A New Look at the Jewish Origins of Christianity

A leading scholar of Christianity in its earliest form, Paula Fredriksen has written much about the Jewish context of Jesus’ original followers and about ancient Christians’ attitudes toward Jews. In her most recent book, When Jews Were Christians, she presents a history and analysis of Christianity when it was still a sect of Judaism. Larry Hurtado writes in his review:

[O]ne of the acute observations in the book is how noteworthy it is that Jesus’ followers relocated to Jerusalem from the Galilee in the aftermath of their experiences of the risen Jesus. Fredriksen rightly contends that this reflects their belief that the events of eschatological salvation would all unfurl from Jerusalem, Zion, the “holy mountain.” But she doesn’t seem to recognize also that this Jerusalem focus likely reflects the belief that Jesus had been designated as the royal-Davidic messiah. That is, establishing themselves in Jerusalem was another expression of this messianic . . . claim, which did not develop over time, but was prominent from the outset. As those who constituted the messianic community, where else should they locate than the Davidic city? Their relocation also represented, in short, their messianic claim upon Jerusalem [itself]! . . .

[After Jesus’ death], biblical interpretation led believers to “refine” (or reformulate) ideas about the “messiah” and the ways that Jesus fulfilled that role. So, for example, there was the novel idea that the messiah was to undergo a violent death and then come again in glory. [Along with this, Fredriksen identifies] another novel idea: the early believers felt themselves obliged to continue Jesus’ mission “to prepare Israel” for the coming Kingdom of God. Then, through various circumstances, this mission expanded to include Jews in the wider diaspora and then even Gentiles. . . .

This inclusion of Gentiles, however, she posits, was initially “unintended” and came about as a consequence of the mission to the Jewish diaspora. For in diaspora synagogues, there were also pagans, [known as] “God-fearers,” who were attracted to the Jewish deity and to some Jewish practices, such as Sabbath observance. . . . She contends that, unlike the more [permissive] common Jewish attitude toward such pagans, the early Jesus movement required them to desist from worship of their ancestral deities. Thereby, these Gentile converts were no longer pagans, and no longer God-fearers, and not proselytes to Judaism either, but, instead, “eschatological Gentiles” treated as the fulfillment of the scriptural oracles about the nations abandoning their idols and coming to embrace the God of Israel.

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More about: ancient Judaism, Christianity, History & Ideas, Jewish-Christian relations, Messianism

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians