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Angels at the Dead Sea

My recent posts concerned angels, and specifically when and why they acquired names and individual identities. Angels are fully developed characters in 1 Enoch, probably from the third century BC, and that text was well known in the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. That group had a special interest in angels and their doings, and their role in cosmic warfare.Time and again, we find linkages between the Dead Sea sect, the Essenes, and the world of 1 Enoch. One economical … [Read More...]

portrait-of-george-whitefield.jpg!Blog

America’s Spiritual Founding Father

In time for the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of George Whitefield (pronounced Whit-field), my co-blogger Thomas Kidd has just published a biography of the man he terms America's Spiritual Founding Father. [Yale University Press identifies October 28 as the book's release date, but it is already shipping].Kidd's George Whitefield is an eminently readable and informative book. It begins with a simple yet critical argument: "George Whitefield was the key figure in the first … [Read More...]

Leadership: American Style

   Two men, born twenty-six years apart and moving within different circles, followed remarkably similar and typically American paths to the pinnacle of fame and leadership.The first came from humble origins and endured a challenging childhood.  His father died in an … [Read More...]

C.S. Lewis, Public Intellectual

This week's post is a review I wrote of Alister McGrath's C.S. Lewis: A Life, from the Anxious Bench archives:Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life comes with endorsements from Eric Metaxas, Timothy Keller, N.T. Wright, and perhaps most weightily given the topic, from my Baylor colleague Alan Jaco … [Read More...]

Enoch’s Angels

At some point in Jewish history, texts began referring to angels with specific names like Gabriel or Michael, and that trend reflects a basic shift in concepts of the supernatural hierarchy. That shift is significant itself in terms of the history of Western religion, but it particularly matters for … [Read More...]

The Church Vanishes, Part Deux

I’m doing a little math, and the consequences are troubling.My own Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) just released its annual statistics, showing a rate of decline that would be truly amazing if it were at all unexpected. Between 2012 and 2013, the denomination’s membership fell by 1.4 percent, to 1.8 … [Read More...]

Naming Angels

"In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee."Angels are a lively presence in the New Testament. Jesus himself referred to them on many occasions, and the evangelist Luke reports that Jesus’s birth was foretold by an angel with a spe … [Read More...]

The Lost Book of Mormon

There are not very many contemporary accounts of Mormonism in which the author is expelled from the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Avi Steinberg was not passing out illicit evangelical tracts to audience members, nor was he smoking pot behind the LDS Visitors Center. Instead, he was rehearsing for the show … [Read More...]

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice (Part II)

This is Part II of an interview with Brantley Gasaway, author of a just-released book entitled Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice. If you order it now, you should get a copy in the next couple of weeks. *** Swartz: You orient the mission of progressive evangelicals around … [Read More...]

Does the Bible Prohibit Revolution?

My graduate students and I recently read James Byrd's terrific Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. This book is a treasure trove of information about how the Patriots and Loyalists actually used the Bible during the Revolution. The most surprising fact I learned from … [Read More...]

Going to Church with Henry Adams

“Everyone’s on a walk to Chartres,” New York Times columnist David Brooks observed in a recent lecture. “On a walk toward something transcendent, even if they don’t know what it is”—that is, people remote from religion undergo joys and griefs in life that may pull toward church, whose gravity and bea … [Read More...]

Of Scriptures and Superheroes

I have a long-standing interest in apocryphal and non-canonical Christian writings. Many of these texts present themselves in the words of Old Testament figures like Adam or Moses (the pseudepigrapha), and Old and New Testament characters and stories merged together freely over the centuries. Eve, … [Read More...]

Restoring the Kingdom

When the Risen Jesus appears to the apostles, they have a vital question for him: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Given the thrust of the gospels as we have them, that seems a bizarre emphasis: could his followers really have got Jesus’s message so totally wrong? … [Read More...]

The Elders of Israel

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds semiannual general conferences, with twenty thousand of the faithful gathering in the church's conference center across the street from Temple Square and others watching in local meeting houses, stake centers, and over the internet.General … [Read More...]

Good Advice for those who are ABD

"It's the good advice that you just didn't take."-Alanis Morissette, "Ironic," Jagged Little Pill (1995).Anxious Bench blogmeister, Thomas Kidd recently posted a great piece on "How to Survive Graduate School."  He dealt with big picture items such as tailoring reading strategies, taking … [Read More...]

Those Suspicious Medical Missionaries

"It’s great that these people are doing God’s work, but do they have to talk about Him so much?" So muses Brian Palmer at Slate about the work of medical missionaries like Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola in Liberia. I'm almost embarrassed to write about this piece, because it is such an easy t … [Read More...]

Gods on Earth

I posted recently on the Greek empires that arose in the centuries following Alexander the Great, like the Ptolemaic regime in Egypt, and the Syrian-based Seleucid Empire. Specifically, I suggested that these realms shaped the worlds of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity. This was nowhere more … [Read More...]

Naming Palestine

I post frequently on matters of Biblical history, and on occasion I naturally have to give a geographical location, to suggest for instance that a given king ruled over the territory. I use the term “Palestine,” and that requires a word of explanation – not, you understand, apology.In my usage, P … [Read More...]

In Many Tongues

Over the past year, I have been making heavy use of a magnificent scholarly resource called Outside the Bible, which presents new translations of apocryphal and non-canonical works related to the Hebrew Bible, with extensive commentaries. The full reference is Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel and … [Read More...]

Inventing Eden

Zachary Hutchins's Inventing Eden is a remarkable book. As its subtitle explains, Hutchins examines "primitivism, millennialism, and the making of New England."Many of us probably know that various colonial and early American boosters promoted the environs of the New World as paradisiacal, … [Read More...]


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