Ben F. Meyer: The Aims of Jesus: Intro N.T. Wright, p/b, Eugene, Pickwick Publications: Princeton Theological Monograph Series, 2002 (1977). 

N T Wright regards American Catholic Ben Meyer’s book on the aims of Jesus as one of the best books written about Jesus in the last thirty years.  Mayer, who died in 1995, was a remarkable theologian and linguist who could write confidently in German, French,  Hebrew and Greek as well as English. Meyer’s theological thinking and method  has been particularly influenced by Canadian philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan especially his book Method in Theology.   The title of Meyer’s  book is interesting as it focusses on Jesus himself and endeavours to clarify Jesus’ purpose by exploring his actions and words from the Gospels in particular Matthew and Mark.Meyer’s book is in two sections, the first being hermeneutical issues and his attack on Enlightenment rationalism; the second and much   larger section is his study of the aims of Jesus.

Part 1 of the book provides a helpful analysis of the research on the Gospels since the Enlightenment.  Meyer is strongly critical of the rationalist Enlightenment C18th and C19th attack on the Gospel narratives found originally in Reimarus, followed by Strauss, Holtzmann, Feuerbach, and Wrede.  Albert Schweitzer created a spirited attack on the German theology of his time but his own treatment of Jesus’ aim and purpose fell into the same anti-historical trap. German theology in the C20th continued the Continental sceptical view of the life of Christ and made deep inroads into British theology especially the work of Rudolf Bultmann and his influential book Jesus Christ and Mythology. Bultmanngave little credibility to the authenticity and historicity of the life of Jesus and comes under heavy fire by Meyer.  Meyer’s robust, vigorous  and carefully documented and explained demolition of two centuries of liberal criticism is well grounded and persuasive, preparing the way for a far more sympathetic understanding of the teaching of Jesus In Part 11. 

Meyer’s work focusses on three major areas.  The historicity of John the Baptist and Jesus’ relationship with him; Jesus own public public proclamation and teaching including the historicity of the miracles; and Jesus private and esoteric teaching of his close disciples. This material is treated with clarity, energy, common sense and careful technical support. (There are over 70  pages of detailed notes defending his key ideas but these need not necessarily distract the reader!) What is required when reading Meyer is a Bible because his frequent references especially to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark give the reader a jolt when read in the light of Meyer’s careful analysis.  Although parts of this book are heavy going I believe that a thinking Christian whose faith has been battered by the scepticism of much theological analysis of Jesus’ life and work will be strongly encouraged by Meyer’s book.  I warmly recommend it.

Roman Catholic theologian and philospher Bernard Lonergan.

Sarah Baume: spill simmer falter wither: p/b, London, Windmill,2015  

Engaging and powerful debut novel by young Irish writer Sarah Baume concerning the relationship between an old friendless man and his much loved dog One Eye. Out without a lead on a beach One Eye sinks his teeth into a beach walker’s pet dog and rather than face the wrath of the dog catcher the old man and his dog load up the car and take off for places unknown. The narrative describes their footloose activities and adventures in their cosy loaded up car and the relationship builds a life of its own which mesmerises the reader and makes for a heart-warming but also sad adventure. 

The writing is assured, detailed and clever almost forcing the reader to take these two most unlikely characters seriously and also beautifully and artistically drawing a picture of the changing seasons of Ireland which account for the title of the novel. This is heart warming novel of two lost individuals, a man and his dog, who find meaning and understanding simply by being together.  What begins as a sad and dreary picture of old age and meaninglessness becomes a friendship and adventure which the reader cannot put down. I was not at this book club discussion but I believe our book club members found this story perplexing and for some, unsatisfactory. 

Review of Anne Griffin: When All is Said: Five Toasts, Five People, One Lifetime, p/b, London,  Hodder & Stougton, 2019

Debut novel from Irish writer Anne Griffin tells the story of a self made 84 year old Irish farmer whose determination to succeed brings him wealth, a happy marriage and a very strong sense of personal satisfaction. The story of the key elements of the people in his life is told in the form of five “written” toasts as he knocks back five of his favourite whiskeys in a hotel of whichhe owns slightly more than a half share.

The five toasts are for his much loved older brother Tony, who died in his twenties  due to consumption;  his still born daughter Molly who constantly “appears” to him in his dreaming; his wife’s sister Noreen who has severe brain damage; his only son Kevin, who is married with children and is a successful newspaper man in the USA; and finally his beloved wife Sadie who died two years earlier.  These stories are told with compassion and self knowledge and hold the reader’s interest very powerfully. The conclusion to the narrative is a surprise.  4 stars.

Gideon Haigh: The Night was a Bright Moonlight and I Could See a Man Quite Plain: An  Edwardian Cricket Murder, p/b, Sydney, Scribner, 2022 

Australian Gideon Haigh has written over forty books, mostly about cricket. This book is a true story of some events in the life of George Vernon, the son of highly regarded English Rugby player and cricketer George Frederick Vernon who had represented England in both sports towards the end of the C19th. Young George Vernon lost both his parents while still quite young and was cared for by his Aunt Helen and her wealthy retired husband Ernest Rhodes. 

At age 15 George Vernon began adult life on a British training ship and henceforth led a checkered and rather rootless life which included time in Africa, Canada and Australia.  He became what was known in the day as a “remittance man”,  a young man who received a monthly remittance from a wealthy family member, usually wasted the money quickly on booze and spent the rest of the month scratching around for work and a drink and waiting for his next remittance.

In Australia he had landed a job as second in command of the Doondi Cattle Station in Queensland’s Darling Downs, in those days an eight hour drive from Brisbane. While the boss was away at another cattle station a murder occurred at Doondi Cattle Station and George Vernon was arrested as the main suspect. The true story describes the trial and later events surrounding the murder which have several twists and turns. An interesting yarn.   4 stars.