The Un-Gospel of John

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1). With this wonderfully poetic opening verse, John sets the tone for his entire gospel and defines its vast scope. The Word that God speaks in the life […]

Abraham’s Sons
How the bible and Qur’an see the same story differently By John Kaltner

In the Book of Genesis, Abraham leads his beloved son Isaac up Mt. Moriah and prepares to sacrifice him at God’s command. In Muslim tradition, Ishmael is the near-victim. Jews, Christians and Muslims all trace their roots back to Abraham—but not through the same son: Ishmael is the traditional ancestor of the Arabs, especially […]

Agent of the Lord, Warrior for the People
The prophet’s paradox By Yochanan Muffs

We usually think of the prophets as lacking an independent will. The prophet is the agent of the Lord. At times he is sent against his will by the power of the divine hand that grabs him. There is, of course, some truth in this. For example, in Ezekiel: “The spirit lifted me up […]

David’s Threat to Nabal
How a little vulgarity got the point across By Peter J. Leithart

When David first meets Abigail, his second wife-to-be, she is married to another man, a prosperous farmer named Nabal. In Hebrew, Nabal’s name means “Fool,”1 a clear sign that he won’t amount to much in the biblical world. Indeed, Nabal dies almost as soon as he is introduced (and David’s wedding plans are then […]

Ways of Knowing God
A Christian theologian sees multiple paths to salvation By Joseph C. Hough Jr.

Almost every religion claims that it is the exclusive path to a true knowledge of God, or at least that its path is superior to other religious traditions. This is certainly the case in my own tradition, Christianity: Only in Jesus Christ is the true revelation of God made accessible. I have come to […]

Seven Luminous Days
The creation mosaics of Monreale By Molly Dewsnap Meinhardt

In the Bible, God creates through speech. He says the Word, and it is. “God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). But in the various depictions of God in the Creation mosaics of the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, he never opens his mouth. His creative work requires only the […]

“How Can This Be?”
Picturing the word made flesh By David R. Cartlidge

28 Imagine you are a medieval artist assigned to paint the Annunciation—the very moment when Mary first hears the news that she has been singled out by God to bear “the Son of the Most High,…the king over the House of Jacob for ever” (Luke 1:32–33). You must show Mary’s reaction as she humbly […]

A model medieval king By Richard Leson

The tumultuous world of ancient Israel collides with that of medieval Europe in a lavish 13th-century picture book now housed in the Pierpont Morgan Library, in New York, and used to illustrate the preceding article in this issue (see “David’s Threat to Nabal”). The conflicts of Abraham, Joshua and David are translated into furious […]

The 34 Gospels
Diversity and division among the earliest Christians By Charles W. Hedrick

In 1995, I discovered a lost gospel.

The Song of Songs
An ode to intimacy By Robert Alter

Human interactions in the Bible are on the whole seen from a certain distance. The paucity of narrative detail regarding setting, appearance and posture can make even the most intimate of conversations read like an exchange between talking heads. Physical contact between characters in the rapid narrative reports is usually reduced to the basest […]

Esther Not Judith
Why one made it and the other didn’t By Sidnie White Crawford

Brave, wise and stunningly beautiful, Esther and Judith have much in common. Both Jewish heroines live under foreign domination. Both risk their lives to save their people from oppression. One of the few differences between the two women is that Judith is openly pious and Esther is not. Indeed, God is not even mentioned […]

Unwrapping the Torah
Making a symbol real again By Tikva Frymer-Kensky

The Bible plays an enormous role in Jewish ritual life. Many of the psalms have been incorporated into the synagogue liturgy, forming an essential component of the regular daily services, as well as the Sabbath and festival services. On Jewish festivals, entire books of the Bible are read aloud: the Song of Songs on […]

How an American Coal Miner Acquired Sacred Biblical Papyri
The Chester Beatty Collection By Kathleen Ritmeyer

The Chester Beatty Library was once one of Dublin’s best-kept secrets. I often found myself the only visitor when I went there as a student. The library was tucked away in the leafy Dublin suburb of Ballsbridge, on Shrewsbury Road, amidst foreign embassies and the wealthiest homes in the city. Going there was like […]

Sharing in the Divine
What it means to be God’s son By Herbert W. Basser

What does it mean when God calls Jesus “my Son”? Many modern readers interpret the phrase as a literal reference to Jesus’ virgin birth: Jesus was conceived by God’s divine seed. Others understand it as a metaphor for Jesus’ intimate relationship with God. But how did the earliest Christians understand the phrase? In the […]

Jesus the Teetotaler
How Dr. Welch put the Lord on the wagon By Michael M. Homan, Mark A. Gstohl

Jesus drank wine (Mark 14:23–25; Matthew 26:27–29; Luke 22:17–18). He even produced wine: When the alcohol supply dwindled at the wedding in Cana, a youthful Jesus turned six jars of water—holding 20 to 30 gallons each—into wine (John 2:1–11). Pretty impressive for a guy’s first miracle. For centuries, Christians have commemorated Jesus’ imbibition at […]

Christian and Jewish Views of the Holy Land
Visiting sacred sites vs. working the land By Aaron Demsky

The famous mosaic map in a church in Madaba, Jordan, and the not-so-famous mosaic inscription from an ancient synagogue near Tel Rehov, in Israel’s Beth-Shean Valley, reflect two very different views of sacred geography. In Christianity, the Holy Land is perceived as the totality of holy sites sanctified by saints and revelation. In Judaism, […]

Babel und Bibel und Bias
How anti-Semitism distorted Friedrich Delitzsch’s scholarship By Bill T. Arnold, David B. Weisberg

Bible scholars don’t often become famous. And they certainly don’t do it overnight. But that’s what Friedrich Delitzsch did, 100 years ago. Already known among scholars as a leading Semitist and historian, Delitzsch had published the standard dictionary of Akkadian (the Assyrian-Babylonian language), a grammar of Akkadian and a book on the Babylonian creation […]

Lions, Lilies and Mousetraps
Hidden symbolism of an annunciation By A. Dean McKenzie

40 Since the beginning of Christianity, symbols and metaphors have been broadly used and understood by believers. Throughout the Middle Ages, everyday objects were interpreted in religious terms. A cluster of grapes could stand for the Eucharistic wine and the blood of Jesus; the cross or almost anything cruciform could symbolize the Crucifixion of […]

Can God Read Minds?

God knows all and sees all. That, at least, is what most Bible readers—and scholars—assume, and numerous biblical passages certainly appear to support the idea. The writer of Psalm 139, for instance, praises the omniscient God who watched him grow in the womb: My frame was not concealed from You when I was shaped […]

A book of memories By Ronald S. Hendel

“tradition (which is a product of oblivion and memory)”

Worshiping Idols
What Isaiah didn’t know By Michael B. Dick

30 The Hebrew prophet scholars call Second Isaiah loved to make fun of idols. He scathingly mocks them in as powerful a parody as anything in the Bible. But does he really understand the idols he condemns? I grant the literary artistry and effective polemic of this prophet, who is believed to have written […]

Bah, Humbug!
A scholar rips Handel’s Messiah By William H.C. Propp

Every December, concert halls and churches throughout the English-speaking world resound with the strains of George Frederic Handel‘s mighty Messiah. For centuries, music lovers have gone home humming the arias and choruses that Handel‘s librettist, Charles Jennens, lifted from the 1611 King James translation of the Bible. For this, we may all shout “Hallelujah!”1 […]

When Gods Go Hungry
Mesopotamian rite clarifies puzzling prophecy By Dominic Rudman

The prophet Zephaniah predicts that the Israelite God Yahweh will overcome the gods of foreign nations. These foreign deities will be deserted by their worshipers, who will turn instead to the God of Israel. But just how God plans to defeat these false gods is not easily understood. Indeed, the question has perplexed Bible […]

The Two Faces of Jesus
How the early church pictured the divine By Robin M. Jensen

In the upper reaches of the Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, just below the painted wood ceiling, appears a striking series of 26 mosaics portraying the life and passion of Jesus. Dating to the early sixth century, they constitute one of the oldest—perhaps the oldest—extant monumental series of images depicting Jesus’ life (see […]

How December 25 Became Christmas

On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods—these all characterize the feast today, at least in the northern hemisphere. But just how did the Christmas festival originate? How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday? The Bible […]

Leonardo’s Last Supper By Molly Dewsnap Meinhardt

Leonardo: The Last Supper Pinin Brambilla Barcilon and Pietro C. Marani Trans. by Harlow Tighe (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001) 458 pp., 382 color illus., 64 b&w, $95.00 (clothbound) It took Leonardo about four years to paint his famous Last Supper. It took Pinin Brambilla Barcilon 20 to restore it. Leonardo’s work (1493/4–1497) […]


The Birth of the Canon
The Hebrew Bible was born out of suffering and loss By Ronald S. Hendel
What the Left Behind Series Left Out
A biblical text taken out of its original context can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. By Ben Witherington III
From Storm to Scroll
How the thundering voice of God became sacred scripture. By Mary Joan Winn Leith
It Ain’t Necessarily So
The Bible weaves together narrative, folklore, history and religion, but that doesn’t make it a “False Testament.” By Ronald S. Hendel
Rhetorically Writing
The New Testament authors used every tool of the trade to influence their listening audiences. By Ben Witherington III
Paul at the Races
Some sports fans consider athletics a religion. It used to be. By Paula Fredriksen
That Old Time Religion
The Bible preserves hints of Stone Age rites that retained their holiness for millennia. By Ronald S. Hendel
Alphabet and Internet
What do both tell you about the Bible? By Mary Joan Winn Leith
Dining with the Divine
Anyone and everyone could pray to a god in ancient times, but often only family members could join him for meals. By Paula Fredriksen
Back to the Garden
By reversing the negatives in God’s curse of Adam and Eve, we come to the lost positives of the Garden—and the world as God meant it to be. By Mary Joan Winn Leith
What Gets Lost in Translation
Never forget that every translation is an interpretation. By Ben Witherington III
Solomon and the Temple
The Last Supper
Jesus and the beloved disciple
Tower of Babel
Saul and David