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Tag Archives: Old Testament

Attila the Hun . . . For Kids!

Well, actually, the book is called “The White Stag,” but it’s about the history, albeit legendary, of Attila’s origins. The White StagWritten by Kate Seredy and published in 1937 (the copyright was renewed in 1965), it has since been released as a Puffin Newbery Library edition which I was fortunate enough to find at my local library’s book sale.

Recommended for ages 8 – 12, this book contains all the elements this 59-year-old kid finds irresistible. This fine blending of history, heroic legend and mythology purports to tell the tale of the early history of the Hungarian, or Magyar, race. As Seredy describes it in her foreword, “Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book. It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates.”

Most of the tale proceeds before the coming of Attila. After Old Nimrod, Mighty Hunter before the Lord passes on, his sons Hunor and Magyar, the Twin Eagles of Hadur, migrate westward from wild Altain-Ula. Led by the miraculous White Stag, they journey in search of their new homeland, “a land, rich in game and green pastures, between two great rivers rich in fish, surrounded by mountains . . . “

This story has all the wonderful elements that can capture a young person’s imagination. Historic legend, fantasy, adventure, action, exploration and heroic characters. As Hunor and Magyar lead their people west, they must deal with magical creatures, including a pair of moonmaidens, the stern tribal prophet Damos, their pagan god Hadur and even a tribe of people called the Cimmerians (is that you, Conan?).

Attila is born in the final chapter, the grandson of Hunor. His coming was foretold in tribal prophecies and heralded by the old prophet Damos: “Attila is born! Attila, with the mighty voice and wings red as blood. Attila who will lead you into the promised land, the Red Eagle, greatest of all warriors, Attila.” Indeed, the Red Eagle leads his people into the promised land, but not before facing a crisis that threatens his tribe and his beliefs.

Despite the pagan motif, this is a story that displays the virtues of persistence and faith in the best of lights. There is an air of the biblical epic here and Seredy even includes some references to scriptural tales from the Old Testament as part of the tribe’s ancient memories. Using strong, lean prose, Seredy conveys a sense of great time passing in a mere 94 pages, including her own illustrations, which are wonderful.

Get this book for your young reader. When they’re finished with it, you read it. You won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Book Review, Children's Books, Old Books

 

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The Circle of Life Is a Grind

That there is a cyclical aspect to existence can’t be denied. Day into night into day. Winter,

English: Botticelli, Scenes from the Life of M...

English: Botticelli, Scenes from the Life of Moses (detail 2) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring,Summer,Fall. Birth, life and death. It’s the “Circle of Life” and it’s been glorified in children’s movies and other places over the years. But a circle is a closed figure, with no beginning and no end and if you’re inside the circle you are basically in a prison.

In Thomas Cahill’s book, “The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels,” ( Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday, 1998) he shows us how the Western mind escaped from this prison.

The primeval human’s religion and worldview were so different from what we experience today that it’s very difficult for us to imagine how they saw their lives and world. The great wheel of life and death was truly a grinding wheel. There was no past, present or future as we view it, only an endless cycle. Every event has happened, is happening now and will happen again.

Further, there was no sense of the individual for humans at that time. There was only the “world of groups, tribes, and nations, in which all identity and validation comes only from solidarity with a larger entity.” There were no dreams of a better life for you or your family, only the class or archetypal group you were born into.

To the modern mind this is nearly incomprehensible. Haven’t humans always seen the world the way we see it? How could it be viewed any other way? But what is even more amazing is how our modern worldview came into being out of the mind-numbing repetition and the soul-nullifying class systems of the ancient world. According to Cahill, we can thank the Jews for our escape.

After a short course on the ancient Sumerian civilization, Cahill dives into the Old Testament to show us what these “gifts” are and how they came about. In particular, he focuses on the stories of Abraham, Moses and David. I won’t try to detail all the gifts he brings to light, but I will highlight the ones that he emphasizes.

It begins with Abraham, whose life would have been just fine had he remained within the circle of life and his own family group. But he hears the voice of God, promising him “something new, something better, something yet to happen, something – in the future.” Not only will Abraham become a father in his old age, but God will make of him a great nation. All he has to do is “go forth” into the unknown. So he does, right out of cyclical time and into linear time. Time now contains past, present and future and we now have the idea of history.

With Moses came new gifts, one of which changes religion forever. Ancient religions were not about spirituality. Far from it. Cahill describes them as “impersonal manipulation by means of ritual prescriptions.” Christian author Eugene Peterson characterizes these rituals as “impersonal, nonrelational, acquisitive religious technologies.” It was all about using the gods to get what you wanted. The gods really didn’t care that much about man, but they controlled things that man wanted, things like rain to ensure good crops, fertility for large families and plentiful herds, strength and good fortune for war and the blessings of good health. Man initiated his rituals to obtain these things. But the God of Abraham and Moses is different. He is the One who initiates contact with man.

In Moses’ case, God grabbed his attention via a burning bush that wasn’t consumed. When Moses turns aside to see this wonder, God begins speaking to him. Suddenly, religion isn’t only about manipulation anymore. God has initiated a relationship with man and He and Moses enter into an actual conversation. The Holy one invites Moses to take off his shoes and tells Moses His name. Then comes the part Moses wants nothing to do with: God has a job for him. He is to go back into Egypt and lead the people of Israel out of slavery. This endeavor leads to a close, personal relationship between God and man, an amazing and somewhat terrifying gift. It also leads to another gift, one of the greatest of all, the concept of liberation and freedom.

With David comes another gift, one that we moderns think of as self-evident: the sense of self, theof our interior life, our individual identity. This is something not found in ancient literature. But it is abundant in the book of Psalms. According to Cahill, “The Psalms, some of which were undoubtedly written in the tenth century (BC) by David himself, are a treasure trove of personal emotions from poets acutely attuned to their inner states.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. Cahill sums it up this way: “We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact - new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice – are the gifts of the Jews.”

And they are the gifts of God.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2013 in Book Review

 

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