The Missing Century

I am in search of a missing century. As I recently described, the second century BC was an incredibly fertile time for Jewish culture and religion, with emerging ideas about Judgment and the afterlife, angels and demons, and a major outpouring of writings. From a Christian perspective, we are looking at the essential prehistory of [Read More...]

Visualizing History

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Access to the Internet has transformed my perception of the value of visual images to understanding history, and also to teaching the subject. Through a resource like Google Images, it is now easy to find depictions of any era, topic or theme, with a wealth and variety that would have been quite unobtainable even through [Read More...]

Revolutionary Years 2

In a very short period in the second century BC – mainly between 170 and 140 – Jewish thought and religion changed swiftly and fundamentally, creating a world that is familiar to later historians from Early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. I have already described some of the scriptures that emerge from this world, but let [Read More...]

Revolutionary Years 1

In the third and second centuries BC, the Jewish world changed very rapidly, and we see the development of many themes and debates that would shape both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism – the Last Judgment and eschatology, angels and demons, afterlife and apocalypse. In that process, one very short period of thirty or so years [Read More...]

Thrones and Dominions

Archangels

I have been exploring how Judaism acquired its ideas of angels as named individuals like Gabriel and Michael, and whether that practice reflect Persian influence. As I suggested, our knowledge of Persian religion is actually less detailed than we often think, and that is especially true in matters like angels and the heavenly hierarchy. Nineteenth [Read More...]

Angels from the East?

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In the two or three centuries before Jesus’s time, Jews became highly interested in angels, to whom they assigned identities and personal names. That represents a major shift from the well-known scriptures of the sixth and fifth centuries BC that we find in the canonical Old Testament. Something had happened between those periods, but what? [Read More...]

Of Monks, Mounds and Massacres

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In my undergraduate years, I studied early and medieval Celtic history, with a heavy concentration on matters Irish. A couple of lessons from those days help understand contemporary academic debates, not to mention our appreciation of Christian history. The first issue arises from an excellent recent issue of American Archaeology, about the important Native American [Read More...]

Angels at the Dead Sea

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My recent posts concerned angels, and specifically when and why they acquired names and individual identities. Angels are fully developed characters in 1 Enoch, probably from the third century BC, and that text was well known in the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. That group had a special interest in angels and their [Read More...]

Enoch’s Angels

At some point in Jewish history, texts began referring to angels with specific names like Gabriel or Michael, and that trend reflects a basic shift in concepts of the supernatural hierarchy. That shift is significant itself in terms of the history of Western religion, but it particularly matters for anyone interested in early (or medieval) [Read More...]

The Church Vanishes, Part Deux

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I’m doing a little math, and the consequences are troubling. My own Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) just released its annual statistics, showing a rate of decline that would be truly amazing if it were at all unexpected. Between 2012 and 2013, the denomination’s membership fell by 1.4 percent, to 1.87 million, while Average Sunday Attendance [Read More...]


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