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...]

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...]

THE MYSTERY OF ENOCH

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And Enoch walked with God and then he was gone, for God took him. I am investigating a mysterious disappearance. As I am a mere academic, there’s no actual blood involved, but it’s still a puzzling case. Briefly, I am trying to explain why the Book of Enoch vanished as thoroughly as it did, and [Read More...]

ALEXANDRIAN CHRISTIANS

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With all the turmoil faced by modern-day Egyptian Christians, I hope it doesn’t seem inappropriate to write more on their ancient beginnings. It should remind us of just how much of the Christian heritage is at stake in these battles. I have described the oddly obscure nature of the early Egyptian church, suggesting that Christianity [Read More...]

SHENOUTE’S WARS

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The Egyptian abbot Shenoute is one of the major Christian figures of Late Antiquity. He never shied away from a fight, and often a literal physical confrontation. As a result, he has left a mixed historical reputation, and he is easily stereotyped as a crude and even thuggish figure. But the abundant evidence we find [Read More...]

HERACLEON

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Here’s a trivia question. Who wrote the first ever commentary on a piece of Christian scripture? The answer is quite surprising, and it says a lot about some of the diverse subcultures that existed within different parts of the Christian world Elaine Pagels earned fame through her 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels. Far less well [Read More...]

VALENTINUS THE EGYPTIAN

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Early Egyptian Christianity had a strong non-orthodox strand, if that “Gnostic” current did not actually dominate. I have already discussed the influence of Basilides, but Egypt produced an even more celebrated teacher in Valentinus. What makes him so interesting for a modern Christian audience is that he shows just how close the Gnostics were to [Read More...]

BASILIDES AND THE BAPTISM

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I was discussing the theory that the oldest level of Egypt’s Christianity was very different from anything we would recognize as orthodoxy, and that the most prominent leaders were what we would call Gnostic. That theory can be advanced in extreme terms, so that basically there is no early orthodoxy. Even if we do not [Read More...]

THE EGYPTIAN MYSTERY

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I recently described the extraordinary position that Egypt held in early Christian history, when the country became the source of many ideas and institutions that would spread throughout the wider Christian world. Given that importance, it is really surprising that we know so very little about the early history of Egyptian Christianity, an ignorance that [Read More...]


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