The Soprano Who Caught Fire

Glockhaus bei Gniesenhöhl is an Alpine village so tiny that it has to be identified by its proximity (12 km when the roads are clear) to Gniesenhöhl, a village of 168 souls and a baptismal font. Glockhaus is not in fact a village at all, except by Swiss courtesy: it is nothing more or less […]


“Sold to the gentleman farmer”

Marcus Tinctius Glaber lived in a modest vineyard homestead 35 miles southeast of Rome and 3 miles off the Via Appia, far enough in any event to be freed of the clanking, screeching and baying rising from that chief of all roads that led to Rome. He enjoyed there a frugal but comfortable life, its […]


Sodom and Gomorrah: A Midrash

Editorial Note The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the famous “Cities of the Plain,” occurs early on in the Book of Genesis. The priestly redactors of the Bible rewrote the story to make their own moral points and pushed the events back into the primordial past of Israel, when God’s presence was pervasive, as it […]


The Mother in Law

The New Testament Gospels are themselves surprises writ large, but they also contain within their pages traces of other surprising stories. These were anecdotes that were obviously known to the evangelists but were either familiar enough to the earliest audiences of the Gospels or so inconsequential to the master narrative that they required no elaboration. […]


The Limbo of the Theologians

By the Middle Ages the theologians of the Catholic Church had constructed an elegantly coherent model of the universe: it explained the nature and existence of our world, the church and the individual believer’s place in it. It was a beautifully crafted cathedral of logic, each element neatly dovetailed with the next. The foundations were […]


Curtain Up! Act III

No one can really imagine the future. Jesus tried it. His version of the final act of the world is reported in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus’ “Little Apocalypse” unfolds in a modest black and white; Mark by and large eschewed special effects. But a wide screen technicolor blockbuster of the […]


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 […]