Parties at War

Reading Josephus’s history of the Jewish people in the century or so before the Common Era offers surprising insights into the era of Jesus and his first followers. It must for instance change our view of the factions that we think we know so well from the New Testament, groups like the Pharisees, Sadducees and [Read More...]

The Biblical Heavens

Heaven History

What do you think of when you think of heaven? Is your first thought God and Jesus, or is it your loved ones (spouse, parents, children, and pets)? Over the past few years, I’ve dipped into Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang’s endlessly fascinating Heaven: A History, and I recently had the chance to read it [Read More...]

The Thee Decade: The 1970s Was More Than Bad Hair

The decade of the Seventies has a rather dismal reputation. In his creatively titled book The Seventies, Bruce Schulman chronicles the horrors: bad hair, vapid dance music, a rootless youth culture, Ford’s mysteriously exploding compact car called the Pinto, hostages in Iran, defeat in Vietnam, double-digit inflation and stagnant economic growth (called stagflation). The American [Read More...]

How Can Southern Baptists Get Their Groove Back?

Last week at The Washington Post, Barry Hankins and I offered three reasons why Southern Baptists are on the decline, and three ways to address it. They include getting serious about evangelism, defeating “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” and making politics secondary. One of the most interesting “pushbacks” I got was against point #2 – aren’t there [Read More...]

Napoleon and Christianity

The 200th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s well-known defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 has recently been marked in Europe and elsewhere. In addition to commentary on the battle itself, much attention has focused on Napoleon’s politics, diplomacy, and military skills. It is for his actions in these areas that most of us know the [Read More...]

Paul the Covert

I have to share this. One of the classic works on Judaism and early Christianity is Alan Segal’s Rebecca’s Children (1986). Through the centuries, debate has raged over exactly what St. Paul was doing when he took the Jesus Movement on its new directions. I am struck, therefore, to find that the Harvard University Press [Read More...]

The Age of Tyrants

Josephus recorded the history of the Jewish people in the last two centuries before the Christian Era. Reading that story today must many of our assumptions about the world we know from the New Testament. I think I am accurately reflecting common ideas when I imagine that history something like this. In the 160s, the [Read More...]

Child Preachers, Then and Now


The New York Times recently published a fascinating report on Brazilian Pentecostal “child preachers,” which it suggests is a major phenomenon. Without corroboration, Samantha Shapiro quotes a pastor who “estimates there are thousands” of evangelists and healers ages five to eighteen. This is the sort of journalism of the weird and unusual that is one [Read More...]

Benjamin Franklin, Skepticism, and The Enlightenment

As I have written previously at the Anxious Bench, I am skeptical about “The Enlightenment.” This ideologically-freighted term implies the inexorable progress of scientific humanist thought. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the theory goes, such enlightened thinking triumphed over “dark” religious views. Among the Enlightenment’s many problems today is that classic secularization theory lies in [Read More...]

Reading Josephus

I have been working on the two or three centuries before the start of the Christian era, a time of epochal transformations in the Jewish world, and the essential prehistory of the early Church. One of the major sources for that time, obviously, is the work of Josephus, with which I have been wrestling a [Read More...]