From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity by Professor Bart D. Ehrman

, 26 Oct 2016


This is a 12-hour or so audio course by Professor Bart D. Ehrman, a Princeton PhD recipient, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and renowned scholar on Early Modern Christianity and on the figure of Jesus. We are offered a very good historical overview of the first three centuries of Christianity from its humble inception as a low-class Jewish sect to become an anti-Jewish religion and the official religion of the Roman Empire. 

Lectures and Companion Book

 This 24-lesson course (30 minutes or so each) that analyses how and why early Christianity was born, expanded, grew, suffered, was persecuted and ended being the official religion of the Roman Empire. The lectures are:
1-  The Birth of Christianity. 2-The Religious World of Early Christianity. 3- The Historical Jesus. 4- Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus. 5- The Apostle Paul. 6-The Beginning of Jewish-Christian Relations. 7- The Anti-Jewish Use of the Old Testament. 8-The Rise of Christian Anti-Judaism. 9-The Early Christian Mission. 10-The Christianization of the Roman Empire. 11-The Early Persecutions of the State. 12-The Causes of Christian Persecution. 13-Christian Reactions to Persecution. 14-The Early Christian Apologists. 15-The Diversity of Early. Christian Communities. 16-Christianities of the Second Century. 17-The Role of Pseudo-epigrapha. 18-The Victory of the Proto-Orthodox. 19-The New Testament Canon. 20-The Development of Church Offices. 21-The Rise of Christian Liturgy. 22-The Beginnings of Normative Theology. 23-The Doctrine of the Trinity. 24-Christianity and the Conquest of Empire. The book also includes a handy timeline, a glossary, and a commented bibliography.

You can download the 143+-page book on PDF from your library (in your member area), potion the cursor on the PDF link and let clink and select save link as, and it will download. Ehrman's books are not as student-friendly as others from other professors as there are not tables, figures, photos or anything graphic in them.

The Recording

This is an excellent audio recording, great neat sound, well-structured and narrated, with musical clues that indicate the end of a chapter, and headings by a radio-voice presenter at the beginning of each chapter. Ehrman has a great knowledge and a clear way of structuring and delivering his points verbally, his reading is full of energy, and the recording is very enjoyable to listen to, never boring. Besides, he sums up what he has said at the end of each lecture, and does so again at the beginning of the following to link both lessons together. I found that most helpful as a listener. Ehrman also has an introduction devoted to the scope of the course at the beginning and summarises quite well what he says through it in the last lecture.

One of the things I found more enjoyable was the fact that he read many excerpts of early Christian sources, some of them really beautiful and interesting, so he it is not just he talking about the past, but bringing the past to the present. I think non-historians would be thrilled with those.

My only criticism is the pace of Ehrman's speech, he sprints at times, pauses for a way too long, and then retakes at a regular pace to then rush again and the speech cycle resumes.

Answered Questions 

Ehrman does a great job at providing listeners with an overview of Christianity in the first four centuries of the Christian Era and responds, among others, to the following questions:
Ѫ Who was the main 'designer' of early Christianity?
Ѫ Which sources are important to the study of Early Christianity?
Ѫ Who were these Christians? Why did Christianity expand so rapidly throughout the Roman Empire? At which rhythm? How did it win converts throughout the Roman Empire?
Ѫ  How did Pagans and Jews see Christians?
Ѫ How did Christians see Paganism and Judaism? 
Ѫ How was the relationship of Jewish-Christian at the beginning? What happen for Christianity to go from a Jewish sect to anti-Jewish religion? Why would Christians want to keep the Old Testament books if they didn't want to keep its laws? 
Ѫ Were Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians treated differently, given different rules and expected to behave differently? 
Ѫ Did all Early Christians shared the same views on Jesus, God and Christianity? Which sort of Christian movements and sects were predominant in these years? 
Ѫ Was Christianity an illegal religion in the Roman Empire? 
Ѫ Why were Christians persecuted? How often? Who were the persecutors? What motivated the Pagan opponents to persecute Christians? Which sort of attitudes did Christians show when persecuted and punished? Why were some of the early Christian martyrs so firm in refusing to renounce their faith and face martyrdom with stoicism? 
Ѫ  How did the creeds, the canon of the New Testament, and the church hierarchy all develop out of its earlier diversity?  Why despite the  many books written in the names of the apostles, only 27 were considered Sacred Scripture and include in the New Testament? Which criteria were used to do so? Who decided on the books to include and what motivated their decisions? 
Ѫ Why did early Christians develop an ecclesiastical hierarchy and clergy? Who were these people? Why liturgy was created and what was their initial meaning? Were the clergy and the liturgy questionable and questioned? 
Ѫ  How and why would Christianity end becoming the Roman Empire official religion?

I Missed Some Answers

Ж I would have liked to know in which areas, if any, Jesus differed from other apocalyptic prophets of the 1st Century and if his discourse had anything new to it or not.
Ж  I would have loved some reflection on the fact that, there were many apocalyptic prophets in the 1st Century, and many of them were dispose of, Jesus' message ended being the only one perpetuated. Why did that happen? Just on the grounds of his resurrection? Why would Jesus' followers spread the message of their teachers and the disciples of other prophetic teachers did not?
Ж  One of the episodes in the New Testament is the one that mentions St Thomas after the resurrection, in which Thomas thought what he was seeing was ghost, but Jesus made him touch his wounds to prove him he was well alive. So I wonder, where there is any historical possibility of he surviving crucifixion. In other words, I would have loved Ehrman  discussing the Swoon Hypothesis and the historicity of the Life of Saint Issa.
Ж Valentinianism is barely mentioned in this course, probably included among the Gnostics, but this was one of the major Christian heterodox movements until the 4th century, so I thought a bit of more space and time should have devoted to them.
Ж When discussing the birth of Christian liturgy, Ehrman discusses Baptism and Eucharist, but nothing is mentioned about Marriage and Burial ceremonies among Christians. Didn't they exist? When they did develop?
Ж Although Ehrman mentions some women in the course, he does not say a word about the role of women in early Christianity. Something I found utterly surprising, giving the fact that St Paul wasn't a lover of women, to put it boldly.  
Ж Among the reasons why Christianity spread so quickly in the Roman Empire and throughout the world, nothing is said about the way Christianity appropriated Pagan festivities and celebrities, and precise dates and deities,  and gave them a Christian meaning. Did that happen after Constantine? Because that did happen. Just look at the Christmas Tree. I would have loved hearing something about that, to add to the reasons of the spread of Christianity, but nothing is said. Perhaps is a myth? Did happened after Constantine?
Ж  Re the Trinity, I thought that there is, in a way, an approach to Trinity that somewhat resonates with some of the Gnostic myths of creation, so I would have loved him digging a bit on that. 
Ж Finally, Ehrman presents the information as a bold statements that seem to indicate that there is not much doubt among historians about some of the things he says. I would have loved seeing him discussing this points of view and saying so and then presenting the listener with those of his nemesis. I think he does so just once and not in I stand for this but Mary and Peter don't. That would have given balance to his discourse.

Mind

This course is very not really controversial. Ehrman is a historian and needs to contextualise the figure of Jesus and early Christianity. So he needs to speak as much of Jesus and Christians as of Jews, Judaism, Pagans and Paganism. Christians did not live on a planet of their own, but were citizens of the Roman Empire. This course is really easy to digest by Christians of all creeds, especially if you are open-minded and liberal. However, fundamental Christians or any Christian unwilling to face historical facts might not be happy to hear some of the things Ehrman has to say. In other words, if you are easily offended, don't listen to the course!

In Short

This a great course to  get a historical overview of the three first centuries of Christianity. As the period covered in the course is quite large, understandably, some things are treated superficially. I would recommend listening Ehrman's course on the historical Jesus, and to Prof. Brakke's course on the Gnostics. Yet, if you only hear to this course, you will get good value for money, and food for thought and for the soul.

The Historical Jesus by Professor Bart D. Ehrman (2013)

, 20 Oct 2016

This is a 12-hour or so audio course by Professor Bart D. Ehrman,a Princeton Ph.D. recipient, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and renowned scholar on Early Modern Christianity and on the figure of Jesus.

The Lectures

 This 24-lesson course (30 minutes or so each) is well structured and paced. Due to the nature of the material analysied, Ehrman devotes a good deal of time to explain how historians analyse their sources, a process that is valid for any source on any period, not specifically on Jesus, but especially relevant for the study of the historical Jesus.  Once the methodology and criteria used to study the sources are explained, Erhman separates reality from myth, possible from highly improbable, what we know for from what we don't regarding Jesus's infancy, years of ministry, preaching, deeds, death and resurrection.

The lectures are:
1- The Many Faces of Jesus. 2-One Remarkable Life. 3- Scholars Look at the Gospels. 4- Fact and Fiction in the Gospels. 5- The Birth of the Gospels. 6- Some of the Other Gospels [Gnostic Gospels of Thomas and St Peter's Gospel]. 7- The Coptic Gospel of Thomas. 8- Other Sources [Pagan sources, Jewish sources, and Canonical sources outside the Gospels]. 9- Historical Criteria. Getting Back to Jesus [Criterion of independent attestation]. 10- More Historical Criteria [criterion of dissimilarity and criterion of contextual credibility]. 11- The Early Life of Jesus. 12-Jesus in His Context [Jew religious movements in the 1st century]. 13- Jesus and Roman Rule [Apocalyptic prophets sharing points in the period]. 14- Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet [elements that show Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet]. 15- The Apocalyptic Teachings of Jesus. 16- Other Teachings of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context. 17- The Deeds of Jesus in their Apocalyptic Context [Arguments of historians who don't think Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and Ehrman's reply to them]. 18-  Still Other Words and Deeds of Jesus [Jesus' miracles]. 19- The Controversies of Jesus. 20- The Last Days of Jesus. 21- The Last Hours of Jesus. 22- The Death and Resurrection of Jesus. 23- The Afterlife of Jesus. 24- The Prophet of the New Millennium.


The Companion Book

You can download the 185-page book on PDF from your library (in your member area), potion the cursor on the PDF link and let clink and select save link as, and it will download. Ehrman's books are not as student-friendly as others from other professors as there are not tables, figures, photos or anything graphic in them.  The book includes a very useful Timeline, a glossary, and a commented bibliography. However, the bibliography is quite old as the initial course was prepared and recorded in year 2000. So why not updating the PDF book with more modern recommended readings and further info about the latest developments? That would be extremely easy to do as the course was released for Audible in 2013 and it is a long period with lots of new developments and bibliography produced. So, in a way, some of the things said in the book might be a bit outdated.

The Recording

This is an excellent audio recording, great neat sound, well-structured and narrated, with musical clues that indicate the end of a chapter, and headings by a radio-voice presenter at the beginning of each chapter. Unlike other courses in the series, this one has a boxed applause at the beginning of each lecture, not sure if  real applause or added for effect.

Ehrman has a great knowledge and a clear way of structuring and exposing his points verbally, the reading is well paced and full of energy, and the recording is very enjoyable to listen to, never boring. However, there are a few odd things that don't make the narration flow as well as other lecturers courses: The fluctuation of the voice is a bit brusque at times, with high energy ending in a too-long silence, and Ehrman stumbles upon his own words quite often, as if he was self-conscious and a bit nervous when recording. Of course, this is just my impression.  


My Takings on the Book

~~ The method on which Ehrman analysis the sources on Jesus is actually the sort of analysis that serious historians apply to the sources they use for their research, no matter the subject of interest. Historical research, especially biblical research, without the exegesis of the sources is not serious History.
~~  It shows how History-making is not just babble, or putting together facts in a linear sequence. History-making has a method and methodology, a set of rules that are serious, and that are extremely important to support and give credibility to any historical research. This is especially relevant when speaking of the figure of Jesus.
~~ The Gospels offer not only different information about Jesus but things that are totally contradictory so it is difficult to decide which thing is correct and which thing is not correct.
~~ One might guess that Jesus being such an important man and figure, there would be tons of historical reliable references about his life, teachings, deeds in Jew, Pagan and Christian sources, but the contrary is true. We know very little about the historical Jesus, and much of what we believe true through the New Testament is not true or not historically reliable.
~~ Jesus was a Jew who believed and supported the Law of Moses. Most of his disagreements with other Jew factions was based not on the questioning of the validity of that Law, but on how to deal with confusing or vague passages in the Old Testament.
~~ Jesus was one of the many Apocalyptic prophets in 1st-century Judea. 
~~ Christianity didn't begin with Jesus' life or death, but began with the belief of Jesus' resurrection, which affected the way those believers understood who he was and what he taught.


Historical Reliable Information about Jesus from the Course

~~ INFANCY:
Jesus was born and raised as a Jew in Nazareth, his parents being Mary and Joseph, the later a manual worker. His mother had other children, and wasn't a virgin, she didn't know about her son being the chosen one or special. Jesus has brothers and sisters, James being one of them. Jesus spoke Aramaic and had a normal education and upbringing; he wasn't specially precocious or was invested of special qualities, but he learned Hebrew and Greek and could read the Scriptures. 
~~ ADULT LIFE:
> We don't know what happened between his infancy and until he was baptised, but we know that he began his public ministry by associating and being baptised by John the Baptist, an apocalyptic prophet of the time, for which we can assume that Jesus also was an apocalyptic prophets of the 1st Century Palestine. The first Christian communities in the Mediterranean that spread after he died believed that the end of the world was coming and therefore were also apocalyptic Christian communities. Most importantly, his teachings, sayings and actions had all the elements of the apocalypticism of the time: 1/ cosmic dualism; 2/ pessimism; 3/ God was going to intervene in history, create a kingdom on earth, final judgement would take place; 4/the kingdom of god was almost here, to happen in a generation.
> His ethical teachings were not presented as universal truths, but valid for the historical context in which they were uttered; his teachings were not a contradiction but a reaffirmation of the need to follow Moses' law but differed from the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes: In all these disagreements, the issue was never over whether God’s law, as found in the Hebrew Bible, should be kept. The question was how it should be kept and what it meant to keep it. (p. 101) He also spread a message of love that was strongly new, love your neighbour and God above all.  But Jesus didn't see himself as creating a new system of ethics and saw love to survive the coming destruction of the world.
> Jesus carried his ministry largely in rural areas, despite Nazareth being very close to two big urban centres.
> Jesus' period of public ministry is uncertain but it goes from several months to about two years and a half maximum as per the Gospels' own information.
> Jesus was rejected or at odds with his own family, with the people of his home town of Nazareth, and not very popular with the towns and villages of Galilee he visited as an itinerant preacher. Jesus was also rejected by the religious leaders of the Jews in Palestine for the interpretation of the law not about the law itself when Moses' Law was incomplete or ambiguous.
~~ DEATH:
> In the last week of his life, Jesus decided to bring his apocalyptic message to the heart of the Kingdom, Jerusalem, during the Passover feast. He entered the city with other pilgrims, without being especially noticed. Once in Jerusalem he acted out the coming destruction of the world by creating a disturbance in the temple. This attracted the attention of the temple authorities, who decided he needed to be removed from the public eye.
>  Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, who told to the authorities some of the secret teachings Jesus had given to his inner circle of 12 disciples, in which Jesus had a leader role in the coming Kingdom of God, which placed him in a sort of political king and crease a political riot. This grounds were the basis of his arrest. Jesus was arrested by the Jew authorities and brought him to an informal interrogation and then handed over the Roman authorities for trial.
> Jesus died on the cross considered as a seditious Jew who could generate social upheaval or at least some riots. Historically speaking, we cannot state or deny his resurrection, just that his followers would end believing so. 

Unanswered Questions

~~ I would have liked to know in which areas, if any, Jesus differed from other apocalyptic prophets of the 1st Century.
~~ I would have loved some reflection on the fact that there being many apocalyptic prophets in the 1st Century, Jesus' message ended being the only one perpetuated. Why that did happen? There was something about his personality? His message? The circumstances in which he died?
~~ Why would Jesus' followers spread the message and create Christian communities and not the followers of other apocalyptic prophets of the time?
~~ Is there any truth about the so-called Unknown Years of Jesus, the theory that states that Jesus didn't raise from the dead but survived crucifixion and went on preaching to India? I would have loved a bit of attention to this topic, to its refutation or not, and on which grounds. I am sure that Ehrman has plenty to say about this subject. 


Pricing

Good value for money even if you pay it in full, and a bargain if you have a membership with Audible. 

 

Obvious, but it Needs to be Said

Ehrman clearly states at the beginning of the course and during the same that you can examine the figure as Jesus from a historical point of view or a theological point of view, and that he is doing the first, without trying to support or deny anything about Jesus. Serious Historians do what Ehrman does with his sources, so we cannot pretend that he forgets what is not comfortable for us to hear. This being the case, conservative and fundamental Christians, who have an agenda in having the Gospels to be God's Word and follow it to the letter, will find the course confronting and difficult to deal with at all levels. You've been warned.

In short

The whole series of lectures is mind blowing. Except for the last lecture, which I considered a bit digressive and off topic re Jesus, I think the course is stupendous. Even if you are a faithful Christian, it can help you to understand who Jesus really was and give an extra layer to your set of beliefs. Of course, if you believe the writings of the Gospels to be God's word, and Jesus to be God, this is not a book for you!

I found the course especially good as a way to demonstrate how serious historians work and how they use their sources. This is especially important if you are going to start studying History at University and intend to devote yourself to historical research on controversial subjects, no matter your period of study.  


Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas by Professor David Brakke (2015)

, 15 Oct 2016

This is 12-hour University Course on Gnosticism prepared and narrated by one of the scholars who knows most about Early Christianity and Gnosticism, David Brakke, a Yale PhD recipient and professor of the State of Ohio University. He has the  virtue of knowing what teaching is. It is not that he has plenty of knowledge, is that he is able to convey the  knowledge he has in ways that are understandable, engaging and entertaining without being informal or too formal.

The Recording

This is an excellent audio recording, great sound, well-structured and narrated, with musical clues that indicate the end of a chapter, and headings by a radio-voice presenter at the beginning of each chapter.

Brakke's narration is excellent. The modulation and inflection of his voice and tone are easy to follow without getting bored or sleepy, even when Brakke gives details about the myths of the different Gnostics. He is able to be rigorous about what he says but also flexible, not dogmatic, he doesn't present his opinion as Universal if it is not, he is humble but assertive. He does what true scholars do, they know a lot but know what they don't know so they don't fake what they don't or add on anything. Brakke's knowledge on the subject is exhaustive.


The Lectures

 The course is made of 24 lessons, each of about 30 minutes and we are taken through the main schools of Gnosticism, the main sources and philosophers, giving a detailed account of each document discusses or branch of Early Christianity examined in the course. Brakke also shows the points that those branches and texts share and those on which they differ, and digs into what the life was for Christians in the three first centuries of the Christian Era. Brakke also gives some sketched information about related beliefs that span through the Middle Ages and to this very day.

The list of lessons  is as follows:
1- Rediscovering Gnosis. 2- Who where the Gnostics? 3- God in Gnostic Myth. 4- Gnosticism on Creation, Sin and Salvation. 5- Judas as Gnostic Tragic Hero. 6- Gnostic Bible Stories. 7- Gnosticism Ritual Pathway to God. 8-  The Feminine in Gnostic Myth.9- The Gospel of Thomas’s Cryptic Sayings. 10- The Gospel of Thomas on Reunifying the Self.11- Valentinus, Great Preacher of Gnosis. 12- God and Creation in Valentinian Myth.13- “Becoming Male” through Valentinian Ritual. 14- Valentinian Views on Christian Theology. 15- Mary Magdalene as an Apostle of Gnosis. 16- Competing Revelations from Christ.17- The Invention of Heresy. 18- Making Gnosis Orthodox. 19- Gnosticism and Judaism. 20-  Gnosis without Christ.
21- The Mythology of Manichaeism. 22- Augustine on Manichaeism and Original Sin.23- Gnostic Traces in Western Religions. 24- “Gnosticism” in the Modern Imagination.

Companion Book

You can download the book on PDF from your library (in your member area), potion the cursor on the PDF link and let clink and select save link as, and it will

The audio-book comes with a companion book, of about 185 pages. The text is mostly what Brakke narrates, but not strictly so, no to the letter, as he adds things that aren't in the book. The book contains very helpful illustrations and figures, a list of recommended reads at the end of each chapter and some questions to ponder on it on your own. The book also includes a very up to date bibliography, and each chapter offers a list of suggested readings and makes some questions for the readier/student to ponder on.

My Main Takings from the Course

I have learned many things about Gnosticism and Early Christianity in this book. However, a few points have a special relevance for me, and they are the points that make me wonder, ponder and reflect. The eye-openers. These are my personal nuggets from the book:
~~ Gnosticism is a clear example of the many factions, chaos, and ways of dealing with Jesus' message in the first centuries of Christianity. Nothing was set on stone, so all Christians had to make sense of the differences between the God depicted in the Old Testament and the message brought by Jesus. Those first centuries saw different approaches, some of them considered heretic, but they were never so, they were mostly not dominant because even among mainstream Christianity, if such thing existed, nothing was set on stone either. Gnosticism sheds light on the richness and confusion with which early Christians looked at the world of Spirit.
~~ I found amazing how contemporary and relevant the Gospel of St Thomas is for modern spirituality and how, despite being discarded as being an  apocrypha, the message is perhaps the closest to that of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is here and now, inside you, the inner and outer are a reflection of each other. So very Jungian, as well!  It has made it to my must-read text. I wonder why never made it to the New Testament. 
~~ I find really surprising the influence of Plato in many of the Gnostic myth, but with a layer of spirituality added onto it. 
~~ Despite what many Gnostic aficionados say, the role of women in Gnosticism was not that different from the role that  women had in Early Christianity. Yes, there are more women or female figures in the Gnostic writings, even the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, but women were considered derivative imperfect souls and copies of their male counterparts, from whom they need permission to act in the world. 
~~ The Gospels weren't written by the apostles and are not contemporaneous of Jesus. I think that needs to be reminded. It is OK to believe, to believe in Jesus and to be Christian, but one should be aware of what one is swearing on.
~~ Mythical narratives need to make sense; otherwise, the faithful will adjust the narrative until it does. The example of the nativity scene Brakke gives is brilliant! Early Christians didn't have the set of dogmas or unquestionable "truths" we now have, as most of them are a historical construction,  but we all want to make sense of religious texts, understand their lack of congruencies or things that seem not to depict God in ways that are unflattering. The Gnostics, perhaps more than anybody else, were able to address those hot-potato points and deal with them in very creative ways. 
~~  Early Christians seemed to be more interested than contemporary Christians in understanding what they believed. These Christians sought direct knowledge of God not just to feel him in their hearts or to follow Jesus' teachings. They had a faith that was less blind, and part of spirituality was "to know" not just to believe, to interpret and not just to be lectured. Those Christians who declared the Gnostics heretics, tried to do the same and provided explanations to address the same quest for knowledge of God, the connection between the Old and New Testament, and offered stories about salvation that would resonate with Christians that also  seemed to seek answers not just dogma.  
~~ Gnosctic, Valentiniana, Mandeans, Manichaeans, the Kabbalah, Hermetism and Neoplatonism, among many other creeds and philosophies examined in this course, which go from Early Christianity to the modern day, show that humans have always had a need to approach God and the Spirit in ways that aren't simplistic or literal, that humans need of myths and symbols to go deeper into the understanding of the world and Spirit to give meaning to their lives.
~~ Believers, or some ranks amongst them, have always aimed to make sense of the Biblical Genesis, almost a need to know how the world and the Universe came to be, and the position of humans and the human soul in it. Have you ever wondered why Einstein is so "revered"?
 ~~ Coptic Christianity is such an important part of Early Christianity that this should be more commonly acknowledged and frequently taught in school. All the Coptic texts Coptic Christianity of the past are an heritage of Humanity, at least of Christian Humanity, aid we should aim to protect modern Copts, their churches and their Museums from the abuses and destruction they are suffering in modern Egypt.  

 

Pricing

The CD is about 70+ bucks, but if you get the audible version you will paying half that price. However, if you are an Audible subscriber you will get it with one credit, and if you join just to try it. You can do, as I have done just to get this course, join Audible and have month-free trial and get two book or courses for free. Yet, even if I had paid a full price for this course, I would be happy! 

 

Warning

Brakke is very balanced on his discourse, so I think nobody will get offended by anything he says. However,I you take the Bible and the New Testament to the letter, if you are conservative or very conservative Christian, this is not a book for you. This is a historical course, by a professional scholar who has no interest on doing anything that is not teaching a subject on which he is an expert. If you decide to go on and get offended, you are the only one to blame.


A Wish

I would love Brakke to offer another course on any of the subjects he is expert on! He is just a fantastic teacher and perfect for this sort of recording.

Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life by Stephen LaBerge (2009)

, 10 Oct 2016

This is a short how-to book on lucid dreaming by Stephen LaBerge PhD, a Stanford researcher and one of the fathers of the field. 

Generally speaking, this is an acceptable introduction to lucid dreaming if this is first time you approach lucid dreaming or dreamwork in general, as it is written in a very simple English, with very clear how-to techniques to remember dreams, to facilitate lucid dreaming, to deal with nightmares (face you demons!) and a bit of introduction about the importance of dreamwork and the virtues and the uses of lucid dreaming.

The e-book comes with a series of audio mp3 recordings downloadable from the editorial house's website (as mentioned at the beginning of the book). I found the recordings quite good. The narrator has a wonderful calm voice, which is great to induce relaxation, but also a clear way of explaining things. Probably, they are good enough on their own and quite the core of what the book says. 

I didn't know about Lucid Dreaming Inducing Devices (LDIDs) like the NovaDreamer and the DreamLight LDID, which are mentioned in this book as they are developed by LaBerger's team in his Lucidity Institute in Hawaii. For obvious reasons, he doesn't mention others, which can be found, reviewed and linked here.

This is not a book as it has just 89 pages filled with too many records of dreams, too many unnecessary quotes, quite a lot of unnecessary verbal weed, plus the notes and bio. The core of the "book" is about 40 pages, not more! Besides, the bibliography is really old, the most modern book referenced in the book is from 1997.

RENDERING FOR KINDLE
The conversion to e-book was obviously done without the least care and not proofread. There are too many items misspelled to list them here. It will suffice to say that dot is used at times instead of comma, words that should be capitalised after a period are consistently written in lower case, Dr appears as dr a few times, and the surname Dement (funny enough, the surname of a psychiatrist mentioned in the book) is written in lower case at least two times. If you pay me, I will edit the book for you, dear editor...

MY RECOMMENDATION
If this is your first approach to dreamwork and the first book you find, it will certainly help you with the basics. However, if you really want to delve in all the nitty-gritty of lucid dreaming, especially in the scientific research on dreaming you need to read LaBerge's traditional book, written 20+ years ago or so, or Robert Waggoner's because the introduction on the subject in this condensed book is really full of platitudes and generalisations. Otherwise, you can visit LaBerge's institute of research Lucidity, where a lot of free material is provided to the general public.

NOTE
It has been years since I have lucid dreamed, which happened spontaneously while I was a teen. I have been doing archetypal dreamwork for a few years now but not lucid dreaming, so I bought this book to use lucid dreaming for problem solving. I haven't gotten any result as yet, but as LaBerge says that it can take up to a month of constant self-training, I will wait and see and add a PS. Wish me luck :)

Seeking Wholeness: Insights into the Mystery of Experience by Roland Evans (2013)

, 8 Oct 2016

Seeking Wholeness explores the nature of experience, and defines what process, flow, connection and wholeness are. Secondly, the book tries to respond to the question of how we become who we are, and digs into those elements of life that help us to experience life more fully. Finally, the book discusses the basics of living a whole life, regarding, health, job, love, relationships, 'God' and so on.

Life is like a flowing river, permanent in its constant flow and change. Perception is an illusion. We experience the world in a unique and personal way, and try to make sense of it and give meaning to our life. These are the points of departure of Evan's exploration of how through awareness of our experience we can grow and become more in tune with life itself and grow to reach the elusive Higher Self. Evans sees  experience as a process, and organises it in four categories:
> Outer process is the external experience in the world, the surface of the self.
> Inner process is the sphere of subjective experience (feelings, emotions, physical sensations, values, motivations, and reflective thinking).
> Deeper process is the realm of the subliminal and the unconscious.
> Greater process is the realm of spirit, the greater self, wholeness, completeness and connection with the essence of life.

Wholeness is presented as a natural flow of connection between all our processes, the outer and the inner world.  Wholeness is marrying the conscious and subconscious. Wholeness is constant change, transformation and growth. Wholeness is a deep body-mind connection. Wholeness is being in touch with our sensual experience. Wholeness is using pain, trauma and the upsets of life to grow inside and move on. Wholeness is a feeling of being connected to our inner self, other human beings and Spirit. Wholeness is seeing ourselves as a continuum that goes from birth to death in a process of constant mutation and adaptation. Wholeness is fluidity and flow, the contrary of being stuck.

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Evans writes in a very understandable but elegant English, and his writing is intimate and connective, as if he were writing for you specifically. He has a great heart and seems to walk the talk.  He shows a great compassion and clear understanding of what makes humans miserable and happy. Evans shares many examples of his personal life, his feelings, his past struggles, family life, and how he came to be a psychotherapist. Evans also gives us a good insight of what being a psychotherapist is, how he works, the way he approaches his sessions, the sort of diggings he does, the techniques he uses, and what Psychotherapy is. Although there are quite a few references to real cases, they are not too many and they  are right to the point.

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Evans, as any Jungian psychotherapist, emphasises the importance of dreamwork, synchronicity, and visualisation, and on how complexes and the "ancestral pool" work against us becoming whole. However, he is not a straightforward Jungian as he also practises Process Psychology "a set of tools for approaching experience as a moving, ever-changing flow, a movie rather than a series of still photos" as Ruhl says in the intro.  His practice also includes hypnotherapy and EMDR,

Evans candidly confesses that he came to Psychology and Psychotherapy trough  spirituality not rationality, and some of his take on wholeness is related to Subud, an Indonesian spiritual movement of which Evans is a member. However, many of the those spiritual principles are Universal and can be found on most religions. Although the book is very heavily sided on the Greater Experience (spirituality especially) to achieve wholeness, something, Evans has a sort of relaxed view of spirituality, which can be easily shared by lay people: "To write a completed poem is a spiritual act; to look your child in the eye with love is a spiritual act; to follow an insight to its utmost conclusion is a spiritual act. More than anything, to become more complete, more coherent is our spiritual task. It is not the specifics of what we do, but the realization of a connection inward or outward that makes everything sacred." (loc. 2706-2708). Evans also stresses the fact that connection with Nature or the elevation we feel inside when hearing some pieces of music as a spiritual thing and part of the Greater experience.

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A FEW ODD THINGS
Although I enjoyed most of the book and I have a great respect and admiration for Evans, there are  a few things that read a bit odd, probably because of the phrasing.
>>> One of the things I find most disturbing in life is finding philosophies, religions of ways of spirituality that clearly consider women sons of a lesser god or simply second-rate souls. This being the case, you can imagine my shock at reading the following paragraph uttered by an Indonesian Subud spiritual leader:
"One young man asked him if there was such a thing as a soul mate and how should he find her. Sudarto got very serious as he replied in broken English: "Yes, you have a soul mate but she is hard to find. There is a woman in every half a million who has a soul, a good match with you. Better to look for that one-in-half-a-million than to keep waiting for your true mate. You can be happy with second best." He looked round at the circle of single and earnest men as we hung on every word, and burst into laughter again." (loc. 1667-1641).
It might be just a bad  translation of the episode, but it seems to imply that all men there had a soul but just some women do. I know that is not what Evans is saying, but you know, why leave the sentencing as is when it clearly has some sort of connotation?
>>> I think the following quote about couple relationships is also dangerous. "Now, you must decide on an appropriate action to reconnect your inner and outer worlds. If it is right for you to part, then be decisive— cut the psychic ties cleanly and unquestionably. If not, you may have to say you are sorry even though you think you did nothing wrong. When we take on the suffering of a whole situation consciously, with open heart, we create more space for connection." (loc. 2642-2645).  After reading it, I thought about all victims of domestic violence, who do just that, ask for forgiveness for something wrong they did not do for the sake of peace and find themselves further punished. Most of them cannot leave their abusers for many different reasons.
>>>The more a person attunes with the Greater process, the more that person seems complete. (loc. 1349). Although Evans is not dogmatic about what the Spirit is, he is a bit preachy on this. After reading the book, it seems that a person who is not spiritual can't ever become whole.  Agnostics and atheists might find not see the point of not focusing on the here and now to be utterly connected with life and the others. I know atheists who are more in tune with life, more ethical, and more whole than many religious and spiritual people I also know. I have seen too many people quoting the Bible and having a cross around their neck, babbling about having a sensitive soul and, de facto, being miserable human beings, bad people, and not attuned with Spirit at all I have seen deeply religious people crumble when their spiritual beliefs did not help them to give meaning to their suffering. For that to happen, you have to have the attitude "life is a valley of tears" and accept any crap that life throws at you. 

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IN SHORT
This is a great book if you are thinking about having a career as a counsellor or psychotherapist, if you are quite religious and believe in God, or just very spiritual. This book is not for  you if you are deeply agnostic, if you are an atheist and don't think that your life needs of transcendence beyond the right-here right-now to be whole. There are many pearls of wisdom in the book, and a great compassion towards our humanity, so it is a great read. Yet, this is not a self-help book, Evans himself states, "Can you recognize the patterns that keep you entangled? Do you know yourself well enough to find the shape and meaning of your whole being? These are essential questions that are impossible to answer without assistance." (loc. 208-209). 

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RENDERING FOR KINDLE
>> The book does not have  the notes in the paperback edition.
>> The book does not have  the index in the paperback edition. 
>> The bibliography is outdated  and no book after the year 2000 is to be found.

However, the book is much cheaper than the hard copy, and is a compensation in a way. Yet, I would like authors and editors to be more mindful and produce e-books that are as good as the printed version of the book. Of course, this requires more time and effort, but produces  a final product that is whole.