I couldn’t do that! I told myself. I wanted to be a writer, not a publisher.

When it became obvious to me that self-publishing was the next logical step in my career, I was terrified. Having published with a big publisher, I wasn’t willing to skip steps in the publishing process–it was my editor’s keen eye and the rounds of revision we did together that transformed CHASING THE SKIP from a messy dJanci Patterson - Chasing-the-Skip-webraft into a product I was proud of. I wanted to be just as proud of my independent work, and for that, I knew I’d need help.

I knew just enough about book and cover design to know that I couldn’t slap them together on my own and expect them to be instantly good. But when I did the math on what I’d have to pay an editor and a book designer and a cover designer to put out even one book (let alone the several I have waiting), I knew that I couldn’t afford it. Self-publishing felt even more impossible than selling books in New York–I knew how I wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the resources.

So it was with this trapped feeling that I attended the Precision Editing Group’s workshop on indie publishing last fall. The workshop was packed with great information, but the thing that impacted me the most was a presentation by Heather Horrocks. She was talking about the importance of editors, and as a side comment, said something to the effect of, “yes, all my books have now been edited, but when I first got started, I didn’t have an editor because I couldn’t afford it.”

It’s not my intention to suggest that editing isn’t important, because it is. But that one sentence blew my mind. I’d been working with the New York publishing paradigm for fourteen years. And in that world, there are very few ways to be published. You query agents. You send books to publishers. You do your very best to follow all of the guidelines and to do everything perfectly right, hoping to minimize the barriers that stand between you and success as a writer.

But this self-publishing thing was a whole different game. I sat in the audience at the workshop, stunned. That was the moment when I finally realized this truth: there are as many ways to publish as there are people who are publishing. There is no one right way to do it. There are so many things you can do that can help you succeed. It’s better to do something than nothing, because nothing is never the road to success. Even if that means you’re doing it wrong.

So when I got home, I made a list of my assets. Forget about what I lacked. Forget about what I didn’t know. What did I know how to do? What resources did I have access to? And, most importantly, who could I ask for help?

If you’re looking to self-publish, I’d suggest that you do the same. Because here’s the thing–your list of assets is going to be uniquely yours. You have a unique set of skills; you know a unique network of people. You don’t need to worry about who and what you don’t know. Instead, focus on what you do have, what you can do. If you’ve been writing for years, you probably have some book-related skills. If you’re part of a community of writers to which you regularly contribute, you probably have some friends who you’ve helped in the past, or can help in the present, who would be motivated to help you out in return. Start from there, and you can pick up the rest as you go along.

In the end, I did have my book edited (repeatedly!) and my cover designed by a graphic designer. I was able to do that because I had friends who believe in me who were willing to enter into financial agreements that didn’t involve them getting paid in full upfront. I wouldn’t have thought to work out those arrangements when I was focused on doing things right–it was only when I opened my vision to look at what was possible that I began to envision what shape my own unique path might take.

Each path to publication is different, not only for each writer, but also for each book. With all the options available to us, it’s not enough to focus on our feet, doing only the next “right” step. Opportunity is everywhere. Focus on what you have, and even if you don’t win the jackpot on the first try, at least you’ll be playing the game.



How to be a hero in your own house

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on June 17th, 2014

I have four daughters.

My four daughters have long hair.

That long hair finds its way into our drains. (Yes, despite our telling them to get it into that thing called a waste basket.)

Said hair might flow down the pipes. But said hair does not. Life is not that easy. Instead, some evil house spirit catches the hair just as it begins its voyage and turns it from a luscious thing of beauty into a gunky demon of drain death.

You would think that Drano could defeat this black magic. But Drano gets its butt kicked every time. Drano is in the pee-wee league against this thing. Drano is like a kitten. And gunk demons don’t listen to kittens.

So for the last few years, we’d blast with Drano and then still have to stand up to our calves in water when we took a shower. Or wait as the sink decided it might finally slowly empty and leave soap scum, whiskers, and toothpaste on the sides for everyone’s viewing pleasure. And then we had to do the slow clean (I hate the slow clean).

Recently, I was strolling along in a hardware store and saw this.

Zip-it drain cleaning tool

Click on the picture. Get a good look. I bought ye handy yellow flex sword. And I did verily slay the monster lurking in every drain in our  house.

I am the MAN!

If you have drain issues, let me suggest you be the hero and buy your own sword. It’s called the Zip-It drain cleaning tool. If you’re a weird-o, in addition to being the hero, you can also use it to draw forth disgusting things to scare nieces and nephews with. Just saying.


Awakening by Christy Dorrity

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on April 14th, 2014
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Art is a huge part of what draws me to science fiction and fantasy. I still have the Hildebrant LOTR calendars I got back in the early eighties.

On the web you can browse awesome work on and But something that’s been around for much longer is Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. It’s an art annual released each year that highlights the best art produced that year in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and the Surreal.

This year will mark the 21st year of publication.  Spectrum has become the broadest distributed art annual in the world. Having art included in Spectrum is top honors for artists around the globe.

So why am I telling you this?

Well, Devon Dorrity, the guy who helped me pull together my covers,  not only had his sculpture “Queen of the Seas” included in a past annual, but he’s just won a spot in this year’s annual with the cover he created for his wife’s book, Awakening. It’s a big honor.

Here’s the description of how he put it together.

For the book cover for Awakening by Christy Dorrity, Devon Dorrity selected the cover model, Shelbilee Lee, from hundreds of local models.  Jason Morrison, a photographer friend, was hired to do the photoshoot.  Devon purchased the wig, fingernails, and props from Amazon. Then Dennis Dorrity, Devon’s brother, did an illustration of the photo selected from the photoshoot.  Devon then composited the illustration and the photo together blending the two to emphasize the best of both pieces.  After applying various effects and custom color, the piece was finished.

After the book’s publication, Devon submitted the cover to Spectrum with Dennis Dorrity listed as the Artist.  Dennis did the illustration that plays such a heavy role in the finished piece.  Devon was listed as the Art Director/Designer.  Spectrum announced in the end of March that the Awakening book cover was selected for inclusion in The annual.  Spectrum 21 will be released in November 2014.

Awakening: Book One of The Geis is itself a clean young adult fantasy filled with Celtic mythology, magic, romance, and mystery. And it’s been getting great reviews.

“Dorrity invites her readers to a céilí that will quicken the pulse of anyone with Ireland in their blood! AWAKENING will draw you deep into the mysteries of the Celtic worldview—and leave you wanting more of McKayla and her fascinating Aunt Avril!”
– KERSTEN HAMILTON, author of Tyger Tyger and the Goblin Wars books

“I thoroughly enjoyed AWAKENING, a captivating and unique debut novel that creatively integrates Irish dance.”
– CHRIS NAISH, Riverdance member and Creative Director of Fusion Fighters Irish dancers.

5 Stars! “AWAKENING is an exciting mashup of fantasy, action-adventure, and mystery, with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure.”
– KATE MCCURRY, top 100 Amazon reviewer

How many authors do you know who have unlocked the achievement of having someone from Riverdance plug your book? Awakening right now is free. If you like YA fantasy with a bit of romance, this is the perfect time to give this new author a go.

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Murder, Courts, and Bart D. Ehrman

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on April 6th, 2014

I’m going to talk a bit about some murderers in Detroit, Jesus, and a couple of books I recently read that I think are just awesome.


Highers BrothersSo, the murderers.

Let me start by asking this question: can you establish the truth in a court of law?

Is that what the judge and jury are deciding? The Truth, with a capital T?

Think about Tommy and Ray Highers, brothers from Detroit. They were convicted of murder. Open and shut case. No parole. They were two nasty buggers who shot a man down over some dope.

But then twenty-five years later (last year, in fact) they were back in court because new evidence had come to light that undermined the original conviction. For the curious, this awesome Dateline episode reveals the amazing way the evidence came to light and what happened because of it: Watch it. You’ll be happy you did.

So the Truth. Capital T. Can you establish that in a court of law?


What the justice system does is try to determine which story about the evidence available is the most convincing.

It’s about telling and judging stories.

There are many types of evidence folks use when telling their stories. Some of it is very strong. Some is so unreliable, like hunches and hearsay, that the court won’t even allow it to be presented.

Whatever the evidence, the fundamental nature of this is that you can often tell a number of different stories using the same set of data, the same evidence. Sometimes the stories are variations with minor differences. Sometimes the stories are radically different.

It’s like having only some of the pieces of a 100 piece puzzle. You look at the four, twenty, or thirty pieces you have and imagine what the rest of the puzzle looks like. And then you invent something that seems reasonable.

You invent it.

And if that story meets certain standards of proof, then our system allows the authorities to take certain actions. If the standard of a “reasonable suspicion” is met, it allows a police officer to stop someone. If the standard of “probable cause” is met, a higher standard than reasonable suspicion, an officer can arrest you. If a jury in a criminal case decides the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” an even higher standard of proof, then the justice system authorizes the authorities to sentence the defendant.

But at no time does the system seek to establish the absolute truth, the truth with a capital T. It only seeks to establish some level of probability that the story being told about the evidence is true.

All of this is made more complex because what’s “reasonable” is based on other people’s opinion. We have guidelines and rules to help folks be “reasonable.” But reasonableness is still affected by culture, background, history, etc.

It’s still opinion.


What other realm of knowledge works like the justice system and consists of inventing stories about missing parts of the puzzle?

Well, history does.

In fact, if you think about it, history is what courts do. The processes and principles of our justice system guide everyone involved in how they go about telling the stories that make up that specific type of history.

And all historians (lawyers, judges, and juries included) have no means of establishing the absolute truth.

They can’t use science. Science requires you conduct experiments and reproduce results. But how is a historian going to reproduce the same events? What, they’re going to get Lincoln shot all over again and let the rest of us watch it? Dang, John Wilkes Booth did shoot the man. We all saw it happen down in the lab.

Sure, they can use science to date a manuscript, or determine what something is made of, or establish some other fact. But all science is doing is providing facts about the pieces of the puzzle you have. About the claims the evidence makes.

But science can’t fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. It can’t tell the story. The historian has to invent the story that makes the pieces all make sense.

And then the rest of us determine if that story, that sketch of the full puzzle, is reasonable.

But that isn’t all there is to it.


Think about conspiracy theories like the ones that claim that the US government perpetrated the 9/11 bombings. Conspiracy theorists are practicing history. They are inventing a story that seems to fit the evidence available to them.

But what happens when you have only five or ten pieces of a 1,000 piece puzzle? What happens when you don’t thoroughly vet the evidence? What happens when someone screws around with the evidence? And I’m not just talking about tampering or invalidating it by thoughtless handling (contaminating DNA, for example). Folks with the best intentions have biases. In fact, we all have biases that lead us to include and exclude various pieces of evidence based on whether they support or oppose the ideas we want to believe.

Jonathan Haidt explains these biases in his excellent book The Righteous Mind. He explains that with things we want to believe, we often use the standard of “Can I Believe It”?  We look for anything at all that would allow us to believe our position. If we find it, even if it’s flimsy, we discount all the other evidence that may point another way and conclude we have met the burden of proof for our view.

For things that we don’t want to believe, we often use the standard of “Must I Believe It”? When falling prey to this bias, we look for anything at all that would undermine the thing we don’t want to believe, even if that evidence is flimsy. If we find it, we ignore all the other evidence, even if there’s a mountain of it pointing another way, and claim we have met the necessary burden of proof.

In court there are all sorts of procedures and standards that need to be followed to help us avoid invalidating evidence or falling prey to our biases. Those procedures and standards don’t remove all risk. But they do remove a lot.

Which court system would you want to be processed through? The current American justice system or the medieval witch trials?

Oh, for sure I’d want to be someone accused of witchcraft back when a claim of “I saw her as a witch in my dream” was admissible, as was the test of poking a mole on the accused’s body with a needle to see if said witch flinched enough. I’d be so happy to go back to the days when a confession obtained by torture was incontrovertible evidence.

So when practicing history, it’s important to have some guidelines, some rules to establish which bits of evidence are more likely (not guaranteed, but more likely) to be reliable. And it’s important that when folks tell their story, they not only share the evidence, but also all the assumptions they’re making.


Where does Jesus of Nazareth come into all of this?

Misquoting Jesus by Bart D Ehrman

Well, Jesus has affected the world more than any other person who has lived on it. The stories we tell about him (the history we have practiced about him for the last 2,000+ years) have changed the world. And those stories will continue to affect us, especially folks in Western cultures, on everything from foreign policy to which clothes think are fit to be worn in public.

Who was Jesus? Did he really exist? Was he a god? What did he really teach? Have his teachings been changed?

These are all fundamental questions. And for the last two-hundred years historians have been re-examining the pieces of the puzzle, finding new pieces, and telling new stories to explain it all.

Some of these historians believe in Jesus as a god. Some don’t. Either way, the conversation is fascinating.

Jesus Interrupted  Bart D Ehrman

I just read three historical books about Jesus that were awesome. AWESOME. Not because I agreed with all of the author’s conclusions, i.e. his stories. I don’t. But because of the way he practiced his history. The way he told his stories. And because what he shared gave me new insights to my stories about Jesus.

The three books, all by Bart D. Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, are:

  1. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
  2. Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)
  3. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

I’ve read the Bible many times, and I’m a believer. Of course, the question is a believer in which story?

Did Jesus Exist Bart D Ehrman

What Ehrman so engagingly makes clear is that there have indeed been many stories about Jesus. In fact, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the writings of Paul (most of the rest of the New Testament) seem to all portray a different man and message. Not only do they say things that flat out contradict each other on some details, but if you look at each book separately, each author seems to have a slightly different take on Jesus.

Furthermore, it appears that what we now have has changed over time. For example, it seems the last twelve verses of Mark were not in the oldest manuscripts. There have been other changes. One of the more notable ones occurs in John 5:7-8.

Our earliest texts say:

“For there are three that bear record, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

But later texts say:

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

Nowhere else in the New Testament do we have anything that states that creedal doctrine so explicitly. Did John write that? Or was the extra material added to make the idea of the trinity scriptural?

And what do we make of the fact that we have no manuscript that dates to anywhere close to when Jesus lived? We have some small fragments of manuscripts with a few verses of John, Revelation, and Matthew dated around 150 AD. But the oldest manuscripts we have that contain the majority of any of the gospels are for the gospels of Luke and John, and these are dated around 200 AD. The oldest manuscripts with the full New Testament are dated around 350 AD.

That’s more than 300 years after Jesus died!

Have you played the game of telephone? Are we sure that the oral traditions that were written down weren’t changed? What happened to the books mentioned in the Bible that we don’t have now? For example, Jude mentions a prophecy of Enoch that we don’t have in our current Bible. Are we sure that the copyists didn’t add to the text like it seems some did to John?

And what about the term “Christ”? It’s actually the Greek word for “messiah” which just means one anointed with oil to perform a special service for god. Christ wasn’t Jesus’s last name. It was a title: Jesus the anointed one.

The anointed ones in those days were kings and prophets and priests. It appears most of the historical sources suggest that a “messiah” to the Jews of that time was someone who would throw off foreign rule and establish the kingdom of Israel as David had. In fact, there were a whole bunch of people who claimed to be messiahs. Here’s a nice list:

Judas Maccabeus was considered a messiah because he threw off Greek rule in 164 BC. But then around 63 BC Israel was taken over by Rome. And Rome wasn’t too keen on revolts, so around 4 BC they crucified Judas the Galilean for claiming to be the messiah, the king of the Jews. Crucifixion, it seems, was the punishment reserved for seditionists. They crucified Jesus and a whole bunch of other guys claiming to be the king of the Jews. And their crimes were written on a board above them, which is why they hung the words “King of the Jews” over Jesus’s head on the cross. Here’s the criminal, and here’s his crime. These other messiahs were not claiming to be a god that came to earth to atone for sins, but anointed by God to throw off foreign rule and establish his earthly kingdom again.

Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God. Was Jesus just another one of the seditionists?

Ehrman examines these and many other questions as a historian, providing all sorts of insights.

But the fabulous thing is that he doesn’t just tell his story. He gives his evidence. Exposes his assumptions. And in all three books he explains the guidelines or “rules” historians use to when trying to determine which stories are more likely and which evidence is more reliable.

I was enlightened, challenged, and delighted. I learned things about Jesus’s life and times that have helped me understand what I read in the Bible better.


Of course, the historical method has its limits.

Historians, because they are looking for explanations (stories) that are more probable, automatically select against things that are improbable. They exclude miracles. They exclude any story that says Christ was actually resurrected.  They may establish that a lot of folks thought he was resurrected, but they don’t have any methods to establish something like a resurrection actually occurred. And so they ignore it. Historians exclude modern revelation. If someone today were to have a visitation from Jesus as Paul did, the historians would exclude that.

But we all know that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. We all know that sometimes the less likely thing is exactly what occurred.

Historians are looking for what is most probable. Not what actually happened. Because they can’t go back and time and verify their story.

Excluding “improbable” things changes the types of stories the pieces of the puzzle support. For many of us, me included, we do accept evidences many historians don’t as pieces of the puzzle. And because we have these pieces, we’re able to tell different types of stories.

The cool thing about Ehrman is that he explains this. He’s not trying to hide anything. Instead, he’s explaining how to approach the Bible from a historical point of view, and where the principles of the historical method lead him.

And I have found that those methods in his hands have a lot to offer.

If you’re someone who is interested in religion–as a believer, agonistic, or atheist–you will love these books. Ehrman himself was once an ardent believer, but is now agnostic. However, his respect for believers, including other scholars in his field who believe in the divine Jesus, comes through loud and clear. Ehrman has no axe to grind. He is simply sharing the stories of Jesus that make sense to him and many other historians. And he does it in a very interesting and easy-to-read style.

If these books sound like something you want to try, I’d start with Misquoting Jesus, move to Jesus Interrupted, and then finish with Did Jesus Exist? And if you enjoy those, let me recommend two more of Ehrman’s books. The first is The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed, which looks at the discovery and content of a very ancient manuscript that calls itself The Gospel of Judas. The second is Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, which explores the variety of Christian faiths that existed in the few hundred years after Jesus’s death.

Happy reading!

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