Eating Raw Mussels

At the beginning of a cross-cultural trip to Turkey years ago, I sternly told my students that we were going to experience Turkish culture. I absolutely did not want to hear any whining about wanting McDonalds or a pizza. Turkish cuisine includes some wonderful foods, and they were not to turn up their noses at what was served. We were not going to insult our hosts.

One day, as we were walking along the Aegean coast in Izmir, we came upon a street vendor selling mussels on spicy rice in the shell. Our guide, Cenk (pronounced Jenk), explained that this dish, called Midye Dolma, consists of raw mussels on cooked rice, and Turkish people like it very much. I do not do raw fish, so I backed away from the vendor. And guess who was the only one in our group who did not try the mussels? And guess who got hassled for not eating local cuisine? The guy in the back wearing the blue hat—who was suddenly very quiet.

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What got me so interested in Saint Barnabas?

While writing a textbook on the Apostle Paul, Apostle on the Edge (2009), I became increasingly aware that his mentor, Barnabas, was one of the most significant leaders of the early Christian movement. Two things intrigued me about Barnabas. First, very little scholarship exists on the man. Second, his identity has changed radically over the centuries. The New Testament depicts Barnabas as a man skilled in resolving ethnic conflicts in the early church; but today in Cyprus, the island of his birth, Greek Orthodox Cypriots view him as a warrior saint. How could his identity be so totally altered?

In 2011, I journeyed to Cyprus as a Senior Fulbright Fellow to conduct research on Barnabas. I did not know what I would discover, and I had no thesis that I was trying to prove. I set out to determine how, over the centuries of the Church, traditions about Barnabas morphed his identity from a bridge-building conflict negotiator to a bridge-burning nationalist. Slowly, I pieced together the evidence I gathered from two millennia of Christian history. But how would I tell the complicated story with all its twists and turns? I decided not to publish a technical monograph for scholars. The implications of the history of how church traditions slowly transformed Barnabas were too significant to be available to a small audience. I chose to write a lively account that any intelligent reader could enjoy. If you are interested in the intersection of religion and politics, are concerned about resolution of ethnic conflicts, and relish a good “Who done it?” you will enjoy the recently released, second edition of Creation of History: The Transformation of Barnabas from Peacemaker to Warrior Saint.