an education from James Lee Burke

While I am neither the most or the least well- and widely-read person in the world, I do have a graduate degree and do a fair amount of reading; I have a fairly strong vocabulary. I can generally hold my own amongst educated folks. I’m pretty weak on religion, though, which is where most of my questions have come up in The Tin Roof Blowdown. Credit to Burke for making me look up a number of references – something I’m not afraid to do and occasionally relish doing; but it doesn’t happen every day, and very rarely when reading genre fiction!

Today I looked up the Garden of Gethsemane, for example. From page 3, in the intro to the novel and the horrors it offers: “But as I watched Jude grow into manhood, I had to relearn the old lesson that often the best people in our midst are perhaps destined to become sojourners in the Garden of Gethsemane. Ordinary men and women keep track of time in sequential fashion, by use of clocks and calendars. The residents of Gethsemane do not.” What is this garden? Apparently it’s the place where Jesus prayed to his father the night before his arrest and crucifixion. When delving into the symbolism and significance of locating certain characters in Gethsemane I’m a little stumped; it’s like the class on biblical references starts at a higher level than I’m prepared for; I didn’t take the prerequisite. It is suggested that Gethsemane is a symbol for Christ’s controlled and willing submission to his father’s will. It’s also compared and contrasted to that other biblical garden that even I have heard of, Eden. But I find that my internet research (from Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica and quite a few religious sites) doesn’t yield me a satisfactory understanding of Burke’s mention above.

I also had to look up the Great Whore of Babylon, which Burke writes is the city of New Orleans. This is another enigma to me and I didn’t do much better. Apparently the bible states that the whore offers us false gods and other alternatives to Jesus and what he represents; it’s a Christian allegory for evil and decadence and pleasurable sin. Yep, that sounds like New Orleans, which could be an alternative object of worship, too. But again I think I’m missing some nuances that would require much deeper bible study than I’m interested in right now. I don’t remember this much biblical allusion in Burke.

The next one was secular: John Ehrlichman, used as an example of why military honors do not an honorable man make. Ehrlichman is an easy icon to dissect: he was a Nixon aid and was involved in Watergate. These are symbols I’m familiar with.

Any bible scholars out there who care to explain the first two references to me, please do…

I always find it a refreshing challenge when a book makes me take notes and look things up later. Of course there’s a comfortable limit; running to an encyclopedia or dictionary for every page of text disrupts the flow. But in general I appreciate learning new things when they’re presented to me. It’s not a common experience in mystery novels though! Well played, Mr. Burke.

What have you had to look up lately in conjunction with your reading? Don’t be shy. None of us knows everything.


2 Responses

  1. […] call that rhythmic, lyrical and hopeful, and even I, with my failure to grasp biblical allusions, can see the significance of blood staining the wooden […]

  2. […] need to make a further edit to my claim that mysteries don’t make me do […]

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