Christians in Babylon

In the early Christian era, Mesopotamia/Iraq was a thriving center of rabbinic Judaism, and throughout the first millennium it was the intellectual capital of that faith. Given the Jewish background, naturally we find very early Christian settlements in Iraq. Within the Persian empire, the greatest seat of church power was of course at the capital [Read More...]

By the Rivers of Babylon

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In 1973, Geza Vermes reminded us, indelibly, that Jesus was a Jew, and subsequent generations of scholars have thoroughly absorbed that lesson. Less effective, though, have been statements that early Christianity also operated in a thoroughly Jewish matrix, and that the separation between the two movements was slow, uneven and patchy. Long after the first [Read More...]

The Enoch Code

Raleigh

This is puzzling. On multiple occasions, I have written about the ancient text known as 1 Enoch, which the early church regarded as almost canonical. From the early Middle Ages, though, the book was mostly lost to the West, and was only rediscovered in the eighteenth century in Ethiopian translations. Although this lengthy book deals [Read More...]

Revolution in the Making

Something strange happened to the Jewish world in the third century BC. Although the land was usually part of the Ptolemaic Empire, local authorities carried on ruling much as before, largely undisturbed in their power. If we read our main source for the period – the twelfth book of Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities, roughly covering the [Read More...]

Egypt’s Diaspora

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Although the third century BC is a shadowy time in Jewish history, both faith and people were being transformed in multiple ways. I recently lamented how little we know of the Jewish world in Palestine at this time, but of course revolutionary developments were occurring elsewhere, in the emerging Diaspora. Two developments in this era [Read More...]

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...]


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