I recently reconnected with some old friends – well, very old really, about three centuries in fact. I have long been interested in those conservative European and North American believers who forsake Western denominations that they see as too liberal, and who place themselves under the authority of some African or Asian prelate. The best [Read More...]

Messiahs at Qumran

Messianic visions became central to Jewish thought during the second century BC, and the Dead Sea Scrolls produced abundant evidence of the power and diversity of those approaches. The Scrolls are usually associated with a Jewish sect tied to the Essenes and to Enochic traditions, which was deeply at odds with the Maccabean/Hasmonean ruling family. [Read More...]

Making the Messiah

The figure of the Messiah has been critical to both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Christians, by definition, are followers of the Messiah. In tracing the origin of this idea, though, we must draw a distinction between eschatological hopes of a glorious coming age, and the individual figure of the messiah, the Davidic king. In the [Read More...]

Messiahs by the Sackful

Some timely thoughts for Holy Week! In Jesus Christ Superstar, a mocking Pilate complains that “You Jews produce messiahs by the sackful!” Most popular histories take it for granted that Jewish thought was dominated by the eager expectation of a messiah, who would be an individual man, and the main debate concerned the nature of [Read More...]

The Deist Revolution

I echo pretty much everything my colleague Tommy Kidd wrote in his recent column What is Deism?, but I would add a footnote. Perhaps the most important contribution the Deists made to religious thought was in terms of understanding the Bible, and in sparking the movement that became known as higher criticism. So much “higher” [Read More...]

Making the Church of the East

Christianity spread in the Persian Empire during the second and third centuries, when it became a major force, especially in western regions. Looking today at some of those early centers is multiply depressing, as they are today in the process of witnessing that ancient tradition being uprooted. From the fifth century through the fourteenth, the [Read More...]

Understanding the Islamic State

Violence related to religion is obviously very much in the news right now. I want to address one aspect of the topic that I think has escaped the attention of virtually all commentators, and that has to do with raw numbers. Recently, Graeme Wood wrote an excellent piece in the Atlantic on the theme of [Read More...]

Importing Christianity


In the third century, Christianity spread into the Persian Empire, where it  became a powerful presence. The means by which this auspicious event occurred are startling and even humbling for anyone who thinks in terms of deliberately planned missionary efforts. At least at first, many, perhaps most, of the Christians who found themselves under Persian [Read More...]

Persia’s Christian Roots


I have been exploring the history of Christianity within the Persian Empire, a subject very well known to specialists working on that area, but less so to their counterparts who study the story in its “mainstream” (Mediterranean and European) forms. Before writing about this in any more detail, it’s important to understand the geographical setting, [Read More...]

Do We Pay Too Much Attention to Radical Islam?

Judging by media coverage over the past few years, it would be easy to assume that the West is locked in a death struggle with radical Islam. Against that view, I want to make two arguments. Although the first is (or should be) strictly non-controversial, the second may be surprising. To begin, let us agree [Read More...]