Paul the Covert

I have to share this. One of the classic works on Judaism and early Christianity is Alan Segal’s Rebecca’s Children (1986). Through the centuries, debate has raged over exactly what St. Paul was doing when he took the Jesus Movement on its new directions. I am struck, therefore, to find that the Harvard University Press [Read More…]

The Age of Tyrants

Josephus recorded the history of the Jewish people in the last two centuries before the Christian Era. Reading that story today must many of our assumptions about the world we know from the New Testament. I think I am accurately reflecting common ideas when I imagine that history something like this. In the 160s, the [Read More…]

Reading Josephus

I have been working on the two or three centuries before the start of the Christian era, a time of epochal transformations in the Jewish world, and the essential prehistory of the early Church. One of the major sources for that time, obviously, is the work of Josephus, with which I have been wrestling a [Read More…]

The Nahom Follies

I wasn’t planning to write this piece, but so many of the comments on my earlier Book of Mormon posts have raised a particular point, and I don’t want it to seem that by ignoring it, I am conceding its value. The story also says much about how an authentic academic find metastasizes into popular [Read More…]

Historians’ Fallacies

My recent columns have concerned methods of academic debate, and the gulf that separates true scholarship from pseudo-scholarship. It’s only fitting here that I should refer to the gold-standard for discussing such issues, namely David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward A Logic Of Historical Thought (originally published by Harper, 1970). Fischer describes good historical methodology [Read More…]

Academic Heresy and Atlantic Ice

I have been writing about the nature of academic debate, and how scholars assess claims. In some cases, it’s not too difficult to dismiss arguments as bogus or pseudo-scholarship, but often we find controversial views that are removed from the general consensus, and yet they demand to be discussed and debated. Sometimes, ideas that initially [Read More…]

Myth-History and Real History

Over the past few weeks, I have been posting about the Book of Mormon, and you can check out those various items as you wish. Not surprisingly, my posts called forth a sizable number of comments and reactions, many quite intense, and a small number abusive and obscene. Here, though, I would like to react [Read More…]

What Scholars Do

I have been discussing the historical credentials of the Book of Mormon, in order to illustrate the differences between mainstream and fringe scholarship. Briefly, the history that the book supplies of the pre-Columbian Americas is wholly fictitious, and should never be treated as literal historical truth. We are free to discuss its merits as spiritual [Read More…]

Buddhists, Christians, and Godly Prosperity

The Buddhist magazine Tricycle sometimes offers really fine writing, and the past Spring issue included an outstanding example that raises all sorts of questions and parallels for historians of Christianity. The piece in question was “The Buddha’s Footprint,” by Johan Elverskog of SMU (subscription needed for full access). It’s a substantial article, and not surprisingly [Read More…]

Ordinary Faith and Extraordinary History

As a historical source on the ancient Americas, the Book of Mormon is worthless. That observation, though, has not the slightest impact on the existence or growth of the LDS church, nor should it. Just why that is the case tells us much about the relationship between the claims of any faith and the reasons [Read More…]