Eight Questions Most Frequently Asked About the Book of Esther

18 Few books of the Hebrew Bible have generated more controversy among both Jews and Christians than the Book of Esther. It has been praised and damned, loved and rejected, all by good, God-fearing people. As the result of my studies of this controversial book over the years,1 I would like to discuss eight […]

Was The Last Supper a Passover Seder?

6 To this day, Jews throughout the world observe the Passover festival with a highly ritualized meal called a seder. The word means “order” and refers to the order of the service at the meal, including prayers, psalms, other readings, the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the eating of special […]

What Really Happened at the Transfiguration?
A Literary Critic Deepens Our Understanding By Jerome Murphy-O’Connor

In the Gospel miracle stories, Jesus does wonderful things. But the divine power that he dispenses flows through his person while leaving him untouched. In the Transfiguration episode, however, that power transforms Jesus completely. His face shines with the brilliance of the sun. His garments become dazzlingly bright. His true nature is revealed in […]

Dual Impressions

Only great art can be great religious art. But many of the religious masterpieces of the past remain inaccessible to us today because the style and content of these works of art are unfamiliar to our eyes and to our knowing. The iconography, that is, the imagery and symbols that were part of the […]

When Did God Finish Creation?

The first chapter of Genesis describes how God created heaven and earth and all that is therein, ending with the glorious fashioning of humankind on day six. Then, in Genesis 2:1, we read that “The heaven and the earth were finished; and all their array.” It is a bit surprising, therefore, to read the […]

The Jewishness of Jesus
The varieties of first-century Judaism present the historian with a choice of Jesus portraits By Daniel J. Harrington

In 906, Albert Schweitzer, the Alsatian physician, musician, philosopher and biblical exegete who spent 40 years of his life in central Africa ministering to the poor and sick, published a widely influential book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer reviewed the history of scholarly efforts to extricate the historical Jesus from layers of […]

When the Sons of God Cavorted with the Daughters of Men

If someone asked you to name the origin of a story about gods who take human wives and then give birth to a race of semidivine heroes, you might answer: It’s a Greek myth, or perhaps a Norse legend, or maybe a folktale from Africa or India. Surely this story couldn’t come from the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. Or could it?

When God Sleeps

The God of the Bible both rests and sleeps. In this, he resembles other ancient Near Eastern deities. The Hebrew theologians shared a mythic vocabulary with neighboring cultures, but the Hebrew theologians used this vocabulary to elevate their theology to spiritual heights previously unknown. Perhaps the most famous biblical instance of God resting occurs […]

Parallel Histories of Early Christianity and Judaism
How contemporaneous religions influenced one another By Jacob Neusner

Everyone knows that Judaism gave birth to Christianity. But the formative centuries of Christianity also tell us much about the development of Judaism. As formative Christianity demands to be studied in the setting of formative Judaism, so formative Judaism must be studied in the context of formative Christianity. Both Judaism and Christianity rightly claim […]

Don’t Let Pseudepigrapha Scare You

You can’t understand Christian origins unless you understand the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. So says Professor James H. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary, and he is clearly riding the crest of modern scholarship.

The Question of Israelite Literacy

How widespread was the ability to read and Write in ancient Israel? Until recently, the answer usually was, “Quite limited.” The ability to write, it was said, was restricted to a class of professional scribes, who possessed a skill considered close to magic. Since writing was so rare, the ability to read must have […]

Biblical Maps
How reliable are they? By J. Maxwell Miller

A biblical atlas contains maps showing hills, valleys, cities and villages mentioned in the Bible, but how are the locations of these ancient places determined? Perhaps an even more important question: How confident can we be of the accuracy of these locations? 034 The answer will vary, of course, depending the place involved. Of […]

Did the Author of Chronicles Also Write the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah?
Clutching at catchlines By Hugh G. M. Williamson

The Book of Ezra/Nehemiah begins where the two books of Chronicles end—at the proclamation of Cyrus, king of Persia, allowing the Jews to return to their land after the Babylonian Exile. The conventional wisdom—for the past 150 years—has it that the two sets of books—Ezra/Nehemiah and Chronicles—were written by the same author. And that […]

War, Peace and Justice in Early Israel

“I simply cannot take seriously a God who commands the slaughter of babies and entire civilian populations!” This outburst of a Harvard undergraduate describes the feeling of many thoughtful people, as they read passages like 1 Samuel 15:2–3: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘… Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all […]

The Strange Visions of Enoch

Occupying a sometimes arcane world, the Pseudepigrapha are that collection of scripture-like books usually attributed to such ancients as Adam, Moses or the patriarchs, but actually composed, for the most part, between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. The accompanying article (“Don’t Let Pseudepigrapha Scare You”) provides general background about the Pseudepigrapha. In this article, […]