Ancient and Medieval Religious Belief and Medicine

The spirits and gods were believed to make their presence known through disease. Introduction When people fall ill they inevitably ask: ‘Why am I ill?’ and ‘How do I get better?’ Throughout history, the answers have been sought and provided through a mixture of natural, spiritual and moral meanings. People have rarely understood illness through[…]

A Brief History of Christian Inquisitions

The notion of religious liberty and of freedom of conscience was not recognized. Introduction Inquisition, (capitalized I) as broadly used, refers to the judgment of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church with the cooperation of the secular authorities. It can mean an ecclesiastical tribunal or institution of the Roman Catholic Church for combating or suppressing[…]

The Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, 1309-1377

The Papacy in the Late Middle Ages had a major secular role in addition to its spiritual role. Introduction In the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the Avignon Papacy was the period from 1309 to 1377 during which seven popes, all French, resided in Avignon: In 1378, Gregory XI moved the papal residence back[…]

The History of Christianity from Its Emergence in the First Century CE

Christianity began in first century C.E. Jerusalem as a Jewish sect, but quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Introduction The history of Christianity concerns the history of the Christian religion and the Church, from Jesus and his Twelve Apostles and Seventy Disciples to contemporary times. Christianity is the monotheistic religion which considers itself[…]

Skulls, Temples, and Churches: The Ancient Walled City of Evora

Evora’s history dates back over five millennia. By Kim MartinsHistorian Introduction The sunbaked plain of the Alentejoregion in central Portugal is called planicie dourada (golden plain)by the Portuguese, and it is dotted with cork oak forests, vineyards, olive groves, and hilltop towns with whitewashed houses. ‘Alentejo’means “beyond the Tagus River”, and there is a raw[…]

Ancient Israelite Art

Art reveals many aspects of the ancient Kingdom of Israel. Introduction Ancient Israelite art traditions are evident especially on stamps seals, ivories from Samaria, and carvings, each with motifs connecting it to more general artistic traditions throughout the Levant. Ancient Israel, and therefore its art, existed from about the 10th century BCE until the late[…]

Asherah: Ancient Canaanite Mother Goddess, Consort to Yahweh

Together, El (sometimes Yahweh) and Ashera were viewed as the father and mother of the gods. Introduction Asherah was a major northwest Semitic mother goddess, appearing also in Akkadian sources as Ashratu, in Hittite as Asherdu and in Ugaritic as Athirat. She was the consort of the chief deity El and the mother of 70[…]

‘When On High’: The Ancient Akkadian Enuma Elish Creation Epic

As warlike nomadic herdsmen began to dominate in Mesopotamian culture, they imposed their mythologies on preexisting legends. Introduction Enûma Eliš (also transliterated Enuma Elish) is the Babylonian or Mesopotamian creation epic, composed probably in the eighteenth century B.C.E. A fragmentary copy written in the seventh century B.C.E. was first discovered by modern scholars in the[…]

A History of the Ancient Temple of Jerusalem

Sacrifices of various types were central to the Temple’s function. Introduction Also known as Solomon’s Temple, the Temple of Jerusalem was the national center of Israelite religious life, especially for the offering of sacrifices, but also as a cultural and intellectual center. It was located on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Its architecture and rich furnishings are[…]

Ten Ancient Stories and the Geological Events That May Have Inspired Them

If you dig deep enough, you can find some truth to legends and creation stories. Introduction Myths have fed the imaginations and souls of humans for thousands of years. The vast majority of these tales are just stories people have handed down through the ages. But a few have roots in real geological events of[…]

Ancient Mesopotamian Cosmology and Mythology

Mesopotamian myths appear to have had a more practical purpose and were used to cure and prevent various physical ailments. Introduction In order to understand the place of myth in Mesopotamian culture, it is first necessary to give a general introduction to Mesopotamian religion. First, there is no single Mesopotamian ‘religion.’ The region known by[…]

Angkor Wat, Medieval Center of the Khmer Empire

Introduction Angkor Wat is a temple complex in the province of Siem Reap, Cambodia originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu in the 12th century CE. It is among the largest religious buildings ever created, second only to the Temple of Karnak at Thebes, Egypt and, some claim, even larger. Its name means “City of[…]

The Political Power of Pope in the Middle Ages

Even medievalists have a hard time determining the precise moment when the Middle Ages started and ended. There’s a relative consensus that it started with Augustine and lasted after the birth of Descartes. That would put us in a rough frame between the mid-fourth and the early seventeenth century. Yes; it means that the Middle[…]

How Black Pastors Resisted Jim Crow and White Pastors Incited Violence

Religion was no barrier for Southern lynch mobs intent on terror. White pastors joined the KKK, incited racial violence and took part in lynchings. Introduction White lynch mobs in America murdered at least 4,467 people between 1883 and 1941, hanging, burning, dismembering, garroting and blowtorching their victims. Their violence was widespread but not indiscriminate: About[…]

Music as Slave Rebellion: The Power of Song in a Strange Land

Spirituals were created out of the experience of enslaved people in the U.S. They were songs of an abiding belief in the victory of good over evil. Introduction From the moment of capture, through the treacherous middle passage, after the final sale and throughout life in North America, the experience of enslaved Africans who first[…]

The Know Nothing Party: Nativist Paranoia in the Mid-19th Century

When a party member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, “I know nothing.” Introduction The Know Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1850s. It grew up as a popular reaction to fears that major cities were being overwhelmed by Irish Catholic immigrants whom they regarded as hostile[…]

Ahriman: From the Lord of Darkness in Zoroastrianism to the Devil in Christianity

He is thought to have influenced supernatural entities in later religions such as Satan in Judaism, the devil in Christianity, and Iblis in Islam. Introduction Ahriman is the evil spirit in Early Iranian Religion, Zoroastrianism, and Zorvanism, Lord of Darkness and Chaos, and the source of human confusion, disappointment, and strife. He is also known[…]

Ataskada: The Fire Temple in Ancient Zoroastrianism

Fire temples were firmly established by the time of the Parthian Empire. Introduction Fire Temples are places of worship in the Zoroastrian religion. They were known as ataskada (“house of fire”) by the Persians but are best known today by the name given them by the Greeks from their word pyratheia (fire temple). They are[…]

Celtic Christianity in the Early Medieval British Isles

The term is misleading since it implies a notion of a self-identifying unity that did not exist. Introduction Celtic Christianity (also called Insular Christianity) refers to a distinct form of Christianity that developed in the British Isles during the fifth and sixth centuries among the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, and Manx (Isle of Man) peoples.[…]

Jewish Christians in Ancient Israel

Jewish Christians predominated in the movement of early Christianity. They bore the brunt of persecution from their fellow Jews. Introduction Jewish Christians (sometimes called also Hebrew Christians or Christian Jews) is a term which can have two meanings. The first describes the members of the early Christian movement, who were Jews that accepted Jesus of[…]

Spells, Charms, Erotic Dolls: Love Magic in the Ancient Mediterranean

Erotic spells were a popular form of magic in ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient spells were often violent, brutal and without any sense of caution or remorse. It was a well-kept secret among historians during the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the practice of magic was widespread in the ancient Mediterranean. Historians wanted[…]

Hildegard of Bingen: Early Medieval Christian Mystic

Hildegard of Bingen was called the “Sibyl of the Rhine” because of her apocalyptic visions. Introduction Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), also known as Blessed Hildegard and Saint Hildegard, was a German religious teacher, prophetess, and abbess. At a time when women were often not recognized in the public and religious sphere she was also an[…]

Cyrus the Great and Religious Tolerance in Achaemenid Persia

Cyrus was far different from other kings of his time in the ways he chose to rule. “Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, wealth–these three together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.”[1] Vision and Motivation In 550[…]

A History of the Controversy over the Christian ‘Great Commission’

It raises a fundamental question about whether religious diversity is a reality to be celebrated or an obstacle to be overcome. Introduction A majority of church-going American Christians are unfamiliar with the term, the “Great Commission,” a recent survey found. Even among those familiar with it, 25 percent recognized the phrase but could not explain[…]

Apocalypse Now: Our Incessant Desire to Picture the End of the World from Medieval Times to Today

Each generation, each epoch, has seen themselves apocalyptically, albeit with great differences as to what the actual end will involve. Introduction As is typical of our time, over the past few months, many newscasters have used the words apocalypse or apocalyptic to evoke the negative implications of events as diverse as the threat of Grexit,[…]

Zorvanism: Zorastrian Sect in the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

It is often referenced as a Zoroastrian heresy because it departed significantly from central Zoroastrian beliefs. Introduction Zorvanism (also given as Zuvanism, Zurvanism) was a sect of the Persian religion Zoroastrianism which emerged in the late Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE) and flourished during the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). It is often referenced as a[…]

Avesta: Scripture of Zoroastrianism

It was developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. Introduction The Avesta is the scripture of Zoroastrianism which developed from an oral tradition founded by the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, Zartosht) sometime between c. 1500-1000 BCE. The title is generally accepted as meaning “praise”, though this interpretation is[…]

Zoroastrianism: Monotheism in Ancient Persia

Zoroastrianism was adopted by the Achaemenid Empire, the Parthian Empire, and found its fullest expression under the Sassanian Empire. Introduction Zoroastrianism is the monotheistic faith established by the Persian prophet Zoroaster (also given as Zarathustra, Zartosht) between c. 1500-1000 BCE. It holds that there is one supreme deity, Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom), creator and[…]

Zarathustra: Zoroaster By Any Other Name

Introduction Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra) was an important religious figure in ancient Persia (present-day Iran and surrounding areas), whose teachings became the foundation of a religious movement named Zoroastrianism, a tradition that would largely dominate Persia until the mid-7th century CE, when Islam gained ascendancy in the region after the fall of the Sasanian[…]

Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Persia

Ancient Persia had the same interest in what happens after death as any culture in the present day. Introduction A vision of the afterlife is articulated by every culture, ancient or modern, in an effort to answer the question of what happens after death, and this was as true for the ancient Persian view of[…]