The Christ-Myth and the Napoleon-Myth

I recently blogged about The Myth of the Mythical Jesus. Among other things, I argued against those who saw Jesus as a repurposed myth – that is, he was borrowed from some earlier Middle Eastern archetype, perhaps a “dying and rising god” figure.And oh my, do these ideas go back a long way. As early as 1827 (yes, 1827) French scholar Jean-Baptiste Pérès published a wonderful satire of some of the claims about Jesus circulating even then. He particularly went after an Enlightenment radical cal … [Read More...]

Guns at Church

Sunday was a dangerous time. When people left their homes and went to church, it provided an opportunity for trouble makers to commit crimes and to foment rebellion.That was the thinking of the Carolina assembly in August of 1739, when it passed what was called the Security Act. The bill required all white men to carry firearms to church on Sunday, a time when slaves typically had time off. Runaways, epidemics, and tension with Spain had colonists worried about the possibility of a slave … [Read More...]

J.C. Can Save America

Ted Cruz marshals a rhetoric of Christian America in his campaign for president. Christians should “take back” or “reclaim” America, he says, from secularist liberals who have led the nation from its Christian origins. This vocabulary echoes that of his discredited adviser David Barton. His own fathe … [Read More...]

Was Jonathan Edwards Wrong About Interpreting God’s Providence?

This post is gratefully re-shared from Reformation 21, where it originally ran.Like many eighteenth-century Reformed pastors, Jonathan Edwards was confident in his ability to discern God's purposes in earthly events. For example, during a 1736 drought, he explained that God was chastising New … [Read More...]

Slings, Arrows and Shakespeare

As you will assuredly have noticed by now, this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616 (April 23, in fact, which was also his birthday). I have nothing to add to all the high scholarship provoked by the commemoration, but it does give me an opportunity to share my enthusiasm … [Read More...]

What’s in a Name?

While he tends his father-in-law's sheep, as recorded in the Book of Exodus, Moses sees "the angel of the LORD … in a flame of fire out of a bush," which burns but is not consumed. When Moses looks at the Bush, God calls to him, orders him to remove his shoes, announces himself as the god of A … [Read More...]

The Value of Failure in Graduate School

My husband suggested once that I have lunch with a friend. She was a graduate student, and struggling in the program. "Did you tell her I almost quit?" I asked. "Oh, yeah," my husband said. "That is why I thought you should talk with her."Graduate school is one of the hardest things I have ever … [Read More...]

The GOP Race: Is Ted Cruz Our Best Option?

When we were in St. Andrews, Scotland for the Spring 2015 semester, I remember our Baptist church there praying for parliamentary elections. The implicit message of the prayers was, "Lord, we have no obvious options here. Please help us to know how to vote."I have been having the same feeling … [Read More...]

The Myth of the Mythical Jesus

In debates about Christian origins, one tiresome canard is going to come up sporadically, and usually, it’s not worth wasting time on. As I have seen it surface a few times of late, let’s deal with the point here.Briefly, if you are discussing Jesus of Nazareth, you can make any argument you cho … [Read More...]

The Martyresses

I have often blogged about paintings or illustrations, which are excellent ways of illuminating historical attitudes, particularly in matters of religion. Today, I want to do that again but in an unusual way, without actually reproducing the painting directly, and for once, that's not just about … [Read More...]

When the Mormon Jesus Was Married

It is a staple of anti-Mormon literature (and evangelical countercult literature more generally) that the Mormon Jesus is not the Christian Jesus.One subject that repeatedly surfaces in such arguments is that nineteenth-century Mormon leaders believed that Jesus married, married more than once, … [Read More...]

The Evangelical Onion

If you haven’t run across the Babylon Bee yet, check it out. It’s the evangelical version of the satirical online news source The Onion, and it’s made a big splash. In its first three weeks, the Bee has scored more than one million page views.Even the Washington Post has noticed, last week runni … [Read More...]

Culture-Changing Christians

Back in 2012, when Mitt Romney lost the presidential election, many disappointed supporters – including a number of evangelicals – suggested that his defeat spoke to an American culture in decline. For politics to change, they say, culture must change. Glenn Beck, for example, tweeted that “the time … [Read More...]

A Trade Good for Body and Soul: School and Career Choice for New England Puritans

These are days of decision. This span of weeks in April and May can be fraught ones for families with children of a certain age, when colleges await commitments from those who hope to start next fall, and as the clock winds down for students four years or so on the other side, about to be sprung … [Read More...]

1916 and Jewish History

The centennial of the First World War means that we have plenty of grim events to commemorate, and none more so than in this present year. 1916 was the point at which the war moved into the full-scale industrial mass production of death. We are already reading the accounts of the horrors of Verdun … [Read More...]

Was Nebuchadnezzar a Werewolf?

"Nebuchadnezzar's malady was not unlike a lycanthropy," wrote Cotton Mather in his Biblia Americana.The Book of Daniel informs that the king of Babylon and conqueror of Jerusalem lived as a beast. He grew claws and feather-like hair. How? God smote him. Was this a disease of the mind? Mather … [Read More...]

Did Medieval Christians Accommodate Paganism?

The Roman Pantheon is awesome. And I mean "awesome" in the sense that my good-English-professor-friend would approve: it evokes feelings of awe and wonder.I caught my first glimpse of this 2000 year-old building after stepping from a stone-paved street into the Piazza della Rotonda. We were on … [Read More...]

The New United States: A “Christian Nation”?

Politicians and pop history writers squabble endlessly about whether America was founded as a "Christian nation." Skeptics routinely point to the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, in which American officials declared that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the … [Read More...]

War, Faith and Superstition

This year, we are of course commemorating the centennial of the First World War, and specifically the titanic battles of Verdun and the Somme. My 2014 book The Great and Holy War discusses the religious aspects of the war, but one thing that really struck me about that theme was the very large range … [Read More...]

The Messiah, the Prince

I recently blogged on the many and various ways in which translators subtly (and usually unconsciously) change the meaning of a text by capitalization and punctuation. Here is an illustration that seems quite powerful to me.Around 170 BC, the former high priest Onias III was murdered as a result … [Read More...]