PB’s Top Ten

Difficult, indeed, to choose; but these are the fish that swam first into the net that I cast into my memory:

1. The Book of Hebrews (Not-Paul, <70AD; Sermon-Letter)  …loved for its coherent complexity, and the triumph of Jesus.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  (Heb. 2:14-15, ESV)

2. The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament (Thomas Bernard, 1865; Biblical Theology) …the keen observations of a master of the Big Picture.

“Our first charge is, ‘Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.’  We go; and our words not only meet the wants of conscience, but stir the activities of thought; and a cloud of questions rises round us which must be dissipated while it is gathering, but which will still gather while it is being dissipated.  Thus the preaching of the words of life to the people is evermore attended by an incidental necessity for extensive and various discussion.”  (1)

3. Hamlet (Shakespeare, 1600; Drama) …the tragedy of a brilliant mind constrained by a vow to a ghost.

“What a piece of work is a man!  How noble in reason!  how infinite in faculty!  in form, in moving, how express, how admirable!  in action how like an angel!  in apprehension how like a god!”  (Act II, Scene 2)

4. As a Driven Leaf (Milton Steinberg, 1939; Novel ) …the poignant story of a rabbi’s loss of faith, set in the days leading up to the Bar Kokhba rebellion (132-135AD).

“Then in the fierceness of his need, there came to him from the vanished yesterdays of his youth verses instinct with an understanding softer than the sharp-lined wisdom of the Greeks.  And never had he wanted so desperately to believe as in this hour when she leaned upon a faith he did not possess.  Holding her to himself he spoke of the gentle Shepherd Who leads men beside still waters causing them to walk unhurt through the valley of the shadow, Who cannot be fled, not in the grave, not even if one were to take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea.”  (395)

5.  Murder Must Advertise (Dorothy Sayers, 1933; Murder Mystery) …when Death came to Pym’s Publishing.

“‘It beats me,’ said Wimsey, ‘the way these policemen give way over a trifling accident.  In the Sexton Blake book that my friend Ginger Joe just lent me, the great detective, after being stunned with a piece of lead piping and trussed up for six hours in ropes which cut his flesh nearly to the bone, is taken by boat on a stormy night to a remote house on the coast and flung down a flight of stone steps into a stone cellar. Here he  contrives to release himself from his bonds after three hours’ work on the edge of a broken wine-bottle, when the villain gets wise to his activities and floods the cellar with gas.  He is most fortunately rescued at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour and, pausing only to swallow a few ham sandwiches and a cup of strong coffee, instantly joins the prolonged pursuit of the murderers by aeroplane, during which he has to walk out along the wing and grapple a fellow who has just landed on it from a rope and is proposing to chuck a hand grenade into the cockpit.  And here is my own brother-in-law…giving way to bad temper and bandages because some three-by-four crook has slugged him one on his own comfortable staircase.” (112)

6. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Richard Bauckham, 2006; Biblical Studies) …all of the reasons in the world to trust these sources.

“There is one phenomenon in the Gospels that has never been satisfactorily explained.  It concerns names.  Many characters in the Gospels are unnamed, but others are named.  I want to suggest now the possibility that many of these named characters were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions.  In some cases the Evangelists may well have known them.”  (39)

7. Cyrano de Bergerac (Edmond Rostand, 1897; Drama) …a master of words who must love from a distance.

“I’m afraid to speak a single one of all the words I have in here. (Strikes his chest.)  But writing is a different matter…(Takes his pen again.)  I’ll now put down on paper the love letter that I’ve already written within myself a hundred times.  I have only to look into my soul and copy the words inscribed in it.”  (Act II, Scene iii; it’s best in French!)

8. Till we Have Faces (C. S. Lewis, 1956; Novel) …on the nature of love, and the distance — and the difference — between gods and men.

“When that time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words.  I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer.  Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?  How can they meet us face to face until we have faces?” (294)

 9. The Body in Pain (Elaine Scarry, 1985; Secular Philosophy) … on imagining, articulating, creating as embodied beings — and on the unmaking properties of torture and war.

“A lightbulb transforms the human being from a creature who would spend approximately a third of each day groping in the dark, to one who sees simply by wanting to see:  its impossibly fragile, milky-white globe curved protectively around an even more fragile, upright-then folding filament of wire is the materialization of neither retina, nor pupil, nor day-seeing, nor night-seeing; it is the materialization of a counterfeit perception about the dependence of human sight on the rhythm of the earth’s rotation; no wonder it is in its form so beautiful.” (292)

10. The Mind of the Maker (Dorothy Sayers, 1941; Christian Philosophy) …on imagining, articulating, and creating as a reflection of the Trinity.

“I suppose that of all Christian dogmas, the doctrine of the Trinity enjoys the greatest reputation for obscurity and remoteness from common experience.  Whether the theologian extols it as the splendor of the light invisible or the skeptic derides it as a horror of great darkness, there is a general conspiracy to assume that its effect upon those who contemplate it is blindness, either by absence or excess of light.  There is some truth in the assumption, but there is also a great deal of exaggeration.  God is mysterious, and so (for that matter) is the universe and one’s fellow-man and one’s self and the snail on the garden-path; but none of these is so mysterious as to correspond to nothing within human knowledge.”  (35)