In a New Book on the Early Church, a Prominent Scholar Disavows Anti-Jewishness in All Its Forms

In her recent book, When Christians Were Jews, the distinguished historian of ancient Christianity Paula Fredriksen examines the church’s formative decades between Jesus’ death around the year 30 CE and the destruction of the Second Temple in 70. Her focus is on how what was originally a Jewish sect adjusted to its growing number of Gentile adherents. Reviewing this book along with Fredriksen’s 2017 work on the apostle Paul, Brad East writes:

The most salutary aspect of Fredriksen’s scholarship, across the whole of her career, is her disavowal of anti-Jewishness in all its forms. The phenomenon is endemic in scholarship of the Bible because it is endemic in Christian history and theology. And it is nowhere more prevalent than in interpretation of Paul. So here is the . . . most controversial contribution of her books: Paul’s identity—before and after encountering the risen Jesus—as a Torah-observant Jew.

Common Christian teaching on this point says something like the following. The coming of Jesus is the end of the Law of Moses. The Law was once the means of knowing and obeying God’s will, and thus of shaping the life of God’s chosen people. But now God’s people is the church, not Israel, defined by faith in Jesus, which is available to all humanity. . . . If any ethnic Jews . . . come to [that] faith, then they should cease Torah observance, for otherwise they would be continuing in the old way of things. The result: a new people of God, shorn of theologically relevant ethnic distinctions, universal in every way, a “new humanity” of Jews and Gentiles indistinguishable one from the other.

More than any other author in the New Testament, Paul is claimed as proponent and progenitor of this view, [known as “supersessionism”]. Fredriksen begs to differ: . . . Paul is always or nearly always writing to primarily or entirely Gentile congregations; whatever he counsels about the Torah concerns the Torah in relation to Gentile believers in Jesus.

[M]any forms of Pauline supersessionism rely on, trade on, or positively perpetuate anti-Jewish beliefs. . . . In modified form it becomes the suggestion that the Jews failed their God, or neglected to accept their messiah (or, with sole and lasting culpability, murdered him), and God rejected them in favor of the Gentiles. . . . If you have ever heard or read someone refer to “the God of the Old Testament”—never an approbative epithet — you’re in the ballpark. . . . One [thus] comes to see the impetus for Fredriksen’s ceaseless reminders of Jesus’ and Paul’s Jewishness. Gentiles are apt to forget. Gentile Christians are sometimes eager to do so. But remembering, as Fredriksen well knows, makes for good history and even better theology. For jogging our collective memory, and with such erudition and elegant prose, we are all in her debt.

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: ancient Judaism, Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations, Paul of Tarsus

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy