Importing Christianity

1864_Johnson_Map_of_the_Roman_Empire_-_Geographicus_-_RomanEmpire-johnson-1864

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

Map_of_the_Achaemenid_Empire

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...]

From Qumran to the Gnostics

I have been describing the emergence of some key ideas of sectarian Judaism that continue into Christianity, and to some extent in Rabbinic Judaism. My argument is that the era in which those ideas appear, roughly the last two centuries BC, is one of the most creative and influential in Western religious thought. Many of [Read More...]

The Gnostics and the Interwar Crisis

The first thinkers we can find who probably did advocate complex Gnostic systems belong to the latter part of the first century AD, with a major efflorescence of activity in the first quarter of the second century – say, roughly between 70 and 130 AD. That chronology demands some explanation, but it does also offer [Read More...]

Gnostics and Other Christians

It is very difficult to find much evidence of Gnosticism before the start of the second century, and the earlier traces seem strictly confined geographically. In admittedly simplistic form, I want to explore some of the implications of this. (For present purposes, I am taking a very broad definition of Gnosticism). A Christian Heresy? Early [Read More...]

Dating the Gnostics

In recent posts on Gnosticism, I have been tracing possible linkages with older Jewish movements. To understand some of these connections, it helps to have a chronology of Gnostic ideas and movements, something which is not as straightforward as we might think. And if we don’t know when these ideas arose, then it is very [Read More...]

Philo’s Answer

Greek philosophy made it all but impossible to reconcile the transcendence of God with a deity who created and ruled the world, with a deity like that portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. During the Second Temple era, that clash of visions was deeply troubling for Jews who wished to integrate into the Greek-dominated international culture. [Read More...]

Asking the Wrong Question

I have been puzzling over the origins of Gnosticism, and we can certainly find some plausible answers to that issue. Jewish, Greek and Christian, (and possibly Persian), the building blocks were all clearly there. Perhaps, though, I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking why some people came up with that [Read More...]

Gnostics and Platonists

Although the origins of Gnostic thought are controversial, many of the core themes and terms undoubtedly stemmed from Greek philosophical thought, especially Platonism. That did not necessarily mean that early Gnostics were taking these ideas directly from Greek thinkers or schools, rather that they came from a Jewish (and emerging Christian) world that had long [Read More...]


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