By Paula Fredriksen
Reviewed by John Cowan
I like this woman. Paula Fredricksen appears full of life. Quite a few people are full of life but few of them have six scholarly books to their credit and are a professor emeritus at Boston University and on the faculty of The Hebrew University, Jerusalem. This last, seems to be her home base as of now.
The life comes through in her prose. She is fact based and as thorough as a prosecuting attorney laying out the court case against a criminal before a jury. The words are simple. Various perspectives are brought to bear. And then, boom, comes the inescapable conclusion. (Since this is scripture scholarship all conclusions are escapable, but allow me a slight exaggeration.)
Her sources are the Acts of the Apostles, the three Synoptic Gospels, (Mathew, Mark, Luke) and the Gospel of John to which on occasion she grants more authenticity as a historical record than do most, the teachings of the Essene sect found in the dead sea scrolls, and the Jewish Roman General and historian Josephus.
For examples of her logic: During the High Holidays Jesus and the throwing of the money changers and animal peddlers out of the temple. 1) It is certainly out of character for Jesus to do something violent when he preached understanding of the problems of others. He snapped at a few people but other than this he did not even shove one. 2) Commercial ventures were set up in the courtyard with the authority of the High Priest because people coming to make sacrifice could not make a journey carrying the sacrificial animals easily. Why get angry about that? 3) Any scene that has large animals in the courtyard is unlikely because the resulting bedlam would be beyond bearing. They probably did not die quietly. 4) The inner courts were the place the Jews worshiped and only these were considered sacred. So in what way were the money changers et al. defiling the Temple? 5) The courtyard was 38 acres, so how did Jesus clear 38 acres of teeming commerce? Or even get noticed if he only tipped over a couple of tables. 6) The Roman Legion came to Jerusalem for the Holy Days because the Jews were likely to have violent clashes and Rome feared the potential spreading of the violence into a full-fledged riot. The Pax Romana was not kept with negotiations but with swords. Legionnaires were stationed on top of the buildings to call in the reinforcements if needed. Conclusion: This is a spurious story.
Continuing in a similar manner. Was Jesus crucified by the Jews?: 1)What were the priests doing holding meetings during the High Holidays? They should have been up to their necks in services and sacrifices! 2) How come the crowd who favored Jesus enough to become a cheering mob when he entered Jerusalem and a threat to anybody who meant him harm so much that both the temple police and the legionnaires were sent not during the day but at night to capture him. In the morning the crowd has made an about face and is found screaming for his crucifixion. 3) The Jews seem to have had little appetite for crucifixions other than this one. 4) According to John, who in this instance appears to be the most likely story, Jesus visited Jerusalem several times. So by this time it would seem the powers that be would have been accustomed to him and his message and seen him as harmless. So why did they kill him?
The crowds supporting Jesus made them nervous. Conclusion: The crowds caused him to be killed, not because they were Jewish, nor because they hated him but because of their enthusiasm for him. Rome did not like enthusiastic crowds for a local unappointed leader. Rome not the Jews killed Jesus. (When I first learned this theory decades ago I found it useful in getting a rise out of Giovanni Baptista Giuseppe Battaiola, my classmate. The punch line is we Christians should stop persecuting the Jews and start persecuting the Italians.)
And a short one: Did Peter cut off somebody’s ear with his sword and Jesus glue it back on at Gethsemane. 1) Ever try to walk around with a sword? Cumbersome and obvious. Therefore unlikely to be carried around casually. 2) Did you ever try cutting off an ear with a sword and leaving the head? Not likely. 3)Maybe you meant a knife? (That was even likely to be carried much as my generation carried a pocket knife.) One Jewish fisherman with knife standing against legionnaires and temple police. Unlikely. Conclusion: No ear cut off. No magic healing.
There are three major themes to the book.
The early Christians, for the first fifty or so years had Jerusalem and the Temple as their central office. One would have thought they would run home to the
safety of Galilee. But they did not. They were Jews and the center of Judaism was there, so this outcropping of Judaism was there. Christians were Jews!
Paul’s ministry was linked soundly to Jerusalem. He was in good standing with James and the elders and they were central enough in his ministry that they were involved in planning and canonizing his role and in return he gathered collections among the Gentiles to bring to Jerusalem’s poor, who very well might have included as poor James and the elders. Despite the freedoms from Jewish law, dietary regulations and circumcision that Paul insisted on for Gentile followers, he remained personally dedicated to the temple, and to Jerusalem, and saw his work as extending Judaism. (The scriptures said that at the Coming the Gentiles would follow the Jews, not become Jews. This is from another book, but interesting to know.)
All Christians believed that the end times were at hand. Jesus, thought his was the last ministry before the end. Then the Apostles at the Resurrection briefly thought the last days were around the corner and then thought that they were out just a little way, and then began reinterpreting the message. Paul expected the end times to his death.
In the Amazon Reviews a couple of reviewers who are more scholarly than I question her scholarship. You may want to read them (critical reviews) before making a buying decision. The book is not that expensive, but your time is important. I still stand firmly in favor of When Christians were Jews as one delightful perspective. Potential flaws do not put me off. After all, are not all perspectives flawed?
Oh and, Paula was raised Catholic but converted to Judaism later in life. Explains some things, but then anyone who writes has a history which explains some things.