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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Read more at Marginalia

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

Benjamin Netanyahu Is a Successful Leader, Not a Magician

Sept. 20 2019

Following the inconclusive results of Tuesday’s election, weeks may elapse before a prime minister is chosen, and there is a chance that Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career isn’t over yet. Perusing the headlines about Netanyahu over the past year, Ruthie Blum notes how many have referred to him as a political “magician,” or some variant thereof. But this cliché misses the point:

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics