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 Isaac at God’s command. Isaac carried firewood, Abraham carried fire and knife. “The fire and the wood are…

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…

Bread is a gift for sharing

Bread was so important in the ancient world that the word often simply meant “food.” Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt from Canaan because there was “no bread in all the land” and famine resulted (Genesis 47). Their descendants escaped Egypt to the desert, taking bread with them. When that was gone they were in danger,…

Liars, brutes, and lazy gluttons?

“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons,” said the apostle Paul in his letter to Titus (1:12). My wife and I found no evidence of such dereliction when we traveled across Crete. We stopped along a mountain road to watch the grape harvest, and a farmer approached our car. With a gracious bow he…

Grace for a marginalized man

A foreigner from a sexually marginalized group was one of the first Gentiles to receive baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 8:26-40). The new believer, from the court of the queen of Ethiopia, was a eunuch—a castrated male. Often made so as children without their consent, eunuchs functioned as administrators and servants for rulers…

Upon this rock

“Look, what large stones and what large buildings!” cried a disciple of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 13:1). King Herod and his dynasty had spent decades fabulously rebuilding Israel’s center of worship. Massive white limestone buildings, accented with gold, glistened in the sunlight. The whole complex stood on top of a seven-acre raised platform…