St. Ephrem, the Syrian Refugee: A Church Father on War and Lament

One of the greatest writers of the Early Church, Ephrem the Syrian was a refugee whose laments offer a helpful model to this day [Read more…]

Bringing Back the Dark Ages

I am about to say something really contentious and controversial: Dark Ages happen, and I believe in them. And I actually have some new evidence to support that shocking conclusion. Oddly, this seemingly abstruse topic is in the news right now. The agency English Heritage just published a timeline showing the era 410-1066 as the [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…]

Blows Against the Empire

People in the modern West are properly critical of the whole idea of imperialism, and suspicious of its rhetoric. That approach naturally influences religious thinkers, and there is no shortage of Bible scholars who apply strictly contemporary views to the New Testament world. We acknowledge the critique of Empire in the Gospels and in texts [Read More…]

Restoring the Kingdom

When the Risen Jesus appears to the apostles, they have a vital question for him: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Given the thrust of the gospels as we have them, that seems a bizarre emphasis: could his followers really have got Jesus’s message so totally wrong? But [Read More…]


Some day, I would love to write a history on religion on the frontiers, and I don’t mean the frontiers of faith or rational inquiry. Governments throughout history have disliked regions that are difficult to control. They strongly prefer fertile lowlands over pastoral uplands or mountain regions. They dislike sprawling cities, especially cosmopolitan seaports. They [Read More…]