1320: Climate Change and the Demons Within

Climate change, weather, and agricultural cycles all played their part in religious history. On occasion, disasters drove paranoia and persecution – see my columns on the years around 1680. My discussion of the c.1740 era suggested how a deep crisis might create an audience open to revivalism. No less fundamentally, catastrophe could decide something as [Read More…]

Mani and the Persian Kings

I have been reading an excellent new scholarly book on the Manichaean religion: Iain Gardner, Jason BeDuhn and Paul Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings: Studies on the Chester Beatty Kephalaia Codex (Brill 2015). This post is not intended as a serious academic review, but rather as a series of thoughts and [Read More…]

Sons of Light and Sons of Seth

I discussed Dylan M. Burns’s book Apocalypse of the Alien God, an account of the influential early Gnostic sect called Sethians. Burns’s arguments resonated because of work I have been doing recently on the origins of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, and the influence of the sectarian Judaism we know from Qumran and the Dead Sea [Read More…]

Seth and the Alien God

The origins of Gnosticism are normally discussed in terms of debates within Christianity. However, one richly informative conflict occurred beyond the familiar realm of church history. One of the great minds of Late Antiquity was the Egyptian-born philosopher Plotinus, the leading figure of Neoplatonism, and a younger contemporary of Origen. Around the year 263, in [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…]

Egypt’s Diaspora

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…]

MASONS AND MUSLIMS

I have recently been posting on the astonishingly widespread influence of Freemasonry both in Anglo-American culture, and in Continental Europe. But that global influence went even further, into some regions and contexts that today seem almost incredible. To illustrate this, I turn to the origins of modern Islamic thought. At the end of the nineteenth [Read More…]

ENOCH ABIDES

Although the Book of Enoch was highly regarded in the early Christian church, it fell out of favor by the fourth century. From the ninth century, it virtually disappeared from European churches at least, and the text would be lost for a millennium. But the work proved surprisingly durable. Centuries after it was denounced by [Read More…]

LOSING ENOCH

The scriptures attributed to the Biblical figure of Enoch commanded immense respect in the early Christian church, but by the ninth century or so, these had largely vanished from use, in Europe at least. Not only were they treated with less respect, but they effectively disappeared. Why and how did this happen? What does this [Read More…]