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

July 10 2019

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


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount