Ancient History

The Perils of Peacemaking

Paul A. Rahe— It is much easier to initiate a great war than to end one. Even when an attempt to do the latter seems, to the unsuspecting glance, to be an unqualified success, it frequently lays the foundations for a renewal of the struggle. The origins of the Second

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Voting about God at the Council of Nicaea

Ramsay MacMullen— At Nicaea in AD 325 some 200 bishops assembled. The total is not certain: perhaps a little below that figure, probably a little above it. Not all who attended signed, as was not unusual at the end of councils nor surprising at this one, given its special difficulties.

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The Historical Context of the Book of Job

Edward L. Greenstein— Determining the time and place of the book’s composition is bound up with the nature of the book’s language. The Hebrew prose of the frame tale, notwithstanding many classic features, shows that it was composed in the post-Babylonian era (after 540 BCE). The poetic core of the

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Shifting Paradigms in the Study of Christian Origins

Matt Jackson-McCabe— One of the more intriguing questions in the history of religion is how the Jewish apostles of a first-century Jewish messiah came to be considered the authoritative embodiment of values fundamentally other than Jewish. Making sense of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism has been a problem ever since the

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The Sacrifice at Calvary

Terry Eagleton— Walter Benjamin’s theory of tragedy in his The Origin of German Tragic Drama has some affinities with the Christian view of Calvary. Tragedy for Benjamin is essentially sacrifice, but of a peculiarly doubled kind: if it propitiates the gods under ancient law, it also inaugurates a revolutionary new

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The Epic of Gilgamesh

John Carey— The oldest surviving literary work is The Epic of Gilgamesh. It was composed nearly 4,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia (roughly equivalent to where Iraq and eastern Syria are now). No one knows who wrote it, or why, or what readership or audience it was intended for. It

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Material Culture and the Ethnicity of Non-Jewish Christians

Christopher Stroup— The cities of the Roman Empire were filled with gods and the citizens who honored them with festivals, processions, buildings, and benefactions. The followers of Jesus—later called Christians—lived and moved in these cities, navigating avenues lined with statues honoring various deities, structuring their days and months around the

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Greek Treasures in the Roman Empire

Tony Spawforth— Around 60 BC an ancient freighter foundered in the treacherous waters off the southeastern tip of mainland Greece. Two millennia later, fishermen happened upon remnants of its cargo still strewn on the seabed. Divers to the wreck site brought up ancient objects barely recognizable after their long immersion

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Nietzsche and Moses’s Stutter

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg— The tendency of meaning to burn out of language is a constant theme in Nietzsche’s writings. Here lies the paradox of the stammer: May your virtue be too exalted for the familiarity of names: and if you must speak of her, then do not be ashamed to

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The Rise of Seapower

Andrew Lambert— Seapower, a distinctive socio-political response to unique circumstances, emerged in the eastern Mediterranean between 2000 and 500 BC. Sea cities evolved to service the resource demands of great land-locked powers: Egypt, Anatolia and above all Mesopotamia. Sailing ships moved timber and metals over increasing distances. Insular Tyre, the

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