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  • : The blog of Frank Beswick. It deals with my interests in religious, philosophical spiritual matters and horticulture/self-reliance
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August 17 2013 7 17 /08 /August /2013 12:00



Zealot, by Reza Aslan, is a serious, though unconvincing attempt to discover the Jesus of history, which it combines with a celebration of Jesus the man. The quest for the historical Jesus, that is Jesus as he can be recovered by the discipine of historical study, has  always been fraught with difficulty, and Aslan adds nothing to the quest. Most of the book consists of known material, and I see little originality. However, the author is to be commended for his willingness to accept the unconventional, that Jesus did perform miraculous acts, and for his use of historical material to celebrate a historic personage, something which is sometimes neglected by academic historians.


It is important to state that this author is a genuine scholar who is trying to express a seriously held view, and this thankfully excludes him from the category of sensationalists, who write spurious material for maximum cash. Aslan writes well, far more clearly than many academics. He is honest about his presuppositions, telling us that of his influences from Islam and evangelical Christianity. This is always an advantage in a religious writer. 


Religious books can be devotional, academic, popular or sensational. This book, whose style indicates that it is written for a general readership, is clearly a popular work. Yet it is at the higher, more academic end of the market, for it is well sourced, as its bibiography shows. But it does not reflect a high enough level of thought, as issues are not discussed in great enough depth. An example of lack of depth is his claim that the trial of Jesus before Pilate never happened, as Pilate would not have bothered witha  trial. Yet Aslan overlooks that the Sanhedrin asked for a trial and that Pilate might well have felt the need for a trial, as Jesus was an important person and the arrest was at a sensitive time.Aslan later contradicts himselt by conceding that there might have been a brief trial. This contradiction is made worse by the fact that earlier on he rightly notes that the consensus of opinion among the ancients was that Jesus worked wonders and that this is indicative of the fact that he did; yest he overlooks the fact that the consensus of opinion was that Jesus was tried by Pilate. No one doubted the basic facts, even though they often rejected the Christ faith.


Much of the book is wasted. The first few chapters deal with the history of the Jews up to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is not clearly focused on the point, and  I became impatient with the book. There are also some problem claims which reflect inadequate scholarship or use of language. Early on he spoke of legions of troops in Jesus' homeland, unaware that that there were no legions based in the country, the nearest legionary base being in Syria. He also speaks of the commandment to eradicate the inhabitants of the land being delivered to the early Hebrews, whereas it was only concocted in the Deuteronomic history in 621 bc and is therefore  a later text that put words into Moses' mouth.


The book discusses Jesus in terms of his historical circumstances. While this is important in any account of a person, it overlooks the analysis of his character from a detailed examination of his words and deeds and his impact upon others.In the case of Jesus his spiritual impact on others was so great that this needs to be taken into account more than it is in this book. People are not simply the products of historical circumstances, they respond to them, sometimes creatively, always individually, and this aspect of Jesus is not brought out in Aslan's work.


The book finally moves on to the history of Chrisianity after Jesus, but its popular style leads Aslan to construct an entirely fictitious story of Stephen's entry into the Jesus movement. This narrative has no academic credibility and wastes the readers' time.


The book is the result of twenty years of research, Aslan tells us. As one who has spent over forty years reading and writing about religious matters, it taught me nothing about religion  that I did not know already and made claims with which I could not agree.

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December 26 2011 2 26 /12 /December /2011 15:34



Today I read a letter in a newspaper which asserted that religious faith rests on the second hand testimony of people in the distant past. I do wish that atheists would adequately study religion before they make assertions about it. There may indeed be people whose faith rests on the second testimony of people in the distant past, but this is not how faith works for man or most. 


The essence of Christian faith is that the Spirit of God is active in the community of the church, guiding, inspiriing and strengthening, giving wisdom and spiritual charismata. The church has always recognized that the Spirit is the product of Jesus' ongoing presence in the heart of his community, which is a particular case of his presence in the world. John's gospel describes Jesus as the Word incarnate among humankind, and the church has susceptible to his influence acting through the risen Christ present in the world


What does this mean in practice. It means that at the heart of any Christian faith there are charismata, the divine influences in a person's life. There may be some people who occasionally or more often enjoy a sense of presence, but Buber, the Jewish thinker, probably has it right when he speaks of presence/power. For most Christians the root of their faith is the spiritual strength that they draw from their membership of the Christian community and from prayer, both private and collective.


Thus the statment that faith rests on acceptance of testimony from the distant past is wrong. It is far more dependent on influences in the present. But what then is the role of such testimony. As humans we rely on knowledge passed on from others. We discover few , if any new ideas ourselves and have to be educated through contact with the human community and by sharing in its culture. Thus the experience of God or the reception of charismata do not depend upon a human community, but as humans we depend upon others for the ideas by which we understand and interpret our experiences. Put simply, I would not understand Christianity without the human community of the Catholic Church in which I was raised and of which I am happily a member.


Faith is a plant that needs constant nourishment by a prayerful life. Without prayer and the reception of divine influences therein it will soon fade. I have so far not met an atheist account of faith that even recognizes this fundamental fact of religious living. This is a testimony to the poverty of thought in modern atheism.


The church provides the story of Jesus which gives me the narrative tradition that explains the identity of the community whose prayer-life strengthens me. It provides the theology which enables me to interpret my religious life. This is not to say that I am uncritical or believe everything said to me, far from it. I am in constant dialogue with my spiritual tradition and develop my own critical thoughts therein. The church also provides the language of worship. Without this language I would have to have made all the spiritual discoveries myself, and that would have meant that little progress would have been made.


The cultural community is the locus in which the first steps in faith are made, and its stories are the vehicle through which divine influences operate. I have a great deal to thank my parents  for, as they gave me the religious background in which faith could grow. My thoughts on theology have outgrown theirs over the years, but they provides the home in which spiritual influences could flourish and in which I could be sensitive to them.


A weak faith rests on second hand testimony, but it is the kind of faith that will probably fade quickly under pressure, like the seed that fell on the path or the seed that fell among thorns. But a deep religious faith is an ongoing process of discovery, thought and growth that is rooted in the divine influence in life, but nourished by the linguistic/ conceptual culture of the community in which its holder grows



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October 6 2011 5 06 /10 /October /2011 13:33

Plato's Republic is a seminal work of Philosophy in which Plato, the great Greek thinker, expounded his ideas on knowledge and society. He sets the work as a dialogue between Socrates and his associates.


In Plato's view the world we inhabit is less real than the world of ideas. He expressed this view in the simile of the cave. The cave is composed of people chained so that they face a wall. Behind them is a bonfire, and between it and the prisoners people and objects pass, throwing shadows onto the wall. This is the world of shadows that normal humans see. Eventually a man escapes,  reaches the surface and sees real objects. As his eyes become accustomed to light he can look at the sun. This simile [parable] shows Plato's view that only the world of ideas, the upper world, is real. All else that we see in this world are shadows or images of people and things.


For Plato the objects of this world participate in the forms/ideas, which exist in the upper word. Thus I as a male participate in the form of maleness. A cat has the form of catness. It is better to know the form than the individual being.Thus knowing a person is less valuiable than knowing the basic forms in which humans participate.


This led to his theory of knowledge, which he expressed in his simile of the divided line. Below the line At the bottom level there was the knowledge of fictions [eidones], which have no basis in reality. Above that, but still below the line,  was pistis, belief. This is the knowledge of the world gained by experience, but it is a lower form of knowledge. Above the line was  dianoia, the knowledge of forms/ideas not linked to the form of the good, the ultimate form/idea. Dianoia includes mathematical knowledge. Above this is episteme or noesis, the knowledge of forms dependent on the form of the good. This includes  philosophy and justice and its components, such as truth and mercy. The form of the good is the highest form, the idea of goodness that all worthwhile things have in common. Only philosophers can reach so far as the grasp this form of the good.


Plato believed that fitness to rule society should depend on philosophical skill. So he designed what was to him an ideal society graded on ability. At the bottom were the hoi polloi, the many, who had no philosophical skills. Above them there were the guardians. These were divided into two levels. The guards would control the many and defend society, but they were drawn from guardians with no grasp of philosophy. Above them there were the guardians proper, the philosophers. They were to be chosen early in life and taken away from their families for training in philosophy. The highest of them would be the philosopher-king, who would rule. Plato was quite advanced for his time in believing that there might be some women among the guardians. However, guardians would live in common and share the women between them, and no child would know its own father. No society has ever really been run on Plato's lines, though he has been influential, especially in the early mediaeval  church, where the elite of celibate priests ruiled the many [or tried to.]


One of Plato's similes was the simile of the ship, in which a mutinous and argumentative crew each try to steer the ship, resulting in disaster. This is a metaphor for democracy, which Plato hated, because it gave power to non-philosophers. Only the true navigator, the philosopher-king, should be allowed to steer. Hel aso gave a simile of a wild beast, which is the mob, which he identified with the bulk of the people. The keepr keeps bribing the beast rather than controlling it. This, for Plato is how democratic politicians fail, because they appease rather than control the people.










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August 15 2011 2 15 /08 /August /2011 11:18

The Writers' Workshop is a support service for writers. It offers a wide range of services which are useful to writers who are beginning their career. It will act as a contact point for literary agents seeking new talent. It also provides assessments of writers' work. The workshop also offers writing courses tutored by experienced writers. This article is a guide to The Writers' Workshop.

Offering work

Beginning writing

The workshop's business is based on the fact that the hardest part of writing is beginning to write. It recognises that new writers lack contacts in the business. Moreover, they do not have experience in producing marketable material.

Therefore, the workshop offers a service whereby it uses its wide range of contacts in the literary world, to place writing with literary agents. The latter can then sell it to publishers. Special "Getting Published Days" allow writers to meet literary agents.


As writing can be a lonely business with no one to help the aspiring writer, the workshop will assess writers' manuscripts. The manuscript will be read and its faults and limitations, as a piece of written work, evaluated. The writer will then, receive a report that allows him/her to address his/her weaknesses. The editor will assess it in terms of its potential for publication. The workshop will also assess a writer's sample letter to literary agents.

The Word Cloud

This is an online community of writers who read and assess each other's work. Membership is free. It gives writers the advantage of sharing ideas with like-minded people. The community's intention is to provide a social side to writing. This side is lacking in the profession because of the nature of the writing.


The workshop offers a range of courses. Its creative writing classes include two courses called How to Write A Novel. These are online courses. One is a six-week course, but there is an intensive ten-week course that goes into more details. A course related to these two is, How to Self-edit your Novel. This enables writers to spare themselves the cost of paying a professional editor.

Another course is Writing for Children. This is a lucrative market in which there is much competition. So, the course is designed to enable writers to stand out from the crowd. Like other courses, it is hosted on Word Cloud and consists of a video introduction, a written lesson, an interactive discussion, homework and feedback.

Screen writing courses offer access to television and film writing. This is a profitable, but technically difficult area, in which writers benefit from technical advice from people with expertise in the field.

Gentleman writing on desk
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August 1 2011 2 01 /08 /August /2011 09:40

To win a writing contest, you must write a piece of work that meets the contest requirements, so study what the competition is asking for. Try to write a piece that is imaginative and a bit different from others, one that stands out. Ensure that the writing is properly proofread to ensure that there are no basic errors. Learn more in this article.

Writing contests

The contest requirements

Carefully study the requirements of the contest. You will need to know the general subject area that the editor wants and the length specifications. If you go outside these, you will not win. You also need to know the target readership and adapt your language appropriately. Writing kids' stories demands careful attention to language and the target age. Kids' contests require attention to the emotional needs of the age group for which you are writing.


Stories should always have strong and interesting characters, who are the basis of the plot. However, do not have more characters than the length of the story can handle. A book the size of the Lord of The Rings can have many characters, but a short story needs one or two main ones. Ensure that you blend dialogue with narrative, and do not overuse dialogue - short stories do not allow for it.

Beginnings and endings

To effectively write stories, get into the action quickly, as readers can quickly become bored. Stories should have an interesting ending. Decide on your ending before you begin writing. It is the goal of your writing. Do not be misled by the current fad in children's literature for finishing on a cliff hanger. Good writers can think of an interesting ending. A predictable ending will not win. There must be a surprise.


Writing poems

Many other writing competitions ask for poems. Anyone who wants to publish poems will start with such competitions and magazines. Ensure that the poem is very carefully worked over and polished to perfection. Remember that poetry speaks not only through its words, but also through its rhythms and rhymes.


Some competitions require non-fiction articles. To have a chance in these, ensure that you write an article not an essay, unless the competition specifically seeks an essay. This means that it should be written in a journalistic style and should not only inform, but interest readers.


Whatever you write, ensure that it is carefully presented. There is no substitute for good proofreading to eliminate the typographical errors that beset all users of word processors. Read over more than once until you are satisfied that all errors have been eliminated. Be prepared to change words and expressions.

close zimbabwe mozambique
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July 28 2011 5 28 /07 /July /2011 08:47

The Holman Christian Standard Bible was a development of the King James Version associated with the Southern Baptist movement. It attempts to produce a readable version of the King James Version with optimal equivalence to the text. Supplied words are added at places along with substantial footnotes and this has caused some criticism.

The origins of the Holman version

The Holman Bible

The Holman Christian Standard Bible was the brainchild of Arthur Farstad, the general editor of the King James Version who launched an independent translation project. He linked up with Lifeway Christian Resources but when he died, his place was taken by Edwin Blum. The Holman Bible is strongly associated with the Southern Baptist movement in the United States which funded the project.

Translation philosophy

An interdenominational team of 100 scholars was gathered and they translated from certain well-respected texts: the Biblia Ebraica Stuttgartia for the Old Testament, the United Bible Society Greek New Testament and Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece. They referred to other documents where necessary.

The translation attempts to tread a tightrope between literal and functional equivalence. This is between a word for word translation which does not always read well in modern English and it is an adaptation to give the proper sense of the text.

The team opted for the happy medium of what they called optimal equivalence, though this has not been universally accepted as a valid approach.


The translator's aim was to render the text more readable to the common reader.To this end, the translation included a number of supplied words in italics. These were always included if there was a difficulty in understamding the sense of the text properly without them.

There is no questioning the honesty of the translation which identifies supplied words, though some scholars have argued about specific words that they believe do not adequately render the give out meaning of the text.

However, for the sake of meticulous honesty, the translators have added many footnotes to show alternative readings of the text. The Holman Bible publishers have added more footnotes than there are in any other Bible translation so that those who want to study the Bible will be well-guided.

It is generally agreed that the translation is not biased though there were criticisms of the translation of Christ's statement to Peter in Matthew "Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

It was noted that this text which sits uneasily with Baptist theology of authority was rephrased as "will have been loosed," which does not translate the text accurately but sits more easily with Baptist thought than the literal translation. (Bibleresearcher.com)

bible study and notes
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July 27 2011 4 27 /07 /July /2011 15:13

'Do not stand at my grave' and 'Weep' is an example of bereavement poetry. The wording of the poem is generally agreed, but there have been variants as people have remembered words differently. It is put into the mouth of a dying or dead person, and it is intended to soothe the living, and is often used at funerals.

The origins of the poem

The author

Mary Elizabeth Frye [1905-2004] was an American florist. In the 1930s, she had a young, German-Jewish girl staying with her, Anna Schwarzkopf. Anna was unable to return because of Nazi persecution, and later learned that her mother was dead. She was heartbroken at not being able to perform ceremonies at her mother's grave. Somehow, Mary's mind gave birth to this poem, but she wrote it on a piece of brown paper. She never copyrighted it, and this is why various versions have arisen.

Reflections on its origin

Mary herself never understood how it came to her, and her subsequent poetic works never reached this standard. Wordsworth declared that poetry was emotion recollected in tranquility, and so, we can suggest that Mary's emotions were touched by Anna's plight, as she had never before or after been touched, and thus the poem was born. It is a powerful example of how poetry brews in the subconscious, the mystery of the creative process.



The aim of the poem is to soothe the listener. We can see how it was intended to comfort Anna, but it is used to comfort many others, especially when there are services for major disasters, and it is sometimes used at funerals. Secular funerals, at which no prayers are possible. sometimes use this poem.

Power of the poem

The power of the poem is to evoke beautiful things and say that the person is in all those. The body in the grave is not the dead person, it is merely a corpse. However, the soul of the deceased has not flown away into another world, but is more intimately related to this one. It has been drawn back into nature, like a return to Mother Earth, and it is now present in all the beauties of the earth.

Religious sentiments

The religious sentiments in this poem are not fully clear, though the poem suggests that Frye did not hold a conventional view of the afterlife. The poem's emphasis upon nature has led it to being at times regarded as a pagan poem, though whether this reflects Frye's view is unclear.

Gravestone - Stanley Ketchel (LOC)
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July 26 2011 3 26 /07 /July /2011 11:49

Cheap books can be found in sales, for example, car boot sales and bookstalls on markets. There are several shops that sell second-hand books, some of which are specialist book shops, and others charity shops such as Oxfam or Barnardo's. You can also purchase some remaindered books in shops that specialise in this field or else, you can search on the internet.


Most cheap books that you can buy are second-hand. These can be picked up in a range of places. Some market stalls, particularly in university towns, sell second-hand books.There are also smaller stalls at car boot sales and jumble sales. Occasionally, a university students' union will organise an end of term sale for students who wish to be rid of course books that they no longer need. Here, you can buy used course textbooks and others.

Book shops

Second-hand book shops can also be good sources of cheap books. You can find some of these in university towns such as Cambridge. However, cheap does not always mean very cheap, and some second-hand books can sell at quite high prices if the books are considered antiquarian, first editions or signed by the author.

Charity shops such as Oxfam or Barnardo's often sell books quite cheaply. This is the case with children's books and paperbacks. You also have to consider quality. Some books may be in excellent condition, whereas others may be quite shabby. Obviously, the ones in poorer condition are sold cheaper.

Other sources

Remaindered stock

One good source of cheap book deals are shops or sites that sell remaindered stock. Remaindered stock is stock that publishers want to be rid of. Perhaps, they have printed too many copies of a book which have been lying in their warehouse for a long time and they want to clear space for newer works. You can often purchase remaindered books at the best prices.

You can tell when a shop selling remaindered books. The books are obviously new, but are more cheaply than you would expect. Many of their books are quite popular, and you do not get specialist academic or rare works here. Sometimes websites sell remaindered books. You sometimes see books on Amazon going for a penny including the post and packing. These are remaindered works.

Some shops will sell damaged works more cheaply than others, for example, books which have pages and the cover turned up, but still have perfectly readable text

Internet book-sellers

Internet book-sellers such as Amazon, are sometimes the source of cheap books. Amazon only sell books in at least acceptable condition. Private sellers are able to sell their unwanted books on Amazon, and sometimes they go quite cheaply.

Couth Buzzard Books
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July 26 2011 3 26 /07 /July /2011 07:29

Ebook publishing is growing in popularity because it is easy, cheap and available to anyone. To do it, you will need writing and publishing skills, and you can draw upon a number of internet sites and services to help. You will need to market your book, but there are tools and companies that can be of assistance. Learn more on this service.

First principles

How to publish

To publish your book, you must first design and write it. You need to find a topic to attract readers and research on it. Work out what key words are likely to be typed into search engines and ensure that they are present in the book. Then, ensure that the written book looks like a book. It should have a cover and a title page.

It must have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which can be gained from Whitaker.co.uk and which every printed book should have. Whitakers can also send six copies of the book to the libraries of record, which all publishers in Britain are obliged to do with each book that they publish.You should present your book as a pdf file.

Organisation of the text

The book should be divided into chapters and sections, and the text should be in fully blocked lay out, which means that paragraphs should be divided by an empty line.

Include interesting illustrations, diagrams and photographs, but ensure that you have copyright for the photos or a licence to publish. There should be a table of contents. Including links to other sites makes you more likely to be on Google's first page, which is where the sales predominantly come.


Advertising and selling

The problem with any book is its advertising and selling. There are two ways. You might have your own website which will contain tools that download the book to buyers. However, you would need to arrange to receive card payments, both debit and credit.

Online publishers

You can use the services of an online publisher, though they would need a profit. These publishers can sell ebooks and on demand print books. This uses technology that renders mass printing to run redundant. These publishers often have good business connections and might be able to get your book on Amazon. Your ebook might be downloaded onto kindle. They can also sell printed copies.


Certain companies offer valuable internet tools useful to ebook publishers. The site Ebookpublishingtools.com offers a range of services to people who are into self-publishing. Ebook software makes the setting of the text easy. They can also provide book cover software and there is a virtual vault that can store your works, and prevent illegal file sharing.

Kindle the eBook 2.0
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July 20 2011 4 20 /07 /July /2011 08:41

Ayn Rand was a refugee from communism who expressed her hatred for socialism in literary form. Anthem is a description of life in a dystopian socialist world in which individuality is suppressed and punishable by death. The hero, already frustrated by an inappropriate job, rediscovers his individuality and some principles of physics, becoming the new Prometheus.

Introduction to Ayn Rand

Background of the author

In Anthem, Ayn Rand sets out to describe the ultimate socialist/communist world. She had acquired a very low view of socialism and communism when her family, wealthy Jews, were victimised by the Communist government in Russia.


She eventually fled Russia as a refugee, settling in America. She had long been influenced by Nietzsche, and valued strong individualists, which communism did not. Her experiences of mistreatment and her philosophical views did not endear her to socialism.


Ayn attempted to use her literary works to argue the case against socialism. They are published by the Ayn Rand Institute, which promote her philosophy and economic views.


Anthem is one of a group of twentieth century works outlining and warning about a future socialist dystopia. It is therefore of a kind since other writers wrote mostly about collectivism and authoritarianism: Animal Farm, 1984, The Machine Stops and, to a lesser extent, Brave New World.

The dystopia

In Anthem, she describes a world in which the word 'I' has been abolished and is punishable by death and individuals have every bit of freedom extinguished. It is an attack against collectivism in its extreme form.


It uses a standard technique of science fiction, taking tendencies in the present, extrapolating them into the future and magnifying them.

The story

The hero

The book is set in England. The hero of this short novella is Equality 7-2521. He is a misfit in that he tends to think by himself, though originally he speaks only in the third person pronoun, 'we', as the word 'I' has been abolished.

Crushed ambitions

However, his tendencies to individualism render him suspect, and his ambitions to go to study are thwarted by the committee who appoint people to jobs. He is sent to be a street sweeper.


However, his frustrations lead him to explore and he finds a tunnel left over from the old society. Exploring it, he stumbles on information that make him rediscover the ego, his individuality.

The new Prometheus

He rediscovers scientific truths forgotten in the new society, such as electricity. He has become the new Prometheus, the titan who gave humans fire. He displays the word 'ego' above his door, but we are left to imagine his fate in this authoritarian, collectivist world.

objectivism1 Prometheus (ca. 1900), Reinhold Begas (Berlin) | Source | Author Ja
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