Alternative Scriptures: Finding the First Scrolls

I began this “Alternative Scriptures” series by noting the discovery of a “Dead Sea Scroll” type manuscript in the Genizah of a Cairo synagogue, in the 1890s. Tracing the probable history of that document tells a fascinating story. This “Zadokite Fragment” originated either at Qumran or another site belonging to the same sect, presumably around [Read More…]

Two Sides of One Coin? Mapping Buddhist and Christian Decline

Although it’s a world religion, in a sense it is multiply cut off from its roots. While its key early figures used one language, its scriptures are translations of those early words. And although it was once very strong in the land of its birth, it subsequently became much more numerous in lands far afield, [Read More…]

Christians in the Arab Gulf

I have been posting about Islamic apocalyptic mythologies that borrowed heavily from Christian precedents. That religious overlap is a lengthy and complex story. When Islam emerged in the seventh century, it did so in an Arabian world with a strong presence of both Christianity and Judaism. The politics of the region have made it difficult [Read More…]

Making the Church of the East

Christianity spread in the Persian Empire during the second and third centuries, when it became a major force, especially in western regions. Looking today at some of those early centers is multiply depressing, as they are today in the process of witnessing that ancient tradition being uprooted. From the fifth century through the fourteenth, the [Read More…]

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

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…]


Whether or not we like the fact, the fate of great religions is often shaped by political factors, by the rise and fall of empires and Great Powers. Just look for instance at the distribution of those thriving Catholic and Anglican churches across the former imperial possessions in Africa. When we write Christian history, though, [Read More…]


Some years ago, I published The Lost History of Christianity, which traced the early expansion of Christianity into Asia and Africa, as well as Europe. For perhaps a thousand years, Christianity flourished at least as well in Asia as in Europe, and that when we focus wholly on the Western side, we are missing a [Read More…]