The Book of Mormon, Revisited

No, that’s not a reference to the musical. In recent weeks, I have posted several items concerning the historicity or literal veracity of the Book of Mormon, and have had some exchanges with Dr. Bill Hamblin at his blog (a debate that he suggested and initiated). You can see my latest (lengthy) contribution here: [Read More...]

Pseudo-Prophets and Real Kings

The independent Jewish kingdom of the second and first centuries BC – the Hasmonean state – had a turbulent and bloody history. That story is extensively commemorated in various pseudo-scriptures, although we can’t be exactly sure about the correspondence between historical events and literary representation. But some of these texts exercised enormous power over later [Read More...]

Blows Against the Empire

People in the modern West are properly critical of the whole idea of imperialism, and suspicious of its rhetoric. That approach naturally influences religious thinkers, and there is no shortage of Bible scholars who apply strictly contemporary views to the New Testament world. We acknowledge the critique of Empire in the Gospels and in texts [Read More...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

The Nahom Follies

I wasn’t planning to write this piece, but so many of the comments on my earlier Book of Mormon posts have raised a particular point, and I don’t want it to seem that by ignoring it, I am conceding its value. The story also says much about how an authentic academic find metastasizes into popular [Read More...]

Historians’ Fallacies

My recent columns have concerned methods of academic debate, and the gulf that separates true scholarship from pseudo-scholarship. It’s only fitting here that I should refer to the gold-standard for discussing such issues, namely David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward A Logic Of Historical Thought (originally published by Harper, 1970). Fischer describes good historical methodology [Read More...]

Academic Heresy and Atlantic Ice


I have been writing about the nature of academic debate, and how scholars assess claims. In some cases, it’s not too difficult to dismiss arguments as bogus or pseudo-scholarship, but often we find controversial views that are removed from the general consensus, and yet they demand to be discussed and debated. Sometimes, ideas that initially [Read More...]