I’ve been particularly interested recently in Ancient Near Eastern history, and in particular how the Old Testament interacts with its context. I have been repeatedly told by academics and intellectuals – including some Christians! – that the Old Testament is just a collection of myths and fictions with no connection to what really happened. This seemed fishy to me. So I’ve been digging over the past few months, and found many more connections even than I expected to find. One, which illustrates the challenges and the possibilities, is the question of the wife of the Achaemenid Persian shah Xerxes I (r. 486-465). (more…)
I was just asked how I respond when my religious beliefs conflict with what I believe on the basis of other sources of information. I think this is a common experience (certainly common for me), and that many people wrestle with it in different ways. My short answer is that I do what I do whenever any two beliefs of mine conflict. But that answer itself presumes certain views regarding the nature of religious beliefs and knowledge, and there are perhaps some slight differences worth exploring. Here are a few thoughts about how I approach the issue, and ways I think are dead ends. (more…)
Are there two creation stories in the book of Genesis? This has long been a viewpoint espoused by many Old Testament scholars, but is finding increasing popularity among non-scholars as well. Moreover, it is increasingly believed that the alleged two stories are mutually contradictory, that they cannot both be true. While there are some other parts of the Bible that I cannot explain, I do think the “two creations” interpretation of the beginning of Genesis is clearly false. (more…)
Teleology is both the hope of Christians and the bane of historians. As a professional historian, I have publicly railed against teleology for the edification of my students. As a practicing Christian, I have publicly thanked God for his teleology and used it to comfort those who are hurting. That sure looks like a contradiction. It struck me as odd recently, as I was buried under a mountain of undergraduate papers and final exams to grade. I don’t think it’s a contradiction, but exploring why not has clarified for me what historians are trying to accomplish, and the basis on which Christians formulate their understandings. (more…)
Marc Bloch, a twentieth-century Jewish historian of medieval France, once wrote, “Christianity is a religion of historians.” He meant not only that Christian scripture and liturgy recount and commemorate historical events, but also that according to Christianity the fate of humanity played out (and continues to play out) within historical time. While it is not true that all Christians are historians, I find as a professional historian that my understanding of the past greatly enriches and deepens my faith. But as a professional, I have been trained to think in certain ways about the past, and sometimes those ways of thought seem to conflict with my faith. What is a Christian historian to do in such cases?