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Angels from the East?

In the two or three centuries before Jesus’s time, Jews became highly interested in angels, to whom they assigned identities and personal names. That represents a major shift from the well-known scriptures of the sixth and fifth centuries BC that we find in the canonical Old Testament. Something had happened between those periods, but what?Exploring this question actually tells us a great deal about how we write our religious history, and how we treat influential ideas like Dualism.One o … [Read More...]

Zina D. H. Young

The Beginning and End of Mormon Polygamy

Many observers of Mormonism have offered their thoughts on the recent statements on plural marriage published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They discuss the origins of plural marriage and Joseph Smith's own practice of polygamy; the living out of polygamy in early Utah; and the church's abandonment of plural marriage between 1890 and 1906. You can access the three essays here.I find the essays remarkable for their detail, especially in discussing topics previously … [Read More...]

Serendipity in the Stacks: A Case against Bookless Libraries

Several months ago Florida Polytechnic University opened a brand-new library. Its architecture, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is striking. Even more striking is what this library lacks: books. I’ll repeat that: you can’t check out any physical books at FPU’s library.You can, however, read from … [Read More...]

George Whitefield: Bridging the Evangelical and Academic Gap

Today is the official publication date for my book George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father. Thanks to all of you who have already bought the book, as well as those who have so kindly posted and tweeted about it!Why do we need this George Whitefield biography? Aside from the fact … [Read More...]

The Axe that Severed the Bishop’s Head

. . . also brought the Protestant Reformation to Iceland.Recently I’ve had a chance to travel to Iceland for the first time. The small island republic in the middle of the Atlantic is best known for its beguiling landscape: a plethora of active volcanoes (one now erupting), glaciers, lava beds, … [Read More...]

Of Monks, Mounds and Massacres

In my undergraduate years, I studied early and medieval Celtic history, with a heavy concentration on matters Irish. A couple of lessons from those days help understand contemporary academic debates, not to mention our appreciation of Christian history.The first issue arises from an excellent … [Read More...]

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 … [Read More...]

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 … [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...]


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