Hanukkah: does violent resistance work?

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…

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…

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…

How a conniving ruler ends

Herod the Great, King of Judea, lay dying. Forty years earlier, he had launched his political career after Judea suffered disastrous internal strife that ended in conquest by the Romans. Seeking to restore the nation to grandeur, he befriended Rome, saved Jews from starvation during famine, and made Jerusalem’s temple precinct the largest in the…

Did the Good News get to Gamla?

I am alone at ruins of the ancient city of Gamla, which once stood on this mountain peak high above the Sea of Galilee. Bird sounds break spooky silence at this isolated place where thousands of Jews took their last stand against Rome in AD 67. Blood ran down steep streets of Gamla after Roman…