When Christians Were Jews

By Adam Brown –

The following is the beginning of a book review I wrote for The Gospel Coalition.

“When I was a kid, we used to camp for two weeks every summer on Beausoleil Island. On days when the lake was calm, we would sail to Giant’s Tomb where the water was clear and you could see bottom at a depth of four yards or more. But when the wind was up and the water was whitecapped we knew to stay by the fire, tucked away in the little cove where we’d pitched our tent, ‘til the morrow.

“If books were boats and seafaring was reading, then Paula Fredriksen’s latest offering, When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation, would be a classic swashbuckling adventure, filled with bountiful scenery and gold-promising maps.

“Despite its lack of engagement with opposing scholarship, Fredriksen’s book is skillfully written, tremendously persuasive, and honest in its objectives. Thus, much caution is required. This book has the potential to shipwreck those who are weak in faith.

“The tragedy of this book is that strays so far from the safety of orthodoxy. Fredriksen’s basic premise is a good one: Christianity is, at its root, a Jewish movement. Unfortunately, though, she is not a trustworthy authority in our quest to rediscover this truth.

“Reconstructing First-Generation Christianity

When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation
PAULA FREDERIKSEN Yale University Press (2018). 272 pp. $27.50. PURCHASE

“Fredriksen, a scholar of religious studies at Boston University, has convincingly reconstructed a social world that might have stood behind Paul’s letters, the Gospels, and the book of Acts.

“In brief, her thesis is that the original “Jesus community” was a Jewish sect anticipating an immediate apocalypse to usher in the eschatological Davidic kingdom, with Jesus of Nazareth as its reigning monarch. When the kingdom continually failed to materialize, however, the movement dexterously adapted. In a fourfold series of expansions, it transitioned from a Jewish, Jerusalemite, Jesus community into a Gentile, global, Jesus institution―known today as ‘Christianity.’

“According to Fredriksen, the eschaton was first ‘unrealized’ when Jesus of Nazareth was crucified rather than coronated (circa AD 30). The second disillusionment occurred when the resurrection appearances of Jesus ceased without the general resurrection of all people (AD 30–32). The third blow struck when Caligula’s desecration of the temple, interpreted as the ‘abomination of desolation,’ didn’t initiate Daniel’s apocalyptic vision (AD 39–40). The final disappointment, which was to inaugurate Gentile Christianity, was the failure of the eternal kingdom to come to Jerusalem in the wake of the temple’s destruction (AD 70).

“Fredriksen has composed a neat, compelling, and well-packaged theory. Nevertheless, there are several problems with it. Here are five. . .”

To see the whole review, please visit: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/christians-jews/

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