The First Bath

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Shepherds, magi, the ox and the ass… how can you say anything new about the Christmas scene? Through much of Christian history, there was actually a lot more to the story, mainly derived from the second century “Infancy Gospel of James,” the Protevangelium. This told elaborate stories of the birth, many involving the midwife, Salome. [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...]

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

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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...]

Four Good Questions

Through the years, I have often taught courses on Christian history, covering various periods. Whenever I do that, I usually approach the course with a simple four-point formula that proves useful to focus students on the issues that Christians debate in particular eras – although the key issues and conflicts will differ between periods. Depending [Read More...]

The Bible’s Voice

Does the Bible speak? If so, how? An oft-told tale of the Spanish conquest of the Americas tells of the Inca ruler Atahualpa. When he met the conquistadors in 1532, some Catholic priests reputedly gave him a Bible, telling him it contained the word of God. Atahualpa put the book to his ear, but hearing [Read More...]

Mani and the Giants

Last time, I described the Book of the Giants. Probably written in the third or second centuries BC, this text is closely related to the Book of 1 Enoch and its story of fallen angels begetting monstrous offspring on human women. The book probably originated and circulated in the Jewish world, probably in the sectarian [Read More...]

The Book of the Giants

No, whatever the title suggests, that is not the name of a forthcoming novel from Neil Gaiman. The Book of the Giants is an ancient Jewish text, part of the pseudepigrapha, the “falsely titled” writings usually attributed to some ancient sage or prophet. Although it is not well known by non-specialists, the Book of the [Read More...]

Over the Border

For some centuries, Jews of the Second Temple era lived in a world that was definitely multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. That was true of course in Diaspora communities, but between, say, 200 BC and the 60s AD, Palestine itself was a mosaic of different ethnicities and religions. No Jew there had to travel more than a [Read More...]

Permanent Jihad, Continued

I dearly wish I had not been right. Back in early September, I did a post at this blog about potential terrorism in France and other European countries, under the title of The Age of Permanent Jihad. I wrote that The point is not just that many younger French Muslims are increasingly radicalized, but that [Read More...]


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