Daily Archives: 2016-02-07 22:42:33 UTC

This book looks interesting

vanguardLook forward to reading this one:

Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by Afshon Ostovar:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are one of the most important forces in the Middle East today. As the appointed defender of Iran’s revolution, the Guards have evolved into a pillar of the Islamic Republic and the spearhead of its influence. Their sway has spread across the Middle East, where the Guards have overseen loyalist support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria and been a staunch backer in Iraq’s war against ISIS-bringing its own troops, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite militias to the fight. Links to terrorism, human rights abuses, and the suppression of popular democracy have shrouded the Revolutionary Guards in controversy.

In spite of their prominence, the Guards remain poorly understood to outside observers. InVanguard of the Imam, Afshon Ostovar has written the first comprehensive history of the organization. Situating the rise of the Guards in the larger contexts of Shiite Islam, modern Iranian history, and international affairs, Ostovar takes a multifaceted approach in demystifying the organization and detailing its evolution since 1979. Politics, power, and religion collide in this story, wherein the Revolutionary Guards transform from a rag-tag militia established in the midst of revolutionary upheaval into a military and covert force with a global reach.

The Guards have been fundamental to the success of the Islamic revolution. The symbiotic relationship between them and Iran’s clerical rulers underpins the regime’s nearly unshakeable system of power. The Guards have used their privileged position at home to export Iran’s revolution beyond its borders, establishing client armies in their image and extending Iran’s strategic footprint in the process. Ostovar tenaciously documents the Guards’ transformation into a power-player and explores why the group matters now more than ever to regional and global affairs. The book simultaneously serves as a history of modern Iran, and provides a crucial and engrossing entryway into the complex world of war, politics, and identity in the Middle East.

Scholars Doing Over Lay Readers with Apologetics

pitreA few pebbles dropped (by Michael BirdJames McGrath, Anthony Le Donne and Brant Pitre) into the pond of bible studies blogs alerting me to a new book by Brant Pitre, Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Brant Pitre recently joined The Jesus Blog as a regular contributor alongside James Crossley, Anthony Le Donne, Chris Keith, Christine Jacobi and most recently Rafael Rodríguez. The new book is “not written for scholars” (p. 10) but the blurb recommendations do assure us that

  • it “will benefit both scholars and laymen who read it” (Trent Horn),
  • its author “has a unique talent for putting scholarly work of the highest caliber into an accessible and engaging form” (Mary Healy),
  • it is the work of “wide-ranging research and careful rethinking” (Craig Keener),
  • it is an “important book” written by “one of America’s most brilliant young scholars” (Chris Tilling),
  • it’s content is “all supported by top-notch scholarship.” (Nicholas Perrin).

So scholarly book-lover that I am I grabbed a copy and started reading. I could not put it down. I’m normally a slow reader of scholarly books, taking time to check and follow up footnotes, backtracking to be sure I am registering the flow of argument, etc. But I finished The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ all within a few hours.

The experience reminded me of delving into books published by my old religious cult many years ago, proving decisively and with impeccable logic and thorough research that the Bible really was the word of God, genuine scholarship proved that fact, and all modern scholarship that cast doubts on this was under the sway of the stubborn minds who refused to read the evidence seriously and foolishly relegated the Gospels to folklore and fairy tales. Form criticism was likened to the folly of that favourite juvenile Telephone Game that only works because the players don’t take the message they are asked to relay seriously and make up any old thing as they pass it along.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having a difference of opinion, or interpretation of the evidence. But a scholar surely has a responsibility to treat lay readers with enough respect to keep them informed of where his or her views sit in relation to those of his or her peers. I once asked a linguist about a particular theory of the nature of language and he began his response with, “Well, it depends who you ask….” He did not give me his own view as if it was “the truth”. He told me a range of views and the basic reasons for each and then gave his own. That’s how a scholar shows a lay person respect.

It’s not like that among some biblical scholars. Some of them, like Brant Pitre, take the opportunity to deliver a propaganda message and try to convert you to their belief system. Along they way they invite you to scoff at other scholars who disagree. They are write dogmatically, fanning dogmatism among readers.  read more »