I've certainly taken the long way around to get to today's review of The Begotten by Lisa T. Bergen. So here we go.
The story, as I've said, revolves around one of the lost letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians. In Bergen's story, this letter sounds almost apocalyptic in nature, predicting the coming of "the Gifted," a group of individuals with spectacular spiritual gifts. But because the only copy was illuminated (i.e. illustrated), it was condemned by the iconoclasts in the eighth century.
Fast forward to the fourteenth century. Father Piero, a Catholic priest, believes the time has come. The Gifted are gathering. Lady Daria d'Angelo. Sir Gianni de Capezzana. Hasani. Each are showing incredible abilities. What purpose does God have for these Gifted individuals?
But there are dangers within and without of the Church. How will the Church react as their talents become more obvious? And what about the Sorceror? What designs does he have on the Gifted?
Bergen's story is engaging and engrossing. It's exciting to boot. I want to make this absolutely clear: I enjoyed reading this book a lot.
Once I had finished reading it, I felt a bit dissatisfied, not for any artistic reasons but for theological reasons. If you haven't read the book, might want to leave now. Spoilers and whatnot.
For starters, we have the fact that Bergen describes "true" 1 Corinthians as a prophetic book (although, truth be told, it sounds like it's more of an apocalyptic book and yes, there is a difference), one dedicated to the predictions regarding the Gifted and their coming trials.
But this doesn't really seem to jive with what we know of "true" 1 Corinthians. Like I said two days ago, Paul gives us a little peek at the contents in 1 Corinthians 5:9, where he warns the Corinthians against sexual immorality.
If, as Bergen posits, the book is apocalyptic/prophetic, then such practical advice would stick out and be out of place.
Second, Paul doesn't seem to be all that big on apocalyptic stuff. For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:19, he says "I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand in a tongue." Now granted, he is speaking about the gift of tongues here (obviously), but I think the principle applies to apocalyptic visions as well. Why would Paul, who seemed very practical, resort to mystical visions in a letter and then, in its sequel, decry it?
2 Corinthians 12 also would seem to argue against the first letter being apocalyptic. Paul says that he knows "a person in Christ" who was caught up to the third heaven. Based on 2 Corinthians 12:7, most Biblical scholars think that this "person in Christ" who was caught up to the third heaven was Paul himself.
But notice what Paul does. Rather than boast about his vision (or even give a hint as to what he saw), he said he'd rather boast about his weakness and his mysterious "thorn in the flesh." It seems out of character, given those two passages, for Paul to engage in mystical visions and record them. In my mind, it'd be more likely he'd keep them private.
My second problem with the book is with the concept of the Gifted themselves. It seems to fly in the face of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul seems to warn them off of the idea of "super gifts." Instead, he seems to say that all gifts are equally important. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but the idea of these superior gifts being given to a select few doesn't seem to match up with Paul's message.
And finally, we have the way the Gifted behave doesn't strike me as real. It almost feels like a group of non-denominational Americans somehow got transported back into 14th century Italy. Bergen did an admirable job of bringing the era alive (although I did have to look up what "handfasting" was); it just seemed odd that a group of 14th century Roman Catholics would abandon almost all the trappings of their worship.
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the book. But much of it rang very wrong to me and it kept me from truly loving it.
But that's just my opinion. Go check out what the others are saying:
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