Museum Catechesis

The tourist arrives in a city like Florence, Italy, ready to gape at the Renaissance. Though postured to appreciate it, book in hand and eyes directed up, he might find himself at a loss, like the man ahead of me at the Florentine baptistery who, under the mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, asked the Italian leading [Read More…]

Congratulations to Our Own!

If you are still agonizing over how to select that life-changing-yet-affordable Christmas gift, we at the Anxious Bench — especially the prolific among us — are here to help. A few days ago, Christianity Today announced that our Thomas Kidd’s biography of George Whitefield has won its 2015 book award for History / Biography. I [Read More…]

Weeping for God

I just read a review of a book that looks intriguing for religious history, namely Thomas Dixon’s Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears (Oxford, 2015). I stress that I have read only the review, by Ferdinand Mount, in the London Review of Books, not the book itself. Through history, many habits and customs [Read More…]

The King of Beaver Island

Most people with only a passing acquaintance with the history of Mormonism presume that there was a simple transition to Brigham Young’s leadership after the June 1844 murder of Joseph Smith, Jr. In truth, Smith’s death precipitated several competing claims to leadership. A new “Kindle Single” authored by John J. Miller in The Polygamist King [Read More…]

1647: The Year Christians Cancelled Christmas

Well, I am overstating a bit. No one can really cancel Christmas, as the Grinch so famously discovered. But the public celebration of Christmas can be cancelled, which is what happened in England during the seventeenth-century Civil War. Here’s the story in brief–as related by Diane Purkiss in The English Civil War: While Charles I [Read More…]

Top Five Books on Benjamin Franklin

What are the best books on the ever-fascinating founder Benjamin Franklin? As I have been writing a religious biography of Franklin for Yale University Press, I have been getting to know the vast literature on Franklin. Here are my suggestions for where to start. 1) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. A no-brainer, as this eminently readable [Read More…]

After the Crisis

I have sketched the political and social meltdown that Palestine suffered in the terrible year of 4 BC. Wars and insurrections were by no means unusual anywhere in the ancient world, and Palestine was no exception. But this particular crisis was unusual in its severity, and several features make it worthy of special notice, especially [Read More…]

The Year Jesus Was Born

Scholars differ on the exact birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, though a fair consensus holds that it was not in the year 1. Many favor a date in or around 4BC, and for the sake of argument, let us take that as accurate. If so, the birth occurred during or near a truly dreadful time [Read More…]

Muslims, the New Mormons

In 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court — in upheld laws intended to disenfranchise Mormon polygamists. The 1882 Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act required voters to swear that they were not polygamists, and the Idaho Territory had passed a statute requiring voters to attest that they were not Mormons. In Idaho, church member Samuel Davis was convicted of [Read More…]

Raising Victorian Children in China

If you can’t tell already by my many posts (here, here, and here), I’ve been fascinated by Jane Smith’s 1984 book about women missionaries in turn-of-the-century China. In this final post, I want to delve into Smith’s description of childrearing by missionary mothers. According to archival records, this was one of the most anxious and [Read More…]


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