Dueling Apocalypses

I have been posting about some apocalyptic sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, which are found in the collections known as the Hadith. Such sayings are numerous, and at so many points, they echo the lore found among contemporary Christians. Taken with those Christian documents, in fact, they suggest the depth of the apocalyptic fascination [Read More…]

Jesus at Dabiq

The Hadith are sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, and some address apocalyptic themes. One in particular has attracted a lot of attention recently because it refers to the North Syrian city of Dabiq, and that name and the associated story have inspired the murderous sect known as ISIS/Daesh. Despite that connection, though, the passage [Read More…]

Apocalypse at Dabiq

Over the past year, the word Dabiq has come to be associated with some horrendous deeds. That is the name of the emetic publication of the group ISIS/Daesh, in which it presents its propaganda and advocates acts of terror worldwide. Here, though, in a series of posts, I want to describe where the name comes [Read More…]

The Ghosts of Stonehenge

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and ’tis the day’s, and a good time to think of lost worlds and ghosts – in this case, the phantoms of bygone faiths. I offer a strange story, which raises some intriguing questions about the possible limits of popular memory in a non-literate society. And although this concerns ancient Britain, [Read More…]

In Our Time

Here is my Christmas present to Anxious Bench readers. Do you ever listen to podcasts? Arguably the very best source of first class podcasts, all free, is http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts They offer perhaps hundreds of programs on a near-infinite variety of themes, with multiple updates daily. Specifically religious series include Heart and Soul, and Beyond Belief. Here, [Read More…]

The First Bath

Shepherds, magi, the ox and the ass… how can you say anything new about the Christmas scene? Through much of Christian history, there was actually a lot more to the story, mainly derived from the second century “Infancy Gospel of James,” the Protevangelium. This told elaborate stories of the birth, many involving the midwife, Salome. [Read More…]

Weeping for God

I just read a review of a book that looks intriguing for religious history, namely Thomas Dixon’s Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears (Oxford, 2015). I stress that I have read only the review, by Ferdinand Mount, in the London Review of Books, not the book itself. Through history, many habits and customs [Read More…]

After the Crisis

I have sketched the political and social meltdown that Palestine suffered in the terrible year of 4 BC. Wars and insurrections were by no means unusual anywhere in the ancient world, and Palestine was no exception. But this particular crisis was unusual in its severity, and several features make it worthy of special notice, especially [Read More…]

The Year Jesus Was Born

Scholars differ on the exact birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, though a fair consensus holds that it was not in the year 1. Many favor a date in or around 4BC, and for the sake of argument, let us take that as accurate. If so, the birth occurred during or near a truly dreadful time [Read More…]

Four Good Questions

Through the years, I have often taught courses on Christian history, covering various periods. Whenever I do that, I usually approach the course with a simple four-point formula that proves useful to focus students on the issues that Christians debate in particular eras – although the key issues and conflicts will differ between periods. Depending [Read More…]