Sects and Violence in the Ancient World is nine years old today. Not that I’m keeping count. Really, I’m not. WordPress sent me a notice, and they ought to know, being the virtual womb whence my thoughts gestate. The original plan for this blog was to take my abiding interest in the religions of antiquity and give them a more public face. My brother-in-law, Neal Stephenson, thought I should do podcasts, because, at the time I spoke incessantly about ancient deities. I can still hold forth about Asherah at great length, but ancient Near Eastern studies is, believe it or not, an evolving field. You need access to a university library, or at least JSTOR, and a whole sabbatical’s worth of time to keep up with it. Even though telecommuting, I’m a nine-to-five guy now, and my research involves mostly reading books.
So Sects and Violence began to evolve. I realized after teaching biblical studies for over a decade-and-a-half that my real interest was in how the Bible was understood in culture. Having a doctorate from a world-class university in the origins of the Good Book certainly should add credibility. My own journey down that pathway began because of interpretations of Scripture that were strongly cultural in origin. I first began reading with Dick and Jane but quickly moved on to Holy Writ. It has shaped my life since before I was ten. It’s only natural I should be curious.
Like most tweens, I discovered sects. Why did so many people believe so many different things? And many of them call themselves Christians. And the Christians I knew said the others weren’t Christian at all. And so the conversations went, excluding others left, right, and center. As someone who wanted answers, this fascinated me. The Bible was the basis for many belief systems of sects everywhere. From Haiti to Ruby Ridge. From New York City to Easter Island. From Tierra del Fuego to Seoul. And not just one Bible, but many scriptures. And these beliefs led to behavior that could be called “strange” were it not so thoroughly pervasive. Scientists and economists say we’ve outlived the need for religion. By far the vast majority of people in the world disagree. I couldn’t have articulated it that way nine years ago, but since losing my teaching platform, I’ve been giving away for free what over four decades of dedicated study—with bona fides, no less!—has revealed. Happy blogday to Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.