Cain & Abel
“He who kills, kills his brother.” By Elie Wiesel

Cain and Abel: The first two brothers of the first family in history. The only brothers in the world. The saddest, the most tragic. Why do they hold such an important place in our collective memory, which the Bible represents for so many of us? Mean, ugly, immoral, oppressive—their story disturbs and frightens. It […]

Silent at the tent door By Elie Wiesel

Joshua, the perfect disciple. Obedient and humble. The man whose devotion to his master can serve as an example to all. God’s chosen, just as Moses had been. The servant become leader, whom God and Moses do not cease to encourage—so much so that we wonder why he had such a need. Is it […]


At the risk of shocking my reader, I feel compelled to reveal my sympathy for a character that the Bible seems to treat rather badly. I am talking about Esau, the elder brother of Jacob. I feel sorry for him. I imagine him alone, always alone, bitter and unhappy. Except for his old father, […]

Jacob’s Wrestling Match
Was it an angel or Esau? By Jack Miles

In commenting on the story of Jacob and Esau, Elie Wiesel refers in passing to “the traditional teaching that portrays Esau as Jacob’s implacable enemy for all time” (“Supporting Roles: Esau,” BR 14:02). The relevant verse in Genesis is 27:41, which comes just after Jacob has defrauded his brother of his inheritance: Wayyistom ‘esaw […]

The teflon kid By Elie Wiesel

I have a problem with Aaron, number two in the great and glorious epic that recounts the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. He is a man of peace. He succeeds at everything. Everyone admires, even loves him. Whether great or small, they need him, his understanding and his mediation. Whatever […]


On first reading the biblical text, Jethro seems a simple person, almost monolithic, someone who impresses us most as a family man. When he meets a young refugee, Moses, whom he believes to be Egyptian, he thinks immediately of his daughter Zipporah, who is not yet married (Exodus 2:20–21). Later, when Moses, who is […]

Clothes Maketh The Man
Keys to meaning in the stories of Saul and David By Ora Horn Prouser

Shivering, an aged King David lay on his deathbed, suffering from cold. But “although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm” (1 Kings 1:1). One telling detail in the biblical account of David’s death accentuates the irreversible decline of the king, whose empire has dissolved around him, whose family has betrayed […]

Fallen Star
The evolution of Lucifer By Ronald F. Youngblood

I first heard the word “lucifer” when I was a small child. My grandfather was warning me about the dangers of those long wooden matches tipped with antimony sulfide and potassium chlorate. He called them “lucifers.” Needless to say, at that time I had no idea that “lucifer” was a word of Latin derivation […]

The Lost Books of the Bible

Enigmatic references to unknown books are scattered throughout the Bible. We read of the Book of Jashar and the Book of the Wars of Yahweh, but we cannot read the books themselves, for no copies are known to exist. What is surprising, however, is not how many but how few references to such […]

From the Land of the Bow
Black soldiers in the ancient Near East By J. Daniel Hays

029Jerusalem was under siege.

“Spinning” the Bible
How Judaism and Christianity shape the Canon differently By James A. Sanders

Most people think that the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible are two names for the same thing. Actually, they are quite different, as I shall show—even though all of the books of the Hebrew Bible are indeed included in the Old Testament: Protestant Bibles contain all the same books as the Hebrew Bible; […]

What Really Happened at Gethsemane?

The scene has stimulated the imagination of great painters. The light of a full moon accentuates the shadows in a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. A lonely figure prays in anguish. Deep in careless sleep, his companions ignore his agony. The swords of the approaching soldiers appear on the […]

Men are from Judah, Women are from Bethlehem
How a modern bestseller illuminates Book of Ruth By Denise Dick Herr

I always believed that the world portrayed in the Bible was very different from the one that I inhabit in 20th-century western Canada, with my career, computer and cross-country skis. But recently my attitude has changed somewhat. After comparing the insights on cross-gender communication expressed in such popular books as John Gray’s Men […]

Jesus in the Movies
Jesus may be the most filmed figure in history By Peter T. Chattaway

Films recreate the past and make it come alive. For many people movies are their first and most memorable encounter with history. Movies can also reflect a society’s changing values, as well as its attempts to come to terms with its past and draw lessons for its future. This is especially true of movies […]

The Jewish Roots of the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration—the moment when Jesus is mystically transformed by divine power in the company of Moses and Elijah—offers a uniquely Christian message. At this moment Jesus’ divinity is revealed to his disciples. Yet the roots of this complex story, so critical to Christian theology, are deeply embedded in Jewish tradition. The story of the […]

God’s Vineyard
Isaiah’s prophecy as vintner’s textbook By Carey Ellen Walsh

Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard is one of the most vivid and precise poetic passages in the Bible. In seven verses (Isaiah 5:1–7; see the sidebar to this article), the prophet presents a sustained metaphor for God’s care for his people, by portraying the deity as a meticulous, attentive vintner and his people as […]

The Mystery of Paul
Three new books explore the man who shaped Christianity By Bruce Chilton

Paul: A Critical Life Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (New York and Oxford: Clarendon, 1996) xv1 + 416 pp., $35 Paul: The Mind of the Apostle A.N. Wilson (New York and London: Norton, 1977) xiii + 274 pp., $25 What Saint Paul Really SaidWas Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? Tom Wright (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, […]

What We Miss
By taking the Bible apart By Rolf Rendtorff

The impulse to engage with the Bible is, at its roots, a religious—that is to say, a theological—one. So it has been for thousands of years, for both Jews and Christians. This changed, in the 18th century, with what we call the Enlightenment. I do not mean to discredit the Enlightenment. It shaped the […]

“More Than Any Man Has Ever Done”
Julia Smith’s search for the meaning of God’s word By Emily Walter Sampson

It was the end of 1842, and Julia Smith expected the end of the world. A believer in the apocalyptic prophecies of the Baptist preacher William Miller, Smith had allowed the plants in the conservatory of her Connecticut home to go unwatered and die. She had even prepared her Ascension robe, to be worn […]

Dining in Heaven
The earliest Christian visions of paradise By Robin M. Jensen

Dusty skeletons in burial niches once lined the narrow passageways that lead into the Catacomb of Callistus, the earliest official cemetery of the Christian community in Rome. Deep underground, in the oldest part of the catacomb, the austere passageways open onto a number of subterranean burial chambers, including six elaborate cubicles whose whitewashed walls […]

Paul’s Contradictions
Can they be resolved? By John G. Gager

If we look at Paul’s letters, it is not difficult to pull out what on the surface appear to be directly opposing views, anti- and pro-Israel: I. Anti-Israel: • “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). • “No one is justified before God by the law” (Galatians […]

If only Paul had used The Chicago Manual of Style By Roger L. Omanson

Bible scholars, as BR readers know all too well, spend a lot of time quibbling over what the Bible says. Many of the disagreements arise because we do not have a single original text to work from. For the New Testament, the earliest manuscripts date to around 200 C.E., but they are only a […]

Why Moses Could Not Enter The Promised Land

Why was Moses condemned to die in the wilderness?

Dreamer, Schemer, Slave and Prince
Understanding Joseph’s dreams By Arnold Ages

Dreams in the Joseph story—both those he dreamed himself and those he interpreted for others—have long mesmerized us. His arrogant boasting of his dreams to his brothers almost cost him his life. His gifts as a dream interpreter won his release from prison and slavery and allowed him to become a prince in Egypt. […]

From Storm God to Abstract Being
How the deity became more distant from Exodus to Deuteronomy By Victor Hurowitz

A spectacular sound and light show greeted the Israelites when the new nation encountered God for the first time at Mt. Sinai.1 The awesome display of divine presence and power so terrified the Children of Israel that they begged God not to appear to them again in person (Exodus 20:15). God’s initial appearance—a theophany—was […]

Santa and His Asherah

The ancient Near Eastern roots of American Yuletide customs are manifold and fascinating. I will concentrate here on just two major points: that the Christmas tree was originally a symbol of the Canaanite goddess Asherah and that Santa Claus is an avatar of Asherah’s consort, the high god ‘El, who is equivalent to the […]


Was Samuel a Nazarite? By William H.C. Propp
A Teacher Like Elijah
A rare teacher, James Muilenburg was able to hold together the historical meaning, the literary form and the theological significance of biblical texts. By Bernhard W. Anderson
Why Did Jesus Write on the Ground? By Hershel Shanks
What Did Sarah See? By Jonathan Kirsch
Counting Time
We live, the Bible tells us, in the present—a present open to the promises and potential of a future given by God. By Anthony J. Saldarini
Why Did Gauguin Paint Jesus with Red Hair? By Hershel Shanks
Does the Bible refer to God as feminine? By Hershel Shanks
Upstaging the Emperor
Luke placed a time bomb alongside the central symbol of Roman imperial power: The divine Lord of the world is not Caesar, but Jesus. By N. T. Wright
Restoration Project: The Hebrew Bible
We should produce a new critical edition of the Bible containing a better and more nearly original text. By Ronald S. Hendel
Paul and Qumran
When Paul shuns the “works of the law,” is he referring to the very works commended by the Dead Sea Scroll known as MMT? By N. T. Wright
Feeling Love and Doing Love
New Testament love demands more than Christmas sentimentality By Anthony J. Saldarini
The New Inheritance According to Paul
The Letter to the Romans re-enacts for all peoples the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land—from slavery to freedom. By N. T. Wright
We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby (But Still Have a Ways to Go)
U.S. News’s report on feminist Bible scholarship is good—but it’s too bad it didn’t get the full picture. By Susan Ackerman
Getting Back to the Garden of Eden
The Hebrew Bible suggests three possible ways to attain immortality By Ronald S. Hendel
Creation Myths Breed Violence
The Chaoskampf myth of creation sets up a cosmic cycle of violence. Can it ever bring peace? By Tikva Frymer-Kensky
Human Wisdom Is Divine
Though often ignored, wisdom literature permeates the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. By Anthony J. Saldarini
The Annunciation
The Law in the Gospel
The law is an essential precondition for the gospel: When Jesus and Paul speak, they speak the language of law. By Ronald S. Hendel
The Good Samaritan
The destruction of the tablets
Elijah and the crow By Anna Kamieńska