Samson in the revenge hall of mirrors

Take revenge and you enter a hall of mirrors, that endless corridor of reflected images that appears when mirrors face each other. Acts of hatred or violence are likely to be reflected back on the avenger in “mimetic” form—further injuries that mimic what was received. Reciprocal violence can oscillate back and forth for generations as…

Act before it is too late

The man sits as he died 2000 years ago, in a position that looks like weeping. Surrounding him are amphorae jugs used to import wine, olive oil, and fish sauce that fed the huge appetite of Rome at the center of empire (Revelation 18). Somewhere an angel sounded a trumpet in AD 79, “and there…

Hanukkah: Violent resistance and unintended consequences

No, I didn’t slide open the tomb of an ancient revolutionary in Israel. But I did rest on the half-open lid of what might be his grave at the town of Modi’in, and consider what it takes to provoke oppressed people to revolt.  Violence erupted at Modi’in in 167 BCE when foreign ruler Antiochus IV…

Bold in the face of terrible truth

Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem tells terrible truth about the complicity of many, including Christians, in Hitler’s campaign of hatred and genocide across Europe. I leave darkened halls of that museum shaken, remembering that at least a few of my own people—Mennonites—actively participated in Hitler’s mass murder. How could such evil prevail? Never again…

Trouble in the vineyard

When opponents called Jesus a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” they surely got the first half of that accusation wrong. But food, wine and amiable company are everywhere in the life and teaching of Jesus. He even provided wine for a wedding at Cana when guests already were well…

Human sacrifice and gun violence

Dome of the Rock in Old Jerusalem enshrines faith stories, including the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. By Jewish and Muslim tradition, the bedrock protruding inside this seventh-century structure is the top of Mount Moriah, to which Abraham took his son at God’s command. The boy carried firewood, Abraham carried fire and knife. “The fire and the…

Offensive conduct by a political leader

How much offensive conduct by a government official does it take until religious and political leaders protest or help turn the culprit out of office? The antiquities department at the Louvre museum in Paris is an unlikely place to countenance such a question. But a lima bean-size official seal from the reign of biblical King…

Ark Encounters modern science

Noah’s ark now rests in Kentucky! Or rather, a $100 million “Ark Encounter” building shaped like the biblical boat has attracted millions since opening there in 2016. The 510-foot-long structure, crafted by Amish under the direction of fundamentalist Christian Ken Ham of Australia, brings the Genesis story into focus. But its hundreds of engaging exhibits…

The lure and liability of empire

The Roman aqueduct at Segovia, Spain takes my breath away. Built by Emperor Trajan early in the second century, the aqueduct once brought water from ten miles away. In the last mile, where it crosses a valley into Segovia, the aqueduct is a bridge up to ninety feet high. Its arches have stood two millennia…

Did Jesus help build Sepphoris?

Just four miles from Nazareth where Jesus grew up, I pause among ruins of a Muslim cemetery next to a hill where historians say he may have found employment as a youth. On this hill stood the ancient city of Sepphoris, which eventually became the modern Palestinian town of Saffurriya. Communities on this hill were…