Non­fic­tion

When Chris­tians Were Jews: The First Generation

Paula Fredrik­sen

  • Review
By – January 7, 2019

In When Chris­tians Were Jews: The First Gen­er­a­tion, Fredrik­sen empha­sizes the dan­gers of look­ing at his­to­ry through an anachro­nis­tic lens; she suc­cess­ful­ly argues that it is only by appre­ci­at­ing the nuances of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty dur­ing the time of Jesus that one can ful­ly under­stand what led to the even­tu­al split between Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty. Build­ing off of her ear­li­er works (includ­ing From Jesus to Christ, and, most recent­ly, Paul: The Pagans’ Apos­tle), Fredrik­sen paints a schol­ar­ly but acces­si­ble pic­ture of Jesus’s ear­ly acolytes. As she argues through­out, it was the Jew­ish con­text of Jesus’s birth, and his preach­ing — with its bib­li­cal­ly-based antic­i­pa­tion of an earth-upend­ing redemp­tion, in which nations of the world would acknowl­edge the teach­ings of God — that only lat­er mor­phed into what we now know as Christianity.

Fredrik­sen explains that the apos­tles and Paul of Tar­sus craft­ed what became the New Tes­ta­ment, which built off of ear­li­er Jew­ish beliefs, texts, and tra­di­tions — and not always so smooth­ly. For exam­ple, while the Book of Matthew notes Jesus’s descent from King David on his father’s side, since Jesus was also said to have been the prod­uct of a vir­gin birth, he can’t pos­si­bly have been both (and of course both of these tra­di­tions them­selves emerged fol­low­ing Jesus’s death). When Chris­tians Were Jews is a wel­come addi­tion to the library of those seek­ing a rea­soned and lucid exam­i­na­tion of this cru­cial peri­od in world history.

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or co-edit­ed 14 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions