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Throwing the book(s) at my readers

Friday night, the publishers of the Journal Of Irreproducible Results held their annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremonies, where they give their awards to the silliest scientific breakthroughs. This year's winners were the inventor of prosthetic gonads for dogs ("Neuticles,") the authors who researched ''Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh," and the paper on "Will Humans Swim Faster or Slower in Syrup?"

That put me in mind of a book I bought years ago, and a few other of my favorite obscure books.

Anyone who disagrees with "sex sells" is a liar. I picked up a book solely for its title, browsed it quickly, and bought it -- and I recommend any other geeks do the same. It's "Sex As A Heap Of Malfunctioning Rubble," and it's a collection of articles from the above-mentioned Journal. There are such prize pieces as a study of the rare, endangered Pacific Nauga, a study on which shape of styrofoam peanuts will most efficiently fill in the Grand Canyon, and A Shorter History Of Time ("BANG!"). They also compare and contrast artwork from ancient India and ancient Greece, and speculate of a war between the two where the Indians stole all the arms and legs off the Greeks' statues and attached them to their own statues. If you're in the least bit scientifically inclined, it's a must-read.

Another odd little book I like is George R. R. Martin's "Armageddon Rag." It's the story of a 60's band reuniting for a grand tour. The Nazgul (a Doors-like band) broke up after their lead singer was assassinated on stage during a concert, triggering a riot. Now they're back, with a replacement for the slain leader -- or is he? It's reminiscent of Stephen King at his finest, replete with scads of 60's flavor that brings back nostalgia even among those of us who were born at its peak.

"I, JFK" is another odd one. It's the memoirs of President John F. Kennedy, composed nearly 25 years after his assassination. It's written in the first person, as JFK looks down from Heaven and reminisces. It's not for everyone, though -- it's constantly shocking, and filled with amazingly surreal and improbable twists. We learn the secrets behind his assassination (it was nobody you even knew existed), the Tit Offensive in Viet Nam (no, that's not a typo), who REALLY killed Marilyn Monroe, and all sorts of other things you never even imagined. Lyndon Johnson is in it, too, and J. Edgar Hoover shows up in both Heaven AND Hell -- showing that, perhaps, his legendary files included EVERYONE.

Finally, Richard Ben Sapir's "The Body" (out of print, but a movie was made of it that I need to see) starts off with a Palestinian shopkeeper digging out a basement in Jerusalem. He finds a cave that has been as a tomb, and inside is a skeleton that shows signs of crucifixion. Further, the ribs on one side are broken and the skull is scratched, but the arms and legs are intact. Finally, there is a plaque resting on the chest proclaiming the body as that of "the king of the Jews."

He freaks and reports it to the Israeli government. Faced with a huge, no-win dilemma on their hands, they do the only thing they can do -- they quietly notify the Catholic Church of their find, and dump it in THEIR laps. The Church sends a priest to investigate and ascertain whether this is, indeed, the body of Jesus.

Even for an agnostic like me, it's a fascinating story. I learned far more about the Bible and its context from that book than any of my other dabblings in theology. For example, the Israeli archeologist assigned to work with Father Gutierrez gives the full story behind the tale of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the Temple, and now I fully understand just why they were there in the first place. She also give the secular reasons for just why Jerusalem, and Israel, was so important in ancient times. (Explanations in the extended section).

So, there are four of my favorite books, culled from the ranks of the relatively obscure. I could cite "Watership Down," which I re-read every year or two, but I was looking for ones people might not have read.

Ancient Israel was located at the crossroads of three great Empires (Rome, Egypt, Persia) and three continents (Europe, Africa, Asia). Travelers, even back then, had to exchange their currency, and thought it best to do so before they entered the new region. With Jerusalem located between all three, it was a natural place. And the Temple was the most visible and easily-found landmark in the city. So the Temple found a good way to supplement its income was by leasing space to money-lenders in the Temple's outer chambers.

Comments (13)

I think you would also enjo... (Below threshold)

I think you would also enjoy Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Well, if the body found in ... (Below threshold)

Well, if the body found in the book was really Christ, the ribs would not have been broken (assuming the book based itself on the Biblical account of what happened to Christ during crucifixion).

I've actually never read Watership Down, though I suppose I should have by now.

Actually, the moneylenders ... (Below threshold)

Actually, the moneylenders were in the Temple so that Jews coming to perform a sacrifice would be able to change their money for some that didn't have foreign idols on it. This was important when they purchased the animals to be sacrificed.

One of my favorite books is "The Neverending Story", but I haven't finished it yet.

Most Christians, especially... (Below threshold)

Most Christians, especially Catholics, believe that none of Jesus' bones were broken during his crucifiction. So, either the author must come up with a convincing explanation for broken ribs being exceptable to the Vatican or the story falls apart almost immediately.

And I have to second Jay's comment on the "money lenders". Most people understand them to be "money changers" and the reason Jesus chased them out of the temple was because they took advantage of Jews coming to make their repentence sacrafices as prescribed in the Torah.

Wow, I had read Armageddon ... (Below threshold)

Wow, I had read Armageddon Rag years ago, back when it first came out and had completely forgotten that George R.R. Martin had written it. It seems so different from his other work.

Now if only he would finish writing his Fire and Ice series -- supposedly installment 4 will be out next month, but it has already been postponed and postponed and if it takes much longer to appear I'm going to have to go back and reread the first three thousand pages before starting this next chunk. (And now I hear that part of the delay has been that book 4 turned out to be so big that they've had to divide it into two books... an impressive feat of verbosity for a series that has been averaging around a thousand pages per book.)

Yes they were money changer... (Below threshold)
Sabba Hillel:

Yes they were money changers, not money lenders and they were required because the Temple had to use its own currency for the sacrifices as the value of each sacrifice was fixed. It was not necessarily because of the idols on the coinage of the other nations.

In fact, the exchange fees were also fixed so as not to overcharge the people who used their services, nor cheat the money changers out of a fair income.

You know, just the phrase "... (Below threshold)

You know, just the phrase "Sex Sells" would make a good book title. Now I just have to write it.

Actually, kbiel, as I think... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Actually, kbiel, as I think about it, the ribs weren't broken, but nicked -- indicatory of the spear in the side. It's been way, WAY too long since I've been able to find my copy. My apologies for the confusion; the flaw is in my memory, not the book.


That's weird. Watership Dow... (Below threshold)

That's weird. Watership Down is one of my favorites, too. And I read it fairly often.

That was a great movie (The... (Below threshold)

That was a great movie (The Body).

I have Richard Ben Sapir's ... (Below threshold)

I have Richard Ben Sapir's previous book (The Far Horizon), which dealt with a Roman gladiator thawed from the ice and resuscitated.

Thanks for reminding me of him - I'll have to re-read mine and look for the others.

George RR Martin is as good... (Below threshold)
mark tomeo:

George RR Martin is as good a modern writer as the U.S. has yet produced. I don't care much for swords and sorcery, but his sci fi stuff is absolutely top notch. you would also enjoy "Fevre Dream," his take on vampires - it's far superior to anything Anne Rice or anyone else has written on the subject.

Wheels, I think you mean "F... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Wheels, I think you mean "Far Arena." And I also recommend "Quest" -- another great one.







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