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

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat