Author Archives: fepeters

Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, History and Religion, New York University

Notes From the Cruel Frontier

I am now two years into the category that sociologists call “The Very Old.” I’m not a sociologist, but if I had a vote, I’d opt for the more realistic “Extremely Old,” with its suggestive echoes of Extremadura, what the Spaniards call the hard lands to their west, the “Cruel Frontier.” I can be a […]

How Do We Know Anything About Jesus?

There seems little doubt that there was a person called Jesus of Nazareth early in the first century who was active as a Jewish preacher and teacher in Galilee. Biographical information on people in the ancient world is always somewhat uncertain, and assembling it into portrait of an individual is particularly problematic. But Jesus’ contemporaries […]

Das Eschaton or Saving the Worst Till Last

We must all go, I suppose, into that good night, some gentle, some kicking and screaming, as the poet suggested, and some, it now appears, scribbling. Death throes were once thought painful and appalling. No longer, apparently; they are expected to be, at least by their authors and publishers, interesting. That is the impression left […]

Apostles and Apostolicity in Early Christianity

One of the remarkable things about the earliest history of what would become Christianity is the brief and largely unremarkable careers of the group known as the Apostles and their glorious, if mostly anonymous, afterlife in Christian tradition. The Church’s “Twelve Apostles” were in fact both “The Twelve” and “apostles,” so called after their two […]

Christianity as a “Made Thing”

In the simplest, if also the least useful, of definitions, Christianity is what people who call themselves Christians believe and how they act in accord with those beliefs. Today the beliefs held by Christians are so many and so diverse, and so too the acts performed in their name, that a descriptive approach to Christianity […]

Mike Francesa: First Time, Long Time, Fun Time

Let’s be honest, as the saying goes: Mike Francesa, the outsized personality who sprawls over five and half hours of afternoon radio airtime on New York’s WFAN, knows more about sports, what has happened, what might happen and, somewhat astonishingly, what should happen in that sweaty world than anyone on the planet. It has occurred […]

“He Says…They Say” — The Gospel, the Quran and the Mishna in Conversation

The assumption that sits beneath the monotheistic faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims is that God, the creator of the universe and of everything in it, has chosen, “at sundry times and divers manners,” to communicate with His human creatures. Early on the converse seems to have had a social quality, as when God strolled […]

Why Are There Gospels and How Were They Made?

The lives of the dead survive only as the memories of others. Those memories, along with the subject’s own reflections, are now preserved in a variety of mechanical forms: in writing, orally on recordings, and visually on film, but the memory of those who lived long ago is available only in the form of the […]

“That you might believe…”: Arguing With the Gospels

The Gospels are usually first and most often encountered in church. In that setting, where they are read out piecemeal, they sound like pastiches, anecdotal collections of Jesus’ miracle stories or parables. The listener is instructed, uplifted. Little wonder: they are being recited in effect to the choir. For someone who reads them through, however, […]

Why Is There a Trinity?

Why is there a Trinity? Or, more specifically, why is there a Christian doctrine that maintains that there are three distinct “persons,” as the Christians call them, who nonetheless constitute one God? If we attempt to open up that terse dogmatic pronouncement of three in one, what emerges is the conviction that the One True […]