"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 15, Number 1, January 2012

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

Job 32:17-21

 

“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Earl of Kent

Shakespeare’s King Lear

Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34

 

[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org

 

All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only.  Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand.  Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given upon request.]

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“By What Authority?”

The Question of “Tradition” in the New Testament

 

The Bible declares its own Divine inspiration through the superintending work of the Holy Spirit over the authors:

 

Knowing this first that no prophetic utterance in Scripture comes from the [prophet’s] own motivation.  For the prophetic utterance never came from human will, but while they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20, 21; all translations are my own)

 

All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16a)

 

It likewise affirms its absolute truthfulness and freedom from factual error, Psalm 19:9b (among several places):

 

The fear of Yahweh is pure, standing for ever;

The judgments of Yahweh are true; they are completely just.”

 

Furthermore, the Bible teaches its own all-sufficiency in matters of theological and spiritual truth, in short, its finality as the authoritative source of doctrinal beliefs and Christian practices.  This is clearly the proper inference, the reasonable corollary of its Divine inspiration, as Paul plainly affirms:

 

All Scripture [literally, writing] is God-breathed, and [therefore] useful for doctrinal instruction, for conviction, for correction, for training in righteous conduct, so that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)

 

Or, to restate it: the inspired Scriptures are an all-sufficient source for proper beliefs and conduct for every Christian.  In short, they lack nothing necessary to becoming a Christian (“They are able to make you wise regarding salvation through faith in Messiah Jesus,” 2 Timothy 3:15) and growing to full Christian maturity.  It might be said that they have “100% of the necessary daily requirements of all spiritual nutrients, vitamins and minerals.  They are, in a word, complete, and therefore the final and exclusive authoritative source of what Christians are supposed to believe and do.  None other is necessary, or available. 

 

And it is not by accident that Paul speaks of the “Scripture.”  The Greek word here, graphe, means literally, “writing, thing written,” but in the NT it always has the technical, specialized meaning of Sacred Writing, that is Holy Scripture.  No little emphasis is on the fact of its being written, rather than, say, spoken only.  And being written, it exists in publicly consultable form, in definitive form, in essentially unalterable form and exists independent of any individual or religious entity.  It is a defined, delineated, established, fixed and settled body of writings, not a wax-nosed, pliable, alterable and changing accretion of human traditions, opinions and perspectives, as is the case with oral Jewish traditions, ultimately reduced to writing in the Mishnah, Tosefta, the Talmuds and other related literature, or in the voluminous body of professing Christian literature of the late first and later centuries contained in the writings of the church “fathers,” the decrees of counsels, ancient creeds and such.

 

The belief in the written canonical Scriptures as the complete and final source of all Christian beliefs and practices is, in essence, the view popularized (but most assuredly not “fabricated) at the time of the Reformation by the Latin phrase, Sola Scriptura.  Paul himself frequently appealed to Scripture with the introductory phrase, “As it is written” (Romans 1:17, and often) and urged upon the Corinthians “do not go beyond that which stands written,” (I Corinthians 4:6).  These strongly support the claim that Paul viewed the teaching of the written, inspired Scriptures as authoritative and final.

 

Those of us today who in all sincerity profess our belief in the ”Sola Scriptura”   perspective on the Bible simultaneously deny that either oral or written extra-biblical traditions, whether Jewish or Christian, have any inherent authority for true doctrine or practice.  Such traditions are of course of interest for historical and theological studies, and may be of value in the same way that the writings of later writers as Rashi and Maimonides, or Calvin, Luther, Wesley and Spurgeon may be--as attempts at analyzing or explaining the meaning or implications of Scripture.  But these are only uninspired human writings, not infallible, God-breathed Scripture.  At times, they may state or summarize very well the teaching of Scripture on some particular point or doctrine, but they will also at times be very much mistaken in their understanding and affirmations, and even in glaring contradiction to the plain teaching of the Bible.  Such extra-biblical tradition, after all, comes from fallible, uninspired men, not from Holy Spirit-inspired prophets and apostles.

 

But some will counter that the very Bible we appeal to as our final, our sole authority, actually affirms the authority of oral teaching--“tradition”--in addition to the written Scripture, as in the following (and other) texts--

 

“Now, brothers, I commend you for remembering all things about me, and that you are keeping the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”

1 Corinthians 11:2

 

“And therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold firmly the traditions which you were taught, whether by means of our oral instruction or written letter.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15

 

“Now, we encourage you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly, and not in accordance with the tradition which you received from us.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6

 

That the NT does affirm the acceptance of “tradition” we do not deny.  But a careful examination of the Biblical facts will cast the matter in a clear light, namely, that this “tradition” consisted in the oral teaching of the Apostles, not in addition to the written Scriptures, but in lieu of them, temporarily, until such time as they were written as inspired, canonical Scripture.

 

The word “tradition(s)” occurs about 10 times in the English translation of the NT.  The corresponding Greek noun is paradosis (13 times in the Greek NT), literally, “something given over, handed over, or passed on from someone to someone else.”

 

 The related and very common verb is paradidomi (121 times in the Greek NT), which means to “hand over, pass on, give over, deliver up, betray.”  It is used both in a good sense (for example, Christ “handing over“ His life for our salvation) and a bad sense (for example, Judas handing Jesus over to the authorities).

 

“Traditions”/ “things handed over” is usually used in the NT in the negative sense of doctrines or practices of merely human origin which are very often in direct conflict with the teaching of the Bible.  Such traditions are devoid of any authority or obligation. 

 

“Then those scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem come to Jesus and say, ‘Why do your followers violate the tradition of the elders?  For they do not wash their hands whenever they eat bread.’  But He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you violate the command of God because of your tradition?’ . . . . ‘You nullify the command of God because of your tradition.’ “

Matthew 15:1-3, 6 (See also Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9)

 

Paul gives testimony of his own pre-conversion enslavement to tradition instead of Scripture, and warns his readers to beware of such:

 

“And I was progressing in Judaism beyond many contemporaries in my own generation, being much more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”

Galatians 1:14

 

“Watch out lest someone take you captive through philosophy and empty deception, after the manner of human tradition, after the manner of the constituent elements of the word, and not after the manner of Christ.”

Colossians 2:8 

 

[Acts 6:14--“for we have heard him [Stephen] saying that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and he will change the customs which Moses passed on us.”-- is probably a reference to the rabbinic traditions, the so-called “oral law” (and not the written law of Moses), which the Jews pretend was also given to Moses at Sinai. The Mishnah, tractate Pirke Aboth (“The Sayings of the Fathers”) 1:1--

“Moses received the Law from Sinai, and passed it on to Joshua, and Joshua [passed it on] to the elders, and the elders [passed it on] to the prophets, and the prophets passed it on to the men of the Great Synagogue.”

 

This is not a brief “chain of possession” and transmission for the written law or Torah, Genesis to Deuteronomy, but a fictional claim of the origin and transmission of extra-Biblical tradition, in hope of giving to the tradition an aura of antiquity and authority equal to Scripture].

 

Things “passed on” to us are authoritative and binding only if they come from God’s properly constituted authoritative teachers, namely, the apostles, either orally (at first), or in writing (as the NT was being composed), and now solely in the NT, our only source of genuinely apostolic teaching.

 

We also affirm, in this regard and based solely on Scripture, that the apostles had and have NO successors in office.  The apostolic requirements of being a follower of Jesus from the time of His immersion by John, and an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:21, 22), necessarily left the world with no qualified candidates for apostleship by not later than the end of the first century.  It was suitable to replace Judas, a false apostle, with a true one, Matthias (Acts 1:26); but when James son of Zebedee--the only other member of the Twelve whose death is recorded in the NT--was murdered by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1, 2; in A.D. 44), no apostolic council was convened and no successor was appointed.  Those who claim to be the successors in office of the Apostles decidedly lack the necessary personal qualifications and are only usurpers and pretenders to office.  And with no continuing office of Apostle, there can be no continuing stream of authoritative apostolic tradition.  God’s revelation, God’s truth is both complete and final in the written New Testament.

 

It is readily apparent that in every case in the NT where we are urged and commanded to obey “the traditions,” it has a clear, contextual reference to the teaching of the apostles, but never anyone else, and never to “Jewish” or “church” traditions:

 

“Now, brothers, I commend you for remembering all things about me, and that you are keeping the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”

1 Corinthians 11:2

 

“For I received from the Lord that which I passed on to you, . . .”

1 Corinthians 11:23

 

“For I passed on to you as of first importance that which I also received, . . .”

 1 Corinthians 15:3

 

“And therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold firmly the traditions which you were taught, whether by means of our oral instruction or written letter.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15

 

“Now, we encourage you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly, and not in accordance with the tradition which you received from us.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6

 

“To keep in mind the words that had been spoken before by the holy prophets, and the command of the Lord and Savior [spoken before] by your apostles.” 

2 Peter 3:2

 

“I had to write to you encouraging you to struggle vigorously for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. . . . But you, dear ones, remember the words which had been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jude 3, 17

 

Ever and always, it is only apostolic “traditions”, that is, doctrines and practices passed on to us by the apostles which we must receive, believe and do.  And the only certainly apostolic teaching we have any access to today is that constituting the Holy Spirit-inspired writings of the New Testament. 

 

We are to do as Paul exhorted Timothy: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  2 Timothy 2:2.

 

The traditions of men count for relatively little; the contents of the Scripture count for everything.

---Doug Kutilek

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Miracles of Jesus--Chronological List, with References

compiled by Doug Kutilek

 

Note: this list aims to be a complete listing in chronological order of all the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the four canonical Gospels.  I began with the list of such miracles as reported in A. T. Robertson’s A Harmony of the Gospels, and expanded and supplemented his listing by careful direct examination of the Gospels.  I have included the relevant Scripture references and added classifications of the miracles under four general categories--Editor

 

“D”=demon expulsion; “G”=general; “H”=healing; “N”=nature miracle; “R”=resurrection

 

(N) 1.  Water made into wine at Cana in Galilee, John 2: 1-11

 

(G) 2.  Unspecified group of miracles in Jerusalem, John 2:23; 3:2; 4:45; cf. 5:32; 7:31; 12:37

 

(H) 3.  Healing while in Cana of government official’s son at Capernaum, John 4:46-54

 

(N) 4.  First miraculous catch of fish, Luke 5:4-10

 

(D) 5.  Demon cast out in Capernaum, Mark 1:21-28/ Luke 4:31-37

 

(H) 6.  Healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, Mark 1:30-31; parallels

 

(D, H) 7.  Casting out demons, healing of sick in Capernaum, Mark 1:32-34; parallels

 

(D, H) 8.  Casting out demons, and healing various diseases in tour of Galilee, Mark 1:39; Matthew 4:23-24

 

(H) 9.  Leper cured, Mark 1:40-44; parallels

 

(H) 10.  Paralytic at Capernaum lowered through roof is healed, Mark 2:3-12; parallels

 

(H) 11.  Lame man at Bethesda in Jerusalem healed, John 5:5-9

 

(H) 12.  Man with deformed hand healed, Mark 3:1-5; parallels

 

(H, D) 13.  Unspecified healings and demonic expulsions, Mark. 3:10-12; Matthew 12:16

 

(H) 14.  Centurion’s servant at Capernaum healed, Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10

 

(R) 15.  Resurrection of widow’s son at Nain, Luke 7:11-17

 

(G) 16.  Jesus performs and appeals to diverse miracles, Matthew 11:4-5; Luke 7:21-22

 

(D) 17.  Blind and mute demoniac healed, Matthew 12:22-23

 

(N) 18.  Storm on Lake of Galilee calmed, Mark 4:37-41; parallels

 

(D) 19.  Two demoniacs in Gadara healed, Mark 5:1-20; parallels

 

(H) 20.  Healing of woman with hemorrhage, Mark 5:25-34; parallels

 

(R) 21.  Resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, Mark 5:22-24, 35-43; parallels

 

(H) 22.  Two blind men healed, Matthew 9:27-31

 

(D) 23.  Mute demoniac healed, Matthew 9:32-34

 

(H) 24.  A few sick at Nazareth healed, Mark 6:5-6; Matthew 13:58

 

(H) 25.  Group of unspecified healings during tour of Galilee, Matthew 9:35

 

(N) 26.  Feeding of the 5,000, Mark 6: 35-44; parallels

 

(N) 27.  Jesus walks on water, Mark 6:47-52; Matthew 14:24-33; John 6:16-21

 

(H) 28.  Multiple healings at Gennesaret, Mark 6:53-56; Matthew 14:34-36

 

(D) 29.  Demon cast out of Syrophoenecian’s daughter, Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28

 

(H) 30.  Deaf man healed, Mark 7:32-37

 

(H) 31.  Unspecified diverse healings, Matthew 15:30-31

 

(N) 32.  Feeding of 4,000, Mark 8:1-9; Matthew 15:33-38

 

(H) 33.  Blind man at Bethsaida healed (in two stages), Mark 8:22-26

 

(D) 34.  Demon-possessed boy restored, Mark 9:16-29; parallels

 

(N) 35.  Coin in fish’s mouth, Mathew 17:27

 

(H) 36.  Healing in Jerusalem of man born blind, John 9:1-8

 

(G) 37.  Jesus mentions miracles done in Chorazin and Bethsaida, Luke 10:13

 

(D) 38.  Mute demoniac healed, Luke 11:14

 

(H) 39.  Crippled woman healed, Luke 13:10-17

 

(G) 40.  Jesus makes general reference to His great works, John 10:25, 32

 

(H) 41.  Man with swelling healed, Luke 14:1-6

 

(R) 42.  Resurrection of Lazarus at Bethany, John 11:43-44

 

(G) 43.  Pharisees acknowledge Jesus’ many miracles, John 11:47

 

(H) 44.  Healing of ten lepers, Luke 17:11-19

 

(H) 45.  Blind Bartimaeus and fellow blind man healed, Mark 10:46-52; parallels

 

(N) 46.  Cursed fig tree shrivels, Mark 11:12-14, 19-21; Matthew 21:18-19

 

(H) 47.  Healing of Malchus’ ear in Gethsemane, Luke 22:50-1

 

(R) 48.  Jesus’ resurrection, by His own power, John 2:19; 10:17-8; Mark 16:2ff; parallels

 

(G) 49.  Unspecified miracles mentioned, John 20:30

 

(N) 50.  Second miraculous catch of fish, John 21:6

 

24 references involving healing; 10 demon expulsion; 9 nature-related; 4 resurrections; and 6 general references to miracles. (There are additional references in Acts and the Epistles to Jesus’ miracles, e.g. Acts 2:22; 10:38)

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Choosing NOT to be “Ordinary”

 

Introductory note: My article “The Entitlement Mentality: the Sure Road to Destruction for Self and for Society or, The Mentality of Willful Dependence,” (As I See It 14:11) was written from the perspective of a deliberate and willful acceptance of full personal responsibility to provide for my own needs and not accept a dole from the government or anyone else.  Recently the following quote was again brought to my attention (I had heard it years before, perhaps from Paul Harvey, but it had faded to the recesses of my mind).  The author was an ethnic Greek, born in Constantinople and brought to America as an infant, a politically active attorney who at various times was in the American Labor, Democrat, Liberal, and Republican Parties, and was an advocate of Zionism.  He was a strong supporter of FDR’s big government “New Deal” which in many respects is the antithesis of the creed of self reliance and personal responsibility.  Be that as it may, this declaration, reportedly written and published in the early 1950s, is an excellent summary--Editor.

 

“I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon--if I can.  I seek opportunity--not security.  I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.  I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.  I refuse to barter incentive for a dole.  I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia.  I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout.  I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat.  It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act for myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, this I have done.  All this is what it means to be an American.”

Dean Alfange (1897-1989)

 

 [There is a second version of the above, this one twice mentioning God; I do not know which is the “original” and which the “revised” edition--

 

 "I do not choose to be a common man.  It is my right to be uncommon.  I seek to develop whatever talents God gave me--not security.  I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.  I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.  I refuse to barter incentive for a dole.  I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia.  I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout.  I will never cower before any earthly master nor bend to any threat.  It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say --‘This, with God’s help, I have done.’ All this is what it means to be an American."]

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BOOK REVIEWS   

 

Little Girl Blue: the Life of Karen Carpenter by Randy L. Schmidt.  Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2010.  351 pp., hardback.  $26.95

 

I think it does one’s perspective good to read every few years an honest biography of someone in the entertainment industry (whether music, sports or acting).  The public ”image” of entertainers is all but invariably the creation of a media team which fabricates a fictional persona that is often very far from the bare-bones reality.

 

If you were alive and at all cognizant of American pop music between 1969 and, say 1980, you were familiar with the musical brother and sister duo Richard and Karen Carpenter.  He was a talented key-boardist, music composer, producer and arranger, but she was the distinctive, unmistakable singing voice, a voice marked by perfect pitch and tone.  It required hearing just one or two notes of a song by the Carpenters to know that it was the Carpenters.  Starting in 1969, their recordings regularly made the top 40 hits list, often at the top or near the top of the charts.  Their records were generally soft, often introspective love songs with superb harmonies and instrumentation, and their image was that of clean-cut Middle America.  Their “We’ve Only Just Begun” (which actually began life as the music for a bank commercial) soon became a standard at weddings. 

 

To achieve “success” in the California music scene required great talent, excellent promotion, and a crushing load of high-pressure work, with studio recording sessions, and long, long periods on the road doing an almost endless series of live performances.  But rising to the top--always a temporary achievement--with its fame, riches, acclaim, and adoring fans, was never enough.  It did not bring contentment, satisfaction or personal peace.  For all her singing talent (and competence as a drummer as well), Karen Carpenter had a mother she could never please (mom always thought Richard the real talent in the family), and indeed, Karen’s own “perfectionist” tendencies left her never satisfied with herself.  This was especially true of her appearance.  Having at most been a very slightly pudgy teen-ager (from the pictures I’ve seen, I wouldn’t even call her that), she became obsessed in her 20s and early 30s with her weight, and became literally the “poster child” of anorexia and bulimia.  For years, she starved herself and binged on laxatives, diuretics, thyroid pills and ipecac to try to be “thin enough,” dropping at one point to just 78 pounds.  Though repeatedly “in treatment” for this psychological (or, in reality, spiritual) malady, it was not successful and she died a month short of her 33rd birthday in February, 1983.

 

One of the Carpenter’s biggest hits was the very up-beat “Top of the World,” a song about how wonderful life was because of a new-found love interest.  The reality was far different.  In spite of a long list of notable young men she dated (actors, musicians, athletes--in a word, entertainers), her lengthy perfectionist’s list of non-negotiable “must haves” in a husband prevented any real romance from developing.  She did have a whirlwind courtship with a bankrupt, con-man real estate developer who married her under false pretenses in 1980; the marriage was essentially over three months later, though final divorce papers remained to be signed at the time of Karen’s death.

 

Beyond doubt the saddest statement I found in the book was regarding a radio interview with Dick Biondi in Chicago in 1970, Karen being just 20 at the time:

 

Asked about her religious views she told Biondi, “I don’t need to go to church and listen to some preacher tell what to believe in.  I don’t dig that at all.”  Richard expressed his disgust with the state of organized religion and called it “hypocrisy personified.”

p. 105

 

These answers are of course merely self-serving comments to justify one’s own choice to ignore God.  Yes, and see how this attitude worked out in real life.  How sad: by choice, Karen Carpenter lived life without God, and very young apparently died without Him, too.  The Carpenters did attend a Methodist church as children growing up in Connecticut, but the pastor was a Yale graduate and therefore almost certainly preached something other than Biblical Christianity.  

 

The ancient proverb affirms that “All that glisters is not gold.”  The life of fame, money and acclaim that marks today’s entertainment superstar and is the siren song for so many young people, all but certainly hides a much different, a much worse, a much sadder reality.  What you see is very often not what you get.

 

A thorough, documented, readable account.

---Doug Kutilek

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Samuel Johnson: The Struggle by Jeffrey Meyers.  New York: Basic Books, 2008.  528 pp, hardback.

 

If I could meet and talk with any one English speaking person from each of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, my respective choices would be: Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Lincoln, and Churchill.  Shakespeare, Lincoln and Churchill you know, but Samuel Johnson--who is that?  Unlike the others, who require only a last name to identify them, Johnson requires both a first and last name, in part--but not entirely--due to the rather common nature of his family name.  I must confess that Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was only a name­--the name of the subject of Boswell’s (whoever he was!) famous Life of Johnson--until I actually began to read Boswell’s biography of Johnson on June 25, 1984, in an abridged edition (edited by C. P. Chadsey, and published by Doubleday & Co. in 1946), a volume I had purchased for $3.00 on December 29, 1981 while visiting my parents in Wichita.  My reading of the 631 pp. of this edition took exactly one month (til July 25, 1984).

 

I cannot be sure what led me to purchase that tome in the first place, though it was perhaps my reading the brief sketch of Johnson by Warren Wiersbe in his 1980 compilation, Listening to the Giants (Baker), pp. 333-337, that sparked my initial interest (my records at this point are incomplete, and I am not even sure I read that sketch at that time).  I see from my notes of the abridged Boswell that it took some time for me to “warm” to Johnson as a subject and Boswell as a biographer.  I determined to eventually get the unabridged Boswell, and did so on June 14, 1985 at a used bookstore in Miamitown, Ohio, laying out $2.00, cash for the 1,200-page book.  I did not take up the reading of this copy until after reading a modern biography of Johnson, that by John Wain (Viking Press, 1975), a readable but not spectacular performance.  From November 5, 1987 until February 14, 1992, a period of 4 years and 3 months, I waded through Boswell unabridged, consuming it slowly in small portions (as with pecan pie), setting it aside for a time, then taking it up again--and reading W. Jackson Bate’s excellent modern (1977) biography of Johnson while my traversing the unabridged Boswell was a work in progress.  In the years since, I have read numerous books and articles about Johnson (and Boswell), this current book by Jeffrey Meyers being the most recent.

 

Meyers, an author otherwise unknown to me (the front flyleaf lists some 40 published books to his credit), has written one of the better Johnson biographies.  He presents in clearer view all the major figures in Johnsons’ life, does a better job than others I have read of presenting the contents, merits and limitations of Johnson’s literary corpus (especially his serial essays), and even has a notable epilogue tracing Johnson’s influence on later writers in the 19th and 20th centuries (though the last 7 pages of the book--on Nabokov’s debt to Johnson--was tedious in the extreme; it read as though it first saw life as a technical paper read at an annual meeting of some scholarly organization).  On the negative side, Meyers denigrated Johnson’s conservative Anglican religion, claiming it was the source of much of Johnson’s anxiety rather than a source of consolation (Johnson’ spiritual insecurity and anxiety was largely caused by his strong consciousness of his failure to live up to the standard of the NT).  Meyers also, in a Freudian-esque manner, tries to trace many of Johnson’s eccentricities to sexual frustrations (that Johnson constantly battled temptation in this realm was a fact, as many another man has also done).  And the author is quick to quote 18th century profanity and lewd comments, and extrapolates thin evidence that is perhaps suggestive of bizarre and blameworthy behavior on Johnson’s part into certainty of long-continued conduct.

 

All in all, one of the better modern biographies of Samuel Johnson.

---Doug Kutilek

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