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One of my favorite classes as an undergraduate was a two-semester course in American history. Since the students were already familiar with the main names and dates from their high school American history courses, the instructor, Roger Lane, was free to present a much deeper look at the subject. As a result, his course was much more interesting than a mere list of elections, wars, and battles would have been.

Professor Lane introduced us to historiography, the study of how history's portrayal of an event or subject changes over time. He was fond of pointing out the ways in which our own backgrounds and environments can affect our perceptions of the past. He once illustrated this idea with a discussion of a troubling question from American history: Could the American Civil War have been avoided, or was it inevitable? It turns out that historians have tended to give different answers to this question in different eras. For example, historians at the time of the First World War often emphasized that certain mistakes of leaders helped bring about the Civil War. The historians' sensitivity to these mistakes was probably heightened by a widespread belief that America had bumbled its way into an unnecessary involvement in World War I. On the other hand, American historians after the Second World War were more likely to assert the inevitability of the Civil War. These later historians may have been influenced by the fact that U.S. involvement in World War II was generally seen as necessary and unavoidable.

Maccabees, Waldenses, and Pilgrims

This issue of Grace and Knowledge features articles about three groups or movements in Judeo-Christian history, each of which has been perceived in diverse ways by observers from different eras and backgrounds. The latest article in our series on the Apocrypha surveys the book of First Maccabees, which relates the story of the Maccabean revolt of the second century B.C. The Maccabees and their successors, the priest-kings of the Hasmonean dynasty, were controversial in their own day. Some, like the author of First Maccabees, saw them as freedom fighters and faithful defenders of God's Torah. Others, most notably the Essenes, regarded them as apostates who had seized positions of authority that were not rightfully theirs.

During the two thousand plus years since their time, the Maccabees have enjoyed varying degrees of popularity. They served as role models for participants in the two Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire (66-73 A.D., 132-135 A.D.). But after those revolts failed disastrously, their example was often seen by Jewish leaders as a dangerous one to follow. More recently, since the establishment of the modern state of Israel, the Maccabees have come to be viewed more favorably again. In any case, there is much to be learned from their story as recorded in I Maccabees.

Another article in this issue discusses the Waldenses, a Christian group that has survived for over eight hundred years. Founded in the late twelfth century A.D. by Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant of Lyons, the Waldenses were originally a group of lay Catholics dedicated to poverty, holiness, and evangelism. Controversy over their unauthorized preaching led to their alienation from the Roman Catholic Church, and they eventually became Protestants at the time of the Reformation.

Over the centuries a body of legend has grown around the ``Poor Men of Lyons'' as various Protestant groups, looking in church history for kindred spirits, have attributed their own beliefs and practices to the early Waldenses. It has thus become rather difficult to distinguish Waldensian history from Protestant legend about the Waldenses. In this issue of Grace and Knowledge, consulting editor Jared Olar carefully separates what is actually known about the Waldenses from the legends surrounding them.

A certain amount of legend also surrounds the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony, who occupy an important position in the hearts and history books of Americans. One such legend, the claim that the Pilgrims observed a Saturday Sabbath, is investigated (and shown to be false) in this issue of Grace and Knowledge.

Our hope is that this magazine, and the current issue in particular, will promote a greater appreciation-and a clearer and more accurate understanding-of Judeo-Christian history. As always, we welcome your questions and comments.

Doug Ward



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