Additions to my best books of the year list

by on December 24, 2017 at 12:45 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Since my longer, full list (and for fiction), more has come out, or I have become aware of some omissions, listed here:

The Valmiki Ramayana, translated by Bibek Debroy.  I have only browsed this so far, but it is definitely worthy of mention.

Peter Guardino, Dead March: History of the Mexican-American War.  The link brings you to my commentary.

Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream: A Novel, [Distancia de Rescate].

Navid Kermani, Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity.  My review is behind the link.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own.  Ditto, a real favorite.

Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.  At first this was slated for my 2018 list, but it turns out the Kindle edition is out now, so it gets to make both lists.

The New Testament, translated by David Bentley Hart.

Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson.  I haven’t read this yet, but it is getting consistently rave reviews.

Karl Sigmund, Exact Thinking in Demented Times.  Again, a review is behind the link.

1 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 1:05 am

1. The Valmiki Ramayana holds the distinction of being the first “poem” in classical Sanskrit. Most scholars date it to the period of 400BCE to 0AD. All Sanskrit literature “before” Valmiki Ramayana is pre-classical, i.e not adhering to the strict grammar rules laid down by the Sanskrit Grammarian Panini (who by the way was a native of modern Pakistan / Afghanistan border – which suggests a strong civilizational unity across the subcontinent prior to Islam – which modern Pakistani historiography denies).

This pre-classical literature includes the Vedas, the Upanisads, several early law books, as well as large parts of Mahabharata. Many portions of these pre-classical texts contain verses and sentences that Panini would deem “ungrammatical”.

Valmiki Ramayan is thus significant in being the “Adi Kavya” (the first poem) – a clear break from pre-classical free-wheeling literary style, and the birth of classical Sanskrit.

Ramayana, the poem, is noted for its lyricism and poetic perfection. As a story, it is not quite as subtle and philosophical as the Mahabharata, but as a literary work it is superior to the Mahabharata. More compact, more moving, and of course more popular than Mahabharata in the lived tradition at least in Northern India. Mahabharata is arguably more popular than Ramayana in Southern India

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2 Dmitri Helios December 24, 2017 at 3:35 am

So was Tamil Sangam literature written about the same time the Valmiki Ramayana was written?

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3 Adrian Ratnapala December 24, 2017 at 6:10 am

Presumably, it didn’t exist at all, thanks to the “strong civilizational unity across the subcontinent prior to Islam”. Dravidian civilisation is like Paraguay.

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4 Fox clamantis in deserto December 24, 2017 at 7:03 am

It seems strong, but it is actually a paper tiger?

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5 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 8:05 am

The word “Dravida” itself is a Sanskrit word. In traditional literature it doesn’t denote a separate civilization but a geographical region south of the Vindhyas.

The terms Aryan and Dravidian, as used in modern academic literature, denote the different language families, not civilizations.

Regardless of language, the civilization is Indian. Be it north or south.

Southern India, in fact, has been the epicenter of Indo-Aryan civilization atleast since 700AD.

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6 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 7:38 am

Sangam literature dates to roughly 100BC to 500AD. The great Sangam era epics like Silappadikaram and grammar works like Tolkappiam are atleast 2-3 centuries after the composition of Ramayana.

Contrary to the claims of the Dravidian movement, Ramayana is a much loved epic in Tamil lands. Kamban’s Ramaavataram is a major major literary work in Tamil composed in 12th century and is far more theistic in its orientation than Valmiki Ramayana.

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7 Marquis Jackson December 25, 2017 at 1:19 am

“Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. I haven’t read this yet, but it is getting consistently rave reviews.”

How u gonna claim da work of da Whyte man B-good wit out weading it?

Dis what I kall Whyte supremacy. U Whyte people just stick up for each other wit out hesitation.

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8 different take December 24, 2017 at 4:55 am

Tyler might like to know that Rama was the original Indian upper-caste racist killer, such as when he encounters a Shudra (low-caste) ascetic performing penance and murders him because only upper castes could do such things. From “The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri”:

“On this that Prince [Rama] approached the one who had given himself up to rigorous practices and said “Blessed art thou, O Ascetic, who art faithful to thy vows ! From what caste art thou sprung… I am interested in this matter, I, Rama, the son of Dasaratha … Art thou a brahmin ? Art thou an invincible Kshatriya? Art thou a Vaishya, one of the third caste or art thou a Shudra? Answer me truthfully ! … [The ascetic] answered ‘Oh Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance…’ As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head. The Shudra being slain, all the Gods and their leaders with Agni’s followers, cried out, “Well done! Well done!” overwhelming Rama with praise, and a rain of celestial flowers of divine fragrance fell on all sides…”

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9 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 7:41 am

That’s just selective citing.

Rama was an epitome of virtue. A man who chose not to annex Lanka, but instead enthrone Vibhishana, the virtuous king of the Rakshasa clan.

Rama was also consistently a friend of the downtrodden, as evidenced by his deep friendship with the Nishada (low caste hunter) king of central India.

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10 Vox clamanris in deserto December 24, 2017 at 8:12 am

As in Hitler killed millions of people and started a World War, but he did good things, too!

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11 Jaldhar December 24, 2017 at 9:16 am

Ah nice to hear from a Rama bhakta. As the Ramayana tells us, reciting the deeds of Shri Rama bring blessings to people of all the varnas. Unfortunately you’ve got some of the facts wrong.

During His forest exile Shri Rama meets a ascetic (and a woman to boot!) called Shabari who as her name suggests is an Adivasi (aboriginal. Perhaps one of those Gonds you mention.) Not only does he not behead her, he accepts her meagre offering of food. She is regarded as an epitome of bhakti. So at the very least we can say that the Ramayanas’ attitude towards Shudra ascetics is not as simplistic as you think.

In fact according to Bhavabhutis Uttara Rama Charita Shambuka was a devayoni (minor celestial being) who fell out of favor and was exiled from Heaven. Only contact from an Avatara could release him so he deliberately set himself up to be killed by Shri Rama. On being beheaded, he resumes his divine form and returns to Heaven in the aforementioned rain of flowers. Admittedly I haven’t checked if this is in the Valmiki Ramayana but you are ok with 300 different versions so you won’t mind 301 I’m sure.

Ravana is traditionally portrayed as a Brahmana. He is supposedly the founder of various medical, musical, and esoteric traditions and a great devotee of Shiva Bhagavan. One story about the famous tirtha (place of pilgrimage) Rameshvaram is that the form of Shiva there was set up by Shri Rama himself as an expiation for killing Ravana, a Brahmana and a Shiva bhakta. (So to hammer home the point not a downtrodden lower-caste.) How Ravana got mixed up with Dravidians I don’t know. Sinhala is an Indo-Aryan language not Dravidian and the modern people of Shri Lanka do not consider themselves culturally Dravidian in any way. (You might remember a recent contretemps they were having with their Tamil minority?)

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12 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 9:25 am

Jaldhar : Welcome! Fine comment.

Moreover I must add that the Dravidians have in fact been great Rama Bhaktas through the ages.

Kulasekhara Azhwar (not a brahmin) is one of the legendary kings of Kerala who composed devotional hymns in both Tamil and Sanskrit valorizing Rama and Krishna. (works : Mukundamala (Sanskrit), Perumal Thirumozhi (Tamil)).

Kambar’s rendering of Ramayana in Tamil is far more theistic than Valmiki’s. And the medieval Tamils were more enthusiastic in elevating Rama to the status of a major deity than even North indians of the classical period. Rama bhakti in 12th century TN was definitely greater than Rama bhakti in North India circa 5th century AD.

So it is ironical to position Dravidians as being anti-Rama. Dravidian culture has played a very important role in the elevation of Rama as both a human ideal and as an avataar.

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13 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 9:33 am

Here’s a devotional song in the Carnatic classical tradition composed by Arunachala Kavirayar, the 18th century Tamil poet.

A song that describes Hanuman’s tyst with Sita. Deeply moving. Very much a Tamil song. Reflects the depth and intensity of Rama love in the Tamil country in 18th century.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5dPtkcGlj8

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14 Jaldhar December 24, 2017 at 9:37 am

uh sorry not Gond. You mentioned Santals.

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15 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 9:48 am

The guy mentioned both Gonds and Santals in separate comments

By the way, Hanuman is a highly revered God among many adivasi tribals of central India. Here’s a link that talks of hanuman love among the Mathang tribe.

https://medium.com/setuu-hanuman/when-i-met-lord-hanuman-c19abe99ebb8

16 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 11:09 pm

“Ravana is traditionally portrayed as a Brahmana”

This may be disputed though, don’t you think. He is a product of an inter-caste marriage, to be more precise. Father was a brahmin, while his mother was a Rakshasi.

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17 freethinker December 24, 2017 at 8:23 pm

Isn’t it sad that such a great epic is being mutilated by a bunch of Hindu fanatics whose whole focus is on building a temple for Rama, based on real or imaginary historical wrongs?

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18 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Maybe it is sad when viewed in isolation.

But HIndu politics is more complex than just an irrational demand for a Rama temple. It is linked in part to the second class stature of Hindus and Hindu culture in North India for the past 700-800 years (think of the Jaziya tax). It is linked to the deracination of Hindu elites and the resultant indignation at the cultural discontinuity introduced by foreign rule. It is also most importantly linked to the development of the modern secular state in a religious country, and the explicit appeasement of “minorities” carried out by the state. And the frustration of the majority at the same.

I am not for or against a Ram temple in Ayodhya. But the demand for it is a complex outcome of the rise of neo-reaction, which was in part inevitable.

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19 shrikanthk December 25, 2017 at 6:29 am

Another brilliant talk on the subject –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJrrJqKm4-o

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20 shrikanthk December 25, 2017 at 5:18 am

A talk on the case for Ram temple in Ayodhya. Leave aside one’s prejudice and listen with a free mind

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQUqxaHFYF4&feature=youtu.be

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21 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 1:27 am

1. Continuing on 1, Valmiki Ramayana has probably impacted day to day Indian life more than any other Indian book.

– In terms of its philosophy it is a decidedly conservative work, i.e more austere and puritanical in its outlook on life than the Mahabharata. And this aspect of Ramayana makes it both much loved among conservatives and much bemoaned among many modern liberals. Central to Ramayana is the contrast drawn between “Shreyas” (doing the right thing) and “Preyas” (doing the pleasing thing). The protagonist Rama, consistently favors Shreyas over Preyas at almost every juncture in the epic.

– Another important point to note about Ramayana is its celebration of monogamy and romantic love. Hindu society in the Vedic period (pre 500BCE), was not strictly monogamous. Nor is it very evident that monogamy was an ideal. But Ramayana clearly changed cultural preferences in a very decisive way. Unlike Mahabharata heroes, Rama the protagonist here is one-wife king and goes to great lengths to protect his marriage driven to a significant extent by romantic love.

This idealized form of romantic love (which transcends sex) is found to a remarkable extent in Ramayana. And is unusual in the world literature of that period. Ancient Greek / Latin literature do not glorify romance as much. And it might be said that the kind of romantic love between man and wife found in Ramayana, became fashionable in literature much later in Elizabethan period – with Shakespeare’s plays like Romeo and Juliet.

While traditional hindu law did not proscribe polygamy, it is the romantic ideal in classical literature, particularly Ramayana, which is the foundation of the modern Hindu deification of monogamy.

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22 different take December 24, 2017 at 3:46 am

1. Ramayana is story of Aryan king Rama from North India, who was cuckolded by powerful Dravidian King Ravana of Sri Lanka, then invaded Sri Lanka with help of South Indians (who are cruelly derided as monkeys). Many indigenous people of South India hate Ramayana and the Aryan invaders and celebrate King Ravana: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/omar-rashid-on-ravan-worship/article7799972.ece

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23 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 8:33 am

Valmiki makes no reference to any monkeys. He talks of “Vanaras” which in Sanskrit means “forest dwellers”. It is a different matter that in later centuries, Vanaras were portrayed as ape-men by artists and mythologists. That is artistic license.

Hinduism is not a anthropocentric religion. So depiction of monkeys isn’t derision. Hanuman, the most formidable of Vanaras, is a much revered deity across India. Among high and low. North and South. Upper caste and low caste.

Hanuman is a character who signifies wisdom, steadfastness, goodwill, devotion, single mindedness, force, strength.

It is hard to find a more sterling mythological character in all of Indian literature. And you call this derision?

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24 different take December 24, 2017 at 4:07 am

http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/omar-rashid-on-ravan-worship/article7799972.ece

“Then in sync, everyone — men, women and children — bursts into a staccato of chanting, their arms flung into the air: Jai Gondwana! Jai Seva! Jai Raja Ravan! Raja Ravanna Seva!”

“In a clash of cultures, the Aryans distorted Gond history. Ravan dahan started only in 1838 in Nagpur. We have been worshipping Ravan for ages,” says Motiravan Kangale, a retired Reserve Bank of India official and Gondi scholar. Spurred by his opposition to the annual immolation of Ravan in his youth, Kangale had changed his name from Motiram to Motiravan.

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25 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 8:38 am

While essays like 300 Ramayanas that you have linked to have their place, they do not represent the best of Ramayana scholarship.

I highly recommend “Lectures on Ramayana” by Rt Hon VS Srinivasa Sastri, the silver tongued orator who was famed for his rhetoric, and diplomacy during the first few decades of the 20th century.

Here’s the link to the book –

https://www.amazon.in/Lectures-Ramayana-Honourable-Srinivasa-Sastri/dp/8185988315

Tidbit – Sastri was the son of a very poor village priest who rose to great heights in his career. Lord Balfour , the former British Prime Minister, regarded him as one of the five best rhetoricians in English in the world

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26 bop December 24, 2017 at 12:20 pm

An economist is an instrument, a machine that has no value without facts figures, and statistics ; the most he can do is to define the relationship between one fact and other, between on figure and another. As for making figures say one thing rather than another, that is the concern of rulers and politicians. The world i s no need of more politicians. No, this Mustafa Saeed of yours was not an economist to be trusted.

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27 Coop December 24, 2017 at 2:04 am

Is he fucking with us? (New Test, Homer etc.)

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28 chedolf December 24, 2017 at 3:08 am

All Tyler Cowen reviews follow this model:

TC: “The best Chinese restaurant Washington, D.C. has had, ever…is in a dump of a roadside motel… You need to…go under an unpromising overpass back to a service road, eventually the move will pay off, if it doesn’t feel wrong you are not doing right.”

Commenter who understands TC: “The fact that it looks like a dumpster and is difficult to get to is obviously most of the ‘appeal’. If you found a restaurant that stank of urine and required an unadvertised bus route to get to, I’m sure you’d like it better.”

Natasha Cowen: “That’s what I always say!”

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29 bop December 24, 2017 at 12:21 pm

+1

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30 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 2:24 am

Regarding Iliad / Odyssey – Which English translation is best recommended for a newbie? I’d like a prose translation. But do prose translations compromise too much on accuracy and fidelity? Are verse translations easy to comprehend (for someone not too familiar with the epic)?

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31 Thor December 24, 2017 at 3:26 am

Read the Richard Lattimore.

I love Peter Green too, for his Iliad and everything he’s published to be honest. (Christopher Hitchens got me to read Green’s biography of Alexander the Great and then I was hooked.).

And perhaps have glance at the minimalist version of Stanley Lombardo. But Lattimore wins for a bunch of reasons.

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32 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 7:50 am

Thanks!

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33 Anon. December 24, 2017 at 11:46 am

I’d go with Lombardo over Lattimore. First Lines:

Lombardo:

Rage:
Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades’ dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon–
The Greek warlord–and godlike Achilles.

Lattimore:

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus. . . .

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34 efim polenov December 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm

For the Iliad, Lattimore is a good choice. Fitzgerald is good too – and there is the benefit that, if you wonder how a great and beloved American poet like Wallace Stevens or someone like that would have translated Homer, you can learn that from some of the good lines (and there are hundreds of them) in Fitzgerald’s translation.

With few exceptions, almost all post-Victorian translations are “prose”, inasmuch as “free verse”, which most of them are, is sort of like prose.

The Andrew Lang translation (out of copyright since mid-century – not this mid-century, the previous one) is a good comparison point to see what you might be missing (from a dreamtime (aboriginal) or golden age (Mediterranean) or saga time (Norse)) ‘created world’ point of view – think Walter Scott, William Morris, E.R. Eddison….). If you know even a little bit of French, the Leconte de Lisle translation is intoxicatingly good (Proust and his friends were big fans, if I remember correctly) – as are, for a few lines at a time, the Lattimore and the Fitzgerald.

If English is your second language, I would go with Lattimore as the first choice, and I would read a few episodes in the Fitzgerald version and the Andrew Lang version. If English is your first language, Fitzgerald might be more rewarding, but they are both good. Book one, the last dozen lines of book eight, the Sarpedon episodes, the Hector and Andromache episode, the Helen and Paris episodes, and all of Book 24 really need to be read in several versions, anyway.

That being said, I have not read Emily Wilson’s version of the Odyssey – I am sure there are lots of good English translations of Homer I have not read. There are some really bad ones, too, but I think they are all more or less out of print, so no need to discuss them.

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35 shrikanthk December 25, 2017 at 4:27 am

Thanks everyone!

will try Lattimore

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36 clockwork_prior December 24, 2017 at 2:48 am

‘At first this was slated for my 2018 list, but it turns out the Kindle edition is out now, so it gets to make both lists.’

Amazing how that works out when it comes to the excellent round robin aspect of linking here.

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37 different take December 24, 2017 at 3:43 am

1. Ramayana is story of Aryan king Rama from North India, who was cuckolded by powerful Dravidian King Ravana of Sri Lanka, then invaded Sri Lanka with help of South Indians (who are cruelly derided as monkeys). Many indigenous people of South India hate Ramayana and the Aryan invaders and celebrate King Ravana: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/omar-rashid-on-ravan-worship/article7799972.ece

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38 different take December 24, 2017 at 3:56 am

THREE HUNDRED RAMAYANAS – http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/three-hundred-ramayanas

“When we enter the world of Jain tellings, the Rama story no longer carries Hindu values. Indeed the Jain texts express the feeling that the Hindus, especially the brahmans, have maligned Ravana, made him into a villain. Here is a set of questions that a Jain text begins by asking: ‘How can monkeys vanquish the powerful raksasa warriors like Ravana? How can noble men and Jain worthies like Ravana eat flesh and drink blood?….Ravana is not a demon, he is not a cannibal and a flesh eater. Wrong-thinking poetasters and fools tell these lies.’”

“Vimalasuri the Jain opens the story not with Rama’s genealogy and greatness, but with Ravana’s. Ravana is one of the sixty-three leaders or salakapurusas of the Jain tradition. He is noble, learned, earns all his magical powers and weapons through austerities (tapas), and is a devotee of Jain masters.”

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39 Vox clamantis in deserto December 24, 2017 at 7:05 am

“How can monkeys vanquish the powerful raksasa warriors like Ravana?”
Indeed. How? Unless it is all a farce.

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40 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 7:54 am

While there are no doubt many regional renderings of Ramayanas, many of which have a subaltern lens, the three dominant versions – which include Valmiki’s (Sanskrit), Kamban’s (Tamil) and Tulsi’s (Hindi), are all largely consistent with each other and project Rama as a protector of Dharma and good conduct.

Rama Rajya to this day is a phrase that denotes a well administered kingdom. It is a phrase that Gandhi invoked repeatedly during the freedom struggle, as his ideal.

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41 Jaldhar December 24, 2017 at 9:34 am

There is also a Buddhist jataka story (Dasharatha Jataka) where Shri Rama is a previous incarnation of the Buddha. So what? Once a story becomes culturally influential it spawns imitations, parodies and all sorts of other renditions. Christopher Moore wrote a comic “Gospel” according to Jesus’s childhood pal Biff. What relevance does that have for any discussion of Christianity or Western civilization?

Also you might like to try verifying the blog articles you read by consulting the primary sources. (Or, you know, actually talking to a Jain? Or even the Wikipedia article for God’s sake.) In Trishashtisalakapurusha. Ravana is one of the 9 prati-vasudevas or prati-narayanas. In each world-cycle they are fated to be reborn in order to be killed by one of the nine Avataras of Vishnu (Vasudeva, Narayana) who are also Salaka purushas (which btw means “upright” or notable men not leaders.) Yes these anti-heros have good qualities too but they are still there for the express purpose of being killed. In fact that is the point of Jain agnosticism. Even villains have their good points so ultimately non-violence is the only logical choice.

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42 different take December 24, 2017 at 4:01 am

THREE HUNDRED RAMAYANAS – http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/three-hundred-ramayanas

“The Santals, a tribe known for their extensive oral traditions, even conceive of Sita as unfaithful—to the shock and horror of any Hindu bred on Valmiki or Kampan, she is seduced both by Ravana and by Laksmana.”

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43 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 7:56 am

Sure, but why should we bother with the Santal versions?

There is an original text. The text authored by Valmiki. A text that has inspired Indian civilization. Take it or leave it.

Sure, there is room for retellings. But not every retelling is equal. Some are privileged and rightly so.

The retellings of Kamban and Tulsi are rightly celebrated. For good reason.

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44 different take December 24, 2017 at 4:18 am

I encourage Tyler and others on this blog to learn about the diversity of Ramayanas here: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/three-hundred-ramayanas (a piece by noted scholar A.K. Ramanujan who taught at the University of Chicago) and https://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft3j49n8h7&chunk.id=d0e97

Tyler might consider reading this book next: Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia – https://www.amazon.com/Many-Ramayanas-Diversity-Narrative-Tradition/dp/0520075897

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45 different take December 24, 2017 at 4:50 am

1. Tyler might like to know that Rama was the original Indian upper-caste racist killer, such as when he encounters a Shudra (low-caste) ascetic performing penance and murders him because only upper castes could do such things. From “The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri”:

“On this that Prince [Rama] approached the one who had given himself up to rigorous practices and said “Blessed art thou, O Ascetic, who art faithful to thy vows ! From what caste art thou sprung… I am interested in this matter, I, Rama, the son of Dasaratha … Art thou a brahmin ? Art thou an invincible Kshatriya? Art thou a Vaishya, one of the third caste or art thou a Shudra? Answer me truthfully ! … [The ascetic] answered ‘Oh Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance…’ As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head. The Shudra being slain, all the Gods and their leaders with Agni’s followers, cried out, “Well done! Well done!” overwhelming Rama with praise, and a rain of celestial flowers of divine fragrance fell on all sides…”

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46 rayward December 24, 2017 at 5:28 am

I am simultaneously impressed and bemused by Cowen’s appreciation of the Bible and, in particular, the New Testament. Cowen even included the Bible in his list of the most important books, ever. For non-believers, the New Testament is important because it influences 2.5 billion people, roughly a third of the world’s population. Of course, for believers, it contains the principles of our faith, in particular, Grace. I’ve devoted a great deal of my time in the past five to ten years learning the New Testament, and separating what is likely fact from myth. The Bible may be the world’s best selling book, but few Christians have even read the New Testament. I suppose that’s because they think they know what’s in it. They don’t. Read it. But read it as theology, not history. For a little fun, I suggest today’s column by Ross Douthat. I very much enjoy Douthat’s column. He is what I would describe as earnest. And his habit of unintentional irony always entertains. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/23/opinion/alien-encounters-christmas-ufo.html

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47 shrikanthk December 24, 2017 at 8:10 am

What are some of the major ideological differences between the Old and the New testaments?

I understand the theology is altogether different. But are there certain “virtues” that are celebrated in the Hebrew Bible but not in the Greek Bible or vice versa?

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48 uair01 December 24, 2017 at 8:57 am

That’s almost impossible to answer. The Old Testament is a whole library and so is the New Testament. It’s a collage. Like the good priest that taught me my catechism used to say: “… unlike the Koran, the Bible did not descend from the heavens in one piece, it was written by humans and you can see that …”

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49 uair01 December 24, 2017 at 8:53 am

Ross Douhat’s column is nice but readers of the Fortean Times magazine (or forum) already know most of that. http://forum.forteantimes.com/index.php I like the last paragraph very much: “… when the true God enters his creation, he does so honestly, straightforwardly, in a vulnerable and fully human form …”. If you do too, you might like this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15929332-unapologetic

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50 Vox clamantis in deserto December 24, 2017 at 10:46 am
51 Anon. December 24, 2017 at 11:44 am

There’s a reason that Odyssey is receiving rave reviews…I don’t think it’s because it’s good ,though. Here’s an excerpt from the TLS review:

>There is a difference, however, between avoiding vocabulary that is tinged with racism, and rehabilitating the Cyclops as a “maimed non-Greek person” with whom the poem has “a certain amount of sympathy and even admiration”. Wilson calls Book Nine “A Pirate in a Shepherd’s Cave”, a title that paints Odysseus as the bad guy and the Cyclops as the victim. For her, the Cyclops and his people are not “lawless”, as the Greek has it, but “mavericks”. It is as if the killing and eating of Odysseus’ men were incidental details.

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52 Thor December 24, 2017 at 11:55 am

That’s what I was afraid of.

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53 Thor December 24, 2017 at 11:57 am

Everyone’s a victim now, not getting the respect their (unique) culture merits.

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54 dearieme December 24, 2017 at 12:33 pm

The NT: the reviewer bangs on about the difficulties of translation, meaning Greek to English, before he finally acknowledges that there was an earlier layer of translation from Aramaic to Greek. And that’s assuming that any of the evangelists were treated to verbatim accounts of Jesus’s words, which there is no compelling reason to believe. And even supposing that they had been, you have to make allowance for all the errors and inventions that subsequent scribes will have introduced as the documents were copied repeatedly. But how can you make such an allowance with confidence? No wonder some Christians like to cut the Gordian knot by treating the whole shemozzle as the inspired, or even inerrant, word of God. In which case why not just cut to the chase and assume that the members of King James’s committee were also inspired and inerrant, and use their translation?

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55 dearieme December 24, 2017 at 12:34 pm

The NT: the reviewer bangs on about the difficulties of translation, meaning Greek to English, before he finally acknowledges that there was an earlier layer of translation from Aramaic to Greek. And that’s assuming that any of the evangelists were treated to verbatim accounts of Jesus’s words, which there is no compelling reason to believe. And even supposing that they had been, you have to make allowance for all the errors and inventions that subsequent scribes will have introduced as the documents were copied repeatedly. But how can you make such an allowance with confidence? No wonder some Christians like to cut the Gordian knot by treating the whole shemozzle as the inspired, or even inerrant, word of God. In which case why not just cut to the chase and assume that the members of King James’s committee were also inspired and inerrant, and use their translation?

Still, at least Christians can discuss this sort of thing without risking their lives. Some things have improved in the last few hundred years, eh?

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56 Efim Polenov December 24, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Actually, Dearieme, as you are undoubtedly aware, the King James Version is considered by many to be a divinely inspired translation. I don’t think it is, but many people think so – you can look it up.

The Septuagint (what a complicated, difficult sounding word) is for some people “the miracle that happened when many Greek translators, working in different places, miraculously translated each and every word of the Hebrew scriptures perfectly”. Sure it is for many people just a stuffy old word for something Greeks did long ago, when Greeks were doing lots of things none of which we really still care about —- but there are many people, with good understanding of linguistics, who consider the Septuagint to be miraculously accurate, as if, for once in a thousand centuries, words could be correctly translated from one language to another.

By the way, John wrote his Gospel while enjoying a vision of God’s world, Mark wrote his Gospel with the saintly help of Peter, the chief of apostles, and Luke was the most intelligent person of his day(one of the few people of the ancient world who actually had reliable medical skills), with a decent style in his native Greek language. Matthew’s gospel is what it is – I don’t know if you can read Greek. If you can, you are probably impressed with his literary skills (the classicists who like to drone on about how poorly written the Greek of the New Testament is are generally not being honest – take my word for it). If you can’t read Greek, feel free to wade in – you only need to learn about fifty vocabulary words and a few grammatical rules for any given chapter in the New Testament. Languages are not hard for human beings to learn – we were designed to learn languages.

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57 rayward December 24, 2017 at 10:28 pm

The first English translation of the Bible was by William Tyndale in 1535. New Testament scholars say that roughly 90% of the King James Version is based on Tyndale’s translation. The King James Version may have been divinely inspired, but for his efforts, Tyndale was burned at the stake for the crime of heresy.

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58 byomtov December 24, 2017 at 6:32 pm

At first this was slated for my 2018 list, but it turns out the Kindle edition is out now, so it gets to make both lists.

This speaks volumes.

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59 rayward December 24, 2017 at 10:20 pm

Ms. Wilson was interviewed today on public radio. She is the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English. The interview provided much insight into what she was trying to do, which I would not have known absent the interview. Anyone interested in reading an updated English translation should listen to Ms. Wilson before reading her translation.

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60 Rohan Jolly December 26, 2017 at 6:01 am

It never fails to surprise me how much reading these guys manage to cover in the same 24 hours we all get. True Economists are indeed are rare and gifted breed.

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61 Rob December 30, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Gaping lacuna: Mercier & Sperber’s THE ENIGMA OF REASON.

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