Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dear Amazon

It would be interesting if, in tandem with sales rank, you could analyze the writing in a book and give it a rank based on how well it’s written. Density of vocabulary, number of words of various types, length of sentences, number of cliches, number of typos, and similar criteria. It would help people find good writers who are buried in the sales ranks. (It would also motivate authors to proofread.) If you set up the analysis so that books by, e.g., Norman Mailer and J.D. Salinger scored well but weighted the ranking toward current writers, it would be an innovation in the industry as well as an alternative to the paradigm where popular writers just keep getting more popular. Offer the customer a choice of how books are sorted, by sales rank or quality rank. The media attention it brought Amazon would naturally result in an increase in sales.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Toes of parchment, feet of clay

(My recent submission to Boing Boing)

The Talpiot Find by John Evan Garvey follows a grad student from Los Angeles doing his required fieldwork in archaeology at a dig site in the Talpiot district of Jerusalem. He uncovers ancient clay tablets while excavating a twelfth-century well, and when one of the archaeologists begins translating the tablets, he realizes that this document may have been part of a deception coordinated by Temple priests and scribes in the seventh century BCE. The archaeologists contain the information as long as they can, but a disgruntled student on the dig team who was the target of an unbelievably offensive prank leaks it to the public in an online video. The archaeological team then learns that anonymous groups want to discredit the tablets and are determined to keep any further information about them from reaching the public.

There are a billion Catholics; add to them all Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and any other religious group who takes Moses seriously as a prophet; then add to them all atheists and agnostics who have rejected any of those faiths. The sum is the number of people affected by the novel’s proposition that Torah began with a deception in the seventh century BCE. Numerous scholarly books since the early nineteenth century have suggested that the Temple priests and scribes during the reign of King Josiah composed a scroll that eventually developed into Devarim/Deuteronomy (e.g., Finkelstein and Silberman, 2002), which the priests themselves “found” during Temple repairs as described in II Kings 22:8-13 and presented to the people as if it were the divinely inspired writings of Moses from six centuries earlier. The priests’ motivation would have been to redirect all of the worship and offerings to the Temple by getting rid of all the competing shrines and sex temples crowding the Temple courtyard. The priests benefitted greatly by the implementation of the law in the scroll which they themselves had found; even the King subsequently had to seek their approval. Motive and opportunity. Like the Book of Arnold in The Book of Mormon developing out of what the originator knew were untruths but that were accepted by the people beyond what he expected, that one fake scroll may have led to the development of the rest of Torah and Tanakh/Old Testament and then the New Testament and the Qu’ran and the Book of Mormon and so on. The priests who composed the scroll intended only to control the worship and the flow of tithes of their time; they had no idea it would develop into the huge Judeo-Christo-Islamic structure it became and that still exists 26 centuries later and still influences elections and lawmaking.

I really will be mystified if you don’t think this is interesting enough to include in your blog. It’s true that your Buddhist and Hindu readers will find it ho-hum; their faiths are rooted elsewhere. But how many of your readers are attached, loosely or firmly, to a faith that grew out of the law of Moses, or have left a faith that grew out of it? I’d say a majority. A book that strongly suggests that no aspect of any of their faiths can be true because all of the faiths were founded on the belief that the faith that preceded them was true, all the way back to a single forged scroll, isn’t relevant?

The Talpiot Find is available in Kindle and Nook/iPad editions and as a paperback.

The story follows a modern-day archaeology student and a 7th-century-BCE slave manager. It’s even kind of brainy in spots. And none of the central characters take themselves too seriously. Lots of pop-culture references.

(Another submission to Boing Boing)

Assassin’s Creed meets Brokeback Mountain:
Secreta Corporis, a novel, is an examination of what would happen if two knights were placed in a similar sexual-identity crisis as Ennis and Jack. The knights, Rolant and Audric, in this case Templars in 12th-century Jerusalem, see a sea-change in the look-the-other-way policy of the Order as a secret-society-within-a-secret-society, called Lucerna Corporis (“light of the body”), begins purging the Order. Rolant and Audric begin to see knights dying around them and, when they realize they are the next targets, they secretly leave the Order. Their married Muslim friend in Jerusalem, Tariq, takes them in and helps them assess what their options are, since Rolant and Audric would rather be dead than return to the Languedoc in France as dishonored Templars. A seemingly innocuous episode, Rolant finding an ancient clay tablet in a dirt pile as Templars escorted a group of pilgrims to Bethlehem some weeks earlier, leads to Rolant and Audric being targeted again when the Templar leaders, unseen, within the citadel in Jaffa, evidently piece together what the clay tablet’s purpose was. Tariq surmises that Rolant’s clay tablet, as well as others left in the ground, represent a rough draft of a book of the Torah, Devarim/Deuteronomy. It looks like the Temple priests and scribes in the 7th century BCE composed the book to authorize their taking over the worship system in Israel but presented it to the people as the writings of Moses from six centuries earlier. The Templar leaders realize that the tablets would allow them to control the papacy with threats of disclosure of the fraudulent origins of Scripture, but only if the knowledge of the tablets were limited to a few Templar leaders. When Rolant and Audric are attacked by Templars in plainclothes, they piece together that their knowledge of the tablets is considered a threat, and then they learn that their association with Tariq and his family puts them at risk as well.

The inclusion of the tablets was inspired by II Kings 22:8-13 and the thought “What if the rough draft of that scroll surfaced?”