Alan Jacob’s book Breaking Bread With The Dead is an invitation to read and engage with authors from past generations, and not disconnect ourselves from lessons we may glean by dismissing them because of their prejudices, failings, and non-conformity with contemporary moral and ethical standards.
The book’s subtitle is Reading the Past in Search of a Tranquil Mind. A tranquil mind is one that has developed a historically informed and connected perspective that is not bound to only obey “the impulses of the moment”.
To read such works is not to endorse their authors, or even the totality of their works.
It is to be informed by the past in order to enrich our present and future.
It is invite perspectives that are unlike our own to the table rather that simply confining ourselves to points of view that are identical to our own.
In various disciplines, including theology, it is fashionable to question reading certain books from centuries past because their authors fall short of contemporary cultural standards.

But these voices from the past have no intrinsic power. We only hear them at our invitation, and on our terms.

The dead, being dead, speak only at our invitation: they will not come uninvited to our table. They are at our mercy, like that flock of shades who gather around Odysseus when he comes as a living mad to the land of Hades: they remain silent until their tongues are touched with the blood of the living. What the dead we encounter in woods demand is only th blood of our attention, which we are free to withhold.
Me plea is that we do not withhold it, that we use our power to give them utterance. We can always, if they shock us too greatly, turn aside and render them silent again.

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread With The Dead, Profile Books, 2020, pg 29

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