Archives for June 2013


There is a passage in the Alexandrian writer Philo that casts a curious light on Christian origins, and I wish I understood it better. Let me put it out there for discussion. Philo reports on the violent and confrontational politics of the Egypt of his day, particularly the 30s AD. Alexandria was sharply divided between [Read More…]


I recently suggested that we should pay much more attention to the Deuterocanonical books that are no longer found in most Protestant Bibles. Partly this is because of their artistic and cultural influence, but their religious significance is immense. Two substantial “Second Canon” books in particular demand our attention, namely Wisdom (“the Wisdom of Solomon” [Read More…]

Two New England Women

Is history an art or a science? History is empirical and creative. We can marvel at both the diligence of archival research (which itself often involves creativity) and at the creativity of a historian who can unlock the past to us in all of its stunning strangeness and similarity. “History … [is] an imaginative creation,” [Read More…]

Richard Mouw: Not Young, Not Very Restless, Amiably Reformed

This semester marked Richard Mouw’s last as president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Described by historian Grant Wacker as the “the most influential Evangelical voice in America—a true Evangelical public intellectual,” Mouw began teaching at Fuller in 1985, became provost in 1989, and then president in 1993. He has been praised for his interfaith activities with [Read More…]

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has released its 2013 list of the 11 “most endangered historic places.” As a historian, I am a sucker for these kinds of lists, and think that the the NTHP performs an excellent service by publicizing these places. I was also pleased (dismayed?) to see two churches on the [Read More…]

Blessing upon Childbirth–Royal and Otherwise

The imminent birth of an heir—Prince William and Duchess Kate’s baby due within a few weeks—recalls the potential of royals to (re) set expectations about birth. When anesthesia was pioneered in the nineteenth century, its appeal in obstetrics was obvious.  Chloroform, applied to a cloth and held over the nose and mouth of the laboring [Read More…]


I recently wrote about how Deuterocanonical books like Judith, Tobit, and Maccabees dropped out of the Protestant consciousness, and why they need to be rediscovered. One excellent argument is the astonishing influence that these books have had on Christian writers and artists. If we do not know the books, we miss the meaning of a [Read More…]


Often, stories of martyrs and saints are so reworked over time that they become outrageously improbable, and it becomes all but impossible to excavate to find what really happened. That’s doubly unfortunate, because some unquestionably genuine stories are so powerful in their own right that they need not the slightest additional coloring. As a case [Read More…]

Penance in a White Sheet

While rereading Edmund Morgan’s magisterial American Slavery, American Freedom, I was struck by his discussion of public penance performed by early Virginian fornicators and adulterers: The courts, for example, prescribed penances for couples who appeared with children too soon after marriage, requiring them to appear at church the next Sunday dressed in white robes and [Read More…]

The Historian’s Vocation in the Age of Information, Part 1*

Over the past two decades, the exponential advance of information-sharing and communication-oriented technology transformed and continues to transform everything from recipe-sharing to research.  Since 1990, when I first entered the academic world, portable data storage technology evolved from state-of-the-art 5.25 inch, “high density” floppydisks, which stored 360 KB of data, to flash-drives the size of [Read More…]