Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: 12 Years A Slave (Solomon Northup)

I've been reading for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I loved the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. In fifth grade, our teacher would let us read for half an hour while she played Enya from a CD player. I may have been one of the only kids in that class who looked forward to reading time.

Most writers enjoy reading and they write what they enjoy reading about. I enjoy reading about history, technology, travel, and action / adventure fiction. I write about all of those subjects as well. I also enjoy horror and mysteries, but I haven't quite figured out how to write in those genres yet.

Lately, I read during my lunch break at work. It's been that way for months. I've finished several novels that way and my most recent read was 12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup. I've decided to write up my review of the book and add a little background history for those of you who don't know what it's about. I will keep it brief, because I would encourage everyone to read this book themselves instead of just finding out what happened to Solomon Northup on Wikipedia.

Twelve Years A Slave is the true account written by Solomon Northup of a free black man living in New York who was sold into slavery. Solomon was born to a freed slave and a free black woman in New York. He could read, write, and play the violin. He owned land in Hebron, New York and was a farmer. He married Anne Hampton (a woman of mixed ancestry) and they had three children. While they primarily subsisted from farming, they also found other work on the side. Solomon was occasionally hired as a violinist and that is what happened in 1841.

Two white men who claimed to be part of a traveling circus paid Solomon to accompany them to Washington D.C. as a violinist. He was to play the violin while they performed. They suggested that he acquire papers to prove that he was a free black man, as slavery was still legal in Washington D.C. He traveled with them to D.C., earning a decent wage, until he woke up one morning in a cell. He was beaten until he would no longer claim that he was free. He was also told that if he ever told anyone that he was free, they would torture and then kill him.

They took his name from him and simply called him Platt. He was sold as a fugitive slave from Georgia and he worked as a slave for twelve years. I'm not going to give you all the details of what ultimately happened to him. I want you to read the book. This is one of the greatest cases against slavery ever made and it was made by a literate, interesting, black man who had more skill for writing than many of the people of his day (and probably most of the people living now.) ONE MINOR SPOILER: I couldn't help but laugh when Solomon took the whip from one of his masters, turned on him, and whipped him. I really didn't see that coming.

His book was also made into a movie featuring Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch in 2013 that won several academy awards. I'm going to provide links to the ebook (which has spent a considerable amount of time in the Top 100 on Amazon), the paperback, and the movie.

Ebook: 12 Years a Slave [Ebook]
Paperback: 12 Years a Slave [Paperback]
DVD: 12 Years a Slave [DVD]
Blu-Ray: 12 Years a Slave [Blu-Ray]

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Gospel of Jesus' Wife" Not A Fake: What That Actually Means

Recently, the papyrus named the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" has been receiving a lot of attention from the mainstream media. It's a papyrus found in Harvard University's collection written in Coptic (ancient Egyptian.) There are eight mostly legible lines on the front and six faded lines on the back. The entire fragment is around the size of a business card.

When experts call it "not a fake," it doesn't mean that Jesus wrote it or that Jesus' wife wrote it. What it means is that it dates back to the time period it claims to be from, which in this case is the sixth to ninth centuries (at minimum) and possibly as far back as the fourth century AD. A lot of church scholars and the Vatican immediately dismissed it as a fake without any analysis because it conflicts with their beliefs.

What the papyrus actually tells us is that ancient Egyptian Christians believed that Jesus could have had a wife. It doesn't offer any strong evidence that he did, it simply gives us a better look at prevailing opinions and attitudes among the Christian community of the time.

There are too many people that are all too willing to cover their ears and yell "I'm not listening" over and over when they hear something that conflicts with their belief or opinion. That's not how you learn and that retards your growth. New evidence is always something that should be considered. Once you look at the new evidence and hear an opinion contrary to your own on the subject, then you have more of a reason to say something like "I don't agree with that" or "I don't believe that." Saying those things without listening to new evidence just because that's not the way you want the world to be makes your opinion easy to disregard because its an uninformed opinion.

Brown University Egyptology professor Leo Depuydt argues that the fragment is a fake. He gives two main reasons:

1. The papyrus makes too many grammatical mistakes that a native Coptic writer wouldn't have made.
2. The papyrus contains "a patchwork of words and phrases from the published and well-known Coptic Gospel of Thomas."

So there is a renowned academic who claims that the fragment is a fake. The difference between his opinion and an uniformed one is that he's an Egyptology professor who examined the papyrus and came to conclusions based on what he saw. He didn't simply say "I'm a really smart guy and I don't like this. It's obviously a fake. Listen to me, I know what I'm talking about." He looked at the new evidence before he formed his opinion (which is based on his observations.)

For a while now I've wanted to find time to read the Gospel of Thomas, just for fun. After this, I might actually go do it. It would be interesting to compare the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. I just need to find a little extra time. New information is not the devil, even if it contradicts what we currently believe. As a person with a degree in history, I was always taught to keep an open mind because new authentic evidence could appear tomorrow that refutes the prevailing academic theory of the time. If you'd like to read more about what the papyrus actually says, check out the Huffington Post article on the topic, which you can read here.