Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kosher Jesus' Lack of Historical Context (Part IV)

(Part I, II, III)

To turn to Rabbi Boteach's treatment of Christianity. Considering that this is a book that is about reconciling Jews and Christians, one would expect Rabbi Boteach to take a positive view of Jewish-Christian relations. And there is much within the Christian tradition to support such a view from Augustine's witness doctrine to the active philo-Semitism of early modern Protestant millenarians. This is not to let Christianity Pontius Pilate itself from numerous crimes against Jews, but there is certainly room, particularly for American Jews who have benefited so greatly from American Christian society, to be charitable to Christianity and see its crimes as crimes of Christians instead of Christianity. The account that Rabbi Boteach delivers is absolutely crude, in a sense even worse than his treatment of the Romans. For example he calls Augustine an anti-Semite. Calling John Chrysostom an anti-Semite is one thing as would calling the later writings of Martin Luther, but to accuse Augustine of anti-Semitism is to render the very term meaningless. By this logic any Christian who ever believed that Judaism is a historical relic and that Jews are better off simply converting to Christianity is an anti-Semite. That would render almost all Christians anti-Semites and leave any Christians not interested in making radical changes to his theology no reason to work with us. We would also be left with no word to describe those with a psychological obsession with Jews as incarnations of evil and wish to cause them physical harm.

If we are to accept Rabbi Boteach's narrative of Jewish-Christian relations, it all started with a misunderstanding over who killed Jesus. Early Christians for political reasons decided to blame the Jews instead of the Romans. Christians soon came to believe their own nonsense and for nearly two-thousand years, before Vatican II and the publication of Kosher Jesus, have unfortunately hated and murdered Jews. Rabbi Boteach does not paint a clear picture of this history, something about Crusades, pogroms and Pope Pious XII working arm and arm with Hitler to carry out the Holocaust. It is like Rabbi Boteach is giving a summary of Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg's Devil and the Jews, possibly through vague recollections of anti-Christian polemics heard in yeshiva, without any of the nuance, which Trachtenberg did not have much of in the first place.

Now that the misunderstanding has been clarified, thanks to Rabbi Boteach's brilliant efforts, Jews and Christians can finally come together in the recognition of their common heritage. Jews should forgive Evangelical Christians because they support Israel and uphold traditional values in American society. What Rabbi Boteach likes about Evangelical Christians efforts to uphold traditional values is unclear, because he also attacks them for causing divisiveness and for focusing too much attention on gay marriage. So it is mainly for taking right wing positions on Israel I guess. Catholics are nice to mainly because, unlike Rabbi Boteach's Evangelical friends, they are not trying to convert us these days, passed Vatican II and the two recent pope have visited synagogues. Of the greatest importance, Rabbi Boteach has personally met with Pope Benedict XVI, shaken hands with him and can assure us that he is a really nice guy.                

I try to place myself in the place of Rabbi Boteach's assumed audience, Christians, and picture how I would react to this book if I were a Christian. I would be offended by the mere fact that someone from a different group has the nerve to tell me what to think about issues critical to my faith, attacks what I believe in ways that sound suspiciously like the pot calling the kettle black, and is dishonest enough to deny that he is even doing any of this. And this would be before I actually opened the book. At which point I would add that he has the hypocrisy to accuse me of blaming him for killing my Lord and the same time as he blames me for killing his grandparents. The fig leaf about not blaming people for the sins of their parents would not count for much as Rabbi Boteach himself clearly does not believe it as demonstrated by his obsessive insistence that Jews (the real ones and not the fake traitorous Jews, who obviously have no Jewish descendants alive today) did not kill Jesus. I would come away thinking that Jews are arrogant, self-righteous, think that the entire world runs around them and that only their interests matter. In other words what Aspergers are routinely accused of applied to form a mild anti-Semitic neurosis.

What was Rabbi Boteach thinking when he wrote this book? From his presentation it is clear that he is an excellent public speaker and would make for an effective politician. Thinking of him as an entertainer with political ambitions, I think, explains a lot. He is not running for public office, (though he does want to be Chief Rabbi of England) but as the rabbi for Christians. In this it is only a relatively minor annoyance that the Jewish community has yet to accept him in this role just as long as non-Jews think that he represents Judaism or at least see him as representing what Judaism should be. It says something that Rabbi Boteach brags not just of meeting the pope, but of being good friends with Christian missionaries and of having spoken at missionary training schools. Tuvia Singer at least has to make up his Christian alter-ego to present Christian missionary tactics to Jewish audience. The fact that Rabbi Boteach wrote a book about Jesus for Christians instead of Jews also says a lot. Add to it the almost messianic tone in which he writes about this book as if he expects that this one book will change Jewish-Christian relations forever. Like a politician, Rabbi Boteach does not really think in terms of ideological positions to be supported, but in personal relationships to be maintained. Ideology is a role to play in order to get on stage. The point being to get on the public stage and secure the best possible position and ideology must not be allowed to get in the way. Now that Rabbi Boteach has his public role as the rabbi he is free to use his personal charisma to make as many friendships and gain as much influence as possible even from the people he is supposed to be in opposition to.

Reading Kosher Jesus as a politician's speech explains why Rabbi Boteach thinks he can get away with offending both Jewish and Christian audiences. He had to know that Jews would be offended by the concept so he wrote a book that is in practice very Jewish in the hope that any Jewish readers would be assured of whose side he was on. On the other hand he hoped that Christians would just focus on the premise of a rabbi who likes Jesus. Like any good politician, Rabbi Boteach works in generalities in the hopes that each part of his audience will only hear the part they would already be inclined to hear. Keeping things as shallow as possible is critical, because it hinders anyone from taking him seriously intellectually and criticizing him. How can you criticize ideas that are not really there? It is the sentiments that count anyway and the beauty of sentiments is that, unlike ideas, they can contradict each other without there being a problem.

Rabbi Boteach could have written a valuable book, making the case to Jews to rethink Jesus and by extension their Christian neighbors. To defend himself he could put in something above the grade school level of scholarship that he did and presented himself as just a humble representative of a tradition. Instead Rabbi Boteach needed to be the rabbi for Christians, something unique and incredible to match his inner vision of himself; in essence he needed to be his own Kosher Jesus.   

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kosher Jesus' Lack of Historical Context (Part III)

(Part I, II)

To get back to Rabbi Boteach's view of the Romans, for an author asking readers to show some charity to Jews, Rabbi Boteach's attacks on the Romans are particularly shrill. In fact I would go so far as to say that Rabbi Boteach's statements against Rome compare to that of the most vitriolic Christian denunciations of Jews as deicides. If you think I am exaggerating, I would point out that Rabbi Boteach repeatably compares the Jewish situation under Roman rule to Jews living under Nazi occupied Poland. This is a complete distortion of the Roman record. Not to exonerate the Romans, but they were more than just oppressive conquerors, who held gladiatorial games. Far more than the power of its army, Rome succeeded because it possessed an effective bureaucracy and a legal system that others wanted to be ruled by. Rome did not just beat it's opponents into submission; it seduced them into willingly joining the empire. The same Philo and Josephus that Rabbi Boteach uses to show that Pilate committed atrocities were overall very positive about Roman rule, particularly about Augustus and Tiberius. We know from Roman sources that Julius Caesar was particularly popular with the Jews of Rome. Rabbi Boteach talks about Pompey desecrating the Temple, but somehow leaves out the fact that he was invited in by Jews to help out in a civil war. For all of Rabbi Boteach's talk about the Pharisees being Jewish patriots trying to lead their people to freedom, R. Yohanan b. Zakai smuggled himself out of the city and surrendered to Vespasian, who was such a heartless monster that he spared the city of Yavneh allowing for the survival of rabbinic Judaism. Even later generations of rabbis had a difficult time completely condemning the Romans and admitted that the Romans did benefit Israel through their building projects. Did the Romans kill many Jews? Yes. Were they great humanitarians? No. Were they the Nazis? No.

Clearly Rabbi Boteach obsession with condemning the Romans, as can be seen from the book and how he answered my question, leads him to further misunderstandings of the nature of Roman rule. He uses the fact that the Romans do not play a larger role in the Gospel stories as evidence that the texts were edited to reflect a pro Roman bias. Obviously there was such a process, which has been obvious to scholars long before Rabbi Boteach, but that is beside the point. The Romans do not show up more because part of their not completely barbaric policy of occupation was to grant large measures of native self rule to provinces in the empire. It should be no more surprising that non-Jews do not play a larger role in the Gospels than it should surprise readers to not find many non-Jews in the American edition of the Yated. The lesson we should take from the relative absence of non-Jews is that the New Testament is, for the most part, a Jewish book written for Jews.

Keeping the comparision with contemporary Jewish rhetoric is important in exonerating the New Testament from charges of anti-Semitism. Boteach claims to wish to do this, but in practice seems to do the opposite. Jesus and his followers were Jews. The books of the New Testament, for the most part, were written as Jewish books. It makes no more sense to call the New Testament anti-Semitic than it would be to call the Yated anti-Semitic for what it says about other Jews. For that matter I am sure Rabbi Boteach would not want to be called anti-Semitic for speaking out like he did against those within Chabad, who are denouncing him nor would he want his Jewish opponents labled as anti-Semites.   

It is almost as if Rabbi Boteach has this fear that if his readers do not place all the blame on first century Romans they will blame twenty-first century Jews. This is a counter-productive attitude toward anti-Semitism as it makes our denial of responsibility a little too earnest, as if we have something to hide. Christians should not blame me for killing their Lord not because my ancestors were not shouting in the streets of Jerusalem for Jesus' blood to be on their hands and mine, but because I most certainly did not call for it and it should be obvious that I am the sort of person who never would think of doing so.   

Kosher Jesus' Lack of Historical Context (Part II)

(Part I)

First, it is important to emphasize that there really is nothing original in Rabbi Boteach's book. There is a curious phenomenon when it comes to Jesus of a collective amnesia on the part of those selling material on Jesus to the general public as to what has been written before. Scholars are constantly being reported as unraveling new understandings of Jesus when there has really has been nothing new in the field of Jesus since the important discoveries of the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi scrolls more than fifty years ago. Even in these cases, such discoveries simply offered hard evidence for what scholars had long suspected that the early Christians had much in common with other Jewish sectarian groups from the period and that they were a diverse group of people with proto-orthodoxy being one of many competing sects. Academic scholars for over a century now, since at least from the time of Albert Schweitzer, have focused on Jesus as a first century Jew. Scholars such as Morton Smith and Geza Vermes have pioneered the use of Jewish texts such as the Talmud and Midrash as keys for understanding Jesus.

For that matter, Christian scholars, particularly Protestants, have long since been actively conscious of Jesus' Jewish identity. Martin Luther famously wrote an early philo-Semetic work That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew. (This was before his later infamous work The Jews and Their Lies.) For the most part, Protestant interest in Jesus' Jewish identity has led to philo-Semitic attitudes toward Jews down to today. A critical part of Protestant philo-Semitism, including Evangelical support for the State of Israel, is that Protestants strongly identify with the Old Testament and by extension with the people of Israel as the nation that produced Jesus. Furthermore, from almost the beginning of the Reformation, Protestant theology broke down the rigid distinction between the triumphant Church as the true Israel and the synagogue as a religious relic. This was largely due to the fact that Protestants rejected the notion of a visible Church of the saved. If it was no longer clear that Christians were saved then Jews stopped being particularly remarkable or satanic for being damned or at least not yet visibly saved.
Early Modern Protestant philo-Semitism should give one pause from drawing a straight line between the charge of deicide and anti-Semitism. One could embrace Jews precisely for their role as depraved sinners against God, representing the depraved hearts of all humanity as it rebels against God. If Jews could antagonize God throughout the entire Old and New Testaments and still be his beloved people for whom he has left open the possibility of salvation, then they should be embraced by Christians (who are also utterly depraved sinners) as a symbol of hope for their own salvation. From this perspective, the whole question of Jewish responsibility is beside the point. It matters little what blows first century Jews physically struck against Jesus or how they called for his death. Jews (along with everyone else) caused his death by rejecting him and making his sacrifice necessary. Theologically literate Christians, the kind that Jews might wish to talk to, already understand this. Jews need to get over this issue and stop being paranoid that they are being blamed for killing someone's Lord and are about to be sent to gas chambers for it. Unfortunately Rabbi Boteach exemplifies precisely this sort of problematic attitude. Much of the book is devoted to proving that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, that the Romans were the true villains of the story and that the Church distorted this fact.
The problem with writing about Jesus is that it is essentially impossible to say anything new because everything that might possibly be said has been said. Whatever Jesus you want, communist revolutionary, conservative capitalist or liberation feminist, you can find scholars who can give you your own Jesus tailor made. This illustrates a fundamental problem with trying to discover the "historical Jesus;" the canonized Gospels represent a web of contradictory information and this problem only gets worse once the non-canonized Gospels are brought into play. Anyone making definitive claims about who Jesus was and what he preached beyond the fact that he was a Jewish preacher from the Galilee can be dismissed from the beginning as missing the point.

It is thus laughable for Rabbi Boteach to strive onto the field with barely a nod to biblical scholarship and claiming to offer a definitive answer as to the real Jesus. The one author that Rabbi Boteach demonstrates a close reading of is Hyam Maccoby, whose polemical work was hardly representative of the field. A good example of how Rabbi Boteach tries to force through the conclusion that Jesus was a good Pharisee is his claim that the reason why Jesus allowed his followers to pick grain on the Sabbath was because they were in danger of starving to death because they were patriotic rebels on the run from the Romans. Rabbi Boteach also claims that Jesus making inferences from simple to more difficult cases is evidence of his using Pharisaic logic. This may be the true story, but there is no evidence for it and it turns the Gospels intent on its head.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kosher Jesus' Lack of Historical Context (Part I)

This past Thursday night, Miriam and I went to a book launching event for Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's Kosher Jesus. For those of you not following the issue, the often controversial Rabbi Boteach has managed to generate a firestorm of criticism for writing a positive book about Jesus. Rabbi Immanuel Schochet has gone so far as to ban the book and forbid anyone to read it. This is despite the fact that the book has yet to actually be officially released to the public. Much as I love controversy my motive for going was that Rabbi Boteach was being interviewed by Miriam's and my favorite rabbi in the Los Angeles area Rabbi Yonah Bookstein.

Before the event I was speaking to Rabbi Bookstein about what he was going to discuss and suggested going through some of the historical precedents for taking a positive view of Jesus. Rabbi Boteach is certainly not the first traditional Jewish rabbi to take a positive view of Jesus as a basically upright observant Jew. In the fourteenth century for example Profiat Duran called Jesus a "pious fool" and wrote an anti-Christian polemic that argued that Jesus and even Paul were practicing Jews, who never intended to start a different religion. This sort of historical discourse is important for dealing with Haredim, such as the ones trying to ban the book, in that it allows one to counter-attack based on history. If they wish to argue that something goes against Jewish tradition, point out the historical precedents and then argue that they are the ones going against Jewish tradition in that if they are to be consistent they would have to write off from Jewish history formally figures who formally were in perfectly good standing.  

At the event I took the opportunity to ask Rabbi Boteach a question having to do with historical context. I challenged him over his claim that Christians seeing the Jewish Jesus would lead to a more human understanding of Jesus, which in turn would lead to a more tolerant Christianity. My problem with such a claim is that we have ample historical precedent from the history of Jewish-Christian relations that an emphasis on the humanity of Jesus does not necessarily lead to greater tolerance of Jews. On the contrary, it can lead to anti-Semitism by focusing attention on the cause of Jesus' suffering. This was the case during the high Middle-Ages. Christians "discovered" the humanity of Jesus. This led to a plethora of artwork showing Mary with baby Jesus actually drawn with baby features and gave us the Christmas creche we have today. This also led to an emphasis on Jesus' physical suffering on the cross. The divine Jesus could never possibly feel pain; only the human Jesus could suffer. Rabbi Boteach response was that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, the Roman were. This is in fact a major point of his book. While this answers the question whether Christian readers will take Rabbi Boteach's arguments to anti-Semitic conclusions, it does not answer the question I was asking of why we should be willing to draw a straight line between a human Jesus and a tolerant Christianity when historically this has not necessarily been the case.

Having now read the book and been underwhelmed by it, I would like to focus my criticism not so much on Rabbi Boteach's depiction of Jesus, which while simplistic I essentially agree with, but on the lack of proper general historical context for first century Judea, two thousand years Jewish-Christian relations and modern scholarship on Jesus. Plenty of people will want to attack Rabbi Boteach for embracing Jesus and for advocating closer relations with Christians. My approach to the issue might lead to a different and more fruitful discussion. Furthermore, as someone from the pro "Jesus for Jews" side, I believe that there is a much better case to be made for a "kosher Jesus" than what Rabbi Boteach presents, one that avoids the tired old debates of did the Jews kill Jesus and to what extent is the Church responsible for anti-Semitism, and instead focuses on productive history. Before the other side roasts him, makes him a martyr and helps him sell millions of books, Rabbi Boteach should not escape from answering the side whose banner he wishes to carry.          

Friday, January 13, 2012

What Messiah Do I Look Best As?

Sabbatai Sevi has a nice Jewish beard, a massive biography by Gershom Scholem to smite unbelievers and a hip kabbalist prophet for a sidekick. Antichrist has a nice pair of Jewish horns and controls the White House. Sabbatai is really sneaky in how he converts to Islam to spiritually undermine it. It is not like anyone is going to be fooled when the president is elected pope without even becoming Catholic. Of course Antichrist gets cooler toys and more world destruction, but perhaps descending into the mystical dark forces of the klipot would be spiritually more rewarding.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 in Reading

So for the year 2011, between Kindle, iPod and traditional print, I read or listened to about 100 books. Here are my nominations for the best books. Some of these books are recent, others are not. I would be curious to hear from readers any thoughts on these particular books or favorite books from their past year of reading.

Non-Fiction Related to My Dissertation

1)      The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers by Carl L. Becker - A series of lectures on the Enlightenment, which Becker viewed a product of rather than a simple break with the Middle Ages. If I ever teach a historiography course this book will be assigned along with Sir Herbert Butterfield's The Whig Interpretation of History for the topic of the Whig narrative and why it fails to explain the origins of modernity.

2)      The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement by Pawel Maciejko - The best history hands down on the Frankists, an eighteenth-century heretical movement in eastern Europe, which resulted in a mass conversion of Jews to Catholicism. I would particularly recommend this back as an example of counter "great man" history. Not in the sense that Jacob Frank was a pretty infamous character, though he was, but in the sense that Maciejko places the Frankist movement as the center, as opposed to Frank himself. In fact, Maciejko's central argument is that a strong Polish Sabbatian movement existed apart from Frank and outside his control; Frank reacted to and was the product of "Frankist" movement much more so than the other way around.    

3)      Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History by David Ruderman - There is little original with this book, but Ruderman does a great job bringing the major issues of interest to me regarding early modern Jewish history together, particularly the relationship between conversos, Sabbatians and the early Enlightenment. As I am doing with my own discussion of Sabbatianism, Ruderman places a heavy emphasis on mobile networks of individuals.

Non-Fiction Not Related to My Dissertation

1)      Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali - A powerful autobiography by a Somali ex-Muslim. What particularly impressed me about Hirsi Ali is that she is remarkably non-bitter and non-polemical in her account of her family and of Islam, particularly if you consider how easy it would have been for her to have made it so. Yes she places Islam as a threat to Western Civilization, but this book is hardly of the "Muslims are evil" or even the "religious people are evil" genre. I particularly relate to this book as someone who has taken a step away from a fundamentalist religion, though not as radical a step as Hirsi Ali, via means of classical liberalism. This is a conscious rejection of the authority of community and tradition in favor of the individual and reason, backed by a nation-state. Because of this experience, Hirsi Ali thinks in terms of either classical liberalism or religious fundamentalism. Her objection to modern multi-cultural liberalism is precisely that it fails to appreciate the attraction of religious fundamentalism. As I see it, how can someone appreciate the attraction of something that never appealed to them in the first place and which they cannot seriously imagine themselves having followed? This unwillingness to take religious fundamentalism seriously at an intellectual level means that modern liberals are not prepared to go up against fundamentalist apologists, who use modern liberalism's own abandonment of the absolute authority of the individual, reason and the placement of any type of national culture as fascism to justify the continued existence of fundamentalist enclaves funded by public tax dollars.    

2)      The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto - As with the previous book, this is a defense of classical liberalism that focuses on the experiences of those outside the West. De Soto makes the libertarian case that government bureaucracy causes poverty in third world countries. More importantly, de Soto, following in the tradition of Frederick Hayek, is an eloquent defender of rule of law. He is not anti-government; on the contrary, he believes in government based on principled rules as opposed to arbitrary whims of politicians and interest groups. As in the case of Hirsi Ali, I think there is something about living in a society where a belief in liberal principles is not a given and where one must consciously defend such positions against intellectually serious non-believers to force one back to the basics of liberal principles. In de Soto's Peru and the other countries he describes there is no two-hundred-year history of a constitional system which commands the loyalty of the entire political system. If one is going to take a stand for constitutional government and the rule of law then that stand must be a principled one or stand in line with those willing to use force of arms and politics to take what they believe to be rightfully theirs.       

3)      Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas - If I ever were placed in charge of Artscroll's hagiography division for the writing of gedolim biographies I would assign this book to everyone working for me as an example as to writing inspirational biographies. There is little need to use over the top rhetoric to make Dietrich Bonhoeffer sound heroic. He was an anti-Nazi German pastor, who returned to Germany right before the start of World War II because he felt he needed to actively oppose Nazism on the ground in Germany. He did not survive the war. With that out of the way, Metaxas is free to spend the book explaining Bonhoeffer's theology and offering some background on early twentieth century Protestantism. This book also makes some useful arguments for viewing Nazism as something other than a conservative movement.  

4)      Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis - Certainly the most interesting book on sports I have ever read. For those who like the Freakonomics/Malcolm Gladwell style counterintuitive arguments, Lewis offers a different way of thinking about sports and possibly about life as well. If you wish to articulate why sports announcers are full of nonsense, who consistently fail to say anything useful about the game this is the book for you. What I particularly took from Moneyball is a lesson on the vulnerabilities of self-replicating elites; they tend to recruit people who look the part rather than genuine capability. Baseball scouts tend to jump for athletes who are tall, well built, fast and can throw over 90 miles an hour as opposed to hitters who can rack up walks. One wonders if the Haredi leadership and the journalists who empower them place too much emphasis on people who come from the right families, make the right public statements and are photographed at the right weddings as opposed to engaging in actual scholarship.   

Fiction (I Will Leave It as an Open Question as to whether Any of This is Related to My Dissertation)

1)      Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill - One of the best-written horror stories I have ever come across. It takes a very simple concept, a suit with a ghost attached to it, and scares the pants out of you with it. It makes little use of graphic violence; who needs gore when you have a deliciously psychotic dead hypnotist to talk people into suicide. The book also features lead characters who are actually likable as opposed to a parade of hunks and blondes just lining up for the slaughter. If the writing sounds a bit like Stephen King's, the author happens to be his son.     

2)      Elantris by Brandon Sanderson - There is something to be said for handing characters over to true destruction, the sudden loss of family, position, and reputation. Death is too easy and for it to actually matter it almost needs to render the character narratively useless. So it is to Sanderson's credit that he can craft a truly unique vision of a Hell on Earth to cast his Christ-like hero. As with Orson Scott Card, Sanderson's stories are first and foremost about characters and relationships. In this case, a hero faced with the task of rallying the denizens of an inescapable Hell into a community. (He does this brilliantly as well in Way of Kings.)

3)      Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson - More Sanderson. This one features a pair of princesses, one of them in a Queen Esther type scenario, a pair of comic henchmen, who go off into libertarian style monologues in defense of their profession and a really cool system of magic involving colors and souls.  Sanderson's fantasy is not about heroes off questing to defeat evil dark lords and save the world. Keeping to the best of the Tolkien tradition, Sanderson is a world builder. If Tolkien built his worlds through language, Sanderson works through systems of magic. Imagine a world governed with a slightly different set of physical laws (Sanderson's magic is always based on clear and consistent rules) and ask yourself what sort of society would spring up under such circumstances. Any system that allows a minority of people to become even slightly more powerful than most is going to be hierarchical, but what sort of hierarchy and how might it become vulnerable?        

4)      Song of Fire and Ice Series by George R. R. Martin - Murder, sexual immorality and idolatry and I am loving the series. I have never read a fantasy author who gets the medieval mindset like Martin does. These books should practically be classified as historical fiction. Is it that big a deal that the books do not actually take place during the War of the Roses and involve some dragons in one of the side plots?