Research Interests

I have always been interested in the way different cultures interact. The culmination of my studies in medieval theology in Australia was an analysis of the way Thomas Aquinas had reframed into Aristotelian categories the writings of St. Paul on grace. Since graduate school, my interest has been in the way Jews were affected by Greek culture and how they re-wrote the biblical traditions. Particularly interesting was the work of the author of 2 Maccabees, who used the categories and style of Hellenistic historiography in telling the victory of the Judeans against their Greek Seleucid overlords. My teaching here at Amherst led me to explore how Christian holy men were depicted in Syriac culture. Since finishing a major commentary on 2 Maccabees, I have been drawn, again through my teaching, to try to recapture the intent of the stories Jesus told. So often they have been mined solely for theological meaning without an exploration of them as stories in a particular social and historical setting. Jesus told, I would argue, some very strange and some very funny stories.

Teaching Interests

I have been fortunate at Amherst to be able not only to teach early Christianity, but also to make use of my knowledge of the medieval world in my course in European Studies on “Readings in the European Tradition.” I have been able to explore how the early traditions I study are transformed through history. This is particularly true of my courses “Images of Jesus” and “The Secret Jesus” in which I explore Jesus in film, music and art as well as the early Christian “biographies” of Jesus.  With Prof. Niditch, I have been able to examine how the apocalyptic views in late Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity have resurfaced again and again throughout history.


ThD., Harvard Divinity School (Dept. of New Testament and Christian Origins), 1977.

École Biblique et Archéologie Française, Jerusalem, 1971-72.

Licentiate in Sacred Scripture, Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, 1971.

Licentiate in Sacred Theology, Università di S. Thoma, Rome, 1970.

Lectorate in Sacred Theology, Blackfriars' Studium, Canberra, Australia, 1967.


Temple Propaganda: The Purpose and Character of 2Maccabees, Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series12; Washington, D.C.:  Catholic Biblical Association, 1982.

The Lives of Simeon Stylites, Kalamazoo, MI:  Cistercian Press, 1992.

Birth of a Worldview:  Early Christianity in Its Jewish and Pagan Context, Westview Press, 1995.  Reprinted at Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.

Stewards of the Poor: The Man of God, Rabbula and Hiba in Fifth-Century Edessa, Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2006.

2 Maccabees:  A Critical Commentary, Minneapolis:  Fortress, 2012.